Private Tower Blocks: Removal of Cladding

Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee) – in the House of Commons at 7:19 pm on 29th April 2019.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Matt Warman.)

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 7:26 pm, 29th April 2019

I have secured this debate to highlight the grave danger facing thousands of people living in privately owned high-rise blocks in my constituency—[Interruption.]

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We cannot have leftover conversations from the last debate getting in the way of the hon. Lady’s speech. It is important that she is heard.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I secured this debate to highlight the grave danger facing thousands of people living in privately owned high-rise blocks in my constituency and up and down the country. I am referring, of course, to the presence of aluminium composite material—ACM—cladding on tower blocks that are owned by private companies, not council or housing associations. The danger is real and deeply worrying but can easily be alleviated if Ministers decide to take action. I hope that the Minister will today set out a firm plan of action with a clear set of deadlines to put the situation right.

It is unlikely that many of us would have been aware or known what ACM cladding was were it not for the terrible tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire. On the terrible night of 14 June 2017, 72 people lost their lives, and many more were injured, lost their homes and suffered a trauma that they are likely to carry with them for the rest of their lives. It was a trauma shared by the whole nation, which watched this needless tragedy.

It is clear that ACM cladding contributed to the speed with which the fire spread up and down the building, and to the loss of life. This was an avoidable, man-made disaster. Shockingly, the nation then discovered that this kind of cladding and similar flammable cladding is present on hundreds of blocks and other buildings around the country. In the immediate aftermath, Ministers promised swift action to replace ACM and other flammable materials on high-rise blocks, but instead, we have seen unacceptably slow progress, and 22 months later, 345 high-rise buildings with ACM panels are yet to be made safe.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and congratulate her on securing a debate on this issue, which has elicited the emotion and interest of the House over a period. Does she agree that it is imperative that the cladding is removed quickly and that a Government-aided scheme would ensure that owners do the right thing and we see the prevention of another Grenfell tragedy? That has to be our goal. It is good to see the Minister in his place; we are all appreciative of him and look forward to his response. I add that the hon. Lady has another two and a half hours for her debate.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, and I very much hope that the Minister will say something concrete about legislation and about other steps that he and his Government will take to rectify this appalling problem.

This is deeply worrying for families living in those blocks, and is causing huge anxiety, fear and insecurity. Many of my constituents have raised serious concerns. One of them said that

“we are trapped with crippling fire warden charges and have an unsaleable flat. My wife is now taking anti-depressants.”

The UK Cladding Action Group, established by residents in these unsafe blocks, has run a survey showing the impact on the mental health of these residents, and 88% stated that their mental health was worse than before. One resident said:

“I feel as though I could burn alive at any minute. I live in constant fear, my physical and mental health has taken a huge impact. My financial situation is unbearable, I cannot sell my property or remortgage. I am stuck in a nightmare”.

Another said:

“The massive £18,500 charge bestowed upon me is completely un-payable in my current financial situation. I have put everything on hold in the hope of a solution to present itself but currently nothing.”

Another said:

“I was made redundant and can’t get a loan, can’t remortgage or sell my property. I feel trapped and the anxiety of this is affecting me getting another job”.

Another said:

“The constant stress and worry has destroyed the relationship with my long term partner and as a result we have terminated our relationship. She could not handle living in a building that could kill us”.

Another said:

“The financial stress and feeling unsafe in my own home is taking a huge toll on our lives—we are also getting married in two months and this huge cladding bill has overridden everything. We want to move so we can start a family but are unable to as the flat is not sellable, and we can’t raise a family in such a flammable building.”

Others have listed many examples of struggle and trauma. One resident said:

“My partner and I need to sell our property to buy a bigger place because I am pregnant and expecting our first child in 1 month. However, we have been unable to do this due to the cladding. This has caused immense amounts of anxiety and stress. We have also had to put our wedding plans on hold.”

Another said:

“I can’t sleep very well. I think about my unsafe property daily. I can’t believe that I bought it in good faith, thinking I’d live in a safe and happy home. I’m stressed every day.”

Others have talked about their health issues. One resident said:

“I suffer from an auto immune condition. Stress and working long hours can make the symptoms worse. This is a stressful situation as I feel I may not be able to sell/remortgage my property. And now I’m not only worried about my family’s safety, I’m worried about our financial security. So now I’m working harder than ever.”

Another said:

“My boyfriend has moved to Italy without me as I cannot sell my flat…
I have had to take a second job as I am unable to sell the property and release capital”.

