The Fire Safety Bill comes back to the Commons this afternoon for MPs to consider the changes made by peers — and there’s an amendment in there that Labour hopes is going to cause a bit of a fuss. It’s the reiteration of what’s become known as the ‘McPartland-Smith amendment’ after the two Conservative MPs — Stephen McPartland and Royston Smith — who originally made the demand. The amendment bans leaseholders from being made liable for the costs of remediation work, such as removing flammable cladding from their homes.
This amendment was tabled by the Bishop of St Albans and has already been rejected once by the Commons. If MPs vote it down again today, which they are likely to, then the Lords cannot send it back again. Backbenchers who’ve raised concerns have been told to wait for the much bigger Building Safety Bill later in the year.
So why has Labour written to 77 Conservative MPs in seats where a large number of properties are caught by the cladding crisis? The party is calling on these MPs to ‘speak up for their constituents and vote to protect leaseholders from these outrageous costs’. Well, there’s the immediate pressure that this puts Tory MPs under to either side with the government or rebel. If they decide to do the former, then they may well only do so if they have certain assurances from ministers, which means an increase in pressure on the government. But there are also local elections looming and MPs will be picking up from their local councillors in some areas that voters are very upset at having been left in financial limbo. Raising the cladding issue is something Labour plans to do repeatedly in certain areas as the May poll approaches.
Ministers have not yet given a guarantee that leaseholders will not be forced to pay vast sums to cover remediation works for mistakes that were nothing to do with them. Until they do, this issue is going to keep infuriating groups of voters who should, as homeowners, be their natural backers.