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Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:19 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour 3:19 pm, 31st October 2019

My Lords, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the 72 people who lost their lives at Grenfell, and our admiration is for the firefighters and emergency staff who dealt with that terrible tragedy.

The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, made a very well-judged and comprehensive speech when opening the debate. He highlighted all the major issues, which I hope the Minister will address in his conclusion. However, reading Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report and, crucially, the House of CommonsHousing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, published on 15 July, it is clear that cladding and what should be done to remove it is a big and compelling issue.

I will cut to the chase, as this is an issue directly for the Minister. Significant criticism is being made of the speed at which the Government are responding to the recommendations on the cladding, the amount of money they are prepared to put in and their acceptance of the scale of the task of removing the cladding. The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, was absolutely to the point on this. She made all the points that I would wish to make in my speech. They go to the heart of the issue, because in Sir Martin’s report, it is clear that the 400 other blocks with the same cladding, and others with related types of cladding, are a set of further disasters waiting to happen. There can be no excuse whatsoever for not being forewarned and taking the appropriate remedial action.

As the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, this goes back not just to the Grenfell Tower catastrophe but further, to the 2009 Lakanal House fire and the coroner’s report, which was very specific about this type of cladding and what should be done to remove it. Reading the report, it is clear that we are in exactly the same position we were in after the 2009 disaster. The failure to act speedily after clear recommendations, then by the coroner and now by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, could lead—let us be blunt—to further lives being lost if there is another incident of this kind.

Therefore, I would like to put to the Minister the four key recommendations of the House of Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report, which was published in July, and ask for his response to them. I have gone through the paper trail and there still has not been a compelling and adequate government response to those recommendations. Let me repeat them. First:

“The Government should set a realistic, but short, deadline by which time all buildings with any form of dangerous cladding should be fully remediated. It is taking far too long to remove and replace potentially dangerous cladding from high-rise and high-risk buildings. Government policies and funding mechanisms should work to meet this deadline, while sanctions should follow for building owners who fail to make their buildings safe within a reasonable timeframe”.

What timescale are the Government setting for removing the cladding from these 400 buildings? Can the Minister give us a date by which it will be removed?

The second recommendation was:

“The Government is highly likely to need to provide additional funding to remediate buildings with dangerous ACM cladding. It is welcome that the Government has finally provided funding to meet the costs of replacing unsafe ACM cladding from privately owned high-rise residential buildings, as we called for in July 2018”.

That was well over a year ago.

“We fear, however, that £200 million will not be sufficient to fully remediate all affected buildings”.

That is the judgment of the House of Commons. Can the Minister tell us what his judgment is? Is the £200 million enough? If it is not, what additional resources will the Government provide?

The third key recommendation from the committee was that:

“The Government cannot morally justify funding the replacement of one form of dangerous cladding, but not others”.

The committee then asked what the Government’s view was on related types of cladding, and I would like to ask the Minister that question too.

The fourth and final, but equally important, recommendation of the committee, was that:

“The Government should immediately extend its fund to cover the removal and replacement of any form of combustible cladding—as defined by the Government’s combustible cladding ban—from any high-rise or high-risk building … There is an unfortunate feeling of deja vu around the Government’s approach to non-ACM cladding and a sense that they will inevitably end up paying for it after a short period of prevaricating. In the meantime, tens of thousands of affected residents continue to live in potentially dangerous buildings, or have been sent large bills for remedial works”.

It cannot be satisfactory to Parliament that tens of thousands of residents of blocks with potentially dangerous cladding are being subject to high risk and potentially high personal bills to deal with circumstances which are beyond their control. Therefore, although I enormously admired the measured tone in which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, opened the debate, I stress that the issues raised here are extremely urgent. The judgment of Sir Martin Moore-Bick and the House of Commons committee is that the Government are not acting with sufficient alacrity. We hope that the Minister will give a reassurance that this is now going to be tackled.