To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many blocks of flats in both the private and public sectors they estimate still have combustible cladding of the type that was on Grenfell Tower.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw the House’s attention to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
My Lords, 116 social sector buildings have started or completed remediation; 44 buildings in the social sector remain, with plans and commitments in place. In the private sector, 203 buildings have plans and commitments in place, including those that have started or completed remediation. With regard to the remaining 69, the Secretary of State wrote to local authorities in December 2018 to offer them further financial assistance.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is regrettable that we are in this position, with blocks covered in unsafe cladding more than 18 months after the Grenfell Tower fire? Why is the department so slow to act on these matters?
My Lords, of course it is regrettable that we are in this position; the fire at Grenfell was also totally regrettable. As the figures indicate, we have plans in place for all buildings, other than those 69 for which the Secretary of State wrote to local authorities urging action and offering financial assistance to ensure it. The most important thing is making these buildings safe, which we are well on the way to doing.
My Lords, in responding to noble Lords over the past two years, Ministers have repeatedly said that it is necessary to go at pace to show commitment and a real sense of urgency. Does the Minister share the frustration of some of us and the anger of many Grenfell Tower residents at the inquiry being postponed for nine months? What tangible steps are the Government taking to make sure that lessons are learned so that there are no tragedies of this sort in future?
My Lords, it would be unwise for me to comment on a judiciary-led inquiry. The reasons for the delay are there: it is important that we get this right. Of course we want to proceed at pace but, most importantly, we want to make sure that lessons are learned and acted on. The situation is very complex. Suffice it to say that we are in regular touch with organisations such as Grenfell United about progress, and discussions are ongoing. It is most important that no such thing happens again, as the noble Lord indicated.
My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the new cladding being installed on the buildings he mentioned meets, and is universally accepted to meet, fire protection requirements?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. He will be aware that the Secretary of State ensured a ban on combustible ACM cladding, which is being acted on, as I indicated. For other types of cladding, things will proceed in the normal way.
My Lords, what action will the Ministry of Defence take on barracks with such cladding on them? How much will that cost? I refer to my entry in the register of Members’ interests.
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a valuable point. I will write to her on its specifics. Suffice it to say that other government departments, of which the Ministry of Defence is one—the department of health is another—take these issues very seriously and are providing financial assistance. I will make sure that she gets a detailed reply, a copy of which will be placed in the Library.
My Lords, I listened very carefully to the Answer to the Question. Have all blocks in the private sector been identified nationally? Is there a list? Do any of them form part of that second group of 69, which the Minister said were referred to local authorities for support?
My Lords, as I indicated, all the buildings have been identified. The 69 buildings I referred to are private ones. The statutory position is that the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that their cladding comes off rests with local authorities, but the Secretary of State made it clear that finance will not stand in the way of that and we will provide financial assistance if needed.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Local Government Association. Can my noble friend the Minister clarify his last statement about local councils being responsible for removing and replacing cladding on private sector buildings? Councils up and down the country must operate within the law of the land, which does not allow them to go in and take cladding off of other people’s buildings.
My Lords, my noble friend is right. I did not mean to imply that. I meant to say that the authority for ensuring that this happens rests with local authorities, which can require private owners to take such action. If I did not make that clear, I wish to do so now.