Grenfell Tower - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:14 pm on 22nd June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 2:14 pm, 22nd June 2017

I express my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for their comments and contributions today. As we have all recognised, this has been one of the most unimaginable tragedies that we have seen in many years. I once again reiterate that our thoughts at this time are very much with the families and all those affected. I reassure everyone that the Government’s focus is on doing everything possible to help those affected.

Before I respond to some of the points the noble Lords have made, in the light of the tragic events, my noble friend Lord Bourne will provide time to update Peers on the events and the Government’s response. He will host an all-Peers briefing session on Monday 26 June at 3 pm in Room 10A. As the noble Baroness said, given that things are changing regularly, we hope that the comments of my noble friend Lord Bourne on the latest issues will be a very useful update for noble Lords.

I will try to answer as many questions as I can but I shall read noble Lords’ comments, and I apologise if I do not respond to everything at this point. I will try to follow up where I can afterwards. Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked about the public inquiry. I reassure everyone that we want to leave no stone unturned, which is why we have ordered a public, judge-led inquiry. Draft terms of reference have been shared with the Lord Chief Justice and discussions about a potential chair are ongoing. We hope to have a confirmed appointment very shortly. I also reassure noble Lords that the families of victims and other interested parties will be consulted on the terms of reference, as it is essential that their voices are heard, and, as the noble Baroness rightly said, that the whole range of issues that need to be investigated are included in this inquiry.

The noble Baroness asked about the 600 figure, which I should clarify. We think that there may be around 600 buildings which have cladding. That is not to say that is combustible cladding but we think that about 600 buildings have cladding. Landlords are now examining these to see which have aluminium composite material which may need to be tested. Testing will reveal how many have the wrong type of cladding. It is important also to stress that aluminium composite material cladding itself is not dangerous, but it is important that the right type is used. Not all those 600 buildings may have an issue; that is the range of buildings which may need to be looked at. I can also confirm to the noble Lord that the testing being undertaken is free. The Government are providing the funding for that, so funding should not get in the way of testing. Indeed, we are urging all landlords to make sure that they send in samples as quickly as possible. The labs can test about 100 a day and results can be turned around very quickly so we can get very quick responses. Indeed, Camden council announced this morning or this afternoon that it needs to investigate one of its buildings. It has acted very quickly on the information it has received. Therefore, we very much hope that everyone will send their samples in and we will be able to take action as quickly as possible.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about the building regulations. Cladding using a composite aluminium panel with a polyethylene core would be non-compliant under current building regulations, as this material should not be used as cladding on buildings over 18 metres in height. It is also important to note that tests are ongoing to identify the exact causes of the fire, but we will, of course, take all steps necessary to prevent this happening again. The cost of dealing with the cladding on buildings will, of course, vary depending on the buildings. It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that people are safe but cost considerations should not, and cannot, get in the way of that, so we will look at how we can provide support. We will also obviously work with local authorities where they identify issues to ensure that they have the resources they need to deal with the issues that they may find.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, commented on the initial response. The Prime Minister has been very clear that we absolutely accept that the initial support for families was simply not good enough. She has apologised and I do so again on behalf of the Government. In terms of actions going forward, one of the actions that we will take is to set up a new civil disaster response task force. That will be part of our procedures going forward, so that we can try to ensure that the suffering people experienced after the event because the response was not good enough does not occur again.