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Grenfell Tower and Building Safety

Volume 787: debated on Monday 18 December 2017


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I would like to repeat the Statement made by the Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Sajid Javid, in the House of Commons earlier today.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the ongoing response to June’s tragic fire at Grenfell Tower and our wider review of building safety.

It is now six months since the disaster. Last week, a number of events were held to mark this sad milestone, including the national memorial service at St Paul’s. I had the privilege of attending the extremely moving service, alongside the Prime Minister, the Minister for Grenfell Victims and of course the right honourable Gentleman opposite, among others.

The scale and impact of this disaster are unprecedented in recent times, and I could not hope to cover all aspects of the response in one Statement, so today I will concentrate on areas where I have new information to share. However, I am very happy to take questions on any aspect of the tragedy and the response to it.

I will start with an issue that I know is particularly important to Members and honourable Members, as it is to me: finding new places to live for those who lost their homes. Responsibility for rehousing lies with the local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. However, I have been closely involved with the process to ensure that everyone is rehoused as quickly as possible, and my department has been providing the council with support to help bring that about.

The council has been tasked with finding places to live for 207 households from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk. To date, 144 households—almost 70%—have accepted an offer of temporary or permanent accommodation. According to the latest figures from the council, 102 of those households have now moved in. For those who remain in other accommodation, the council has offered the opportunity to move into private rented accommodation while a permanent home is found. Some have taken up this offer; others have made it clear that they do not want to move twice—something I completely understand.

The council was undoubtedly slow off the mark in starting the rehousing process but, with its own change of leadership, the help of the Independent Recovery Taskforce, and pressure and support from the DCLG, consistent progress is now being made. But I am far from complacent. I have always been very clear that we should move at the pace of the families involved and that nobody should be rushed or pushed into making a decision about where to live. But to have so many families, including some children, still living in hotels and other emergency accommodation six months after the tragedy is simply not good enough.

The situation is undoubtedly complicated but I have been very clear with the council that I expect it to do whatever is necessary to help people into suitable homes as swiftly as possible. I am confident that the council is capable of doing that but, along with the task force, I will continue to monitor the situation and work with the council to ensure that it happens.

The issue of rehousing has an added poignancy with Christmas just around the corner. Whatever your faith, this is a time for family and friends, and that makes it a difficult time for anyone who has suffered a loss or trauma. Nothing anyone can do will make this a normal Christmas for the bereaved and the survivors, but we are doing all we can to offer extra support over the coming weeks.

A range of activities and events is being staged for local children, particularly those still living in hotels. Social spaces have been booked in four of the hotels where families are staying, so there is room for people to spend time together, and NHS outreach workers are visiting residents in the local area to offer specialist mental health support. This builds on the excellent work the NHS has already done on mental well-being. Specialists have screened almost 1,000 adults for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Four hundred and twenty-six are currently in treatment for PTSD, while a further 62 have completed their treatment. One hundred and ten children have also received or are receiving specialist help. The dedicated NHS Grenfell helpline remains available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Local organisations are also providing health and well-being support on the ground, including culturally sensitive support that reflects the diverse make-up of the borough. Last month’s Budget made available a further £28 million to pay for mental health and emotional support, a community space for those affected and investment in the Lancaster West estate over the next three years.

Of course, it is not only government that has been providing funds; in the aftermath of the tragedy, the British people responded with incredible generosity, donating more than £26 million to various charities. The majority of that money—more than three-quarters of it—has already been paid out to survivors and to the next of kin of those who died. Of the remaining £6 million, around £2 million is being held back for people who are entitled to a payment but have not yet claimed it and for some whose applications are still being processed. Payments for those who have not yet claimed will be looked after by the charities until the individuals are ready to engage. The remaining £4 million will go towards providing long-term support and community projects.

As people are rehoused and take the time to grieve, the distributing charities will work with them, identifying their changing needs and ensuring that money goes where it can best meet the needs of the community. The House can rest assured that every penny that was donated will be spent on the people it was intended for. The generosity of the British public demands no less.

