Grenfell Tower - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:26 pm on 11th June 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:26 pm, 11th June 2018

My Lords, with the permission of the House I beg leave to repeat the Statement made by my right honourable friend James Brokenshire, the Secretary of Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the other place earlier today. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire, meeting our commitment to update the House following the Opposition day debate on 16 May. I am also writing to the Chair of the Select Committee to provide a formal report on progress, a copy of which will be placed in the House Library.

As we prepare to mark a year since that tragedy, this will be an extremely painful time for the community. Many honourable members provided powerful and poignant contributions in the e-petition and Opposition day debates last month, and I know that the whole House will join me in sending the bereaved and survivors our love and prayers.

The fourteenth of June 2017 saw the greatest loss of life in a residential fire since the Second World War. Seventy-one people lost their lives on the night of the fire, and a former tower resident who was rescued from the 19th floor passed away earlier this year. The start of the public inquiry was a timely reminder of that terrible human cost: a baby who never lived to learn how much he was loved; three generations of a family wiped out; and heroes who died saving others. Nobody could fail to be moved by the extraordinary tributes paid by family and friends to the loved ones they lost, by their courage and dignity in the face of unimaginable loss, and, yes, by their anger too. A catastrophe of this kind should never have happened in the United Kingdom in 2017 and, when it did, the initial response was not good enough. Nothing can undo the anguish and devastation this has caused, but as the Prime Minister has said, we can and must do right by the memory of those who lost their lives and those left behind, by supporting those affected, securing justice and, above all, ensuring that nothing like this can ever happen again.

There has been an unprecedented effort across government and our public services. Help is being provided on a range of issues—from advice on benefits to emotional and mental health support. In total, we have spent over £46 million of national Government funds and committed a further £34 million to help meet rehousing costs, deliver new mental health services and deliver improvements to the Lancaster West estate. The appointment of my right honourable friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner as Grenfell victims’ Minister has helped ensure that the voices of those affected inform the response. We set up the independent Grenfell recovery taskforce to help and challenge the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to provide better support for residents and rebuild trust. I want to thank everyone for their tireless support, particularly the emergency services and the public and voluntary sectors.

Clearly, one of the most pressing issues has been rehousing those who lost their homes. A large-scale programme of investment work has been under way to ensure homes are of good quality and personalised to meet the needs of families. The council has acquired more than 300 homes in and around the borough. A total of 203 households needed new homes, and 198 have accepted permanent or temporary accommodation. That means that all but five households have accepted offers, and 134 have now moved in. Most of the work to ensure all homes that have been accepted are ready to move into is complete, and we expect many of the remaining properties to be ready in the coming weeks. While those households are preparing to move, the council has ensured that they have all have had the option to move into more suitable accommodation, but I remain concerned about the 43 households who are living in hotels. My ministerial team has met many of them and I have personally written to all of them to find out what barriers exist in each individual case and how we can overcome them.

This is not where any of us wanted to be one year on from the fire. While there has been progress in recent weeks, overall the pace has been too slow. My department and the independent taskforce continue to provide scrutiny and challenge to the council, and we have provided additional resources directly to the council to help speed up this work. We will not rest until everyone is settled into new homes.

Those affected also badly need answers and to see justice done. The Grenfell Tower inquiry and Metropolitan Police investigations will ensure this happens, but we must also learn from what has happened. Over the past year my department has been working closely with fire and rescue services, local authorities and landlords to make sure that other buildings like Grenfell Tower are safe. Remediation work has started on two-thirds of buildings in the social housing sector, and the Prime Minister announced last month that the Government will fully fund the removal and replacement of potentially dangerous ACM cladding on buildings over 18 metres high owned by social landlords, with costs estimated at £400 million, and we have made it clear that we expect building owners in the private sector not to pass costs on to leaseholders. To that end, I recently met leaseholders and put their concerns to representatives from industry at a number of roundtables. Some in the sector, such as Barratt Developments, Legal & General and Taylor Wimpey, are doing the right thing and taking responsibility. I urge all others to follow. The private sector must step up, and I am ruling nothing out if it does not.

In addition, I recently welcomed Dame Judith Hackitt’s final, comprehensive report following her independent review of building regulations and fire safety. In response, I committed to bringing forward legislation to reform the system of fire safety and give residents a stronger voice. Having listened carefully to concerns, the Government intend to ban the use of combustible materials on the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, subject to consultation. We will publish the consultation next week.

It is essential that people living in buildings like Grenfell Tower are not only safe but feel that the state understands their lives and works for them. There is no question but that their faith in that has been shaken. That is why, as well as strengthening building and fire safety, we will be publishing a social housing Green Paper by the recess. I am confident that these measures will help us to rebuild public trust and deliver the meaningful, lasting change that is needed.

Our country has seen many difficult times, but that night at Grenfell Tower was one of our darkest hours. We will never forget those who died. We will not falter in our support for those who are still grieving, or flag in our determination to ensure that no community has to go through such agonies again. In doing so, we can be inspired by the incredible spirit of the people of north Kensington and the way they have come together. And when we say never again, we mean it. I commend this Statement to the House”.