Grenfell Tower and Fire Safety: Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:12 pm on 20th July 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 2:12 pm, 20th July 2017

The noble Lord is right to query that. Until shortly before I came in, the figure was still being updated, but the Secretary of State used the figure seven in the Commons, which is the one that I repeated. Of course, it is still important that we bear down with regard to those seven outstanding tower blocks that have yet to be tested; it is important that the housing associations comply with the request to bring forward their samples.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about the power to issue directions—I think the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, also referred to that—which is under the Housing Act 2004. We have been careful to check what legal powers we have, and those are the powers as stated. The inquiry may want to look at this—I am sure it will—but that is the power as set out. Both noble Lords made a point, understandably and rightly, about updates, and I will certainly ensure that the updates provided to MPs in the Commons are also sent to noble Lords. I will also address in correspondence any points that noble Lords want to raise over the summer, and I will copy it to Peers. If it is felt that it would be appropriate and helpful, and it may well be, I am willing to give an update briefing and answer questions when we come back in September, as happened as during the earlier briefing.

On points made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in addition to those I have tried to cover, the supply of affordable housing and permanent housing is important. Kensington and Chelsea will make a statement on this shortly. The council will want to share the housing commitment to residents who lived in Grenfell Tower first with those affected, but it will certainly be available shortly to noble Lords.

System testing has been recommended by the expert panel, and that is being carried forward, starting next week. Once that information has been conveyed to housing associations and local authorities, it will be conveyed more widely.

Regarding the cut-off height of 18 metres, I am not an expert on this but I believe it is used very often in relation to tower blocks. I think that fire and rescue above 18 metres is demonstrably more difficult but, again, I suspect that is something the inquiry will be looking at.

On the terms of reference, the consultation will be open until 28 July—that is, a week tomorrow—to gain as broad a consensus as possible on what should be looked at. Once that has been completed, we will hope to settle the terms of reference very quickly.