With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire. I am also writing to the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Mr Betts, to provide a formal report on progress, a copy of which will be placed in the Library.
First, I will take a brief moment to thank all those who responded to yesterday’s serious fire in Barking, east London. The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham provided emergency accommodation for those residents who needed it, and we will continue to work with the council to ensure that residents receive the support they need at this most difficult time.
Although the cause of the fire has yet to be confirmed, I have asked the Building Research Establishment to investigate the fire, working with the London fire brigade. I have also asked the independent expert panel on wider fire safety issues to provide urgent advice to the Government. We will take account of the findings of the investigation and of the panel’s advice in our further work on reviewing the fire safety guidance. The local authority and the building owners are reviewing fire safety for the rest of the development. I remain in close contact with the London fire brigade, and I will be visiting the community later today.
As we mark two years since the devastating events of
The unprecedented disaster has been met with an unprecedented response across the Government, our public services, local government and the voluntary sector. I am hugely thankful to everyone involved, especially our emergency services and the public and voluntary sectors. In total, we have spent over £46 million of national Government funds and committed a further £55 million to help meet rehousing costs, to reimburse the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for the Grenfell site management costs, to deliver new health and wellbeing services and to deliver improvements to the Lancaster West estate.
Over £27.8 million of the nearly £29 million raised through the generosity of the British public has also now been distributed, thanks to the Charity Commission. Those affected are also getting vital support from the NHS, with a further £50 million committed over the next five years to address long-term physical and mental health needs. To date, nearly 8,000 health screenings have been completed, including for more than 900 children, with more than 2,700 individuals, including more than 600 children, receiving or having received treatment for trauma.
We are determined to make sure those affected remain at the heart of the response to this tragedy, which is why my right hon. Friend Mr Hurd continues to meet families regularly, in his role as the Grenfell victims Minister. It is why the Prime Minister recently appointed two new panel members for phase 2 of the Grenfell Tower public inquiry, to make sure it has the necessary diversity of skills and experience. And it is why the community will be pivotal to decisions about the long-term future of the site, as the Government take ownership of this, to ensure that sensitivities are respected and that they are fully engaged in additional environmental checks, after concerns were raised. Testing has started, to assess any health risk, and we will ensure that all appropriate action is taken.
Clearly, one of our biggest priorities has been rehousing the 201 households who lost their homes, with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea acquiring more than 300 homes to meet their needs and provide choice. I am pleased that all 201 households have accepted permanent or temporary homes, with 184 households in permanent accommodation and 14 in good-quality temporary homes. That represents significant progress since last year, but I am concerned that three households remain in emergency accommodation, including one in a hotel. I asked the independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce, which was set up to ensure that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea better supported residents and rebuilds trust, to look into this, and I have been assured that the council is taking an appropriate and sensitive approach, given the complex needs of those households, to find the right long-term solution for each of them.
A new home is undoubtedly an important step on the road to recovery, and it is vital that this is reinforced by long-term support, such as the recovery services co-designed by the council, in partnership with the community and local health partners. It is essential that we build on this collaboration, with the council listening and the community being heard. That is fundamental to laying the foundations for a new and stronger partnership between residents and those who serve them.
Central to this relationship, and indeed to so much of the work flowing from the fire, is the need to rebuild trust. Above all, that means ensuring that people are safe and feel safe in their homes. With that in mind, right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that we launched a consultation last week on proposals to implement meaningful reform to our building and fire safety regulatory systems, following the independent review led by Dame Judith Hackitt, to provide a clear focus on responsibility and accountability and to give residents a stronger voice to achieve the enduring change that is needed.
Alongside that, the Government also launched a call for evidence on the fire safety order to determine what changes may be required to strengthen it. This follows the recent launch of a new fund to expedite the remediation of buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material cladding in the private sector and protect leaseholders, adding up to a £600 million commitment from the Government to make the buildings of both the private and social sectors safe.