Another of the residents said:

“This has been the worst 21 months of my life. I am struggling to get through each day. Gone is the enjoyment of life.”

There are hundreds of these testimonies, and I have highlighted just some of the experiences of anxiety and fear, as well as devastation, that living in ACM-cladded properties has caused people up and down the country, as well as in my own constituency.

On 8 May, the UK Cladding Action Group will host a meeting to share its findings and concerns. I hope the Minister will be able to meet us at this very important meeting, and that Members from across the House will join the residents attending that meeting.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling)

Does my hon. Friend share my anxiety for the leaseholders who, even when the freeholder has done the right thing and removed the cladding, are left in a negative-equity situation, where the value of their flat is actually less than the bill hanging over their head for the removal of the cladding?

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

Absolutely. I fully agree because the leaseholders bought the properties in good faith; they did not know that these blocks had ACM cladding. If anyone is responsible, it is the Government because the ACM cladding should never have been used—it was dangerous—and that is why it is important that the Government deal with this issue to protect people from this predicament.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

On that very point, a lot of the retrofitting that used this type of cladding was actually done to comply with EU regulations on the energy efficiency of those buildings. As a consequence, those involved fell through the loophole of having to obtain an energy efficiency certificate for a building to comply legally with the associated legislation without, unfortunately, the safeguard of putting on something that met all the fire regulations and complied accordingly.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He has weaved in the European perspective, but I would say to him that, fundamentally, the duty of care is with our Government—of whichever political colour—and there was nothing stopping the Government making sure that flammable cladding was not used, so to revert to blaming the EU is frankly unhelpful and not in the spirit of the purpose of this debate. This is about how we protect our citizens in this country, and how we learn from what has happened with the failure of regulation in our country to protect people in the future and deal with what is happening now for those who have dangerous cladding covering their blocks of flats.

Last summer, after vociferous campaigning, Ministers announced £400 million of funding for urgent fire safety repairs in social housing blocks that are at risk. This is welcome, but it did not come easy. The Grenfell survivors, having been through the most horrific trauma, campaigned with charities, local authorities and Members of Parliament. We had to fight tooth and nail to secure this funding, and it took a year. It should not have taken so long; the Government should have done it immediately. Now, we have to fight tooth and nail for a similar pledge for people to be protected in privately owned blocks. I hope the Minister will say something positive today about additional funding because this has gone on for two years, and it should not be like that.

Of the 345 buildings that I have mentioned are awaiting repairs, 226 are in private hands, and Ministers have done too little to make them safe. Of course, fire does not discriminate between private and public ownership. There is no logic in safeguarding social housing while ignoring private housing. Ministers have said that they expect private building owners to pay for these measures, although this has been backed only by an appeal to their good will and good nature, rather stipulating it through legislation. The Government should make this a legal requirement.

Where repairs are being carried out, some private owners, as the Minister is fully aware, are passing on the costs to the people living in the flats as a service charge under the terms of their leases. This can amount to thousands of pounds, and it is simply unacceptable. As we know, freeholders who own these blocks are often in the shadows, obscured by front companies, and under data protection laws they can remain anonymous because of the risk of arson. If there is no law to compel freeholders and no public scrutiny, it is hardly surprising that many will fail to act.

In January, the Minister said that he could guarantee that people in high-rise flats with ACM cladding were safe to sleep at night, but thousands living in flats in high-rise buildings, encased in cladding that could spread fire with rapacious speed, do not feel safe and there is no good night’s sleep. The sleepless nights will continue until Ministers get a grip and move fast to take down the cladding.

My local authority, Tower Hamlets, is among those with the highest number of blocks with dangerous ACM cladding in the country: 41 are privately owned blocks, and nine are social housing blocks. Victoria Wharf in my constituency, which has been in the press, has ACM cladding like that at Grenfell. Residents have been charged nearly £7,000 per flat for temporary safety measures, such as 24-hour fire wardens. They are very concerned that no real action has been taken yet, despite the fact that the dangers are well known. The freeholder is Vuillard Holdings, which is registered offshore.

Currently, there are no legal means of forcing the owners to meet their obligations—and if there are any, they are not affordable for my constituents. Perhaps the Government could take legal action against these companies if they are not prepared to legislate to make the companies pay. Time and again, when Ministers have heard the anguished cries of people in this situation, they have offered no solace. Indeed, the Minister for Housing told the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that he was “sorry to be opaque” when he was pressed on making funding available for private ACM-clad plots. I am sorry, too. This evening, instead of being opaque, I hope he will be transparent and demonstrate the urgency of the matter by announcing practical action backed by resources.

