I am not sure if this has been planned or not but, as the regional Whip for my hon. Friend Jo Platt, it is nice to have this opportunity to congratulate her on a wonderful speech. She obviously has big shoes to fill, but it is clear that she will be more than able to fill them. I know that she will be a real credit to this House and the people of Leigh.
First, I want to add my thanks to the emergency services for their bravery in the Grenfell Tower fire. I also offer my sincere and heartfelt condolences to those who lost their lives, their families and their homes.
I want to focus on an issue that I firmly believe has not received enough attention in the aftermath of last month’s fire. Since then, the media, we in this House and the wider public have sought answers for what caused the disaster. So far, cladding, individuals and the local authority have taken much of the blame, but I rise in today’s debate to highlight the role that insulation could have played in the hope that the House and the inquiry will consider the consequences of using flammable insulation, rather than a non-flammable alternative.
For those who are not aware, Grenfell Tower was insulated with a foam product named Celotex RS5000, also known as PIR. The first issue is that PIR is flammable. In small-scale tests the material’s combustibility appears to be limited, but under genuine fire conditions it is nothing short of combustible. The second issue is that when it is ignited, PIR releases toxic, deadly fumes, the most notorious of which is hydrogen cyanide, the effects of which a number of Grenfell survivors were treated for.
In the vast insulation market, there are many alternatives to PIR. The key point is that insulation has been developed that is simply not combustible. For example, the use of insulation engineered from stone wool could have saved lives in Grenfell, as it has done in previous fires. The key problems with foam insulation such as PIR are completely avoided with stone wool. It is not combustible, so it does not encourage or spread fire. As a result, it does not create the problem of toxic product inhalation.
Constructors are well aware of the dangers of using foam or fibreglass, but cannot or will not find the funds to use non-combustible stone wool. I am not suggesting for a moment that private developers should be legally bound to develop private housing estates or other developments using a particular type of insulation. Those are commercial decisions for businesses and developers, but I hope that those businesses would put public safety at the heart of whatever they are constructing in the private sector. Social housing, however, is there to protect our most vulnerable, and it should be the responsibility of the Government to legislate to ensure that the insulation used in our social housing is non-combustible.
This week I have put written questions to the Department for Communities and Local Government to ask what it will do to test similar insulation for combustibility. The reply from Ministers, in short, is that they are doing nothing. They are offering no testing, and they have no plans to do so. Today I have written to Sir Martin Moore-Bick asking him to confirm the extent to which his inquiry will consider the role of insulation in the fire, given that the Government have thus far treated the matter as an afterthought.