House of Commons
Thursday 22 June 2017
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
The following Members took and subscribed the Oath, or made and subscribed the Affirmation required by law.
Nicholas Edward Coleridge Boles, for Grantham and Stamford
Emma Elizabeth Reynolds, Wolverhampton North East
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the disaster at Grenfell Tower. I apologise to the Leader of the Opposition for the short notice he has had of this statement. In the hour before making it, I received an important update, which I felt was essential to bring to the attention of the House this morning.
What happened in the early hours of last Wednesday morning was one of the most unimaginable tragedies that our country has seen in many years. As of this morning, 79 people have been confirmed dead or listed as missing presumed dead, and with work still ongoing to recover the bodies, sadly the death toll may rise further.
We already know that many children are among the dead and that in some cases whole families perished. Those who survived have lost loved ones, friends, neighbours and, in many cases, everything they own. It should never have happened. In a few moments, I shall say how we will discover why it did, but, as I said yesterday, that initial failure was then compounded by the fact that the support on the ground in the initial hours was not good enough. As Prime Minister, I have apologised for that second failure and taken responsibility for doing what we can to put it right.
On my first visit to north Kensington, I met the emergency services. These extraordinary men and women put their lives on the line in an effort to save others, and my first responsibility was to check that they had all the resources they needed. I then visited Chelsea and Westminster hospital, where I met some of the most seriously injured survivors—it was from that experience that I decided to have an emergency fund. I also met a group of residents in Kensington whom I then invited to Downing Street last weekend. I returned to Kensington again last night to hear directly from them about the progress that we are making. What became clear very quickly was that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea could not cope, and it is right that the chief executive officer has now resigned. It is also why I set up the Grenfell Tower recovery taskforce, which I have been chairing personally.
This is about not just the steps that we take in the first few weeks, but a lasting commitment that we make to supporting the affected families, long after the television cameras have gone. Let me set out in detail the steps that we are taking to support the victims and to rehouse those who have lost their homes.
On Friday morning, the Government established a central command centre under the leadership of John Barradell, the chief executive of the City of London and former lead for London local government on resilience, and Eleanor Kelly, chief executive of the London borough of Southwark. On behalf of the whole House I thank John and his team for all the work that they are doing.
I also pay tribute to the London boroughs for their fantastic response, including a number of chief executives who are currently working at the command centre, as well as the Mayor of London and leading figures from a number of councils from outside London. I thank the army of volunteers who stepped in to provide shelter, sustenance, comfort and practical support. I also thank the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Ministers for Housing and Planning, for London and for Policing and the Fire Service for the work that they have been doing.
Currently, there are around 600 people working on the site and in the immediate area to provide support to the victims. The Westway sports centre has been transformed into an emergency community hub, staffed by 40 officials from six Government Departments. Those officials are making sure that people have essential documents such as driving licences and passports, which are fundamental to them carrying on with their lives. They have also been joined by experts from organisations such as Transport for London, Citizens Advice and the Red Cross, NHS mental health staff, nurses, care managers, and a GP. Anyone affected by the blaze can walk in and access the support they need, and so far there have been almost 700 visits to the centre.
The centre’s on-the-ground work is supplemented by the victim support unit, whose emergency helpline provides a single point of contact for victims who need to deal with multiple Government services in the wake of the disaster. Each family whose home was destroyed is receiving a £5,000 down payment from the emergency fund so they can buy food, clothes and other essentials, and outreach workers are seeking to make sure everyone gets the money they are entitled to. We are also paying all additional adults over 16 in these households £500 in cash. Other cash payments are being paid out by the council on a discretionary basis, for example to those whose home has been severely impacted but not permanently destroyed. As of midday on Wednesday we had made payments of more than £700,000.
It is absolutely essential that people understand they can keep the money they receive; these grants are not loans and they will not be expected to repay a single penny. Neither are they waiving any legal rights as a result of accepting this financial help. The payments will be disregarded for means-tested welfare payments, so no one in receipt of benefits will see their benefits cut if they accept emergency support. I would like to reassure people that we will not use this tragic incident as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved or on those providing vital information to identify victims or those assisting with the criminal investigation. We will make sure that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, can access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation.
In terms of local schools, Kensington Aldridge Academy, the school right next door to the tower, remains closed. However, all its pupils have already been accommodated at other schools in the area. The Department for Education is working with Ofqual to ensure that children who are sitting their GCSEs receive an appropriate exam dispensation, and specialist counselling has been offered to local schoolchildren and also to teachers affected by the fire.
Turning to re-housing, 151 homes were destroyed in the fire, most in the tower itself but also several in the immediate vicinity. All those who have lost their homes have been offered emergency hotel accommodation, and all will be offered rehousing within three weeks. Already, 164 suitable properties have been identified and they are being checked and made ready for people to move into. In the longer term, everyone whose home was destroyed will be guaranteed a new home on the same terms as the one they lost. Sixty-eight of those will be in a brand-new low-rise block that has just been built by Berkeley Homes. The developer has generously offered to turn over the entire block at cost price. Contractors are on site now, working 24/7 to speed up fit-out so that the first families can move in this summer.
Within the wider cordon area, many more homes were damaged by smoke or water or have lost gas, heating and hot water. Emergency hotel accommodation is available for anyone who does not want to remain in a damaged property and more than 100 hotel rooms have already been provided. We are also putting in place practical support to help to accelerate necessary repairs and yesterday drew on expertise from the Army to assist with this.
Some survivors have said that they want to leave the local area, and we will of course support that and help them find a home elsewhere. But I want to be absolutely clear: nobody is being forced to move somewhere they do not want to go, and if any hon. Member thinks they know of anyone being treated in this way they should contact my office in Downing Street with the details.
As the scale of the tragedy became clear we quickly decided there had to be an independent public inquiry. As I said to the House yesterday, it will be chaired by a judge to get to the truth about what happened and who was responsible, and to provide justice for the victims and their families who suffered so terribly. All those with an interest—including survivors and victims’ families—will be consulted about the terms of reference, and we will pay for legal representation for those affected. Listening to survivors last night, it also became clear that they want support to come together as a group to have their voices heard, and the Government will play our part in helping them to do so.
For too long residents have been overlooked and ignored. We will ensure that they are involved in every step of this process. No stone will be left unturned in this inquiry, and there will be nowhere for any guilty parties to hide. I am clear that we cannot wait for ages to learn the immediate lessons, so I expect that the chair of the inquiry will want to produce an interim report as early as possible.
I know that many others living in tall residential buildings will have concerns about their safety after what happened at Grenfell. All social landlords have been instructed to carry out additional fire safety checks on tower blocks, and to ensure that the appropriate safety and response measures are in place. This is being done in co-operation with local fire and rescue services. We have also taken steps to make private landlords aware and have made our checking facilities available to them for free.
The House should of course be careful when it comes to speculating about what caused the fire, but the Government have arranged to test cladding in all relevant tower blocks as a precaution. Shortly before I came to the Chamber, I was informed that a number of these tests have come back as combustible. The relevant local authorities and local fire services have been informed. As I speak, they are taking all possible steps to ensure that buildings are safe and to inform affected residents. Immediately after this statement, the Department for Communities and Local Government will contact any MPs whose constituents are affected, and the Communities Secretary will provide a further update later today.
We can test more than 100 buildings a day, and the results come within hours. I urge any landlord who owns a building of this kind to send samples for testing as soon as possible. Any results will be communicated immediately to local authorities and local fire services. Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings. Where they cannot do that, we expect alternative accommodation to be provided. We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes.
It is clear that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was not able to cope with the scale of the tragedy, so we will develop a new strategy for resilience in major disasters, which could include a new civil disaster response taskforce that can help at times of emergency.