Another issue where the views and wishes of the local community must be paramount is the future of Grenfell Tower itself. The tower is currently being wrapped in white sheeting—a process that will be completed early next year. This is not being done, as some have claimed, to make people forget about what happened; it is being done because many members of the community—people directly affected by the fire—have said that covering the tower will help them to begin the healing process.

I acknowledge the current anxieties about the long-term future of the site among those who have been most affected. I can categorically state that no decision has been taken about the long-term future of the site on which the tower sits. These decisions will not be led by me, the Government, this House or the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is the bereaved, the survivors and the wider community who will lead and be at the heart of the decision-making process. My colleague the Minister for Grenfell Victims is working directly with them to agree a set of written principles that will guide the way forward for the future of the site.

When decisions are taken, we want them to have the broadest possible support from those affected, particularly those who lost loved ones, and not just to follow the views of those with the loudest voices. The principles we are drawing up will help us to make sure that that happens and will include a firm commitment from the council that if the bereaved, survivors and the wider community do not want the site to be redeveloped for housing, the site will not be redeveloped for housing.

As well as dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy, we are determined to do everything possible to prevent such a disaster happening again. A crucial element of that is the public inquiry, which recently held its first procedural hearings under the chairmanship of Sir Martin Moore-Bick. I know that some members of the community are concerned about the inquiry’s remit, structure and personnel. Some have called for Sir Martin to be supported by an extended panel that reflects the diverse population of the tower. The decision on that rests with the Prime Minister. She gave a commitment to consider the composition of the panel once Sir Martin had determined what further expertise he needed, and she is now giving active consideration to the issue. Meanwhile, Sir Martin has said he is actively considering plans for a consultative panel of local people who could talk to and receive information from the inquiry. Such a panel has been established successfully by the inquiry into child sexual abuse as a way of closely involving victims and survivors in the work of the inquiry. Sir Martin has said that any decision on the establishment of such a panel for the Grenfell Tower inquiry will be taken in consultation with tower residents and bereaved families.

Whatever happens next, I can reassure the House that legal representatives of core participants will have access to relevant documents. They will be able to offer opening and closing statements at certain hearings and they will be able to suggest lines of questioning for witnesses. The needs of the community have been at the heart of the inquiry since it was first announced, and that is not going to change.

Learning lessons for the future will be a crucial part of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inquiry, but it is not the only piece of work looking at how building safety can be improved. Earlier this year, the Home Secretary and I asked Dame Judith Hackitt to carry out an independent review of building regulations and fire safety. The current system is complex and confusing, a situation that has developed over many years and under successive Governments. Today, Dame Judith has published her interim findings, which show that there is a need for significant reform. I can confirm that we have accepted all of Dame Judith’s recommendations for government. We agree with her call for a change in culture and a more effective system that will encourage people to do the right thing and hold to account those who try to cut corners. Everyone who is part of that system—including government—has an important role to play in delivering this change in culture and mindset. We fully support the direction of travel signalled in Dame Judith’s report.

Achieving cultural change will, inevitably, take time. But while Dame Judith explores these issues further she has also identified a number of areas where we can start making changes today. These include work on restructuring guidance and tightening restrictions on the use of desktop studies. On desktop studies, we will revise the approved documents on fire safety and commission work to produce a new British standard on when and how such assessments should be used. On guidance, we will work quickly with industry experts to complete work on clarifying the approved documents on fire safety. More widely, we will consider how the entire suite of guidance on compliance with building regulations could be restructured and reordered to make it more user-friendly. We will work with experts across the sector to explore how this can be done. Dame Judith recommends that consultation with fire and rescue services be carried out early in the design process and then acted on, and that fire safety information on a building should be handed over at the right moment. We will write to building control bodies to highlight these recommendations.

The Government will play their part in making the system work better and fixing the problems. I urge the construction industry, building control bodies, fire and rescue services, landlords and others to play their part, too. In January, Dame Judith will host a summit on building regulations and fire safety. It will form the springboard for the next phase of her review, and I encourage leaders from across the sector to take part and help design a better system.

