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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 3:32 pm, 30th October 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick, perhaps making his last speech in this House. I thank him for his friendship over the years and his unswerving commitment to fire safety. He will certainly be remembered for that. I also thank my hon. Friend Emma Dent Coad for her outstanding work on behalf of her constituents. This disaster happened shortly after she had been elected, and I do not think that anyone in this country could have had better representation through the difficulties that the community faced and the work that she has done on their behalf.

I thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick for his recommendations in the inquiry. Of course, they need to be implemented and the funding needs to be made available. To pick out certain salient points, it is very clear that the cladding on that building did not meet fire or building regulations. It was there illegally. Eventually, the inquiry will look at how it came to be in that situation, but at some point someone will have to be held accountable because if that material had not been on that building, the disaster would not have happened. That is absolutely key.

The second issue, a concern to which Sir Martin draws attention in paragraph 33.6, is the delay in getting action in removing this cladding from other buildings. Indeed, the Secretary of State has said that he has concerns about that. The Government were too late in providing funding for social housing and in providing money for the private sector. They now have to act to make sure that disputes between freeholders and leaseholders in the private sector do not lead to further delays and to support local authorities in taking enforcement action.

What can the Government do? We referred to this in the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee the other day: they should act quickly to deal with the conflicts of interest in testing, where producers go round from one testing organisation to another to find one that will approve their product with no public transparency about the products that have failed various tests. That must be rectified quickly.

As I said to the Secretary of State the other day, the process whereby developers in high-risk buildings can appoint their friends to be the building inspectors who sign off the work is not acceptable. It cannot be allowed to continue. I have referenced a block of student accommodation in Sheffield evacuated the other day because the building inspector had not even been on site to give approval to the building and sign it off. That, again, needs to be stopped here and now.

Finally, reference has been made to non-ACM cladding. There are materials on half a million properties—half a million flats and apartments—in this country now that would not be allowed and approved on a new building but that are thought acceptable, and people have to stay in those homes and live in them at night. That cannot be right either; that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency as well.