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Grenfell Tower Update

Volume 783: debated on Monday 3 July 2017


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, I would like to update the House on the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and our safety inspections of cladding in other buildings. Almost three weeks have passed since the catastrophe that hit Grenfell Tower. Progress has been made to help the survivors and people in surrounding buildings who were affected. Landlords across the country have been taking measures to make their buildings safe. Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been appointed to lead a full public inquiry, and an independent expert panel is now advising my department on any immediate action on fire safety that is required.

The disaster at Grenfell Tower should never have happened. The police investigation and public inquiry will find out why it did. Right now, the immediate priority of the Government is to provide every assistance to those who were affected and take every precaution to avoid another tragedy in buildings with similar cladding. The Grenfell Tower victims’ unit is operating from my department and providing a point of access into government, and staff from across government continue to offer support at the Westway assistance centre and a separate family bereavement centre. More than £2.5 million has been distributed from our £5 million Grenfell Tower residents’ discretionary fund. Each household affected is receiving £5,500 to provide immediate assistance and, so far, payments to 112 households have been made.

There has been much speculation about who was in the Grenfell Tower on the night of the fire, and it is vital that we find out. As I announced yesterday, the Director of Public Prosecutions has been clear that there will be no prosecution of tenants at Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk who may have been illegally subletting their property, so all tenants can be confident about coming forward with information for the authorities. There may have been people living in flats that were illegally sublet, who had no idea about the true status of their tenancy. Now their families want to know if they perished in the fire. These are their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters; they need closure, and it is the least they deserve. But that cannot happen unless we have the information we need, so we are urging anyone with that information to come forward, and do it quickly.

The immediate response to the Grenfell disaster is being co-ordinated by the Grenfell response team, led by John Barradell, who is being supported by colleagues drawn from London Councils, the wider local government sector, the voluntary sector, police, health and fire services, as well as central government. Their expertise and hard work is making a huge difference, but this is only a temporary measure. It is also vital that we put in place long-term support for the longer-term recovery.

It was right that the leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea took the decision to resign. I look forward to working with a new leader of the council, and I will look at every option to ensure that everyone affected by this tragedy has the long-term support they need.

The Prime Minister promised that every family who lost their home because of the fire would be offered a good-quality temporary home within three weeks, and the deadline is this Wednesday. I have been monitoring the progress of rehousing, and we will honour that commitment. Every home offered will be appropriate and of good quality. What we will not do is compel anyone to accept an offer of temporary accommodation they do not want. Some families indicated they wanted to remain as close as possible to their former home, but when they received their offer decided it would be easier to deal with their bereavement if they moved further away. Some families decided that, for the same reasons, they would prefer to remain in hotels for the time being. Other households indicated that they would prefer to wait until permanent accommodation becomes available. Every household will receive an offer of temporary accommodation by this Wednesday, but every household will also be given the space to make this transition at their own pace, and in a way that helps them to recover from this tragedy.

The people affected by the disaster at Grenfell Tower need our assistance, and they are receiving it. They also want answers. Sir Martin Moore-Bick has been appointed to lead a full, independent inquiry. He has visited Kensington and met victims and survivors, as well as members of the local community who have done so much to help. After consulting with the community, Sir Martin will then advise on the terms of the inquiry, and we will ensure that there is legal support for victims so that they can play a full part. We must allow that inquiry and the criminal investigation to run their course. Each must have the space to follow the evidence wherever it takes them. We must all be careful not to prejudge or prejudice either of them, but what we can do right now is take sensible precautions to avoid another tragedy.

The Building Research Establishment is continuing to test the combustibility of cladding for councils and housing associations, as well as private landlords. So far, all the samples of cladding tested have failed—that is 181 out of 181. It is obviously extremely disturbing that there are such a large number of buildings with combustible cladding, and the priority now is to make those buildings safe. Where appropriate, mitigating measures cannot be implemented quickly; landlords must then provide alternative accommodation while the remedial work is carried out, which is exactly what happened in the four tower blocks in Camden. Our primary concern has been buildings over 18 metres, or six storeys, where people stay at night. Hospitals, prisons and schools are also being assessed.