While Dame Judith continues her vital work, we are continuing to support wider work to make existing buildings safer. In the past six months we have overseen a comprehensive set of fire safety tests on cladding components and systems. Fire and rescue services have visited and checked fire safety in every residential tower that has been identified as having cladding likely to constitute a fire hazard or which they consider a priority for other reasons. Across the country we have seen swift action taken to improve fire safety systems and to put in place interim measures where risks are identified. We have provided detailed advice to local authorities, housing associations and private landlords on how to ensure that their buildings are safe. DCLG’s expert panel has issued advice to building owners about carrying out the necessary work to address the fire risks of certain cladding systems. There is undoubtedly room for improvement in the way that the building regulations system works and is managed in the future. However, Dame Judith makes clear that her report should not be interpreted as meaning that buildings constructed under the existing system are unsafe. The system needs to be made stronger for the future, but the action taken since June is helping building owners make homes safer today.

Six months ago, 71 people lost their lives and hundreds more lost friends, loved ones, homes and possessions. Six months on, progress is being made. The situation is moving in the right direction but there is still a long, long way to go. As long as that is the case, I will not stop working with and fighting for the people who have suffered more than any of us could bear. They must not be forgotten and they will not be forgotten”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I first draw the attention of the House to my register of interests as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Secondly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for repeating the Statement made earlier today by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Thirdly, as I have done on previous occasions, I pay tribute to all those involved on the night in question, from the fire brigade and other emergency services, the public sector staff from both local and national government who have been working with the survivors and the local community, to the voluntary sector and faith communities that are there today and have been there every day since that awful night. I thank them for all they have done and continue to do.

As I do every time I respond to a Statement on Grenfell, I want to point out that the offensive attacks on firefighters by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London are unfair and hurtful. I live in hope that one day he will apologise for his ill-thought-out words. He is not a man known for keeping quiet or hiding from the limelight, but strangely he is silent on this issue.

Last Thursday, six months on from the tragedy, I asked a Question expressing my concern that a significant number of people will spend Christmas and New Year in either hotels or temporary accommodation. Despite any caveats that people need to be given space to move on in their own time, it is disappointing that so few of the families have moved into permanent accommodation. I agree with the noble Lord’s comment that the council has undoubtedly been slow off the mark in starting the rehousing process. What specific action has the department taken to speed up this process, because at every stage since the tragedy the council has been slow off the mark? Can the noble Lord give me specific examples of the pressure and support from the department, to which he made reference in the Statement?

I have also raised the question of how the leadership of the authority is engaging with the opposition on the council. For example, is the leader of the opposition being properly briefed and invited to meetings? If the noble Lord is unable to answer that today, perhaps he will agree to write to me with details of the specific actions being taken in this respect.

The noble Lord made reference to the sums of money donated by the public and broke down how much has been allocated from these funds and what is being held back to allocate later. Can he update us on where we have got to with the allocation of the funds provided by the Government to the families concerned?

I note the noble Lord’s comments about the wrapping of the tower. There are mixed views on that locally. As he said, it is paramount that whatever happens to the site, it is led by the bereaved, the survivors and the local residents. I welcome his comments in that respect, although the actions and reputation of Kensington and Chelsea Council on community engagement are not as good as they should be. The local community will expect the Government to hold true to their words in that respect, and to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that Kensington and Chelsea Council does so as well.

In respect of the inquiry, I and noble Lords on these Benches give our full support to Sir Martin Moore-Bick. I hope that the Prime Minister will listen carefully and agree to any requests by Sir Martin to be supported by an extended panel. In addition, I welcome the suggestion of a consultative panel of local people. It is important that this inquiry is thorough and answers the questions that need to be answered, and that it has the confidence of the survivors and the local community. Looking back at other inquiries that have dealt with difficult issues, an extended panel can often help in that process. Lessons must be learned and be seen to be learned.

I am pleased that the Government have accepted all of Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations in full. That is an important first step, but it is only a first step along a very long road. In accepting these recommendations, will the Minister confirm that the Government accept that this will result in increased costs and that the Government will meet their fair share of these costs and not leave it to local government, business and others to fund any new safety measures or changes brought about by the revision of regulations and procedures?