This builds on other significant measures we have undertaken, such as a ban on combustible cladding, a review of the building regulations fire safety guidance—or Approved Document B—and tests on non-ACM materials, to not only keep people safe now, but to fundamentally transform the way we build in the future, through legislation, yes, but, more crucially, through a change in culture. But I know that we must continue to challenge on what more needs to be done.
People living in buildings like Grenfell Tower need to trust that there can be no repeat of what happened that night—to trust that the state understands their lives and is working for them. That is why the social housing Green Paper, published last year, and the new deal it sets out for people living in social housing matter so much. My thanks go to the many residents who have engaged with us on this for their invaluable contribution. We are assessing the consultation responses and finalising our response. The deal it proposes aims to rebalance the relationship between residents and landlords, to address stigma and to ensure that homes are safe and decent. In addition to our drive, backed by billions, to boost the supply of social housing, the deal promises to renew our commitment to people in social housing, ensuring that everyone, no matter where they live, has the security, dignity and opportunities they need to build a better life.
Ultimately, that is our hope for the bereaved and survivors and for the strong, proud people of north Kensington, who have shown us the power of community. They and we will never, ever forget those who died in the most horrific circumstances. I know that the pain of loss continues as they wait for answers and to see justice done, as the police investigation and public inquiry continue their important work, but they should know that they are not alone: the Government, this House and, indeed, our whole country will always have a stake in the future of Grenfell, and I have every faith that this remarkable community, working in partnership, will move forward, rebuild and emerge even stronger. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement. At the start of this, the week of the second anniversary of that truly terrible Grenfell Tower fire, above all else we remember the 72 men, women and children who lost their lives, and we rededicate ourselves to doing everything needed to ensure that such a fire can never happen again.
The Grenfell survivors and families who are with us today will draw little comfort or confidence from the Secretary of State’s update statement. He made no new announcement and offered no new action. Earlier, he and I both spoke at the two-year Grenfell memorial event, with you, Mr Speaker, in Speaker’s House. Those survivors from Grenfell United who are still campaigning for change told us today:
“We shouldn’t be here;
we should be at home, rebuilding our lives”.
They said that in two years:
“Little has changed and justice still seems so far off”.
There has been over these two long years some progress, which we welcome and for which individual Members and Ministers, including the Secretary of State, deserve some credit, but a national disaster on the scale of Grenfell Tower requires a national response on the same scale from the Government. That has not happened.
Ministers have been frozen like rabbits in the headlights. Their action has been too slow and too weak on every front. There has been the failure to rehouse survivors, despite the promise that every victim of the fire would have a new permanent home within one year. There has been a failure to give justice to the Grenfell community: despite the first phase of the public inquiry first having been due to report at Easter last year, it has still not been published. There has been a failure to re-clad other dangerous high-rise blocks: despite 176 private blocks having been confirmed to have the same Grenfell-style ACM cladding, nine out of 10 have still not had it removed and replaced, and more than 70 of the block owners do not even have a plan to do the work. There also has been a failure to identify unsafe non-ACM cladding, despite the Government’s testing contract having set a completion deadline of November 2018. There has been a failure to overhaul building safety legislation, despite the final report of the Hackitt review having been published in May 2018.
Yesterday, there was the fire at Barking, where early reports point to serious problems: as at Grenfell, the De Pass Gardens residents raised safety concerns and were ignored; wood cladding was untreated for fire safety because the developer was not required to treat it; and the local council did not have the necessary powers to act to deal with this private development.
Will the Secretary of State now take up the five-point plan that Labour has published today to force the pace? If he does, he will have our full backing for such action. Will he name and shame the owners of blocks with dangerous cladding? Will he set a December deadline for the block owners to get work done? Will he update the sanctions available to councils under the Housing Act 2004 to include fines, followed by the takeover of blocks that still have dangerous cladding? Will he widen the Government’s testing regime to run full tests on all suspect non-ACM cladding? Will he bring in the long overdue overhaul of building safety legislation?