Finally, we must learn some of the lessons of this and previous disasters where bereaved families have not had the support they need, so we will introduce an independent public advocate for public disasters—a strong independent voice for victims, acting on behalf of bereaved families and supporting them at public inquests and inquiries.
In the past week, a lot of remarkable people have gone above and beyond to help to deal with the fire and its aftermath. First and foremost, of course, are the incredible men and women of the emergency services who did so much to save so many lives. I cannot imagine the kind of bravery it takes to run into a burning building and head upstairs when any normal person would be heading for the exits. We have also seen sterling work from people across the public sector including teachers, nurses, staff from various local authorities and civil servants, who are doing all they can to help. We have seen incredible acts of generosity from private businesses, and we have seen the people of this great city and this great country stepping up to help in any way they can: donating money, clothes, toys and food, volunteering their time and so much more.
Above all, I pay tribute to the people of Kensington. They have opened their hearts and homes to people affected by the fire, coming together and showing what a real community looks like. The selfless actions of local people and the courage and resilience of the survivors should give us all pause for thought.
Right now, our focus is on supporting the victims, finding homes for those made homeless and making sure that the country’s housing stock is as safe as possible. But as we move forwards, we must also recognise that for too long in our country, under Governments of both colours, we simply have not given enough attention to social housing, and that this is actually a symptom of an even more fundamental issue.
It should not take a disaster of this kind for us to remember that there are people in Britain today living lives that are so far removed from those that many here in Westminster enjoy. In this tower—just a few miles from the Houses of Parliament and in the heart of our great city—people live a fundamentally different life, do not feel the state works for them and are therefore mistrustful of it. So, long after the TV cameras have gone and the world has moved on, let the legacy of this awful tragedy be that we resolve never to forget these people and instead to gear our policies and our thinking towards making their lives better and bringing them into the political process. It is our job as a Government and as a Parliament to show that we are listening and that we will stand up for them. That is what I am determined we should do. I commend this statement to the House.
I acknowledge the Prime Minister’s apologies for the very late arrival of her statement to my office, and I understand the reasons for it.
I met the survivors at Grenfell Tower, as have a number of colleagues in the House, as I did the very inspiring volunteers co-ordinating so much of the relief effort for families who had lost so much. There is grief, there is anger, and there is also great solidarity in that community. I hope the whole House will join with me in commending the community spirit and public support which helped so many traumatised families, and the amazing response of so many local people and faith groups who rushed to the scene to give clothing, to give food, to give help, and to provide a sort of online restaurant for just about anybody who was helping with the disaster relief. Our love, our condolences and our solidarity go out to those families again today, and in what will be the very difficult days and weeks ahead; many of them will be reliving the trauma of that dreadful night for a lifetime. They were, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, let down, both in the immediate aftermath and so cruelly beforehand, and the public inquiry must establish the extent and by whom.
At least 79 people are dead. It is both a tragedy and an outrage, because every single one of those deaths could and should have been avoided. The Grenfell Tower residents themselves had raised concerns about the lack of fire safety in the block. The Grenfell Action Group had warned:
“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord,”
the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. The Prime Minister said that it is right that the CEO of Kensington and Chelsea Council has now resigned. It may be right, but why are the political leaders not taking responsibility as well for this whole dreadful event? From Hillsborough, to the child sex abuse scandal, to Grenfell Tower, the pattern is consistent: working-class people’s voices are ignored, their concerns dismissed, by those in power.
The Grenfell Tower residents and the north Kensington community deserve answers, and thousands and thousands of people living in tower blocks around the country need very urgent reassurance. Our very brave firefighters must never have to deal with such a horrific incident again. The Prime Minister is right when she talks about the bravery of firefighters running into a burning building; I have spoken to firefighters on many occasions. But they are overstretched and they are traumatised—traumatised by dealing with London Bridge, traumatised by Grenfell Tower—yet they carry on doing it, overstretched and understaffed. We need to look at the whole issue of the security of our fire service.
Those of us with over 30 years’ experience in this House would have struggled as constituency MPs under the pressure generated by an incident of this scale. As I said yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) deserves praise for the tireless and diligent way she has stood up for her constituents in the very short time since she was thankfully elected to this House. Her constituents need answers. The public inquiry must address, first, the appalling failure of the fire alarms at Grenfell Tower, which meant many residents reported that they were only alerted to the fire by the screams of their neighbours or by young Muslim men banging on the door who had broken from prayers in order to try to save life. Something went catastrophically wrong which lost life.
The inquiry must also address whether the advice given to tenants to stay in their homes was correct; what advice should be given to the people living in the 4,000 other tower blocks around this country in the event of similar disaster; why sprinklers were not installed and whether they now should be retro-fitted into all tower blocks—we need urgent answers to that question—whether the cladding used was illegal, as the Chancellor has suggested, and whether it should be banned entirely; and what wider changes must be urgently made to building regulations. As the Prime Minister indicated in her statement, this is obviously being urgently addressed. The inquiry also needs to address the fire prevention regulations, including the frequency and the enforcement of fire safety checks, because my suspicion is that many local authorities—strapped for cash after seven years of cuts—have cut back on fire testing and cut back on inspections because they simply have not got the staff to do it anymore.
The inquiry must address whether tenant management organisations are responsive enough to their tenants, and what greater powers tenants need, both in council or social housing and in the private sector, to ensure their own safety. It must address whether survivors and people evacuated from adjacent properties were rehoused promptly and adequately. The Prime Minister has addressed some of those matters, but I would be interested in her response to those living nearby who are equally traumatised by the event. Those people should of course be rehoused within the borough, and I hope there will be no increase in their rent.
The inquiry must also address the resources available to the fire and rescue service, and whether response times and capacity are adequate for all areas of the country, since the number of wards in which response time targets are not being met has increased tenfold since 2011. Lessons must be learned in the public inquiry, and a disaster that should never have happened must never happen again. The Government must delay no longer, and must now implement the recommendations of the 2013 inquiry report into the Lakanal House fire. The public inquiry into Grenfell Tower must also establish whether lives could have been saved if those recommendations had been implemented in full, and if the recommendations of the all-party group on fire safety and rescue had been heeded by the Government.
Fire safety measures cannot be left to a postcode lottery, and I therefore ask the Government to make available emergency funds, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) raised yesterday, so that councils can carry out immediate fire safety checks and install sprinklers. The timetable for that must be made known to residents. A huge cost is obviously involved in removing and recladding blocks that are found to have flammable materials in them, but the resources—the money—must be made available immediately, because it is a huge job of work. The Prime Minister says that those people who are in danger must be moved out of their properties, but this is a massive undertaking and it will require a huge focus of Government resources.
Will the Prime Minister ensure that the counselling and mental health services that she said are now being provided at the Westway sports centre are made available to all the residents of both Grenfell Tower and the areas around it, such as those who witnessed the fire unfold on the Lancaster West estate, and to those in the emergency services who have been through such trauma during the last few days? Counselling and mental health services are important in the days and weeks after a tragedy, but they have to go on for a very long time, because the trauma does not end a few days afterwards.
The public inquiry must report as soon as possible, and changes that can and should have been made must now be made without delay. We must be aware that this has been a wake-up call to the whole country: the fire at Grenfell Tower has taken the lives of people who should be with us and alive and happy today, and residents of tower blocks all over the country are concerned, worried and frightened for their own safety. We need a step change in our attitude towards housing in this country to deal with the permanent housing crisis that so many of our constituents and residents face. We need Government intervention to support local authorities in bringing about safe solutions to the housing crisis so that this tragedy can at least change our attitudes and we can at least say that we as a country will seriously address the housing situation that so many people face. People have died and they will never come back. We have to learn the lessons to make sure that this tragedy is a turning point in our whole attitude, and that never again people die needlessly in a towering inferno, while living in poverty surrounded by a sea of prosperity.