Many in local government and elsewhere have been disappointed at the attitude shown by the Government since the fire towards the funding of replacement cladding. If the Government are truly signalling a sea-change in respect of their attitude and how we approach building regulation in regard to these matters, significant costs will be involved. Will the Minister update the House on how much they have paid out to local authorities in respect of works needed to make buildings safe since the fire at Grenfell Tower?

In conclusion, what we need to do can be expressed in the concluding sentences of page 10 of Dame Judith’s report summary:

“In summary, this is a call to action for an entire industry and those parts of government that oversee it. True and lasting change will require a universal shift in culture. The industry has shown this is possible in the way the health and safety of construction workers has seen a positive transformation in culture and practice over the last decade. This change needs to start now”.

If the Government are committed to that real change, they will have the full support of myself, these Benches, the whole House and the country. It is time to get on with the job.

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that I was a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government with responsibilities for building regulations between 2010 and 2012.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, which is comprehensive and reflects the seriousness of the necessary response to the worst fire disaster in this country for 70 years. From this side, we reiterate our sympathy and support for the families of the victims and the wider local community, who were traumatised by the events that they had in fact predicted, but where no one would listen to their concerns. We have praise for their dignity, too, which was shown very clearly at the service at St Paul’s this weekend.

We also need to recognise, as did both the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, the valuable work done by local churches, mosques and community groups. They have worked tirelessly for the past six months supporting survivors and families, often when the authorities were missing or ineffective. We should extend our thanks to them for the help they have given and continue to give.

So it is all the more disappointing to find that things are, in fact, going at a snail’s pace in north Kensington, with families left stranded in hotels at Christmas. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in respect of that. We still have the grotesque, burnt hulk of Grenfell Tower dominating the area. A clear majority of residents believe that it should be wrapped and hidden from view. It is disappointing to me, and I am sure very dispiriting to them, that it is still not, even though the Minister himself in a previous Q&A said that it would be completed before the end of the year. He may be able to update us on the cause of the delay and what is being done to accelerate matters.

I strongly welcome the Hackitt review and the fact that the Government are accepting its recommendations. I will pick up on two or three of those recommendations and press the Minister somewhat on what that acceptance really means. One relates to having a nominated responsible person to certify compliance with building regulations on each project. That provision could be done quite simply by regulation as a result of modifications to the Building Act that were introduced in 2004 by my Private Member’s Bill. I look forward to hearing that that will happen very quickly indeed.

I also want to pick out the point that was made about approved documents. The report says that it is not just a question of getting the fire approved documents right, but that various approved documents for different parts of the building process are not well co-ordinated and there needs to be a holistic redrawing of the whole framework. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that that is exactly what he intends to do.

The third and important point that comes out of the Hackitt review is that all of this will impose what the Treasury would describe as burdens on industry. I therefore want to ask the Minister whether the Government are prepared to say that they will suspend the operation of their one-in, three-out rules in respect of this particular disaster and what needs to be done as far as the regulations are concerned.

One recommendation, which is still to be confirmed in the final report, says that a whole set of trades and professions should have a licensing system. The Federation of Master Builders has been pressing for that for a long time and others in the industry see it as essential. But the Treasury, again, will say that it is a burden. It will be perverse indeed if, in complying with one-in, three-out—or one-in, anything-out—in respect of this, there was a diminution or lessening of standards elsewhere to reduce burdens as they are seen in the Treasury. Will the Minister respond to that?

Finally, I am sure that the Minister recognises that, right across the country, residents are living in tower blocks that have had their cladding removed. They face a winter of worry, not just about fire risks and safety precautions, but because they are in flats that are more exposed to rain and are colder, and that are more costly to run because the cladding has been stripped off. When will the Minister’s department tell landlords what they can do that is safe and approved and will restore the standards that they need in those flats? Of course, linked to that, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, we need to hear where the money is and when it will be available as well.

I welcome the Statement and the report and look forward to the Minister’s response.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Stunell, for their response and their general support for moving things forward. I will try to deal with the detailed points that they raised. First, I join with them in saying, as I have on previous occasions, that we owe a massive debt to members of the public sector, particularly the emergency services. We also owe a massive debt to charities, the faith sector and to the great British public, who have, as has been said, responded with incredible generosity to this dreadful tragedy.