Finally, will the Secretary of State accept that only such tough action—only such far-reaching changes—will provide the proper legacy for those who perished at Grenfell Tower and that only such action and such changes will allow us all finally to say, with confidence, this can never happen again in our country?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution and for the important points he has made to the House this afternoon. Indeed, Mr Speaker, may I also thank you for allowing your State Rooms to be used this lunchtime to enable survivors, the bereaved and others to come together to share their very powerful and important experiences and to underline to us very clearly why this matters so much and why we must be resolute in the actions that we take?
The right hon. Gentleman also highlighted the work of so many who have campaigned on this matter. We note today the role of Grenfell United, and I appreciate and recognise the huge contribution that it has made. He is right to say that, no, its representatives should not be here. I commend them for the challenge and the very effective way in which they have underlined the needs of their community. I will certainly continue to work with them and bring about the change that I think is needed.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of important points. On rehousing, we remain deeply concerned about the three individuals—the three households—who are still in emergency accommodation. I can underline the fact that each household has a property reserved for it. Sensitivity is needed in undertaking this work, but we will continue to support and to challenge until all residents have a long-term home in place, because that is what matters to all of us, which is why the taskforce continues to challenge and to support us to ensure that that happens.
The right hon. Gentleman highlighted the issue of the remediation of ACM cladding as well. He will know well the frustration that I have had with the private sector, which has not done the job that it should have done. Some responsibility can be placed very firmly there, which is why we have provided an additional £200 million for the very purpose of speeding up the process so that blocks are remediated and made safe. Progress is certainly being made. If we look at the remediation in the social sector, we can see that good progress has been made there. At the end of April, remediation had started or been completed on 87% of the 158 social-sector buildings, with plans in place for the remainder. We are obviously seeing some progress in relation to the private sector.
The right hon. Gentleman highlighted the issue of local authorities and their need to see that enforcement is in place. I agree with him. That is why we are backing local authorities to take enforcement action where building owners are refusing to remediate high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding. This will include financial support, where that is necessary, for the local authority to carry out emergency remedial works. Where emergency financial support is made available, the relevant local authority will recover the costs from the building owner. Of course, we want to see this work completed as rapidly as possible, and I understand his desire to see some form of hard stop—some sort of certainty in relation to this. I say to him that some of the required work is extensive and complicated, and, indeed, that other issues, or other areas of work, may be highlighted in respect of individual buildings, but it is right that we continue to press on and take action.
Let me underline the actions that we have taken. We launched a consultation last week on proposals to implement meaningful reform to our building safety and fire regulatory systems following the independent review led by Dame Judith Hackitt, with the intent to bring forward legislation later this year, in the next Session. We want to get this reform on to the statute book and make it happen. We have taken steps with the ban on combustible cladding. We have taken steps to see that action is advanced and that buildings are made safe, and, indeed, we have taken steps with the remediation programme that is in place. Yes, there is absolutely more work to be done, and I do not shrink from that. I do not shrink from the challenge presented by the right hon. Gentleman or others across the House. I assure him and the community of our resolute determination to make that change so that people can feel—and are—safe, and to provide that lasting legacy to all those who died in the fire.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for opening your State Rooms today so that hon. Members could meet many of the survivors of Grenfell. I share the frustration expressed to me by many survivors today that, two years on, not enough progress has been made. I appeal to the Secretary of State to put his foot on the accelerator and move forward more quickly. I speak as a representative of an area of the country that has no tower blocks, but immediately after the fire and the tragedy my constituents told me that the Government are expected to do everything and anything they can to protect and support the victims, and to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. I am not sure that we are moving quickly enough. I know that we are saying the right things, that we want to do the right things, and that we want be disciplined and respectful regarding the process, but may I appeal to the Secretary of State to move forward more quickly? By doing so, he will get my support and that of my constituents.
Absolutely. It is important—especially in the remediation of this highest-risk ACM cladding—that we make as speedy progress as possible. We intend to attach conditions to the funds being made available to the private sector, for example, to show that this is able to progress quickly. Indeed, we have already written to all relevant building owners to set some expectations and outline things that they need to have in place, so that we do not lose time. What needs to happen could not be more fundamental, which is why I took the step to ban combustible materials on the external walls of residential high-rise buildings and other high-risk buildings. There is a firm commitment to seeing that that action is taken.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for hosting Grenfell United in Speaker’s House this afternoon. It gave us all a very good opportunity to listen to the testimonies of those affected by this awful tragedy. My thoughts are also with those affected by the fire in Barking. This really highlights how much still needs to be done to ensure that people can trust that their homes are safe to live in. There are clearly echoes of Grenfell in the case of Barking; people had flagged time and again that there were issues with their property, but they were not listened to. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that those who raise similar concerns are actually listened to and that action is taken?