We ourselves have asked questions about the testing regime after discovering the 100% failure rate so far. The testing process itself has been looked at abroad by the Research Institutes of Sweden, which have confirmed that they believe that the process is sound. A full explanatory briefing note on the testing process has been made available on GOV.UK. As the note explains, every failed test means that the panels are unlikely to be compliant with the limited combustibility requirement of the building regulations guidance; that has been confirmed by legal advice and the advice of the independent expert panel that was established last week. For use of the panels to be safe, landlords need to be confident that the whole wall system has been tested and shown to be safe. We are not aware of any such system having passed the necessary tests, but I have asked the expert advisory panel to look into this further.

Almost three weeks have passed since the catastrophe that hit Grenfell Tower, but I know I speak for every Member of this House when I say we are still in shock. It was not just the terrible scale of the suffering, it was the fact that it happened in 21st-century Britain, in London’s richest borough. I will continue to direct the full resources of my department to assist the Grenfell response team. I will be working closely with the new leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council to make sure that there are plans for the longer-term recovery in place, and I will return to this House regularly to update honourable Members on progress”.

I commend this Statement to the House.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for repeating the Statement made in the other place by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As the Minister said, this tragedy should never have happened. I am pleased that progress has been made on a number of fronts—but considerably more needs to be done. I am sure that Members of this House will agree with me that the devastation of this disaster was made all the worse in the immediate aftermath by the poor response of Kensington and Chelsea council, which can only be described as shameful. I am pleased that the leader of the council, Councillor Nicholas Paget-Brown, has resigned, along with his deputy, Councillor Rock Feilding-Mellen. I just wish they had accepted responsibility and resigned sooner. I note that the Secretary of State has welcomed the resignation of the leader of the council—but why did he not call for it, as others did?

Many have called for the Secretary of State to appoint commissioners to take over the running of this authority, as it is not fit for purpose. But so far he has decided not to do this and instead has opted to “keep an eye” on the council. Can the Minister explain why the Secretary of State has decided to do this? What exactly does keeping an eye on the council mean and entail? It certainly does not seem to me to be the sort of response one would expect to such a complete and abject failure by the council towards the local community it was elected to serve and protect.

I am pleased that housing offers are being made, but is the Minister satisfied that everyone has been contacted, and that they have been assured that no other issues—such as how they were renting a property at Grenfell Tower—will be of any concern to the authorities? We must be sure that no vulnerable, traumatised families are hiding, frightened and not getting the help they are entitled to, or not being able to provide the police and other authorities with valuable information, because they are too scared to come forward.

The faith communities and the local voluntary sector have a big role to play here. What support are the Government giving to them to do this important work? Why has only half the discretionary fund of £5 million been distributed to date? The Minister said that 112 households had received the £5,500 immediate assistance. So how many have not? If it is even just one family after three weeks, that is a disgrace. How have these families been able to live? What about the report that at least one tenant has been charged rent? What arrangements have been made for the schooling and care of local children who attend Avondale Park primary school and have been traumatised by these horrific events?

I move on to the public inquiry, which was reaffirmed in the Queen’s Speech. The background note to the Speech, published on 21 June, provided further detail and said:

“Residents, the families of the deceased, the Mayor of London and HM Opposition will be consulted on the terms of reference under which the inquiry will proceed and the Government will agree the terms of reference, which will be published in consultation with the Chair of the Inquiry”.

On 29 June, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, the chair of the inquiry said:

“I’ve been asked to undertake this inquiry on the basis that it would be pretty well limited to the problems surrounding the start of the fire and its rapid development, in order to make recommendations as to how this sort of thing can be prevented in the future”.

The Prime Minister has also said:

“No stone will be left unturned by this inquiry”.

It is important that we are very clear about this inquiry, its terms of reference when agreed, that no stone is left unturned, as the Prime Minister promised, and that Sir Martin has the power to go where the evidence leads him. Will the Minister please confirm that that is the case and that no conflict—perceived or otherwise—should be drawn from the statements I have previously outlined?

It is right that sensible precautions are taken to avoid another tragedy. It is shocking that all the samples so far tested have failed. The Statement does not make clear what the Government are doing to assist local authorities and other organisations when their buildings fail the fire safety test. The Government need to go much further than just saying, “Landlords must provide alternative accommodation”. We want to have a clear explanation from the Government of what they are doing to assist landlords in coping with this challenge—and that is not addressed in this Statement.