May I first join the Leader of the Opposition in commending the work of his new hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad)? I am sure we all remember getting to grips with our first few days as a Member of Parliament, and having to deal with a disaster and tragedy of this sort in her constituency so early on must have been very difficult. I commend her for the work that she has done.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues, many of which will be matters for the inquiry to get to grips with. I would expect the inquiry to address the responsibility for this issue and the advice given by the fire service. As I said in my statement, we want to ensure that we are able to provide justice to the victims and survivors of this terrible tragedy. I expect the chair of the inquiry to produce an interim report so that we see early lessons. It is important that we know anything that needs to be learned and addressed as soon as possible and that we take action as soon as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Lakanal House coroner’s report in 2013. All the coroner’s recommendations from the Lakanal House inquiry have been acted on. It is important to recognise that the coroner did not propose any change to the building regulations. There were issues with the guidance to the building regulations and other issues were raised, and all of those have been acted on.
We will offer rehousing in the borough or in neighbouring boroughs. As I said, a significant number of properties—164 properties—have been identified and are being looked at. A significant number of people have been assessed for their housing needs and some have already been offered housing. It is, of course, up to them whether they accept it or whether other properties need to be offered to them. That process is in hand and I have set the commitment that people will be rehoused within three weeks.
The issue of the tenant management organisation, which the Leader of the Opposition mentioned, has come across loud and clear to me from my conversations with local residents. One of the first acts of the new chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council will be to look at the tenant management organisation and any action that needs to be taken.
The Leader of the Opposition also referred to Hillsborough and the child sexual abuse inquiry. I was pleased to work with the families from Hillsborough. They should have had justice at a far earlier stage. The issues are ongoing, with the Crown Prosecution Service looking at potential criminal charges, but we have provided an opportunity for the Hillsborough families to know the truth of what happened to their loved ones and for the public to know the truth of Hillsborough.
I was also pleased to set up the child sexual abuse inquiry because, as I said when I did so, I agree that for too long, people have made assumptions about certain people in our society and how they should be treated, and those assumptions are wrong. We need to dig into that and find out why it has happened, and we need to change it.
Order. I am keen to accommodate the level of interest in this extraordinarily important and grave subject. May I appeal to colleagues to help me to help them? There is a premium upon brevity, which I feel sure will be brilliantly exemplified by Mr Iain Duncan Smith.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the actions she said that she and the Government will take. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who have suffered so terribly and who will continue to suffer in the days to come.
I ask the Prime Minister to add one further remit to the public inquiry: to look at whether the whole process of retrofitting old tower blocks is viable at all and at whether there is a better way to house and support tenants in these areas without the use of the many incredibly badly designed and very faulty tower blocks. Will she ask the public inquiry to look carefully at whether it is feasible to bring some of the blocks down and provide more family friendly housing?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He suggests that the inquiry should go a great deal further than looking into this particular instance. We will ensure that the survivors and local residents have an input into the terms of reference of the inquiry so that they can have confidence in it and know that it will produce the results and justice that they need. I will reflect on my right hon. Friend’s comments, but it is important, primarily, that the local residents have confidence in the terms of reference of the inquiry and feel that it will get to the truth as they need it.
All of us in the House and, I am sure, throughout the entire United Kingdom, welcome the opportunity provided by the Prime Minister’s statement this morning. We can all reflect on the scenes that we woke up to last week: the horror, suffering and pain that those who were living in the tower block must have gone through and the agony of seeing the fire spread through that building. I thank the members of the emergency services for putting their lives on the line, in this case and other instances that we have seen over the course of the past few weeks. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to them.
We in the Scottish National party want to work with the Government on these matters. I think the incident last week is a defining moment in the evolution of our society. However, I respectfully say to the Prime Minister that, although she apologised to the Leader of the Opposition for the short notice of her statement, the third party and all parties represented in the House should receive adequate notice. In her statement, the Prime Minister said that the initial failure was compounded by the fact that the support on the ground in the initial hours was not good enough. If the public inquiry makes recommendations on changes that have to be made, I ask that the Government accept those.
If the £5 million that has been put into the initial emergency fund is not sufficient, will the Government commit to doing what they need to in order to make sure that the appropriate financial resources are available? I welcome the Prime Minister’s saying that the new housing block that has been built by Berkeley Homes will be made available to some of the families. She talked of families moving in over the summer, but can she be more specific as to when that will happen? Can we make sure that families who wish to live in the local area will have that commitment that housing will be made available? That should be done on the basis that there will be consultation, and that if the first offer is not acceptable, alternatives will be put in place.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the public inquiry should be empowered to consider all the steps that were not taken leading up and contributing to this incident? All those with a legitimate interest must be able to participate. That has to include bereaved families and survivors as well as individuals and organisations with an interest, such as the residents’ campaign and local representative organisations. This needs to be about Parliament recognising the significance of what has happened. We should never be in this position again as a country.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s remarks about social housing. Let us make sure that we invest in social housing. I grew up in social housing and I fondly remember my childhood. I want people to have the same opportunities that we had to live in social housing of which we can all be proud.
I take this opportunity to make clear that the testing facilities that I referred to are open to the devolved Administrations as well. I obviously encourage anybody in the devolved Administrations to send in samples of such buildings so that they can be tested.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the £5 million fund. If necessary, more money will be made available. As I said, something like £700,000 has already been paid out, and further moneys will be paid out, but we will look at that sum over time.
The planning conditions attached to the Berkeley Homes development have been relaxed to enable work to take place over longer hours, so that the work can be speeded up. The current expectation is that the homes could be available by the end of July, but that is caveated, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman and others will recognise. It is dependent on the work being completed.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the inquiry. It is absolutely crucial that the inquiry looks at how this happened, and part of that will be looking at what led up to the fire, the immediate response to the fire and the aftermath. We need to know why this happened and who was responsible for it. The judge who will chair the inquiry will have a role in determining how the inquiry is handled, in terms of the witnesses that he wishes to take and so forth. As I said, I am clear that we need to ensure that people can have full confidence in this inquiry, which is why I want to see residents involved in setting the terms of reference, so that they know that it is an inquiry that will meet their needs.
Will the Prime Minister encourage local authorities to follow the lead that Barnet Council showed, with an immediate re-inspection of its high-rise blocks and the announcement of a programme of investment in new safety measures to be guided by the fire service, and to include sprinklers where they are needed?
I thank my right hon. Friend for drawing that to the House’s attention and I commend Barnet Council for its action. The Department for Communities and Local Government has asked every local authority to undertake those tests, ensuring the safety of the properties in which they accommodate people.
I thank the Prime Minister for her kind words—words that must be followed by deeds. I speak on behalf of a traumatised and frightened community, who have little trust in authority. Early reports suggest that there may have been issues with the fire safety audits and that fire regulations were not sufficiently robust. While we wait for the results of the inquiry—I hope it will not be too long—will the Prime Minister commit to providing adequate funds to enable emergency services, particularly the London fire brigade, to be fully funded to carry out their work, and reverse the cuts to the funding of fire services that have made their lives so difficult? Those people have, quite literally, our lives in their hands. In short, where is the funding?
When I spoke to the emergency services on my first visit to Kensington, one of the challenges I gave them was whether they had the resources they needed to do the job that they were doing. They assured me that they did. Obviously, as I have said, the inquiry will have to look at the whole question of how it was possible for this to happen. I am sure that it will look at the adequacy of the tests that took place on the tower, and the adequacy of any response to the issues. I want the inquiry to find those things out as soon as possible because that could have implications for other local authorities and other blocks around the country, and we want to ensure people’s safety.