I have with me the parliamentary briefing produced by Grenfell United, whose demands are absolutely reasonable. The things that these people are asking for are not, by any manner of means, things the Government cannot deliver should they have the will to do so. Will the Minister look at the demand for:
“A new, separate, ‘consumer protection’
regulator to protect tenants, to change the culture of social housing across the country”,
particularly as Scotland has had the Scottish Housing Regulator since 2011? In Scotland, the regulator provides a very useful means for tenants and residents to flag issues about their housing, to ensure that investigations take place and to see that action is taken, and this can make a real difference to people. If such a regulator had existed in England, it would have provided the means for residents to have their concerns heard.
Grenfell United also asks for:
“Immediate removal of dangerous cladding…Improved fire safety regime…an extension of the Freedom of Information Act to cover TMOs and housing associations…Public Authority (Accountability) Bill…justice and change…For our community to be listened to.”
It is on that last request that I want to finish. Karim spoke movingly at the event in Speaker’s House earlier, saying, “We’re not going anywhere until people are safe in their homes and you treat them with respect.” Both those things must be fulfilled for the people of Grenfell to feel as though any kind of resolution is going to come from this.
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Lady said. Yes, this is about that sense of justice and change. Clearly, there is an ongoing police inquiry that we must let take its course, and, of course, the work of the independent inquiry itself. The point about residents being listened to and respect being shown is very powerful and very important, and it will require culture change in so many ways. That process has started, but I know there is more work that needs to be done.
The hon. Lady highlights the issue of the social housing regulator—something that is of keen importance and is a key aspect of the social housing Green Paper. I am very clear, from the responses I have seen to the representations on that, that we need a much stronger response in terms of not just listening to tenants but acting on their concerns. That is the point. It is not just about trying to put something in place for the sake of it; it is about seeing that where complaints are made over building safety—there are separate regulations and issues that will come through from the implementation and the Hackitt review—there is a speedy process to see that things are done and remedied. That, for me, is and will be the test on all of this.
Of course we will keep in contact with the Scottish Government. I am open-minded as to where we can take learning, and apply and use lessons, on a two-way basis. There is good communication between my officials and officials in the Scottish Government as well. Therefore, we will learn the lessons, but equally, very firmly, make that difference.
A number of agencies are working with the community. One of the issues that I have been very concerned about is mental health support. My right hon. Friend will have heard about the additional support and funding that is being provided in that regard. There are some amazing community leaders; I have had the privilege to meet them and to see the work they are doing and the difference they are making. The council clearly has a key role to play in terms of its recovery programme and how it is putting in place these further steps. That stance of working with the community and building trust will take time, but it is an essential element if we are to move on and make the progress we need.
The time for platitudes is done. I am, frankly, shocked that Government Members have the face to wear a green heart—shame on them. How can they sleep at night when tens of thousands across the country cannot, living in homes that are potentially dangerous or with their investments worth nothing? I cannot sleep. Where is the leadership in this process? There is a whole generation of potentially unsafe buildings out there. It is hardly controversial to keep people safe in their homes. The Secretary of State talked about it being his mission. Please do not make it a mission—make it a legacy. It is within your power, and instead you consult, report, review; consult, report, review. Please, wake up from your torpor and legislate now; we know what needs to be done.