Finally, the Minister said that he would update the House on a regular basis—but we are going into the Summer Recess in three weeks and are not back until September. What plans do the Government have to ensure that, while we are in Recess, Parliament, the media, survivors and their families and the public are properly informed about what is happening; what progress is being made; and when things are proving more challenging than they thought they would be? The Minister may not be able to address my last point when he replies, but I trust he will agree to take it back to the department and will return to the Dispatch Box to address it before the Recess.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I agree with the Minister that it was the right decision for the Government to make it clear that there would be no prosecution of those who may have illegally sublet flats. The Government were also right to say that the resignation of the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council was the right thing for him to do.

It is now three weeks since the catastrophe that should never have happened hit Grenfell Tower. It is also eight years ago today since six people died in the fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell, following which a coroner’s report published a number of recommendations that were sent to the then Secretary of State. That occurred in 2011—six years ago. As a consequence of that fire, guidance to social housing providers was issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Does the department know which local authorities undertook works to meet the recommendations in that guidance? Is there a list of what each local authority—or local housing provider, for not all are local authorities—actually did?

The Minister referred to 181 out of 181 failures in cladding tests. It is clear that those tests are vital, but I understand that it is not simply a question of the cladding: it is also the insulation and the void behind the cladding that can cause a fire to spread so very quickly. I was struck by a briefing produced by the Association of British Insurers, which I saw today, about approved document B. This document defines fire regulations in England and the Association of British Insurers urged a comprehensive review of it in response to the Lakanal House fire.

It repeated that recommendation when it responded to the housing White Paper. Its briefing stated:

“The ABI recommends that the Government urgently revise Approved Document B to reflect the fire safety risks associated with modern building materials, techniques and construction methods, deviating away from a focus on more traditional masonry builds”.

I say to the Minister that that is a very important issue. I do not think that action as a consequence of that can simply await the result of a public inquiry. It is extremely urgent. Local authorities and local housing providers should be told what action they should take within a matter of weeks. We should note that the ABI has urged this review since 2009.

There has also been a problem with emergency planning that I want to ask the Minister about, because there was clearly a major failure in Kensington and Chelsea with emergency plans. It took around 48 hours for there to be an identifiable process of who was responsible for what. Even then, there was very serious doubt. Can the Minister commit to the department ensuring that all emergency plans of all local areas are checked out, updated and made robust so that emergency responses can always take place quickly, with the responsibilities of all the different agencies clearly understood and acted upon?

Grenfell Tower was a most appalling tragedy. It increasingly seems as though some of the lessons that could have been learned from previous fire incidents had not been fully taken on board—which means that the speed of response by the Government this time matters very greatly.

Before the noble Lord responds, perhaps I could draw the attention of the House to my interests. I am a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that and to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his contribution. I thank them for their general welcome of the progress that is being made. I will try to pick up some of the more detailed points that they made.

First, in relation to the position of Kensington and Chelsea, one has to remember that there is local political accountability. That said, it is important that we recognise that the immediate situation, which may well go on some time in relation to many of these issues, is being handled by gold command, the boroughs involved and central government with assistance from other bodies, to which noble Lords referred. I pay tribute particularly to the help that has been given by the voluntary sector and charities, which has been considerable. It has been trusted by the local community and has been much more responsive and much speedier in terms of an ability to act. That said, many civil servants have worked pretty much round the clock, as well as others from other London boroughs. I also pay tribute to what they are doing. The Secretary of State will want to engage with the new leader of Kensington and Chelsea to see what is happening in terms of political involvement not just from the governing party in Kensington and Chelsea but the other parties to see how we can move this forward. However, what is most important at the moment is that we have effective organisation on the ground dealing with these issues.

I can confirm to the noble Lord that everybody who has sought financial assistance has so far been given it. If others have not sought it, we are encouraging them to come forward. As I have indicated previously, there is sometimes an issue with languages but we have people on the ground who are able to help on the language issue, whether in writing or orally, so that is being handled as well. I should say that getting £2.5 million out—this is in addition to any entitlement to benefits—is not something to be dismissed too lightly. It is significant.

