My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House of my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as a Kirklees councillor.
Seventy-two men, women and children tragically died in the Grenfell Tower fire. Our responsibility to their memories and to those who survive is to seek the truth, secure justice and make the radical change to culture and practice so that no such fire occurs ever again.
Last week, I met representatives of Grenfell United and listened. I was struck by their quiet determination and by the inspiring leadership of their fellow survivors. They want all the facts before, during and after the disaster to be exposed to the full light of day. Then, those responsible for the decisions that enabled the fire to be so catastrophic must be brought to justice.
All these issues are, of course, the subject of the Grenfell Tower inquiry and we must wait for it to hear the evidence and draw its conclusions. However, what is clear so far is the painfully slow response of the Government to the consequences of this disaster. One year on, some of the survivors are still living in hotel accommodation and have been for a whole year. There is no chance for them even to attempt to start their lives again.
From the information I was given by Grenfell United, some of the accommodation purchased by Kensington and Chelsea Council was totally inappropriate. Perhaps the Minister will comment on the information I heard that one of the survivors was allocated a basement flat with no direct access to daylight. Does he regard this as appropriate in the circumstances of what those families had already endured?
Then there is the issue of the dangerous cladding. I welcome the proposal for a ban on ACM cladding in today’s Statement and that a consultation will begin shortly. This is really positive but this cladding continues to be on many public and private buildings. It is reported in the press that 32 NHS hospitals, several hotels and at least one school, as well as 132 private sector and 208 public sector tower blocks, have this dangerous cladding. Can the Minister assure the House that all these buildings will have the cladding removed as quickly as possible so that people who live or work in them can have some improved peace of mind? Meanwhile, can the Minister explain what actions are being recommended to provide additional safety in these buildings and information as to whether those in the public sector will have compensatory government payments for all their additional costs? As many people will know, fire safety wardens are being employed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure that no fire starts in these buildings and that, if one does, prompt action can be taken. This will be a huge additional cost in the social housing sector. Can the Government assure us that all buildings with this cladding have been identified, with the owners acknowledging their responsibility and that the Government will monitor that effective remedial action has or will be taken in a timely way? If we are not careful, the curse of this cladding will continue for years to come.
On this day, our thoughts and prayers are with all those people—residents and rescuers—whose lives have been indelibly scarred by this disaster.