Specifically, I ask the Minister to address the following. Will his Department commit to creating new national funding for the removal of dangerous cladding from private blocks, administered by either national or local government? That would mean that works could start straight away. The funding must be additional, given the crisis in local government finance. Will he agree a series of deadlines along a clear timeline to remove all dangerous cladding? Will he amend existing legislation to force freeholders to pay for repairs?

I hope that we are about to hear an action plan about these important issues—making money available now, setting a timetable and making freeholders pay. In last year’s Budget, the Chancellor made £420 million of extra funding available to fix potholes. Do not get me wrong: fixing potholes is important—I tripped on one and had an injury—but the issue that we are debating is a matter of life and death for thousands of people up and down the country. For many in my constituency and the constituencies of Members across the House, urgent action is required.

After Grenfell, the Prime Minister said:

My Government will do whatever it takes to…keep our people safe.”

Two years on, her Government have completely failed to honour that commitment, even when people are living in utter fear and despair for their and their family’s safety and are trapped in properties with no end in sight. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if one more fatality like those at Grenfell occurs in a block with ACM cladding because of this Government’s failure to act, this Government will be absolutely liable. They will have blood on their hands if they do not take action and if some other disaster happens.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 7:43 pm, 29th April 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali, my parliamentary neighbour, on securing this important debate and on representing the plight of her constituents so powerfully. It is a pleasure to follow her.

I am pleased that both the Minister for Housing and the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service have been listening to my hon. Friend’s presentation of her issues, and will be listening to the rest of us, who have an opportunity to contribute that was not entirely expected. I am grateful for the chance. There have been a number of opportunities to discuss this issue over recent months. On 9 April, I raised New Providence Wharf in my constituency, and the reluctance of the developer and freeholder, Ballymore, to conform to the Government’s expectation that it would cover the costs necessary for fire safety work for residents.

I gently remind the Minister for Housing, for whom I have the highest regard, as I have for the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, that I was promised a written update. I have yet to receive that correspondence. I would be grateful if he ensured that his office got that out for me. My constituents are asking me about it; it is only fair that I pass that on.

I want to mention the Inside Housing campaign, “End our Cladding Scandal”. Last Friday, the publication launched a new campaign that calls on the Government to act and end the scandal of residents trapped in private residential blocks with dangerous cladding. The all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform has backed the campaign, as have many MPs, the National Housing Federation, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Fire Brigades Union and Grenfell United.

The campaign has three main aims: the Government should provide a fund to cover the cost of cladding removal and remedial works on private blocks—as they have, very positively, for the social sector; the Government should set out a firm timescale of no more than two years for the work to be carried out; and residents should be reimbursed for the interim fire safety costs incurred, and funding should be provided for necessary internal fire safety measures identified by a competent fire risk assessor. Will the Minister comment on that campaign?

Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow mentioned in her introduction, the UK Cladding Action Group has conducted a mental, social and physical health survey to support its campaign. Its key findings are that nearly 65% of respondents said that, as a direct result of the ongoing situation, their mental health has been hugely affected. More than 85% stated that their mental health is worse now than it was before the ongoing situation. Almost 70% of live-in leaseholders said that they feel anxious and/or worried daily when they think of their future in relation to the ongoing situation. More than 90% of respondents said that they have money worries. Some 84% said they felt unsupported by the Government, and more than 60% said that they had worries about their family members’ safety. Is the Minister aware of this survey, and have the Government given a response?

Finally, the Association of British Insurers has supplied a briefing for this debate. It does not really cover the issue of Government funding for removal of defective material, but it does call for a renewed testing framework, for fire sprinklers for buildings above 18 metres or even 11 metres in height, and for more urgent reassessment of modern methods of construction and building regulations generally, as both Ministers on the Treasury Bench are aware.

This is more than an important issue; as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said, it is critical to tens of thousands of our constituents. We are indebted to her for securing this debate, and for giving the Minister another opportunity to state the Government’s position. That position is supported across the House, but we want more developers to support what the Government expect them to support.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North 7:47 pm, 29th April 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali on securing this really important debate. I remember the morning when I first saw the horrific scene of Grenfell on my television screen; I had been elected only a few days earlier. Those images—the horror of it—were very poignant to me and all of us here, I am sure.

