Building Safety

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:41 pm on 15th March 2018.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 11:41 pm, 15th March 2018

I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement.

Nine months on, we all still live with the human tragedy of Grenfell and the realisation that we saw the systemic failure of our system of building checks and controls. We must keep that in mind because, as the Secretary of State said—I will always endorse these words—public safety has to be paramount. That also means, however, that there has to be transparency, accountability and a driving sense of urgency.

I welcome the transparency of the Secretary of State’s making this statement at the earliest possible stage. It is right and proper that this information is in the public domain, so I thank him. I think he would agree that if the Opposition demand accountability and that the Government demonstrate a sense of urgency, that can never be open to the charge of political point scoring.

I add my thanks for the work of the Metropolitan police. The Secretary of State told us that the “Metropolitan police considered that this test result might have wider implications for public safety” and consequently alerted the Department. I was a little surprised when he said that there is “no evidence that this is a systemic issue.” I was astounded when he went on to say: “Data from between 2009 and 2017 shows that fire does not generally spread beyond the room of origin.” That may be true, but we know that that was exactly what did happen in Grenfell Tower—the fire spread and spread and spread. We cannot have any sense of complacency.

The Secretary of State says that this issue is not “systemic”, but what assessment has been made of how many buildings might be affected? How many individual flats—how many people—have fire doors that simply do not do the job? If he does not already know those numbers—I suspect it is too early to know—what steps is he taking to ascertain them? This is the point at which the words “this is not systemic” begin to sound a little incredible. There may be a systemic problem, and we have to begin to recognise that if this is a wide-scale issue, we have that systemic problem.

We need a real sense of urgency on this, as indeed we do regarding other aspects of building control. Tower block residents up and down the country are entitled to know—not simply post Grenfell—the scale of the issues. I must say to the Secretary of State that that sense of urgency has not always been apparent in all the Government’s actions. Earlier this week, he was a little embarrassed when he was not able to answer a question that was put to him at Question Time about how many tower blocks are unsafe post Grenfell. He was not able to say how many private tower blocks up and down the country have the same aluminium composite material cladding that was used on Grenfell. We now need some urgency in providing those answers and bringing the information before the House. I hope that he can tell us when he will have that information and when we can begin to give people a sense of reassurance.

In a recent written answer to my right hon. Friend John Healey, the shadow Housing Minister, the Department confirmed that no funding had yet been provided to any of the 41 local authorities that had contacted it. We were told at Question Time that no funding requests had been refused, but that is not quite the full truth if the reality is that no funding request had actually been acceded to. Again, perhaps the Secretary of State can update us and tell us when the local authorities, which really do want to get on with this work, will see the assistance from central Government to which he committed nearly nine months ago.

The upshot of all of this is that, nine months on, only seven of more than 300 tower blocks that had been identified as having dangerous cladding have had that cladding removed and replaced with something more acceptable. I must say to the Secretary of State that, nine months on, that is simply not good enough.