I recognise the passion of the hon. Lady and the way in which she has sought, very firmly and very effectively, to represent her constituents. I know that that passion and the real desire to see change quickly is keenly felt. There is a weight of responsibility that all of us in Government hold in respect of this. I do take that hugely seriously in seeing how we can speed up and make the progress that we need to in relation to building safety and to breaking some of the culture and stigma issues, too. That is why we have taken the series of actions that I outlined in my statement to see that we get on and get the regulations in place. It is also why I am determined that we fix what is a broken regulatory system, and why the final step of that is the consultation that we have just launched. I encourage her to engage formally and properly on that so that we get the legislation right. But equally, we are determined to see that we speed up the process, with the private sector, on getting the buildings remediated—she is right to challenge firmly on this—and that is what we are intent on doing.
The thoughts of the people of Stafford are very much with the Grenfell community and all those who have suffered in this appalling tragedy. I repeat the need for the review to result in action. Has my right hon. Friend taken into account other types of building—not only residential buildings, but schools, hospitals, hotels and office buildings—and looked across the European continent at what is best in class for fire safety, to ensure that we are at the top?
Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, when we made the decision to ban combustible cladding, we looked at what other practice was out there and how to standardise in that way. We are consulting on key elements of the new building regulation regime, so that we are in a position to legislate. He is right to talk about learning from experience elsewhere. That is what we are determined to do, so that we see a difference. As Members have said, this is about people’s lives and seeing change happening. It is not about dry reports or doing consultations; it is about seeing change come into effect, and that is what I am resolutely determined to do.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s statement, but he made no real or meaningful reference to the means of justice for the Grenfell families and the bereaved. That justice is delivered by two things. The first is the public inquiry. Can he say more about the delays that seem to be dogging the inquiry and the frustrations of the families and their lawyers in participating fully in it? The second is the police investigation. Can the police update us on it, if he cannot? Many here believe that there is culpability, which must one day be found in court.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point in his customary way. I know how much he has rightly challenged and been engaged in this issue. He may be aware that Metropolitan Police Service detectives investigating the Grenfell Tower fire have conducted 13 interviews under caution. That provides part of the criminal investigation into the fire, and Scotland Yard says that more interviews are being scheduled. This is clearly an ongoing investigation, with the police examining closely and assembling all relevant evidence, and it is right that we allow it to take its course.
The right hon. Gentleman highlighted the timetable of the public inquiry. It has been announced that the phase one report will be delayed until October this year. It is obviously an independent inquiry and process. The extension is to allow the inquiry to look thoroughly at the significant volume of evidence, and to allow time for what is known as a rule 13 process, which requires warning letters to be sent to individuals or organisations who may be subject to criticism. That is the process of the inquiry, which is independent of Government. It is for the inquiry to set out its timeline and needs.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for hosting Grenfell United today. I hope you will continue that tradition.
I have hundreds, if not thousands, of constituents living in dangerous or potentially dangerous high-rise buildings. While I welcome the Government’s cladding fund for private blocks, many of those blocks are still waiting to hear from the Government whether they will be eligible for that fund. Meanwhile, their residents are trapped in dangerous properties, with their lives completely on hold as they wait for that information. The fund does not cover many buildings in my constituency that have other cladding—not ACM cladding—or that have no firebreaks or other safety concerns. Residents in Skyline Central 1 face demands of up to £25,000 each to re-clad their building, and those in Burton Place face demands of up to £80,000 each. Those costs will not, as it stands, be covered by the fund. As there are a very high number of private blocks in my constituency, will the Secretary of State come to Manchester to meet some of these residents and talk about how we can make their lives safe and free them from the trap they are in, with properties that they cannot sell and are frightened to live in?
I can say to the hon. Lady that I have been to Manchester and met some residents previously in relation to this very serious issue and the profound impact this has on people’s lives. It was why I did make the decision to commit to fully fund the remediation of private sector high-rise residential buildings with ACM, except where a warranty claim has been accepted.
The hon. Lady rightly says there is a need for certainty as quickly as possible. That is why we did write to all relevant building owners on
It is always humbling to meet the Grenfell survivors, because often they want to talk about others who are in a worse condition than themselves or to ask what the Government are doing to prevent further tragedies in relation to cladding and other matters. Often, however, as I am sure the Secretary of State found today, if we talk to them in some depth, we find that they themselves are still suffering. After two years, despite the fact that there is an appearance of a full support structure, it often breaks down and people are being forced—or, at least, given ultimatums—to go into accommodation that is not suitable, and they do not know whom to turn to. What advice does the Secretary of State have for me and other Members when they are confronted by survivors of that kind, and where can they go to get justice, because not in every case is that being done at the moment?