Perhaps I may be the first person publicly to congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) on her election to the House, and on being, albeit in the most grave and traumatic circumstances, the first newly elected Member to put a question in this Chamber—and she has done so to the Prime Minister. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her contribution.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and the reassurance that she has provided. I also take the opportunity to thank my two boroughs—Richmond and Kingston—on conducting urgent reviews and providing reassurance to residents.
There will be people in positions of authority who probably fear the implications of a proper public inquiry, and there are likely to be people in the affected community who fear that, consequently, there will not be a full public inquiry. That scepticism will exist, for obvious reasons. I therefore ask the Prime Minister to say a little more about the terms of reference for the public inquiry and explain how local residents will have meaningful input into the way in which they are set.
I fully recognise the picture that my hon. Friend set out about the inquiry. That is why it is important that it is judge led. The judge will be completely independent and it will be up to them to determine the witnesses who are called and how they manage the inquiry. That is important, because we want people to have the confidence of knowing that, when the inquiry reports, it will bring out the truth. We also want people to have the confidence to know that actions that arise from the inquiry’s findings will be taken and that those responsible will be held to account. On the terms of reference, as I have said, residents will be involved. We are in the process of looking at how that is possible. The judge who leads the inquiry will want to reflect on how they want to speak with and hear from residents. The message that I have had from residents about bringing a survivors’ group together as a single voice is important and will be helpful in this regard.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. The news she has given the House today—that the cladding was indeed combustible, as testing showed—is chilling, and will be horrifying confirmation of what we all saw on our television screens; but it will be even more frightening for others. There are 58 tower blocks in my constituency, and there are thousands all around the country.
May I suggest that the Prime Minister get a grip on this personally, right away, and that what she does—[Interruption.] I am just going to make a suggestion, if I may. I suggest that the Prime Minister uses Cobra to call together all local authorities and require them, within a certain timeframe, to check the cladding on every one of their tower blocks. If she has done so already, I look forward to hearing that, and to hearing about the timescale. She should also give authorities the resources that will enable them to conduct their inspections within a certain timescale, and commit resources that will enable the cladding to be replaced within a certain timescale when others find that it is combustible. That is exactly what Cobra should be used for. It is not good enough just to congratulate or encourage other councils; the Prime Minister must get a grip on this personally.
The Prime Minister said that the Lakanal House coroner’s inquest findings had been acted on, but I can tell her that they have not. In 2013, the coroner said that those deaths had been avoidable, that there should have been sprinklers, that there should have been a change in the fire instructions, and that there should be greater supervision of contracts and fire inspections. The Prime Minister said that this was an “unimaginable” tragedy, and that those deaths should not have happened. They would not have happened if the Government had acted on the Lakanal House coroner’s inquest rulings.
First, let me clarify what I said in my statement. I said that local authorities had been invited to send in samples of cladding on similar buildings; they have done so, and some of the samples have been found to be combustible. It was in relation to that testing that I used the term “combustible”. I think it important that I clarify that. As the right hon. and learned Lady suggested, we immediately took the precautionary measure of asking all local authorities to go out, identify blocks with similar cladding, and take measures, together with their local fire and rescue services, to ensure that people in those buildings were safe. Part of that process has involved the testing. As I have said, we stand ready to continue to test for all local authorities that wish to send in samples.
As for the right hon. and learned Lady’s description of the coroner’s report on Lakanal House, the coroner did not, as I understand it, say that there should be sprinklers in every property of this type. What is important, and what underpinned what she said, is the necessity of ensuring that people living in similar blocks are able to feel reassured about their safety. We have taken the steps: local authorities have been working with fire and rescue services. Once the tests on the cladding have been given to local authorities, they are acting immediately to ensure the safety of people within. There are a number of steps that they can undertake, and we expect them to do what is necessary.
In recent years, London has seen many high-quality high rises being built, often financed with hot foreign money, and then left empty for years, sometimes with their kitchens clingfilmed and pristine. We all understand that a landlord will need to leave an apartment empty from time to time, but does the Prime Minister think that when brand-new properties are left empty for many years it is right that she discuss with her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer changing the taxation regime so that, as happens in New York City, such people face punitive taxes?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. During his time in the House, he has taken a long interest in issues related to housing. I understand that the number of empty homes is currently low, but, of course, we always look to see what we can do. We want to ensure that people are housed, and that properties are being used for the purpose for which they were built.
If the building regulations are fit for purpose, all of us, whether rich or poor, should be protected from fire in our own homes. What assurance can the Prime Minister give that the review of building regulations and Approved Document B, as recommended by the Lakanal House coroner, will be carried out as urgently as possible, and that the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which has historically undertaken this work, will be recalled as a matter of urgency? That could be done in tandem with the public inquiry; it would not be necessary to wait until the end of it.
The hon. Gentleman, given his background, has a particular interest in these issues. The coroner’s recommendation was in relation not to changing the regulations but to the guidance that followed the regulations. That work is indeed in hand. My understanding is that the fire regulations have not been changed since 2006. Obviously, that will be one of the issues that the public inquiry will want to look at.
The amount of remedial work that may need to be carried out on a limited timescale will possibly mean that great pressures will fall on the workforce that are capable of carrying out that remedial work. Will the Prime Minister ensure that her colleagues in government will make all the necessary funds and resources available if we need to recruit or train further personnel to carry out remedial work on those blocks that fail the test?
All Members, across the House, will have mentored and employed young people and want to see them flourish. My wife, principally, and I mentored, employed and encouraged a young woman called Khadija Saye, who, with her mother, lost her life on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower. I spoke to her father on Tuesday and he described, with anguish, obviously, losing his only daughter. We had a discussion about how he would cope in going to the mortuary to visit his daughter in the state that she is clearly in. On their behalf, and on behalf of all the people who died, I urge the Prime Minister to say something more about the criminal investigation that was announced last week. She has talked about the public inquiry, but she understands that most people see this as a crime and they know that rich and powerful organisations get away with crime. Can she say what resources have been brought to bear for the Metropolitan police? How big are the teams, and why is it that we have not had any commentary about charges, arrests or the seizure of documents?
May I first say how sorry I am to hear that the right hon. Gentleman lost a friend in this terrible tragedy? There are obviously many people in that position, but it brings it home to this House and right into the Chamber.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the issue of bereavement. A family bereavement centre has opened, which provides a suitable place in which people can be counselled. A great deal of thought and care is being undertaken in relation to those families who will, obviously, want to see the bodies of those who died in the fire. This is a very sensitive and difficult matter, as I am sure Members will recognise, and every action is being taken to do this as sensitively and thoughtfully as possible, in consideration of those who have lost loved ones.
A criminal investigation has been opened by the Metropolitan police. The right hon. Gentleman invites me to comment on that in a variety of ways. As he will know, this is an operational matter for the Metropolitan police. It is for them to determine any point at which they have evidence that could lead to charges or prosecutions. We must let the Metropolitan police do their job. They are doing it carefully and properly. I assure him and others that they will get to the truth and leave no stone unturned. If there are charges and prosecutions to be made, they will be.
I attended an understandably heated group discussion with local residents in the shadow of Grenfell Tower last evening. There seemed to be confusion about the coroner’s recommendations on the retrofitting of sprinklers. I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) is also unclear on that. The coroner recommended that we should encourage housing providers to retrofit. Despite the fact that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea carried out an £8.7 million refurbishment, it did not retrofit sprinklers. Does the Prime Minister agree that perhaps now is the time to provide incentives for local authorities to retrofit when they carry out such refurbishments?