In relation to rehousing, as I made clear in the Statement, we have felt that the local authority was slow off the mark. That said, it would be ungenerous to say that progress has not been made. There is still a massive amount to do: we must be clear about that. We cannot be complacent. But we are in the position now of having more houses than there are families needing to be rehoused, so the issue now is that not every family is happy with the house or property they have been offered. We have always said—and we have had support from other parties and others—that this is the right approach and that we should not be forcing people to move where they are not happy to go. We do not want to do that. There may be many understandable reasons why people will not want to move into a tower block or, possibly, even into third or fourth-floor accommodation. They may not want to be in the area concerned. Some people have changed their minds. There are many factors here. Progress is being made, but there is more to do. I readily accept that.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on charities, the distribution of charitable funds is a matter for the charities concerned. Obviously, we will provide scrutiny and guardianship to ensure the proper processes are being followed, as we always do. No doubt the final allocation will follow, but that is a matter for the charities, unless they seek help and guidance. That would then be given as a matter of due process.

Both noble Lords referred to the memorial event held here, in addition to the service at St Paul’s, and the views of survivors. Many survivors made the point about the site and how it should be developed. We have made clear—I think the Statement makes it clear again—that that is a matter for the survivors. They are in the driving seat on this. They may well seek advice and guidance from us, but they have a veto on that. The right honourable Member for, I think, Ruislip, who is the Minister for Grenfell survivors, is working with the community on the principles that will be applied, but, as we made clear, they are in the driving seat.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to Sir Martin Moore-Bick and offered his support and that of his party, for which we are very grateful. I think that is the position of the Liberal Democrats as well. Sir Martin is considering whether to have a consultative panel. That is a matter for him. It will no doubt be a matter that the Prime Minister will wish to take into account on whether she has somebody else sitting alongside Sir Martin Moore-Bick. It is a question of balancing those considerations.

The noble Lord then referred to—I think this was a matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, homed in—the interim report from Dame Judith Hackitt. Again, I thank both noble Lords for their support for this process. We thought it very important that we set this up alongside the inquiry. We have had a very detailed interim report, which we will want to respond to and look at in detail. As I said in the Statement, the Government accept all the recommendations directed to them. We will certainly be carrying those out. Above all, we will be putting safety first. That is something the British public, the people of Grenfell, obviously, the wider community, the Government and all noble Lords would expect us to do. Again, safety first applies in relation to regulation. There is nothing to stop us proceeding as necessary with any regulations and whatever is necessary coming from the interim report and, later, the full report, which we anticipate in the spring.

Both noble Lords raised issues about cladding. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about the financial position, as did the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. We are in discussions with 26 local authorities that have sought help. We have asked for further information from 10, from memory; I will confirm these figures, but I think it is 10. We are having detailed discussions with two further—maybe two of 10. I will confirm that in writing to the noble Lord—I will leave a copy in the Library and copy it to other noble Lords who have participated in the debate—making it very clear that we will not let financial means stop what is necessary to move this forward. That is, I think, widely accepted.

Once again, we have received an excellent report from Dame Judith Hackitt. There are many facets to it, not just directed to government, although a lot of it was. We encourage all relevant parties to look at this excellent report, study it and respond in a positive way to it.

My Lords, there was an emphasis in the Statement on the involvement of Grenfell residents in future decision-making. As the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, pointed out, part of the problem lies in the fact that the residents were not listened to in the past when they raised concerns about problems with the building. I was at the memorial meeting here last week, where I got the sense that many felt they were still not being listened to by local officials. Thinking about lessons for the future, what are the Government going to do to ensure that residents of social housing are listened to?

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for her question and for her attendance at the meeting. It was a very moving meeting indeed. As she said, there were understandably some raw feelings about the way residents had been dealt with. Looking to the future, in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy we have established there a victim support unit. Ministers are there on a regular basis—to be fair, so is the royal borough. We have responded very positively by ensuring the NHS is there to look to the health needs, not least the mental health needs, of the people there. On her wider point about ensuring that lessons are learned, they will be learned. We are looking to the future for a Green Paper on the social housing sector. We can expect some of these points on the obvious questions raised by the Grenfell tragedy to be taken up in it and some of the answers we have learned.