I turn to the inquiry that has been mentioned. This is a judge-led inquiry. The Secretary of State has indicated in the other place that he expects this to have broad terms of reference. Obviously, it needs to focus on the immediate situation in Grenfell Tower, but it also needs to consider the wider lessons that have to be learned. As we go on across many years, many Administrations, and, doubtless, across many parties in local government, there are lessons for us all to learn. Every day we are finding out more. It is important that we pick these up. It is the very least we owe to the people who have suffered and lost their lives in Grenfell Tower that we never let anything remotely like this happen again. So it is important that all those detailed lessons are learned, and that we have broad terms of reference. The judge, Sir Martin, has been in Kensington and is engaging with tenants and tenants’ representations to ensure that we have that input and no doubt get those broad terms of reference.

As regards assistance for other authorities to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred, whose samples have failed, I am pleased to say that in every case except Camden evacuation has not been involved, so although clearly the situation involves ongoing action it is not as difficult as the position has been in Camden. Obviously, we are reviewing that and seeing what has happened.

The noble Lord also asked about updating. In fairness, we have presented two Statements in a fairly short time. I have had a very good briefing session for Peers, which will be followed up with a detailed letter on some of the points that were raised. Some were answered at the time but some of the more detailed points were not. We will keep that under review, but we of course recognise the obligation to update Members. That is quite right.

I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his warm welcome of the progress that has been made, which was typically generous of him. I think that we have complied with the coroner’s inquest recommendations in relation to Lakanal House, certainly the recommendation regarding sprinklers, which I imagine will be something that the inquiry will want to look at. I note what the noble Lord said about the Building Regulations. I will get officials to look at that again. However, I think the indication was that we were just looking at the position on the Building Regulations where it had been suggested by the coroner’s inquest that we might want to simplify these. I think that we would want to review that in the light of what has happened. I do not think that we would want to pursue that as things stand at the moment.

I hope that I have picked up the points that have been made by noble Lords. However, as always, if I have not picked up anything following the Statement, I will ensure that it is covered in a letter.

My Lords, will my noble friend, and indeed the whole Government, defend the integrity and impartiality of the learned judge appointed to conduct this inquiry and deplore the comments made by some that the only person capable of being an impartial judge on this has to be a black woman who has lived in a tower block? We have had too many criticisms of noble judges before. I know that is not a general view, but there were comments in the press this weekend about that. Can my noble friend assure me that the inquiry will look at the advice on staying put? All my life I have laboured under the misapprehension, apparently, that when there is a fire one gets out ASAP. Yet it seems that even when the whole building was ablaze from top to bottom, the emergency services may have been giving advice to stay put. That is all very well when one little flat is on fire, but not when the whole building is ablaze. Will that issue please be looked at as well?

I thank my noble friend very much indeed for that contribution. I am happy to endorse what he says about the impartiality of the judge and to deplore the suggestion that has been made that such a situation has to be dealt with by somebody from a particular background. That is totally improper. It is important that we uphold the independence of our judiciary and recognise that Sir Martin will go about his job in that way.

I, too, had seen the point about staying put when there is a fire. Doubtless, that is something which the judge will want to look at within the context of the Grenfell Tower fire but more widely as regards advice when there are fires.

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that there are blocks of flats owned by private landlords in all our major cities which are clad in very similar material. When I asked the other day whether the cladding on those privately owned blocks should be tested compulsorily, as is the case with social landlord-owned blocks, the Minister said that,

“it is not compulsory for them to do so, because that is what we have decided”.—[Official Report, 27/6/17; col. 290.]

Many of my colleagues came up to me after I asked that question to say that they could not understand the answer. What is the difference between a privately owned block covered in this cladding as against a social landlord-owned block? Surely the risks are exactly the same? If one should be compulsorily tested, surely it should apply to the other. Can I have a fuller explanation on this occasion?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. In fairness, on that occasion I responded to a supplementary question, perhaps from a sedentary position, so it was a second question. However, I went back afterwards, because I took seriously what the noble Lord said; I know that he always comes forward with serious and properly researched points. After this dreadful fire in social housing, the Government have taken the view that looking at social housing in this country has to be our top priority. That is not to say that we disregard our concern for private blocks, because indeed they have been contacted, and indication has been made to landlords that they are able to avail themselves of the free testing facility, we are encouraging them to do so and we will follow that up. But in terms of priorities, social housing will come first, and then of course we will, rightly, turn to the issue of private housing. As regards resources, we could not offer the same attention to both. It is not that it is more important, but we are focusing on the social housing first.