My hon. Friend has rightly identified the recommendation that the coroner made, which was that encouragement be given to landlords to retrofit sprinklers, but I would just say to Members that the situation is not as easy as it would perhaps appear, in that the retrofitting of sprinklers will not be the thing that makes the difference in all cases. There is a whole variety of reasons why that may be the case. Some work has been undertaken on testing the retrofitting of sprinklers in a number of tower blocks in different parts of the country. As I say, it is not just a case of assuming that you can go in and do it and that it is automatically going to work and do the job that is necessary. This is an issue that is being looked at, and it continues to be looked at, but it needs to be done carefully to ensure that any work that is required is genuinely going to operate in a way that will help to keep people safe.
I should like to express my condolences and that of my party to those affected by this disaster, and our praise for the local community and the emergency services, who stepped up in the immediate aftermath when, unfortunately, the local and national authorities failed to do so. I also thank the Prime Minister for this statement today and for setting up the public inquiry. Can she confirm when the work on the guidance on building regulations and fire safety will be completed? Can she also confirm that as much focus will be put on private blocks—perhaps particularly those that have been converted from office blocks into residential blocks—as is being put on to local authority and housing association blocks? Can she confirm that the Government will immediately ban the use of combustible materials to ensure that such a tragedy cannot happen again?
The building regulations set out the materials that are compliant and those that are non-compliant. As we go through this process of looking at the materials that have been used in various blocks, the question of whether they comply with building regulations will need to be looked at. That issue will need to be looked at in relation to the public inquiry.
Work on the guidance for the building regulations is ongoing and, I would expect, imminent—it is not just a question of producing something; various organisations need to be consulted. We need to ensure that when the fire services and police have done their investigation, any action that is necessary immediately as a result of the identification of the cause of the fire and the reason it took such hold—the issue of particular concern—should be taken, and will be taken.
My right hon. Friend might be interested to know that I spent about three hours on Monday quietly walking around the Grenfell Tower area talking to people. I met traumatised victims who did not want to go into the centres to get help, so clearly people need to go out to them. They were angry that there was no clear housing policy on when and where they were going to be rehoused. Above all, I found an enormous amount of work being done by voluntary bodies—all sorts of bodies—but there was a clear lack of co-ordination on how those bodies were to move forward together. I strongly support what my right hon. Friend has said this morning about establishing a high-level Government taskforce that is able to go into a similar disaster. It should be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to take over from the immediate Gold Command.
I thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done and the feedback he has provided to Ministers following his conversations with residents and victims on the ground. He is absolutely right: the point has been made to key workers that they need to go out to see people, to ensure that they know what is available to them, rather than just expecting them to come into the centre. I can assure him that we are looking actively at what further resilience we can put into the system by establishing the sort of taskforce that he and I have both spoken about. None of us wants to see a circumstance like this happen again, but we must ensure that there is full resilience, where disasters take place.
While many of the questions that those affected by this disaster want answers to will have to await the outcome of the inquiry, it is surely possible to answer one factual question now. Was cladding of the type used in Grenfell Tower compliant with the fire safety and building regulations applicable when the refurbishment was undertaken—yes or no?
My understanding is that the fire service and BRE, which was on the scene early to look at that issue, have been identifying the cause of the fire and any contributory factors. They are testing the cladding on the building, and they expect to make the results public in, I think, the next 48 hours.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether the firefighters who attended this harrowing scene, and their families, will get the psychological support that they may well need in the months and years ahead? Will she commit to report back to the House on how that will be set up for them?
Yes. My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which the Leader of the Opposition also touched on. I can confirm that we are ensuring that that support and counselling will be available. There will be further updates to the House on the response to the Grenfell Tower fire, and that will be an issue to be included.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the cladding on the tower is a standard product that is available for sale. I do not understand why the Prime Minister cannot tell us whether that product is compliant with the building regulations for a tower that is this high. Why can she not tell us the answer? Will she also confirm that the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which should be looking at part B of the building regulations on fire safety, has not yet actually met to look at how the regulations could be improved?
I will add to the answer I gave to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and I ask hon. Members to remember that a criminal investigation is taking place in relation to this matter. The testing of the cladding and of the materials used is being undertaken, and a statement will be made by the police and the fire service within the next 48 hours.
The London Resilience Forum has a number of multi-agency plans for things such as mass shelter, mass fatalities and mass casualties. Can we confirm whether those plans were fully implemented? Can we also ensure that what lessons we learn from the inquiry process are fed back into resilience forums, both in London and around the country, to ensure that the lessons are promptly implemented?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He obviously has experience from when he was on the London Assembly and took a particular interest in the London Fire Brigade and fire service matters. I can indeed confirm that we have already looked at the whole question of resilience forums around the country. We will ensure that any lessons learned from the Grenfell Tower fire are fed into those resilience teams and forums, but we also need to ensure that resilience forums around the country are as resilient as they need to be in providing support should any disaster happen. We have seen this issue in relation to other disasters, such as flooding. We need to ensure that resilience forums are operating as they should at every local level.
Will the Prime Minister please confirm when the judge will be appointed? Following the comments from my Opposition colleagues, I would be grateful for some clarification on whether she is advising us that she does not know whether the cladding was compliant with building regulations. The question that she has been asked is about whether the material was compliant; is she advising us that it needs to be tested before she can give us a reply?
As I have said, the material is being tested. The results of those tests will be—[Interruption.] The information that the fire service and police are able to give publicly they will give; this is part of the criminal investigation. [Interruption.] It is. Hon. Members may shake their heads, but let me make this point: they want to ensure that if there are criminal charges to be brought, those charges are indeed brought, and we must therefore ensure that we give the police the opportunity to do the job that they undertake and that nothing we do prejudices that.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to the publication of an early interim report. After the Croydon tram crash last year, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch published two interim reports within three months, which identified the immediate cause of the crash and so action could be taken. Will she assure the House that a similar approach will be taken with this interim report?
I thank my hon. Friend for that. It was very important that interim reports came out quickly in relation to the Croydon inquiry. I can confirm that I fully expect the judge to bring out an interim report. May I say to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya) that I am sorry I did not answer her first question about the judge? I would expect within the next few days to be able to announce the name of the judge. We very much want to ensure that when the judge takes charge of this inquiry people feel, as I said earlier, that they can have full confidence in it, and so we are taking steps to ensure that that is the case.
Sympathies are not enough but, on behalf of my party, I offer them to all who have suffered. I also express my gratitude to emergency services officers, who showed the dedication of heroes in unimaginable conditions. Criminal investigations are only to be expected, but penalising individuals is partial retribution; those in government should search their souls. Will the Prime Minister commit to ensure that future policy, legislation and resources will mean a disaster of this magnitude can never happen again in a 21st century, first world country?
First, may I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment as leader of the Plaid Cymru Members in this House? I assure her that we are doing everything we can, and, obviously, the inquiry will play an important part, through its identification of action that needs to be taken, in ensuring that a disaster such as this can never happen again.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the cladding is found to be illegal and other research finds that other towers have been similarly clad, the public inquiry will extend its remit to look at investigations into all towers that are similarly clad?
If illegal activity has taken place, that is a matter for the police and it is part of the criminal investigation they will be undertaking. It is not just a question of what the inquiry does; it is a question of what we are doing now in relation to other tower blocks, which is why we are encouraging local authorities, housing associations and indeed private landlords to send in their material for testing.
As the leader of a party that is responsible for seven years of austerity, which has cut 56% of the cash available to my local authority in the past seven years, and has spent its time talking about regulation as a bad thing, is the right hon. Lady now going to apologise to the country for the state of local government, when the richest borough in London could not cope with this emergency, while at the same time, it was giving money back to its council tax payers?
