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High-rise Buildings: Cladding

Volume 643: debated on Monday 18 June 2018

2. What recent estimate he has made of the number of high-rise residential buildings that have had dangerous cladding removed and replaced since the Grenfell Tower fire. (905878)

As of 22 May, remediation had started on 107 buildings over 18 metres in the social sector that were identified to have combinations of aluminium composite material cladding and insulation that failed fire-performance tests. Work has been completed on 10 buildings.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that update, but will he give a timescale for the other tower blocks, in both the private and the public sectors? What is the timescale for the removal of these dangerous panels?

I recognise the clear desire and intent to see to it that these buildings are made safe and that remediation is completed at the earliest possible opportunity. The works are complex and detailed, and they will take time. We continue to monitor and to work with local authorities to make sure that progress is made, recognising the real public safety issues that the hon. Gentleman underlines.

The Secretary of State is rightly consulting on banning all material that is not of limited combustibility from high-rise buildings, and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee hopes that he will bring in such a ban after the consultation. If he concludes that it is right to ban such material from all new buildings, does he accept that it would be completely untenable to leave the same material on existing buildings, and, in such a case, does he accept that the Government will have the responsibility to financially compensate the building owners affected?

The Chair of the Select Committee will know that we have committed £400 million to support the public sector in remediation costs and that, therefore, we are committed to seeing that the work is undertaken well. Obviously, we will reflect carefully on the consultation that will be launched and therefore look at its application. The key message is that we need to make progress and to get on with this, so that buildings that have been identified in need of remediation are dealt with.

On behalf of the Scottish National party, I pay tribute to all of the Grenfell survivors and the people in that area whose dignified commemorations we all witnessed last week. There remains an issue about people in high-rise buildings in the private sector. What response has the Secretary of State made to Kevin Stewart MSP, Scotland’s Housing Minister, on his calls to exempt private buildings from VAT on materials to refurbish these buildings?

Obviously, that is a matter for the Treasury, but there is a need to make progress, and I look forward to continuing discussions with the Scottish Government. Equally, as the hon. Lady has said, I pay tribute to the incredible community of Grenfell for the extraordinary way in which they underlined the strength that they have together and how that has brought the country together as well and how we must very firmly continue to have that in mind.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will have seen, as we all have, the pictures from Glasgow over the weekend where the Glasgow School of Art also had a devastating fire. Fortunately, there was no loss of life, although local residents are still waiting to get back into their homes. Does he agree that we need to look again at exemptions for sprinkler systems in buildings, so that more public buildings can be encouraged to have them installed, not least in the building that we are in today, because it is built in a similar way to the Glasgow School of Art and could be as dangerous?

I am sure that we were all horrified to see the terrible fire at the Glasgow School of Art. We should think about what that iconic building has meant to so many people over the years. The hon. Lady highlights the issue of sprinklers. May I be clear on that: for existing buildings, it is for the building owner to decide whether to fit sprinklers retrospectively, as part of a fire safety strategy? Obviously, it is for building owners to make those determinations, but, clearly, it can be an effective safety measure, as part of an overarching strategy.

Mr Speaker, you and I and other Members of the House were privileged to be part of the Grenfell silent walk with survivors and supporters last Thursday. They, like this House, want Ministers to take every action necessary to prevent such a fire ever happening again, yet, since Grenfell, 1,319 suspect cladding samples sent to the Government’s testing centre have been refused testing, as Ministers say that they will only test the aluminium composite material the Minister spoke of earlier. Why?

I will happily look into what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The Building Research Establishment’s focus has obviously been on the ACM material that has been at the forefront of concerns to ensure that, in both the public and the private sectors, that can be tested so that where cladding does not meet the necessary standards, it is dealt with and remediation steps take place. I will certainly look in greater detail at the point that he has made.

That simply is not good enough from the Secretary of State. The BRE does what Ministers tell it to do. We know that other cladding and insulation materials have been found unsafe. We know that the Hackitt review has confirmed that the whole building regulation system from end to end is, as she says, not fit for purpose. Since Grenfell, Ministers have been too slow to take responsibility and too slow to act. This Conservative dogma of “hands off” is delaying the Government action necessary to deal with this national disaster. Will he give local authorities powers to demand that testing and recladding are actually done? Will he release the details that he holds on tower block owners who will not do this work, and will he set a deadline, as my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) says, for all landlords to make their buildings safe or make it clear that Government will step in and then make them?

I firmly recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s point about the urgency of the situation, which is why we have committed an additional £1 million to local authorities to identify the sites. In my time as Secretary of State, we have made an additional commitment of £400 million to the social sector to ensure that we get on with this remediation. I am intent on pursuing that level of action and focus to ensure that a sense of safety and assurance is given. Since the publication of Judith Hackitt’s report, I have announced that we are pursuing a consultation to bring into effect a ban on combustible cladding. The right hon. Gentleman and the House should be in no doubt that this Government gives priority to the issue, and we will continue to pursue that approach.

These are extremely important matters, but may I very gently say to colleagues—on Back Benches and Front Benches alike—that we must speed up?