On lessons learned and building safety, is the policy of Her Majesty’s Government now that all refurbished, repaired or newly built high-rise buildings in the royal borough and elsewhere should always contain properly integrated sprinkling systems?

My noble friend raises an issue that obviously will be considered by the public inquiry. It is being considered by Dame Judith Hackitt, who has made some point about it in the interim report, although she stops short of recommending that they should be compulsory. The Government will look at this in the light of recommendations made and the wider question of the safety of high-rise buildings following the reports and reviews that are under way.

My Lords, I am a little concerned that we have not heard much about the relationship between this and the whole framework of the legal process. Given the “us and them” aspect of feelings in north Kensington, will the Minister give some thought to the fact that it has been reported that 25 legal teams are involved in all this? Do the Government have any locus in how the handling of all these legal processes will be treated by the public? If not, how will the Government be able to comment on them if they have no locus in this matter? We know that some of these inquiries take a lot longer than expected and there are some culpability questions involved, but if a note could be prepared on any of this it might be helpful. We do not want to be wise after the event.

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting and fair point—that does seem a lot of legal teams. I accept that. Some of them are helping the Grenfell victims, which is something that the Government have ensured—that there is proper legal representation for the Grenfell victims and survivors. Noble Lords would accept that that is important. The inquiry has only just started. It will be far-reaching. It is right that it should be. It obviously has to follow due process. On the Government’s role, I have mentioned that the Prime Minister is looking at the way the inquiry should take proper account of local opinion. We will no doubt discuss that with Sir Martin Moore-Bick in the light of how he responds and what his thinking is on a consultative panel.

My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interests. In the interim report, Dame Judith Hackitt says that,

“I am aware that some building owners and landlords are waiting for direction from this review on what materials should be used to replace cladding that has been identified as inadequate. I would urge them not to wait but to consider what materials have already been identified and tested as safe”.

Given that the Government have accepted all the recommendations of the interim report, is it the case that all such works undertaken by all local housing authorities with high-rise blocks will be deemed by the Government to be essential works and therefore will be funded by them? There is a problem in that the Government have offered to pay for essential works, as I understand it, but not for additional works. As a consequence, a lot of bilateral discussions are going on with local housing authorities. Would it not be better for the Government to define what are essential works and what might be deemed additional works so that there can be a public debate about this? As of now, the interim report of Dame Judith Hackitt has indicated that people should get on with the job of making their buildings safe using materials which have been deemed, after testing, to be safe.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for that question. The Government accept all the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim report that were directed towards the Government; of course, many recommendations are directed elsewhere, and we cannot accept those on behalf of other bodies. Obviously, we urge local authorities to be pre-emptive and respond in relation to the recommendations made to them. We have been very clear that finance should not stand in the way of necessary work, which remains our position. We are open to looking at any reasonable application in relation to that—as I have indicated, we are indeed doing so.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a resident of a Westminster City Council block that suffers from all the deficiencies that Dame Judith Hackitt’s report has outlined so well. In paragraph 1.86, Dame Judith quite rightly focuses on the inadequacy of compartmentation as a fire risk control measure. On many occasions, the multiple responsibilities for adaptations and changes in such blocks result in all sorts of people, including homeowners, undertaking changes which compromise compartmentation. By the time inspections happen, if they happen adequately at all, floor coverings, wall coverings and all manner of other adaptations are hiding a multitude of changes to the integrity of the compartmentation. I was pleased to see in Dame Judith’s report a comment on compartmentation but, so far, there has been no recommendation. Is this a matter on which the Government expect a recommendation in Dame Judith’s final report? I firmly believe that compartmentation—which is a dreadfully difficult word to say at this time of the day—is a policy doomed to failure. It is a fail-unsafe, rather than a fail-safe, policy.

The noble Baroness makes a perfectly fair point. Obviously, there is a lot even in the interim report—it is not a short report; it has many important recommendations and constitutes important reading not just for the Government but, as I have indicated, for all relevant partners in relation to delivery of housing and those concerned with building regulations and fire safety. Perhaps I may come back to the noble Baroness on the particular point she raised; I have not read the report from end to end—I have to be candid about that—but we are expecting a fuller report in the spring, where no doubt some points that perhaps have not been fully investigated as yet will be covered.

