Grenfell Tower - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:34 pm on 11th June 2018.

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Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 6:34 pm, 11th June 2018

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier in the other place by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. I shall start where the Minister finished: as he said in the Statement, when we say “never again” we mean it, and that is absolutely paramount.

As the Minister said, the fire happened a year ago next Thursday, and the total of 72 people is the biggest loss of life in Britain due to a fire since the Second World War. Recently I watched the “Panorama” programme, which brought back the images of what happened that night. It was a truly horrific and terrible event and all our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Every time we have a Statement on Grenfell, our thanks go out to everyone in the local community who has helped: the civil servants, the staff from the borough council and from other councils, the faith sector, the charities, and the community who have come together to help this part of North Kensington to move on and try to get lives back on track.

Having said that, here we are a year on and still more than half the Grenfell survivors are in either hotel rooms or temporary accommodation. I accept entirely that the Minister would not want to see that but it is still not a good situation to find themselves in. There are also more than 300 other tower blocks with the same unlawful cladding on them and so far only 10 have had it removed or replaced. We are not sure where we stand with the private sector, where there are even more such blocks. This is not a good place to be. It is fair to say that the residents of Grenfell Tower were failed long before the fire, and some of them clearly feel that they have been failed since. Actually, if I am right, only 82 residents out of the 209 are in permanent replacement homes, and that is just not good enough.

I believe the North Kensington Law Centre has released a document saying that even in the new homes there are defects in terms of damp and delayed repairs, while some of the tenancies that have been offered are not the same that the residents had at Grenfell Tower. I do not know if that is the case, but if it is then it really needs to be corrected; they should be offered exactly the same tenancies that they had in the tower.

Does the department now have any sort of estimate or deadline for when people will be permanently rehoused? To start with, the Prime Minister talked about getting it done in a matter of weeks, but that has been extended and extended. I know that in the last Statement the Government talked about a year’s time, but at what point do they now see everyone getting into a new home and being able to start to rebuild their lives? We do not want to be back here again in the autumn not much further forward.

On the question of the other high-rise blocks, only 10 local authority tower blocks out of more than 300 have had their cladding replaced. The Government said they would do everything it takes to “keep our people safe”, so in that sense I welcome the £400 million funding that the Minister has announced to remove the cladding. It has come from another budget but it is still welcome. I also welcome the intention to ban combustible material on the outside of tower blocks. Is that all the Government are going to do, though, or are they going to go further? There has been talk before of looking at retrofitting sprinklers in tower blocks. I do not know if the Government are thinking about those sorts of things. Where are we on the question of evacuation procedures in blocks of flats? When will we be in a position to confirm that all blocks of flats are safe?

I was pleased with the important point that the Minister made about the private blocks, which has our full support: blocks in the private sector have to be corrected as well and those costs should not be passed on to the leaseholders. I welcome that.

On the inquiry itself, the tributes to the victims and families were very moving. I wish the inquiry well as it has a very important job to do. After that there will of course be the result of the police investigation, but I will leave it there.