The Government response has just not been good enough—not only the actions there and then, but what has since transpired. I was really horrified by what I saw then and what I have learned since. I do not want that lack of action and slow response to be replicated if such a thing happened again. If this had happened in the Minister’s backyard, or perhaps in a safe seat in south-east England, there might have been a very immediate response. I hope that the Minister will think about what will happen from now on to ensure that people living in high-rise buildings are safeguarded and looked after.

That is not what is happening in my constituency of Cardiff North, where I have a few high-rise buildings. The cladding on one of those buildings, Lydstep Flats, was tested shortly after Grenfell and was found to be in breach of fire and safety regulations. Of course, the cladding was immediately taken down, so that the residents could sleep comfortably in their beds at night. Since then, however, the mix of private and Cardiff Council ownership has meant that there has not been adequate funding to replace the cladding, and the residents are now suffering day in, day out. That has nothing to do with the aesthetics of how the building looks; it is about what it is like to live there. I have visited those flats. There is damp and mould. Many of the flats are horrific. People are living in squalid conditions, and are suffering from mental and physical problems as a result.

One constituent came to me—I have since helped her to move flat—suffering from respiratory and mental health problems. She is really very concerned. Two fantastic local Labour councillors, Dilwar Ali and Jennifer Burke-Davies, have done their utmost to fight for the council to replace the cladding. The council is working very hard to find the funds, and a surveyor is looking at what the cladding needs to be, but there is no central funding from UK Government. We know how cash-strapped councils are. I believe it is for the UK Government to ensure that councils have adequate funding to replace cladding, so that my constituents in Lydstep Flats can sleep soundly at night, are not in fear of their safety, and can be healthy, rather than fearful about their health.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 7:52 pm, 29th April 2019

I commend Rushanara Ali for securing this important debate. She has written to me on several occasions about this issue, and I congratulate her on her assiduous service to her constituents, as I do other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate.

I want to start by reassuring the House that I am well aware of the anxiety, fear and insecurity, as the hon. Lady put it, felt by many people living in blocks affected by this issue. Having met the UK Cladding Action Group, individuals and organisations from the Grenfell community and others, it is very clear to me that this event and its consequences have caused enormous distress—and there are also the practical issues that she rightly raised in relation to particular properties. I reassure her that much of my time, effort and commitment is spent trying to rectify this awful situation. Further to what Anna McMorrin alleged about a possibly partial response, I gently point out that Grenfell Tower was in my London Assembly constituency. I served that community and the wider community for eight years. The idea that there would be any lack of commitment from my point of view is, frankly, for the birds.

Before addressing funding, I want to update the House on the wider remediation work under way. In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we established the building safety programme. A key objective of the programme has been to identify and remediate buildings with unsafe ACM cladding. We have collected data on over 6,000 private sector high-rise buildings, and we have identified 267 with unsafe cladding systems. There are plans and commitments in place to remediate 82% of those buildings. That includes buildings on which remediation has started or been completed. That progress is the result of action we have taken to put pressure on building owners and developers to reach a resolution.

In the private sector, we have been very clear that freeholders should do all they can to protect leaseholders from additional costs, by either funding remediation themselves or looking at alternative routes, such as insurance claims, warranties or legal action. The Secretary of State has written to all relevant building owners, setting out our strong expectation that leaseholders will be protected. He has asked them to find an acceptable solution urgently.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

The Minister is doing much good work on this issue. He is always very responsive; he exchanged text messages with me on this issue early on Saturday morning. He says he takes nothing off the table, in terms of getting freeholders or developers to pay for this work. He also says that long leaseholders should not be responsible either. Where we cannot find a freeholder or a developer to hold accountable for this work, long leaseholders will be left in limbo; their apartments will be unsellable, and they will live under unacceptable stress. Is it not right for the Government to step in with a central fund to carry out the remediation work, and worry about whether they can find the freeholder or developer afterwards?

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If he will bear with me, I will come on to some of those issues in my speech. If I have not addressed them by the end, he can by all means intervene on me again.

Owing to our continued pressure, following the Secretary of State writing to all building owners, there is a growing list of owners and developers who are agreeing to fund remediation. Leaseholders are currently protected from remediation costs in 83 out of 176 residential buildings. The growing list of owners and developers who have stepped in includes Barratt Developments, Mace Group, Legal & General, Peabody, Aberdeen Asset Management and Frasers Property. I am pleased to say that following regular engagement from the Secretary of State, me and senior officials, the building owners at Green Quarter in Manchester have now written to leaseholders to confirm that a fund has been established. This will ensure that leaseholders will not have to pay for the cost of remediating the ACM. We are very pleased at this outcome. I know residents feel strong relief that the uncertainty and anxiety over costs has come to an end.