My Lords, I declare that I am a resident in Kensington and Chelsea and have stood as both a parliamentary candidate and a council candidate there. The borough has, quite rightly, come up for quite a lot of criticism. Will the Minister tell the House, first, when he expects the interim report to be published, and will he reassure everybody, whether in social or private housing, that should the council be found wanting, even within the scope of the interim report—which will, of course, just be interim—the Government will take those findings extremely seriously and will think about looking at the governance arrangements of the borough?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. On the interim report of the inquiry—we very much anticipate that there will be such a report—of course the Government will take that very seriously, but we want to ensure that immediate urgent action is taken. I do not want to second-guess what it might say, as that would be totally inappropriate. In raising that issue, the noble Baroness reminds me of a matter raised, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, or the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on insulation—it was the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. The expert panel will want to look at that; it has already had two meetings and it is obviously quite distinct from the inquiry. We set up the expert panel under the leadership of Sir Ken Knight, who has vast experience of fires and so on, and it will come forward with matters that need dealing with even more urgently than the interim report. That might be an appropriate way forward, and that is what we anticipate will happen.

My Lords, I understand that the vast majority of tenants at Grenfell Tower were from ethnic minorities and of Muslim origin. That starkly highlights the poverty trap that many of these communities find themselves in. Can my noble friend say what longer-term strategy we are introducing so that we can ensure that people from ethnic minority communities are not trapped in this way? That is a wide question, but a more specific question for the short term is: are the Government setting up specialist bereavement and support services for those who have been traumatised in this dreadful and appalling incident?

I thank my noble friend for those perceptive points, which are on a broader front than the Grenfell fire situation or fires generally, about the nature of social housing in our country today. First, she will be aware that we are conducting a racial audit within government; I think that this is the first time this has ever happened. It has slipped back by perhaps a couple of months because of the election, but we are looking, across all government departments, at issues such as education, school places and housing allocation to see exactly what the stark figures are. One cannot really argue with the figures, and one would want to ensure that policies are properly framed with regard to those. Secondly, the Casey report is still very much work in progress—that is the report that was made to the Home Secretary and the then Prime Minister on issues of integration—and we will want to take that forward as well in the context of the racial audit. Therefore, my noble friend raises important issues. She asked a second question about bereavement support, which is being done by government departments. We are ensuring that it is in place and being used, and it is important that we do so.

My Lords, I have three quick questions about this ghastly tragedy. First, the Secretary of State has promised extra funds for remedial work that councils need to carry out. Am I right to assume that housing associations will be eligible for those extra funds in the same way as councils? Often housing associations now own the blocks that were previously council owned. Secondly, will the funds that go to councils—and, I hope, also to housing associations—for remedial work on other tower blocks elsewhere be new money, or will this money be drawn from the funding set aside for new development? It would be a double tragedy if we lost some of the new homes that we desperately need to see built. Finally, on the governance point, rather specifically about the particular arrangements in Kensington and Chelsea, will the inquiry look at the tenant management organisation’s relationship with the local authority? It is a rather unusual way of working, with the danger—I want to know whether the inquiry will tackle this—of things falling between the tenant management organisation and the council as the owner itself.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for those pertinent questions. First, on his question about remedial work and whether funds will be made available for local authorities and housing associations, my understanding is that that is the case. I will, once again, cover that in the write-round letter, but I believe it is the case. I believe also that it is new money—our targets on housing remain very much as they were—but, again, I will cover that in the letter. On the governance arrangements, I will ensure that this debate is made available to the judge, Sir Martin, so that he is aware of the discussions here. I would be surprised if that issue did not come up in discussion with tenants’ organisations, which he will be speaking with. However, the point is well made, and I will make sure that it is brought to the attention of the judge, as well as the whole of this debate.