We are dealing with the aftermath of a terrible disaster that has led to people losing their lives and others losing their homes and everything that they owned. We are ensuring that we are putting the steps in place. As I have said, I recognise that initially the response was not good enough, which is why we have stepped up that response. It is why—I did not respond to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), but I said this in my statement—I have indeed been chairing the Cobra meetings myself. And it is why we have been putting extra resource in, to ensure that that response is suitable. This will be an issue of looking at the regulations. As I said, my understanding is that these regulations were established in 2006, and we will be looking at those. The inquiry will look at them and at how they were applied; it will look at the actions of the local authority; and I am sure it will look at the issues that have been raised about the residents’ complaints in advance of this disaster about the tenant management organisation, and it will get to the bottom of who is responsible.
Order. As befits the occasion, these are thoughtful and solemn exchanges, but I must advise the House that progress thus far has been very slow. I am keen to try to accommodate the extent of the interest, and therefore I appeal to colleagues now to confine themselves to pithy, short, single-sentence questions, of which the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) is a notable exponent.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
At the end of her compassionate and comprehensive statement, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we had to think about the people living very different lives from ourselves. As I am sure she knows, in opinion surveys going back over decades people never said they wanted to live in tower blocks. Can we change public policy so that tower blocks can become a thing of the past?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. There are many people who do not wish to live in tower blocks, and there are some who are perfectly comfortable living in tower blocks. What we have to look at, however, is the approach taken to social housing; that is one of the lessons that comes from this disaster.
The Prime Minister confirmed in her statement that testing arrangements have discovered combustible cladding on some tower blocks in other parts of the country. Given that people living in those tower blocks are perhaps going to fear more than others the consequences of that discovery, what steps can the Prime Minister take to ensure that the landlords and the local authorities where these tower blocks are located can deal swiftly with the consequences of this discovery?
That work is already being undertaken. First, local authorities and housing associations have undertaken the testing work of their blocks, and we encourage private landlords to do that, too, to ensure the fire safety. We encourage everybody to send in samples so that we can undertake this checking by lab testing. Local authorities are immediately informed if the material is combustible. They will then be looking, with their local fire services, at ensuring the safety of those buildings. That will be done in a number of ways, but of course there is a responsibility to ensure that people are housed safely, and the Government are working with local authorities to ensure that.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s statement and the extraordinary degree of personal responsibility she is taking in this response. Have she and her officials had the opportunity to look at reports by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and its predecessor Committee under Dr Tony Wright, which repeatedly recommended that the House of Commons should have more of a role in the setting up of such inquiries? Will she consider asking the House to establish a special Select Committee very quickly, to look at the terms of reference, to have a pre-appointment hearing of the chair of the inquiry, and to set the budget and the timetable, and make sure this public inquiry has cross-party and public confidence, which so many public inquiries have failed to have?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue about inquiries, and of course we always look carefully at the reports of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and its predecessor Committee. What is important is that that we get this inquiry up and running with appropriate speed and, most importantly to me, that the residents affected have confidence in it. Ensuring that the residents feel this inquiry is genuinely going to get to the truth for them is key.
I am still waiting to hear the Prime Minister say that she will underwrite the costs to local authorities of inspection and urgent remedial action, given the cuts of up to a third and a half in local authority budgets and housing providers being required to implement a rent cut, which has squeezed their budgets. We must not have a postcode lottery in safety provision, and that requires a commitment now from the Government to underwrite these costs. Will the Prime Minister do that today—yes or no?
We are providing testing facilities to local authorities and working with them to identify their needs, their requirements and the response that they need to take. We will work with them to ensure that they can respond in the way that is necessary.
The Prime Minister talked about looking to the future and about those whose lifestyles are far removed from the lifestyles enjoyed by many here in Westminster. That is the reality in my constituency, where there is overcrowding, with two families living in many homes, and where homelessness is the worst it has ever been. Will she live true to her word and take a personal lead in taking forward plans to ensure that we deliver not just more housing, but more genuinely affordable housing for the people who need it?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government published proposals on housing before the general election. We want to ensure that there are more affordable homes and that more houses are being built. We are putting half a billion pounds into dealing with homelessness.
May I thank the Prime Minister for her detailed and compassionate statement? Does she agree that, although there are obviously legitimate questions surrounding the Grenfell tragedy and it is absolutely right that they must be asked, we should exercise caution in attributing blame or condemnation before we know the facts? As a former journalist, I feel really strongly about this. Scaremongering does not help anybody; getting to the bottom of things does.
My hon. Friend is right: it is important that the evidence is identified, that the issue is properly considered, that everybody is able to give their views and evidence to the inquiry, and that the inquiry is able to get to the truth, find the result and find out what happened. Obviously the fire services and the police are looking at the immediate cause of the fire and will make public any statements that they are able to, but the inquiry will get to the truth. It is important that we allow the inquiry to identify responsibility.
Leeds City Council has responded swiftly by communicating with tenants and residents in all 116 blocks and testing the cladding, none of which uses the same material as was used in Kensington. Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), we now need to know that whatever recommendations are made on sprinklers, cladding, fire alarms and other remedial work, it will be central Government who provide the funds to ensure that tenants and residents in all the thousands of tower blocks throughout the country are safe.
I thought I had responded to a number of questions on this. The Government are working with local authorities. We will ensure that any essential works in terms of remedial action necessary for the safety of these blocks in relation to fire are undertaken. We will work with local authorities to identify how that—
May I commend the Prime Minister for her statement and for talking about the public inquiry? From my experience of the public inquiry in my constituency that lasted for two and a half years, I know that it is vital that the inquiry is thorough but also as swift as possible. I urge whomsoever is appointed to talk to people such as Sir Robert Francis, who chaired the public inquiry in my constituency, to find out from his experience how that can best be achieved.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that the Government will pay for legal representation at the inquiry for those affected by the fire. Will she confirm that that means that not only victims but tenants’ groups will be given public funding for independent and separate legal representation sufficient to enable them to have a voice equal to that of local and national Government and the private management company? I ask because I understand that the tenants association was not allowed legal representation in the Lakanal House fire inquiry.
One of the experiences that came out of the Hillsborough inquiry was the importance of ensuring that those who were affected had appropriate legal representation, and the Government did fund that legal representation to enable them to have the strength of voice that they needed in that inquiry. Of course, as the hon. and learned Lady will be aware, with respect to the way in which the inquiry is conducted, the witnesses who are called and the representations that will be received, there will be an element of the judge deciding how he wants to conduct the inquiry. For those who require legal representation, that will be funded by the Government, and I have not set any limits in relation to the types of body or the individuals for whom that will be available.
My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to highlight the incredible work of the brave firefighters who attended the scene in the immediate aftermath of the incident, but will she ensure not only that they are properly recognised for their herculean efforts, but that any welfare needs that arise are met immediately?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Support is being given to the firefighters, and indeed to the police and others who attended the scene, because they, too, could potentially suffer trauma as a result of what they have seen, so that support will be available.
The Prime Minister, in concluding her statement, said that we should
“resolve never to forget these people”.
I would like to ask her who she thinks forgot these people. Was it the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, who defunded local authorities, including my own, which is still struggling with the consequences of the New Ferry explosion? Was it former Ministers who ignored pleas from this House on fire safety? Or was it her, who has seen other people in Britain as “these people”, rather than as our friends and neighbours?
I note that the Prime Minister said in her statement that all social landlords have been instructed to carry out additional fire safety checks, but that private landlords will be advised that they have the option of taking up the same facility. Can we ensure that the inquiry looks at both private and social tower blocks, because all citizens should be equal when it comes to safety and assurance?
The Prime Minister has already been asked this question several times and failed to answer it, so I will give her another opportunity. Will the Government fully commit to meeting the cost of proper and appropriate safety checks, to fully funding the recommendations and schemes for retrofitting sprinklers, and to meeting any other associated costs?