I would be very interested to hear any further details from the hon. Gentleman in relation to cases he is pointing to. I know the Minister for Housing has had regular surgeries with a number of the families involved about the decision process and the support they are receiving, and indeed from the taskforce itself with the challenge and the information it gives me. I would be very pleased to meet the hon. Gentleman and talk to him about those cases. He is right: it is hugely humbling to meet the survivors and the bereaved, and see the dignity and humility that they show. I think many of us who were at the Speaker’s reception earlier today will have felt that very keenly, with the profound impact it certainly had on me and I know on others in this House, too.
Mr Speaker, I am sorry I could not join your Speaker’s reception today, because I was with those of my constituents in Barking—on Barking riverside—who are the survivors and victims of the terrible fire that took place yesterday. I hope you will give me a little leeway in what I have to say.
The pictures on the estate are horrific. Thankfully, nobody died, but had that fire taken place at night, I think people would have died. Literally the whole building was engulfed in flames within six minutes. The residents I met have lost their homes, their possessions, children’s toys, family photos and personal mementoes, and what I came across in my meetings this morning were trauma, grief and anger.
These are early days and it is appropriate that a proper investigation takes place, but let me raise three issues with the Secretary of State that arose out of my visit this morning. First, it absolutely shocked me that the fire alarms that should have been in place and operating were not working and that there were no sprinklers in this block of flats, because they were not considered necessary. This is a block of flats that was built only seven years ago.
Secondly, timber was used, and it was used really in a decorative way. Allegedly—and this is so shocking—that timber had not been treated. What I have been told is that the regulations are such that, because the building was only a six-storey building and therefore not 18 metres or higher, there was no necessity to have that sort of regulation. That is shocking. How on earth can that be possible in this day and age?
Thirdly, I want to talk about who is responsible. When we walk on to an estate like that, there is a freeholder, a developer, a builder and subcontractors, while the developer sells on to other people and there are then leaseholders and people in buy-to-let. There are myriad people who have a role to play there, and nobody is accountable. Everybody I talked to today on that side of the fence wanted to pass the buck and pass on responsibility.
I have to say to the Secretary of State that, at the end of the day, when lives are at risk he has to be responsible, and he has to empower local authorities, through him, to take responsibility. We are talking about protecting our people—the most important duty we have as elected representatives. It is no good passing the buck to other authorities. I hear what the Secretary of State says, and he does talk a lot of words. I urge him to recognise that now is the time for action. Two years on from Grenfell, we should not have had another fire.
I thank the right hon. Lady for what she has said and the points that she has made on behalf of her constituents. I do not know whether she heard it, but I indicated at the start of my statement that I would be visiting Barking later this evening. Certainly, I would like to speak to her after the formalities here today, to co-ordinate and to hear some of the feedback that she has represented on the Floor of the House this afternoon.
There are two elements that the right hon. Lady highlighted to do with fire alarms and the nature of the timber used on the balconies. This is still subject to investigation and review of precisely what went on, but I can assure her that I have asked the Building Research Establishment to provide technical expertise on investigating the reasons for the speed of the fire’s spread. The expert panel will be asked to issue further guidance urgently, and the wider circumstances will be looked at in our review of wider building safety. She makes the point powerfully about responsibility—having one person clearly responsible for the management and safety of a building—which is at the heart of Judith Hackitt’s review. That is precisely what is at the heart of the reforms, and I look forward to continuing the discussion with the right hon. Lady.
The Secretary of State has been asked on a number of occasions whether he would be willing to name and shame private landlords who do not take the action necessary. Will he confirm whether he is willing to do that, and if so when, to put pressure on them to take action and make that unnecessary? Secondly, I do not want him to comment on the legal case being launched by the Grenfell survivors against Arconic, Celotex and Whirlpool in the US, but what role, if any, does he see the Government playing in relation to that case?
