Andy McSmith's Diary: A law to stop more tenants burning to death is held up by Tories


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Indy Politics

“There is robust legislation in place to ensure that landlords, freeholders and others who exercise a degree of control over the management or maintenance of a building take action to remove the risk of fire,” the Local Government Minister Stephen Williams claimed yesterday, as MPs debated the story of 23-year-old Sophie Rosser, who died after running into a burning building to rescue her boyfriend, who was asleep.

Actually, the legislation is not “robust”. Scandalously, there is no legal obligation on private landlords to fit their premises with smoke alarms, though an alarm guaranteed to last 10 years costs just £15. Since 83 per cent of private landlords do so without being forced to, a change in the law would affect only the 17 per cent who put their tenants’ lives at risk to save £15.

The British Property Federation, and the Residential Landlords Association favour legislation. An “impact assessment” drawn up by civil servants last October reckoned that over 10 years, legislation would save 231 people from being burned to death. When the Labour MP Nick Raynsford raised the issue last May, the Commons voted by 245 to 8 in favour of legislation, despite an objection from Tory Philip Davies that “criminalising law-abiding, decent landlords… will have undoubted unintended consequences on the market”.

But nothing has been done. The blockage apparently does not come from with the relevant ministry, the Department of Communities and Local Government, headed by Eric Pickles. Francis Maude, that zealous enemy of overregulation at the Cabinet Office, says that he’s not the one blocking it either, so the mystery is who is?

Free seat, better call Sol

In case anybody believed the notion that the former Tottenham player Sol Campbell might succeed Sir Malcolm Rifkind as MP for Kensington, he has ruled himself out. “I would like to say that I will not be putting my name forward,” he has announced, via Twitter. “It is a plum seat and whoever is picked by the Conservatives will be the right person for the job.”

He then added, tantalisingly: “My ambitions lie elsewhere in the political arena. There are a lot of discussions to be had which I believe is the proper way to get to the right conclusion.”

An eye on our islands

It is a Foreign Office joke that Argentina is the only country in the world that sends ambassadors to the UK under instructions to make relations worse. Alicia Castro, the current ambassador, has excelled herself by sending MPs the unsolicited gift of a book whose very title, Malvinas Matters, only serves to annoy MPs for whom the islands to which it refers are and will always be the “Falklands”.

In Buenos Aires they have also issued a 50 peso bank note showing the islands as part of Argentina, prompting the Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire to tell MPs yesterday that a 50 peso note “is worth a whopping £3.72, according to today’s exchange rate. I think it probably has the equivalent political value.”

Marx statue a red menace

The city of Gloucester is having difficulty deciding what to do with a bright red, half life-size statue of Karl Marx. Gloucester is twinned with Trier, in Germany, where Marx was born in 1818, and the statue was a gift sent over last May. It is a hideous statue, though the local council’s objection to it seems to be political rather than aesthetic.

Karl Marx has never been greatly honoured in this country, where he wrote the texts that formed the rationale for the revolutions in Russia, China and other countries. The unwanted statue is currently in a back garden in Tuffley, in Gloucester, being looked after by Charles Yates, who is a member of the organisation that maintains the link between Gloucester and Trier. “He is stood in the garden quite happily,” Mr Yates told the Gloucester Citizen.

The leader of Gloucester City Council Paul James said: “I don’t think it would be appropriate to put it anywhere more prominent unless, perhaps, to warn people of the dangers of voting for Ed Miliband.”