My Lords, I have to say that that is putting words in my mouth. We want to discourage smoking. As I said, we as a Government are trying to move towards a smoke-free 2030. We are trying to ensure that the smallest possible number of children take up e-cigarettes—we are seeing great progress on that. We are taking a number of measures to eradicate this and hit that target. At the same time, we believe in personal choice. That is something that this Government strongly believe in and it is also a route to seeing a stronger bounce-back and a stronger economy as a result.
My Lords, is there anywhere in the public square where smokers will be left in peace and permitted to indulge in a legal, if anti-social, habit that they as adults freely choose to indulge in and even enjoy? Does the Minister consider that the rather grungy lean-to behind the bike sheds that noble Lords who smoke have been banished to is suitably far away from any restaurants or bars to be safe from overzealous public health regulators in here, or might we be driven into the Thames? I am asking for a friend or two.
My Lords, I can give that assurance. We must provide our faiths and beliefs, particularly a religion such as Islam, with the same protections as all other important religions, but we must not make the mistake of conflating religion with race, as I said in the previous answer.
My Lords, it is crucial that we distinguish between aberrant anti-Muslim bigotry and the highly contentious concept of Islamophobia which threatens free speech for fear of it being labelled Islamophobic. Does the Minister acknowledge this chilling effect for liberal Muslims, as is well described in the Don’t Divide Us film “‘Islamophobia!’ The Accusation that Silences Dissent”, muting any criticism of Islam as a religion and even muting critiques of political Islamism, however dangerous? Does the Minister accept the nervousness of politicians from all parties in supporting the Batley Grammar School teacher who was forced into hiding under shouts of “Islamophobic”, effectively allowing a default blasphemy law to be snuck in for fear of being called Islamophobic?
My Lords, I do recognise that issue and I was trying to point that out in the responses I gave to previous supplementary questions. There is no doubt that the term “Islamophobia” is used as a heckler’s veto to shut down alternative opinions. We need to come up with a way forward that does not compromise free speech, and that is absolutely what we are committed to doing.
My Lords, I want to issue a trigger warning: the demonstration by thousands of leaseholders from all over the country at 1 pm today is likely to be very noisy. Luckily, they sneaked it in before the police and crime Bill could ban it. But seriously, I am delighted the Minister says he will come and meet the people affected. They have a range of creative solutions to offer and feel that their best ideas are being ignored and that they are treated like whingers. In addition, will the Minister do some internal lobbying of the incoming Secretary of State for Housing and explain the strength of feeling, frustration and fury across this House about the inadequacy of the solutions so far put forward? Leaseholders have ideas; listen to them.
My Lords, I agree that it is really important to engage with the people affected. I have a considerable number of meetings with leaseholder groups and am in constant virtual contact with some of the people who I believe are doing their very best to see how we can creatively address this difficult issue. I am very happy to meet the people today. It is important that as politicians we step forward and meet those people affected.
My noble friend will be pleased to know that we have announced our intention to provide a scheme that enables professionals who carry out EWS1 to have sufficient professional indemnity insurance cover. We are also engaging with the Building Societies Association, UK Finance and the major banks so that they look at other forms: for instance, an updated fire risk assessment or, for buildings constructed after 2018—post Grenfell—sign-off from a building control inspector. There are lenders that have led the way on this by taking a more proportionate approach in not always requiring an EWS1 certificate.
My Lords, the Minister keeps saying that updated guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors means that leaseholders will no longer need a form to sell their homes, but they do. He says that the EWS1 is not a government formal legal requirement, but mortgage lenders continue to insist on the form. In the end, the only reason all this has happened is because of government policies. When will the Government take responsibility for the leaseholders trapped in homes they cannot sell or remortgage? Has the Minister noticed that the media are now running with this story? Because of grassroots cladding and leaseholders’ groups, there is huge public interest: beyond Inside Housing, we have had Radio 4 and Channel 4, and all sorts of newspapers. We even had Rebecca Long Bailey on GB News—
My Lords, we recognise that there is a problem and we are taking the steps required to ensure that where an EWS1 form is requested, it is easier to get the professional to carry it out, but also encouraging the banks to look at other documentation as an alternative—a proxy—to show that the buildings are safe. It is important that we go ahead and identify those buildings whose external wall systems require remediation.
My Lords, obviously we take into account whether developers are good partners. There are many national schemes they will want to access for their businesses. We monitor very closely the number of defective buildings and whether the developers step up and contribute. That will be a factor in their future relationships with government at every single level.
Will the Minister acknowledge that, by kicking this scandal down the road, the political crisis surrounding who pays for fire safety defects has not gone away but intensified, while the financial demands on blameless home owners who are unfortunate enough to be leaseholders are escalating way beyond cladding? Will the Minister specifically investigate the spiralling costs of the enforced requirement for waking watch patrols provided by private security firms, whose efficacy is, to say the least, contested? I note that the average cost to individual leaseholders is an extra—unaffordable—£400 a month even before the huge remediation bill drops through the letterbox.
My Lords, I was asked to carry out a waking watch review on behalf of the Secretary of State some months ago. The noble Baroness is right that it is a significant cost for leaseholders. This is why we created the £30 million waking watch relief fund, which will help between 300 and 400 buildings put a fire alarm in place and benefit between 17,400 and 26,520 leaseholders, who will no longer have to pay those high interim costs for waking watches.