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 Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:34 pm, 11th June 2018

I am grateful to the noble Lord for refreshing our memory.

I start by thanking both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness—and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, over a period of time—for their general support in dealing with what has been a very difficult, heart-rending situation. It has aided the consideration of some very important issues in this House, so I thank them very much.

I shall try to deal with the points made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness in so far as I can. If I miss any—and on some points of detail—I may need to write to them, and I will of course ensure that that is copied to other noble Lords participating on the Statement, with a copy placed in the Library.

First, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their words about the civil servant and public sector work that has been done in the community since the dreadful fire at Grenfell, and about the faith sector and the charitable sector. I was recently at a meeting in the community hall of the local mosque, where Muslim Aid was talking about the work done and the commitment of people in the faith sector and particularly mentioned the West London Synagogue. This was a general commitment from the faith sector in the area, an outpouring of support from individuals and from the third sector, which is a continuing feature of what is happening at Grenfell.

The noble Lord mentioned points in the North Kensington Law Centre report. I know of the report but I must admit that I have not studied it in detail. I will certainly do so and cover those points in response to him. He will be aware that experts will be sitting with Judge Moore-Bick on the second phase of the inquiry, which I think helps to provide the disinfectant of sunlight which we all welcome for transparency. He asked questions raised by the North Kensington Law Centre about rent in the same general terms. Of course, there is a rates, rents and utilities holiday—although holiday is not the right word. There will be no rent, rates—council tax—or utilities payable until June 2019, I think, for families who were in Grenfell Tower or Grenfell Walk. For other families, there is an abatement of those bills, although not on the same terms—to a lesser extent.

The noble Lord referred to the rehousing effort. Let me say first that every household has been offered at least one alternative. The noble Baroness mentioned somewhere without sunlight in a basement. I am extremely surprised to hear that, but I will look at that case. If she has more detail, that would be useful. I join her in paying tribute to the work done by Grenfell United. We may have been at the same occasion when Grenfell United was present, and it has done a remarkable amount, as have others from the community.

The noble Lord asked about retrofitting sprinklers. He will be aware that new blocks more than 30 metres high, I think, are having sprinklers fitted. There is a general issue about retrofit. He will know that this was not recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt: she dealt with the issue but did not recommend that. However, in addition to the £400 million support specifically for ACM cladding, if local authorities can justify it, we will certainly consider financial flexibility for them. This follows recommendations done earlier by the Lakanal inquiry about sprinklers, and that local authorities can do that independently. There is nothing to stop that happening, except perhaps the finance, but we will look at financial flexibilities if the case is made.

The noble Baroness referred to interim measures while the cladding work is being done. Of course, we are committed to all the combustible ACM cladding being removed from both social and private sector buildings. We think we have identified all the private sector buildings and are confirming whether all of them have ACM cladding. We have identified buildings that might have it and we are now seeking to ensure that. If I am wrong, I will address it in a letter, but I believe that local authorities have now come up with definitive figures on that. Interim measures will be in place while or until the cladding is removed, and this will be a matter for the local fire and rescue services to advise on and determine. It would certainly include the 24-hour presence of safety wardens, a ban on the use of car parks, and so on. We are obviously in discussions with local authorities on measures that need to be taken and, as I say, I think we have identified all the buildings. I hope that that addresses all the points raised, but if I have missed any I shall certainly address them in a letter.