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Fire Safety: Building Materials

Volume 790: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure the safety of the public in the light of the Association of British Insurers’ report, published on 25 April, on fire safety testing of building materials following the Grenfell Tower fire.

My Lords, in asking the Question standing in my name of the Order Paper, I refer the House to my relevant interests in the register.

My Lords, the Government have taken advice from their expert panel on fire and safety on this report. The expert panel has advised that the report’s findings do not require changes to be made to the advice that has been given to building owners about actions that they should take. The programme to identify and make safe buildings with ACM cladding continues. The British Standards Institution has already sent the report to the relevant technical committee for review.

My Lords, the report of the Fire Protection Association, commissioned by the Association of British Insurers, highlighted that the official testing regime may have overlooked a number of real-life factors when conducting its tests on the appropriateness of the standard test for cladding materials. I hear what the Minister says, but will he look at whether there is a need to convene a committee to look at the British Standard 8414 test so we can be sure that the findings of the report have been considered carefully?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. The relevant standard, BS 8414, was originally set in 2005 and has no doubt been effective. As I indicated, the report has gone to the relevant technical committee of the BSI for analysis. It will take a view on it and, if appropriate, refer it to the Government. That is the appropriate process. Of course we will take it very seriously when it gives us the report.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the statement from the fire control chiefs that they are very concerned about the complete lack of checking for the short holiday lets occurring all over London? No one quite knows where they are.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is our side’s answer to the noble Lord, Lord West, for getting in these questions on pet areas. I appreciate what she says about short-term accommodation lets and I will ensure that that matter is looked at. I reassure her that the Short Term Accommodation Association, which I know she has taken a great interest in, looks at this sort of thing and is moving things forward in relation to the issues she has brought up previously, by starting a pilot agreement with Westminster City Council.

My Lords, I remind the House that I served as Minister with responsibility for building regulations between 2010 and 2012. Whatever controversy there may be about the adequacy of the fire tests, they have shown that more than 300 blocks need amending. According to the department’s own figures, 297 blocks have still not been repaired. Something like 7,000 families are stuck in them, facing not just the risk of fire but the reality of higher heating bills because of damp and condensation. None of those families brought this on themselves. Will the Government now agree to fund a “pay now, recover later” scheme so that there is no more delay in getting on with this process?

My Lords, the noble Lord gave very distinguished service in the role that he referred to. The issue of the standard we are looking at here is somewhat different from the ongoing work on the ACM cladding, which I think he is referring to. Work on 66% of the buildings in the public sector has been commenced and, for the remaining 34%, appropriate interim measures are place. We are identifying the blocks in the private sector, which I think is where the condensation issue that he talks about is relevant. We have provided £1 million to local councils to identify those blocks. In relation to whether the cost of that is borne by the landlord or the tenant, he will have seen that Barratt has stepped into the breach to help with Citiscape, which I applaud. In other areas we are hoping that landlords will step forward. Where they do not, we have a round table which will look at this issue across the piece.

Is my noble friend aware that this House will recognise the strength and fervour that he has shown in trying to get a grip on this quite complicated area? Requirement 8414 covers a whole host of materials used in the industry. It is not clear to me, or I am sure to a number of colleagues who take a particular interest, whether those who inspect those materials subsequently are necessarily clear on whether they meet the requirements of 8414 or not. Can some system be looked at to ensure that there is real co-ordination between the manufacturers of these important products and those who subsequently—some years later—carry out regular inspections on their consistency over time?

I am most grateful to my noble friend for his comments. In relation to 8414, the report particularly concerns external wall cladding systems—it is the whole cladding system, including the insulation, which has been looked at and referred to the relevant sub-committee for review. Of course we will take seriously the response from the relevant committee to the Government but the House should bear in mind that this report was issued barely a week ago.