On the latter point, I have only seen some of the press reporting on that litigation, so it is difficult for me to comment, not knowing at this point the detail and nature of the litigation that is contemplated. The right hon. Gentleman highlights the issue of responsibility. We have clearly set out those who have acted in a responsible way and underlined quite starkly those who have met their obligations. Clearly, those who have not are still subject to further work from local authorities. I have stressed again the enforcement powers available and the way in which we are supporting local councils in doing that, but the key thing is that we get on with this work and make those buildings safe.
When in 2014 the all-party parliamentary fire safety rescue group asked the then local government Minister in the coalition Government to act on the coroner’s recommendations, published in 2013, after the six deaths in the Lakanal House fire in 2009, that Minister said that he had not heard anything to suggest that the changes were urgent. After the all-party group said that it would go public on his inaction if there was ever another major fire tragedy, he finally announced a review just before the 2015 general election, in which he lost his seat. He has since said that the incoming 2015 Government dropped his pledge. Maybe he is wrong, so is the Secretary of State completely certain now, 10 years after the Lakanal House fire—not just two years since Grenfell—that every recommendation that the coroner made has been implemented? If not, why not?
The hon. Lady has made various statements in respect of what did or did not happen at that time. It is precisely those elements that are part of phase 2 of the public inquiry, and it is right that there should be that proper scrutiny and investigation. Phase 1 is about what happened on the night, phase 2 is about the broader issues, and that inquiry will provide the scrutiny and detailed challenge that I think she is looking for.
I thank the Secretary of State for his update. Two years is a very long time. I can only imagine the suffering and stress that the residents of Grenfell and the local community have had to endure in that time. Many other residents around the country, such as those in Reading living in flats with dangerous cladding, have also endured suffering and stress. Will the Secretary of State now commit to take urgent action? Will he visit Reading to see the flats in my constituency that are covered in dangerous cladding, as well as other buildings that may be dangerous, such as overcrowded houses in multiple occupation and shoddy conversions of office accommodation into flats?
On the last point, the hon. Gentleman may be aware that we are conducting an examination of some of the evidence around office-to-residential conversions. The point he makes is one that I have heard, which is why we are pursuing the issue further. He makes various other points about his constituents and residents. If there are particular points he wishes to make to me, my ministerial colleagues and I stand ready to respond to him. His call for action is one that I hear and will respond to.
Two years on from the Grenfell fire, thousands of people are still living in homes wrapped in unsafe, dangerous cladding. My constituents are living with unnecessary stress, anxiety and worry due to the unsafe cladding on their blocks. The Secretary of State says that the funding has now been made available for those living in privately owned blocks, but there is no deadline or timeline set for the removal of the unsafe cladding. Will the Secretary of State today confirm what timeline is being set, not just for local authorities but for the owners of private blocks, to ensure that unsafe cladding is removed more quickly?
As I indicated in a previous answer, we intend to make it a condition of the funding that there is a clear timeline and that actions are shown to be taken in terms of the work that is needed. It is not that there is a lack of intent or urgency, but some of the works required are highly complex and it is therefore difficult to set a hard deadline in the way the hon. Lady wants. However, her call for action and urgency is one that I hear loud and clear. That is the way in which we intend to operate the fund.
Ann Jones, my colleague who represents the Vale of Clwyd in the Welsh Assembly, has sponsored legislation in Wales to introduce sprinklers to prevent such fires. In response to Jeremy Lefroy, the Secretary of State said that he will look all over Europe for best practice on fire prevention. Will he look at this best practice from Wales and see if he can introduce it?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who is on the Government Front Bench, indicates that that proposed legislation may not be taken forward by the Welsh Government. On the hon. Gentleman’s broader point on the assessment of the utility and use of sprinklers, we need to look very carefully at the evidence. As part of the review of the current building regulations, we are doing precisely that. There are already obligations in England for new build blocks above 30 metres in height to have sprinklers. We are looking at what is known as Approved Document B, which is a technical document that deals with building regulations, so we can better assess the evidence for sprinklers being used in new buildings.