The families of the victims are entitled to the truth—not speculation or conjecture, but the truth, based on evidence—so my right hon. Friend was absolutely right to set up the public inquiry, but can we ensure that an early date is agreed for publication of an interim report? In this case, perhaps more than any other, justice delayed is justice denied.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that the 68 flats in the Berkeley Homes Kensington Row development that are to be allocated to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire are already designated as social housing? What we need in places such as west London, where for many people social housing is the only affordable housing, is large investment in new affordable housing, not rearranging the same pot. Opposition Members will remain very sceptical about her conversion to social housing until she starts providing it, not just talking about it.
The important point about the Berkeley Homes development is that it is being ring-fenced for people who have been affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. That is the significance of this; it will be available purely for the people who have lost their home and been displaced as a result of this tragedy.
We have heard that the residents of Grenfell Tower had spoken out about their fears but not been listened to, like so many of our constituents, on whose behalf we, as MPs, frequently write to organisations asking for them to be given a fair hearing, despite the dedication of many thousands of staff. I ask my right hon. Friend to look at the management systems and culture in organisations that serve the public to work out what needs to change to ensure that every citizen of this country, whoever and wherever they are, are not just heard but listened to.
My hon. Friend raises an important matter. We must ensure that organisations that have a responsibility to the public do indeed listen to the public. With regard to any future disasters that should take place, I am considering the concept of an independent public advocate—somebody who can ensure that answers are given. They should ensure that people get not just the support that they need, but the answers that they need.
Obviously, many have paid tribute to the fire and rescue workers who put their lives in danger and who may still be feeling the trauma from that. As a surgeon of more than 30 years, I wish to highlight the fact that NHS staff will also be traumatised, because there is nothing more horrific than dealing with the victims of burns. In the autumn statement of 2015, the former Chancellor identified £800 million to be taken from the new housing bonus scheme to make up the shortfall in social care. Will the current Chancellor now reverse that?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As I have said, I visited one of the hospitals that had taken in victims and can say that, obviously, those NHS staff did a wonderful job as well. Here in London NHS staff have dealt with not only the Grenfell Tower disaster, but the terrorist attacks that have taken place. As she said, those NHS staff deserve support as do others in the emergency services to whom we referred earlier.
As a representative of an area of the country that has no tower blocks, I know that the overwhelming wish of my constituents is for us to have timely implementation of any recommendations that come out of a public inquiry in a non-partisan manner. They recognise that that may come at a considerable cost to the public purse. Is the Prime Minister aware that, across the country, that is the will of many people, and that is an acceptable cost?
We have always taken the issue of regulations in relation to safety very, very seriously indeed. The hon. Lady might know that when I was Home Secretary I was very clear that all regulation is not bad regulation; there is good regulation, which we need to ensure that we get right. The public inquiry will be asking that very question about fire regulation.
I am sure that the Prime Minister will share my view that it seems almost inconceivable that an organisation should spend £8.7 million on refurbishing a tower block and not include inflammable cladding and a sprinkler system. Will she confirm that, when we have the outcome of the public inquiry, there will be an opportunity to debate it on the Floor of the House, and time made available for any necessary legislation?
Residents of Grenfell Tower warned the housing provider of the dangers and said that it would take a fire in a tower block for notice to be taken. Will the Prime Minister relook at the Localism Act 2011, which currently requires residents to allow for eight weeks before they can make a complaint to the ombudsman for a matter to be taken up through their Members of Parliament?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising an issue that has not been raised with me before. I will look at the Localism Act. I think that there are reasons why that period of time was put into the Act. She is right that the issue of the response of the tenant management organisation has been raised, and that it needs to be looked at by the inquiry as it looks into the reasons for the fire.
Fire sprinklers save lives. May I correct the Prime Minister, because actually the inquest recommended that the Department issue guidance to all providers of high-rise blocks that they should retrofit sprinklers? There are 213 blocks with 10,000 households in Birmingham. Will the Prime Minister agree now to act on the advice given four years ago, retrofit sprinklers and have the Government pay for it?
I think it is important that when the inquiry looks at the implications of the fire, it assesses them for all tall buildings, not just those in which people live. Indeed, we are ensuring that we consider other tall buildings that might have been clad in a similar way, which might not be residential properties but used for other purposes.
I made the point earlier that we need to ensure that any accommodation provided by local authorities or housing associations is safe. People are making assumptions about the work that needs to be done to ensure that. What needs to happen on the ground is for the local authority or housing association—the landlord—to work with the fire and rescue service to ensure that they can provide that safety.
When the Prime Minister considers her suggestion of a civil disaster taskforce, will she bear in mind one of the lessons of the severe Gloucestershire floods of 2007, which was to have a single leader at gold command responsible for co-ordinating all the different groups and controlling the media and information?
What we are doing is ensuring first of all that the fire service and landlords—local authorities and housing associations—assess what is needed for the safety of those properties. Where action is needed and work is needed, the Government will work with those landlords to ensure that that can be done.
The Prime Minister concluded her statement by saying that it was the Government’s job to show that it is listening. Will she listen to the experts in the Fire Brigades Union and reverse the cuts to the fire and rescue service as well as retrofitting sprinklers in all high-rise residential accommodation?
As I have already said on the issue of sprinklers, some tests on retrofitting have been undertaken across the country, but it is not as simple as saying that retrofitting sprinklers is the one thing we need to do. There are a variety of ways in which action needs to be taken in blocks and what needs to happen is for the experts to assess that for every block.
If the decision is made, in conjunction with the fire and rescue service, that work needs to be done on those tower blocks, there will be a discussion between the authority and the Department for Communities and Local Government about how that work can be undertaken and the provision of resources for that work.
I know that the Prime Minister believes that politicians should be accountable for their actions or their inactions. On that basis, has she told the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council that he should go because of the appalling way in which this tragedy has been handled?
I have had a conversation with the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council. I told him that he needed to ensure that residents, victims and survivors of this terrible disaster were being given the help and support they need. We have now added more help and support to ensure that that is happening on the ground.
In paying more attention to social housing, will the Prime Minister pledge to review the right-to-buy discount policy, the implicit message from Government that renting is not aspirational enough and how the one-for-one replacement process is managed, and will she allow greater building of council houses?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the housing White Paper produced by the Government earlier this year, he will see that we clearly expect there to be a diversity of ways in which people will be in their homes. Some wish to own their homes and some wish to rent. Some wish to have rent-to-buy schemes and others wish to have shared ownership schemes. I want there to be diversity to suit people and their circumstances.
Fire services across the country are ensuring that they have the appropriate response to the fires with which they are dealing. Importantly, urban search and rescue as well as the London Fire Brigade were available for the Grenfell Tower fire. The resources were there and they were able to take the action that they took.
I have heard the word “encouragement” used a lot today. In my experience, that word is not necessarily useful when we are talking about a tragedy of this magnitude. Markets do not work with encouragement; they work with regulation. There has been an explosion in the number of student properties built in the private sector in recent years. I suggest that it is incumbent on the Government to make it mandatory for not just the public sector, but the private sector to use their facilities and test all these properties.
There are fire safety and building regulations in place. Landlords have a responsibility for ensuring the safety of their properties. We are ensuring that facilities are available to them free of charge. I say, once again, that local authorities and housing associations are sending in samples. I encourage them and others to do so. As I said, the checking facilities are also available to the devolved Administrations.
It has already become apparent that landlords do not always know who occupies their properties, and the vulnerabilities of certain tenants. Will the Prime Minister ensure that we investigate opportunities for data sharing between, for example, local authorities, social services departments, schools and registered social landlords?
The hon. Lady raises an interesting issue. At the heart of this is ensuring that the service given to people interacting with various Government Departments is focused on and identifies their particular needs. I will consider the issue of data sharing.