We remain concerned, however, that some leaseholders are not yet protected from costs. They have found themselves in this difficult and stressful situation through no fault of their own, having bought their properties in good faith. I would like to assure Members that the Secretary of State and I, as well as senior officials, continue to press owners and developers of all high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding to protect leaseholders from paying for this essential remedial work. Further to that, we have been engaged across Government to consider additional interventions, so that progress can be made more swiftly.

We also want to make sure that leaseholders can access independent initial advice. We have provided funding to the Leasehold Advisory Service, which provides a free, initial service to affected leaseholders. Its dedicated advice line and outreach helps leaseholders to understand their rights and the terms of their leases. The Leasehold Advisory Service has supported a number of affected leaseholders to understand the terms of their leases and the legal process for challenging a building owner if they attempt to pass costs on.

On the subject of pace, we are working with all relevant parties, including local authorities and building owners, to ensure remediation happens without unnecessary delay. Remediation does take time and it is important to get it right. The time to complete work varies considerably depending on factors such as structure, extent of cladding and existing fire safety systems. For many buildings, this is a complex job involving major construction work. I am aware that the removal of cladding in a number of buildings has revealed other defects and issues that have complicated matters and needed rectification.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Before he moves off the point about discussions across Government of what further measures they might be able to take, is he able to articulate what they are tonight or will he lay them out in due course to the House?

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to press me, as is my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake. I am not able to say tonight what specific measures are likely, but I am hopeful that we will be able to do so shortly.

We have worked closely with local authorities and fire and rescue services to ensure that interim safety measures are in place, so that residents are safe in their beds tonight. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow referred to my wanting reassurance that people are safe tonight. In fact, I have ordered a review of all those arrangements to take place as soon as possible, so that I can reassure myself that that is still the case.

Local authorities have the power to enforce these improvements if building owners do not take action. We are backing local authorities to take action where buildings owners refuse to remediate, including with financial support where it is necessary for the local authority to carry out emergency remedial work. Where financial support is made available, the relevant local authorities will attempt to recover the costs from the building owner.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

The Minister referred to “tonight”. Is he saying that every time we manage to get him into this Chamber he can reassure our constituents that they are safe for a night, or does he mean indefinitely, until the work is done? Will he explain how people can be protected against having to pay thousands of pounds towards the fire wardens, because that is happening to my constituents?

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

As I have explained on numerous occasions, my primary concern, while waiting for the work to be undertaken, is to make sure that interim measures are in place in every affected building, so that people can be reassured that they are safe this evening and until that work is done. It is obviously the responsibility of building owners to make sure that their buildings are safe, but local fire and rescue services have been working closely alongside local authorities to make sure that that certification is in place. I have asked for a review, I guess to satisfy myself that the measures taken over the last few months—whether waking watch or others—are still in place and are still assiduously adhered to.

I met someone recently who outlined that one measure that has been very reassuring for her has been the heat detectors in the rubbish chutes—often flashpoints for the start of fires—that alert the building control system that a fire may well be starting. We want to reassure ourselves that, across those buildings that have not yet been remediated, those interim measures are in place, to reassure people for the moment, while we wait for remediation. I acknowledge that this is not an ideal situation. We want to get the remediation done as quickly as possible.

However, whatever solution is found for these buildings, we have to recognise that these are often complex and difficult construction jobs involving enormous amounts of scaffolding, the procurement of alternative methods of cladding and finding the workforce and contractors to do the work. All of that may well necessarily take some time. However, as I said, local authorities have the power to enforce these improvements, and we have included a package of financial support where it is necessary and local authorities feel the need to step in. We intend to recover those costs from building owners if that is the case.

We established a joint inspection team to provide support to local authorities in ensuring, and where necessary, enforcing that remediation. We have strengthened the housing health and safety rating system and its operating guidance to provide specific guidance on the assessment of high-rise residential buildings with unsafe cladding. That should help local authorities to take action.

The Secretary of State and I also regularly chair a remediation taskforce to oversee progress. I take this opportunity to remind the House of the strong progress we have made in social sector remediation. The Government made £400 million available to social sector landlords to fund the remediation of unsafe aluminium composite material cladding on residential social housing buildings taller than 18 metres. We have so far allocated £259 million, and we are still accepting applications. Remediation has started or been completed in 85% of social sector buildings, and there are plans and commitments in place to remediate all remaining buildings.

