Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this long—a little over an hour on one group—but important debate on ensuring that the polluter pays. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock, for Amendment 22, on the levy on social housing. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, raised the issues of exemptions from the building safety levy for social housing providers and who the details of the buildings levy will apply to in secondary legislation.
I am pleased to inform the noble Baroness that we are considering an exemption from the levy for affordable housing as a whole, including social housing, housing for rent or sale at least 20% below market rent or sales rates, and shared ownership. The Government recognise that applying a levy to affordable housing would increase the cost of developing affordable housing and would therefore be likely to disincentivise supply, as the noble Baroness said. We consulted on this exemption for affordable housing in our consultation on the levy, which ran from July to October last year.
I hope the noble Baroness understands that her suggestion is under careful consideration and will be addressed in secondary legislation. I will probably have to roughly translate: she should be reassured that the building safety levy will not apply to public housing. That probably makes it a little easier for her to decide what she wants to do.
I turn now to Amendment 200, on the leaseholder protection fund, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, which would require the Government to use funds raised by the levy to refund leaseholders who have already paid for safety works. While a noble thing to do, the Government’s primary aim is and should be to protect leaseholders from building safety risks and enable work to be undertaken to ensure this. For this reason, we will not be able to accept the amendment.
On Amendment 221, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for this amendment. We share her determination to make sure that the industry acts now to take responsibility for fixing building safety defects and that the burden should not fall on leaseholders or taxpayers. The whole tone of the amendment is to get on with remediation and I have great sympathy for that. The principal objective of Clauses 128 and 129 is to make sure that responsible parties pay and to enable us to hold the industry to account. The further amendment I spoke to earlier will make it clear that we can link the scheme to the planning system.
Together, these powers will allow us to monitor compliance of members of the responsible actors scheme and make sure that members take responsibility and act promptly to make buildings safe. We do not believe a 5-year deadline needs to be inserted into the Bill. Our intention is for the measure to achieve its objectives much more quickly. Those that do not meet the scheme conditions may lose scheme membership and may immediately be subject to the planning prohibition, as our amendments make clear. A focus on pace is already built into the Government’s approach. I hope this reassures the noble Baroness that her intention has been more than met by the Government through this Bill, just in another way.
I turn now to Amendment 231 on social landlords and defects, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock. The Bill already makes provision to protect leaseholders from unreasonable costs and allow guilty parties to be pursued. It contains a requirement on landlords to take reasonable steps to pursue other cost recovery avenues before seeking to recover the costs of remediation works from leaseholders. They need to provide evidence to the leaseholders of the steps taken. Social landlords will have to undertake these measures, including pursuing construction companies or installers where applicable.
To help all landlords, including social landlords, the Government are bringing forward an ambitious toolkit of other measures to allow those responsible to be pursued. This includes extending the limitation period under Section 1 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 to apply retrospectively for 30 years. We are also allowing the High Courts to extend the reach of civil liability to associated companies and creating a new cause of action. This will allow manufacturers, distributors and sellers of construction products to be pursued where defective or mis-sold products have been used in the construction of a dwelling, or where further works are carried out to that dwelling, rendering it unfit for habitation. These amendments make it easier for those affected to force those responsible for defective buildings—developers and construction products manufacturers—to pay.
While we are making it easier to pursue third parties, in parallel, we continue to protect leaseholders, so they are not paying for unreasonable remediation costs. The Bill introduces new statutory provisions which provide that cladding remediation costs cannot be passed on to qualifying leaseholders in buildings over 11 metres. The law is already clear that service charges and any increase in cost must be reasonable. Finally, the Government set a rent policy for social housing which determines the maximum amount of rent that social tenants may be charged and the maximum amount by which rents may increase each year. The rent standard prevents unforeseen hikes to tenants’ rents and is enforced by the Regulator of Social Housing.
Turning now to Amendment 232 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, the service charge is the means by which fire safety costs would be recovered and the leaseholder protections measures already prevent costs being passed to leaseholders above the permitted maximum.
I now turn to Amendment 233, tabled by my noble friends Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Blencathra, which seeks to impose a duty on local authorities to pursue responsible developers. It imposes requirements on local authorities to remediate buildings with defects and to recover funds from responsible parties. If no funds can be recovered, the Secretary of State would be required to reimburse the local authority.
We have been clear that industry is responsible for remediating defective buildings. We expect developers to remediate buildings they had a role in developing or refurbishing. Where this does not happen, building owners and landlords will have new powers to pursue those responsible. Local authorities will also have powers under our new remediation orders and remediation contribution orders, as will other regulatory bodies. However, to impose a duty on local authorities to fix buildings or pursue responsible parties is not the right approach. This would absolve industry of its duty to resolve the crisis and building owners and landlords of their responsibilities to make buildings safe. It would also place an unacceptable burden on the taxpayer.
The amendment seeks to create a taxpayer backstop by requiring the Secretary of State to reimburse local authorities for costs they cannot recover. We have been very clear that it is wrong to look to the taxpayer for further funding to fix defective buildings. For these reasons, we will not be able to accept the amendment. I want to deal with the specific issue of the remediator of last resort. I understand where my noble friend Lord Young is coming from. We have asked the industry to provide a fully funded solution for both the cladding and non-cladding costs, including fixing their own buildings and contributing to a fund for the very orphan buildings he has highlighted of between 11 and 18 metres that need cladding remediation. The focus of the industry is on fixing its own buildings, and therefore we can begin to be more focused on where we apply taxpayer funds.
Finally, I address Amendments 201, 202, 229, 234, 235, 236 and 237 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. Amendments 201 and 202 would hold the Crown liable where properties escheat—that is probably not the right pronunciation—and would prevent liquidators and trustees in bankruptcy renouncing the leases of buildings with fire safety defects. The Bill already prevents freeholders evading liability by simply escheating their properties where they do not want to pay. It also makes provisions in relation to insolvency and bankruptcy. Freeholders will still be liable where they were, or were connected to, the developer, or had a net worth over £2 million per in-scope building on 14 February. As I have said before, taxpayers should not be held liable. For this reason, I will not be able to accept these amendments. Amendment 229 is unnecessary as landlords are already prevented from passing on costs unless they have explored all other routes of funding.
I turn to the important Amendments 234 to 237. These cover building safety cost orders, providing powers to make regulations, stipulating liability and establishing a building safety cost fund. Liability for remediation costs is already set out in the Bill, as are provisions for building owners and landlords to go after associated developers, companies and manufacturers of defective products. For this reason, I will not be able to accept these amendments.
My noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lord Young of Cookham raised the position of enfranchised leaseholders and asked whether we have made life harder for them via Amendments 186 to 193. I want to be absolutely clear that nothing in the amendments increases liabilities for enfranchised leaseholders. No leaseholder will be worse off; all are measures to make the polluter pays principle apply to enfranchised leaseholders.
I hope that I have gone some way to provide assurances on the Government’s approach.