My Lords, I am sorry to come back again but, to be frank, I am dissatisfied with the responses I am getting. Why cannot the private sector fund its own cladding testing arrangements and get on with that job immediately? I am sure it is not beyond the wit of man to generate, create or design the equipment that is used in testing. As I understand it, Ministers are now saying that the many dozens, if not hundreds, of privately owned blocks—I do not know how many—which potentially have had this cladding applied to them, will have to wait, because there are not the facilities. The Minister said that the Government’s priority is to deal with the social landlord sector, which means that private blocks will have to wait to see whether they are tested, unless those test sites are already available. If they are, why cannot it be made compulsory?

My Lords, the point is one of compulsion. They are available, and there is spare capacity at the moment, as has been indicated—we can do 100 tests a day. So we are encouraging landlords to make use of that facility: they are able to do so; we are encouraging them to do so; and there is evidence that many are doing it. The point is one of compulsion. We are not compelling it at the moment, because—

We are putting our attention very much on the social housing sector, which, in the light of what has happened, noble Lords will understand.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful Statement on this agonising subject, and I endorse his thanks for all that people are trying to do to improve the situation. As someone who has for many years been either a regulator within government or in business being regulated, I have concluded that in areas such as safety and standards, including fire safety, we need regulations that are balanced, well thought out and cost effective; simply expressed and well communicated to everybody who needs to know what those regulations are; and—this is the important point for today—properly enforced. So often we find that good rules are not enforced and disasters of the tragic sort that we have seen on this occasion ensue. Therefore, I ask my noble friend, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will probably be interested in the answer to this question as well: how can we quickly prioritise and improve enforcement of the regulations in this area—that is, fire safety—and indeed of other regulations, such as product safety, which may be important, and how can we do that at speed? That obviously includes the public sector, where there has been a problem in this area, and business, although in my experience business people are very well aware of the serious health and safety responsibilities they have and the liabilities that they can incur. I would like to feel that the Government were thinking about the wider lessons here and about how we might prevent such tragedies happening in this and other areas.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend very much for her general encapsulation of the principles that should be carried forward in relation to regulations in this field and indeed in many others, as she indicated. I say once again that the judge will no doubt want to look very seriously at the debate on this issue. My noble friend referred to the importance of carrying forward lessons in a timely and urgent way, and that is the purpose of having the expert panel. It will look at these issues urgently, even ahead of the inquiry and the interim report. This is just the sort of issue that the expert panel will want to look at, along with the point about insulation, as I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley.

My Lords, following on from my noble friend’s question, given the difficulties that the London borough has faced, I am not certain that any other borough would have done better in facing such a big and unexpected tragedy. Does my noble friend intend to ask local authorities to submit a plan to central government on how they will tackle major incidents such as this? If this is to be part of the enforcement that my noble friend wanted, there will have to be clear, simple directives so that issues can be checked from central government down to local government and down to the private sector or local authority that manages each block.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of both the expert panel to which I have referred and the inquiry. It is very important that the Government create the framework for what is needed to respond to the dreadful events of the Grenfell Tower fire and to the potential for something similar happening elsewhere. However, it is for the experts to determine what is possible and necessary. Therefore, the expert panel, which has vast experience in these areas, will be looking at this situation and advising the Secretary of State of the action needed in the very short term. The interim report of the inquiry will come forward with short to medium-term issues. The full report, which will consider a far wider range of issues, will then come forward with more detailed decisions and recommendations, which we will want to take forward.

My Lords, perhaps I may come back to the interim report of the inquiry. I do not believe that the Minister gave us a timeline. Have the Government not had discussions with the chair about when we might expect to see some of the findings come to light? This is a matter of great anxiety not just in the borough but for everyone who lives in tower blocks.

My Lords, the point made by the noble Baroness is a fair one but the answer is: not ahead of the terms of reference being decided. Those have to be decided first to determine when an interim report might be appropriate. Of course, such a discussion will take place once we have those terms of reference.

Is my noble friend confident that a new Conservative administration in Kensington and Chelsea will restore the public confidence that is so badly needed? Could there perhaps be a case for a short-lived coalition administration, drawing in representatives of other parties, so that these terrible issues can be tackled on a full, real, cross-party basis?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful suggestion. First, it is important that we get a new leader in place and I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will then want to discuss with the leader how to carry this matter forward. As my noble friend indicated, it is always better that issues such as this, where there is essentially nothing to divide us, are carried forward consensually.