I would also like to tell hon. Members about the work we are doing following the Hackitt review. Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we asked Dame Judith Hackitt to carry out an independent review of building regulations and fire safety. Dame Judith’s review found that the system was not fit for purpose. The review made 53 recommendations to establish a new regulatory framework and achieve a culture change to build and maintain safe buildings. The Government accepted the diagnosis of the independent review and published our implementation plan last December, which set out how we intend to take forward the review’s recommendations.

We committed in the implementation plan to consult on our proposals for a fundamental reform of the building safety system this spring, and we will publish our proposals shortly. Our aim is to put residents at the heart of a more effective system, with clear and more demanding accountability and responsibility for those who design, construct and manage buildings, alongside effective penalties for those who flout the system. We have not waited for legislation to begin to reform the system; we have already made progress. This includes launching consultations to make sure that standards and guidance are clear, banning combustible cladding on new buildings taller than 18 metres and further restricting desktop studies. We are also launching calls for evidence around approved document B and the role that residents can play in keeping buildings safe. Much of the work to reform the building safety system will require primary legislation, which we have committed to introducing at the earliest opportunity.

We are also making sure that change begins on the ground as soon as possible through our joint regulators group, which is helping us to develop and pilot new approaches and to transition to a new, safer system. An industry early adopters group is trialling aspects of the proposed new regulatory framework in advance of legislation. Industry must also drive culture change by adopting a safety-first mindset and taking greater responsibility for building safety, and we will champion those that do the right thing.

The Grenfell Tower fire represents the greatest loss of life in a residential fire in a century. We must rebuild public trust in the system in tribute to those who lost their lives, the bereaved and the survivors.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

This update is helpful, but I bring the Minister back to the points made about resources for privately owned blocks, because that is where the big loophole is. Kevin Hollinrake mentioned the Government fronting the cost and then going after the people who are liable—the freeholders—to pay. So far the Government have not shown themselves to be on the side of residents caught in this trap, but that is what is needed; the Government need to fight for ordinary people stuck in this position. I would be grateful if the Minister could give me a substantive answer. To do otherwise would suggest the use of a delaying tactic, which is really unhelpful. Frankly, our constituents will not sleep comfortably tonight or any night if it carries on like this.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I do not seek to use any kind of delaying tactic. I cannot give the hon. Lady a specific answer tonight, but I can say, as I said earlier, that conversations are ongoing across Government about what further interventions we can make, because we recognise that the issue needs to be resolved as urgently as possible. In the social sector we are making good progress. In the private sector, progress is slower; I absolutely admit that. We need to do something to speed that up, and we hope to increase the pace quite soon. Discussions are ongoing.

However, I point out that we have said to local authorities that, where they go into a building and assess there to be a category 1 hazard, we will support them to step in and do the work themselves. We have said specifically that we will provide financial support for that to happen. We have amended the HHSRS tool to take into account and appreciate the envelope of a building, not just houses that are internal. The tools are there for local authorities to step in and take action where they believe there to be an imminent threat to life.

Alongside that, as I say, we have commissioned a wider review to make sure that the measures required to keep people safe on an interim basis are assiduously applied and monitored while we try to sort out the remainder—the tail end—of this unfortunate problem. It has been a difficult and complex landscape —both legally and practically—with which we have had to wrestle, and I hope that we will reach a resolution soon. Pleasingly, as I say, the vast majority of large developers in the industry are stepping forward to play their part, which we should welcome.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

Can I ask the Minister once again about the timeframe he has in mind to get a grip on the outstanding issues, particularly with those companies that are not co-operating? Would he consider legislative action—or whatever action the Government can apply—to make them comply? Without the forcefulness of his Department and the entire Government, we are at risk of creating further danger to people’s lives.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Lady should be under no illusion as to the amount of effort, time and commitment we are putting in to resolve this issue. There are meetings, both individual and collective, with companies and residents, and we are very close to the local authority and the community, who are also working hard, alongside us, to reach a resolution. I cannot give her a specific timeframe, but my desire is to get this finished and done as quickly as possible. I have seen the pain and anguish on the faces of people affected—it is very affecting to meet them and to understand what they are living with—and while I fortunately do not live in one of those buildings, it is not hard to put oneself in the position, in particular, of people whose home was their pride and joy and who had made a huge financial commitment. As I say, we are working as hard as we can to get that sorted out.

On that note, I thank hon. Members who have participated in the debate and reassure the House that we take this matter extremely seriously and are applying enormous resources to reach a resolution for all affected residents. Critically, we are determined to learn the lessons of the Grenfell tragedy and to ensure that nothing like it can ever happen again.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.