My Lords, does the Minister believe that there have been different standards of building safety for public and private sector projects, or does he believe that the terrible Grenfell Tower disaster could happen to any high-rise building?

My Lords, I feel sure that what happened at Grenfell Tower could happen in relation to any building which was similarly clad. That would certainly apply to some buildings not in the public sector that, as we know, have been subject to the same review. The approach of Dame Judith Hackitt is to come forward with a uniform building standard, which I think we would all recognise as necessary. It should be a very tight standard and fire safety should be put front, back and centre of it—that is the prime lesson that we learnt from the review.

My Lords, in addition to the issue of sprinklers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred, another issue to arise from the disaster was the lack of more than one exit from the premises. I have not read Dame Judith’s report and do not know whether she has dealt with it—she may well have done—but it would helpful if the Minister could indicate whether there is any intention to move on that front, so that there is an option for people rather than their having to rely on only one exit being safe.

Might the Government also consider insisting on a supply of small fire extinguishers—I have to confess that I have only recently acquired one myself—for the sort of event that might happen in a kitchen or with an electrical appliance? Again, it may be a matter that Dame Judith has covered; if she has not, perhaps the Minister could consider including that in any review. Some relatively modest expenditure may be involved— they are not very costly items—but it would potentially enhance safety quite considerably.

I notice that the Minister did not quite find time in his reply to deal with a number of the questions raised by my noble friend from the Front Bench. No doubt he will undertake to respond to those in writing subsequently.

Finally, I join others in expressing our deep sympathy—on behalf of the whole House, not only those who are here tonight—for what terrible strain and tragedy have done to that community. We are glad that there is all-party agreement that we have to tackle this issue substantially right across the sector and across the country. I hope that the Government will provide the necessary funding, which would be quite considerable, to deal not only with the capital side but with the beefing-up of building regulation.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for the very sensitive way in which he made that last point in terms of support for the Government and recognising that we should come together in tackling these issues—indeed, it is a problem that has been neglected by Governments of all three parties here and they must share some of the blame. However, that is not the most important thing now; the most important thing is to move forward.

The noble Lord raised some very valid points about fire exits. Of course, there is sometimes an issue about enforcement even in relation to a single exit where it has not been properly monitored or has been blocked; that is another issue that needs to be looked at. He also referred to the supply of fire extinguishers. We know that in the aftermath of Grenfell some local authorities—including Camden, I seem to remember—recognised that they needed to do more on that front. I am sure that that is true across authorities of all political parties. They are very fair points. I do not think that they are dealt with specifically in the interim report, but we will make sure that Dame Judith sees them. I am sure that, being very adept in these matters, she will look at what has been discussed in relation to this Statement today in both Houses.

As the noble Lord alluded to, I will of course deal in a letter with points that I have missed, of which I am sure there are many. I will make sure that the letter goes round. I will also correct any errors that I have made.

Will the Minister further clarify on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on the potential difficulty of defining necessary cost? I hope that he can assure us that local authorities will not be batting backwards and forwards trying to identify what work they can go ahead with which the Government will support and what work they should not go ahead with unless they have their own necessary funds to do it. I think that there is potential here, particularly as Dame Judith’s report has said how muddled it all is, for local authorities and other private sector organisations and housing associations not to be absolutely sure about what they will get government support for.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy. As we have indicated all along, it is important that any relevant organisation or local authority that is concerned about their funding position should contact the Government. As I say, 24 have done so; we are looking in detail at the position of 10 of those and we have asked for further information from two. That remains the situation. It would be very dangerous for me to say that it will cover this and it will not cover that. It has to be a bit more flexible, because the sort of work that is necessary will vary enormously from block to block and from authority to authority. Of course, there will be an established position of the sorts of area we will look at and the sorts of financial assistance that may be necessary, but I repeat that we are certainly open to looking at those bodies that need assistance and discussing it with them. That is what is happening and I urge local authorities, through Members here, as well as other housing associations and so on, to contact us if they need clarity. We will be very happy to provide that.