Cuts have consequences. According to Home Office figures, the number of home fire safety checks has fallen by 25% since 2010. Will the Prime Minister now give the service the funding it needs to carry out 100% of the checks required?
The fire and rescue service obviously does conduct checks. It does that in relation to residential properties of these sorts of tower blocks owned by local authorities and housing associations. It does so in conjunction with those landlords, and some of those checks will be conducted by landlords themselves.
Will the Prime Minister meet urgently the fire and rescue service to discuss the advice given to residents of tower blocks as, sadly, it would seem that the advice given to the residents of Grenfell Tower to stay in their flats may have been erroneous?
The fire and rescue service has representation at the meetings that I have been chairing in relation to the response to Grenfell Tower. The issue of the advice that has been given to residents has been raised with it. Obviously this matter will need reflection and consideration, and I would expect it also to be one that the inquiry will look at.
There are 32 high-rise tower blocks in Northern Ireland where safety tests have been carried out. When it comes to the lessons learned and the suggestions and recommendations made, may I ask that the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive be made aware of those?
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the terrorist attacks we have seen since Parliament last sat.
There has been no summer like it. When we rose seven weeks ago, we left this House in the wake of the worst terrorist attack our country had seen in over a decade, with Khalid Masood trying to strike at the heart of our democracy. He was foiled that day by one of our brave police officers. But tragically it has proved to be the first of many attempts to bring terror and hate to our streets. Two months later, a cowardly and devastating attack in Manchester left 22 people dead and 59 injured after a suicide bomber targeted children at a concert in the Manchester Arena. On 3 June, a van was deliberately driven into pedestrians on London Bridge before three men got out of the vehicle and began stabbing people in nearby Borough Market. Eight people were killed and 48 injured. And then on Monday, almost exactly one year after Jo Cox was brutally murdered in Birstall, we woke to the news of the return of far-right terror, with a man viciously driving into a group of Muslim worshippers in north London. One man who had fallen ill before the attack died, and nine others were treated in hospital. Westminster, the Manchester Arena, London Bridge, and now Finsbury Park: 36 innocent people dead and over 150 hospitalised; a tragic loss of innocent life.
Last week, I met a mother and father who had lost their daughter in the vicious attacks on London Bridge. She had been stabbed while out celebrating her new job with a friend in Borough Market. Just under two weeks before, she planned to be at the arena in Manchester where Salman Abedi committed his heinous crimes, but she decided not to use her ticket. She had come to London to enjoy a wonderful trip away—a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But instead it was the last trip she ever made. I know everyone in this House will want to join me in expressing our sorrow for the pain her family will be feeling, and all those families who have lost loved ones will be feeling, as well as passing on our thoughts and prayers for those victims who are still trying to recover from the trauma and tragedy of these events.
I also know that the House will want to join me in acknowledging the incredible efforts of our emergency services during this difficult period. The events of recent months serve to remind us of the bravery, professionalism and, above all, incredible sacrifice made by those who work to keep us safe.
As Home Secretary, there is nothing more saddening than standing before Parliament to deliver a statement like this. These acts of terrorism represent the very worst of humanity. They seek to spread fear, intolerance and hate. Countering this threat has always been a crucial part of the work of this Government. That was why we introduced measures to disrupt the travel of foreign fighters, and why we passed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which gives the police and intelligence services more powers and the tools they need to keep the public safe. It was also why, just seven weeks ago, we legislated to strengthen our response to terrorist financing with the Criminal Finances Act 2017.
We have protected overall police funding in real terms since 2015, increased counter-terrorism budgets and funded an uplift in the number of armed police officers. We are now in the process of recruiting over 1,900 additional security and intelligence staff. The Channel programme, which offers voluntary, tailored programmes of support to people assessed as being at risk of radicalisation, has supported over 1,000 at-risk individuals since 2012. Following referrals from the counter-terrorism internet referral unit, social media providers have removed 270,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material since February 2010.
However, we are entering a new phase of global terrorism, and many of the challenges that we face are unprecedented. We now believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face. Between June 2013 and the Westminster bridge attack in March this year, the security services foiled 13 plots linked to or inspired by Islamist extremists, but just since then, we have seen five plots prevented as well as three such Islamist extremist plots succeed, and of course the appalling attack at Finsbury Park earlier this week.
We must therefore do more. We must do more to defeat ideologies of hatred by turning people’s minds away from violence and towards pluralistic British values. We must make sure that these ideologies are not able to flourish in the first place. We must do more to force tech companies to take down terror-related content from their platforms. We must also do more to identify, challenge and stamp out the extremism that lurks in our communities. That is why we will set up a commission for countering extremism. For just as the Labour Government in the 1970s set us on a course to tackling racial inequality in this country by setting up the Commission for Racial Equality, we need to—and must—do more to tackle the extremists who seek to radicalise and weaponise young people in Britain today.
Doing more also means asking difficult questions about what has gone wrong. In the light of the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy will be reviewed to make sure that the police and the security services have what they need to keep us safe. In addition, there will be a review of the handling of recent terror attacks to look at whether lessons can be learned about our approach, and I am pleased to announce that David Anderson, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, will oversee it.
What we have witnessed in Manchester and London are the depraved actions of murderers intent on tearing our country apart, but each act of hate has been met by overwhelming defiance. In Borough Market, I recently saw stallholders dishing olives out into plastic pots, shoppers searching for delicious treats and tourists flicking through guidebooks in the shadow of the Shard. Rather than being divided by recent violence, people seemed even closer together. We should follow the example of the traders and the shoppers of Borough Market. Terrorists want us to fear and to turn on one another, but we will never give terrorists what they want. We will stand together, and we will make the point that terrorists will never win, and that our values, our country and our unity will prevail. I commend this statement to the House.
The Opposition are grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement. We would like to offer our condolences to all the families of the victims of the Westminster, Manchester, and London bridge and Borough Market attacks and, most recently, the Finsbury Park attack—36 innocent people dead, 150 people hospitalised, with too many families to whom children or parents will never come home, too many people, particularly children, who have seen sights that they may never be able to unsee, and whole communities traumatised.
The Opposition commend all the emergency services, including the police, the fire service, the British Transport police and NHS staff, for their swift action, for running towards danger and for coming in off shift, which undoubtedly prevented worse injuries and saved lives.
I would like to say a word about the imam at the Finsbury Park mosque. He put himself at risk to protect and defend the alleged assailant, who had driven over so many people outside the mosque. I believe that this imam exemplifies the best of the values of Islam, such as peace and justice, as well as the best of British values.
I would also like to say a word about the community around the Finsbury Park mosque. I was there this week and I met people of all faiths—Christian leaders, Jewish leaders, including my constituents Rabbi Gluck and Rabbi Pinter, and of course Muslim leaders—working together to heal the community and take the community forward. I believe that the way in which multi-faith and inter-community co-operation is working in practice in that area of London shows us the way forward in the long run in contesting the ideology of fear, violence and terror.
The variety of the attacks and the varied backgrounds of their perpetrators reveal that we face multiple threats. No single type of person and no single community is the sole source of these attacks. We all face these attacks and we must all face them together. Of course, the blame for the attacks lies solely with the perpetrators and any murderous supporters and enablers they may have had, but it is reasonable for this House to say that the role of Government is to secure the safety of our citizens, and it is reasonable for the House to ask whether everything has been done that could reasonably have been done.
I noted the actions that the Government have taken in the Home Secretary’s statement. Largely, the Opposition support them, but we warn against an emphasis on more legislation, rather than looking at resources. We will look at all legislative proposals that the Government bring forward on their merits, but we believe that resources are at the heart of this matter, not just new legislation. In that view, we are supported by Max Hill, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. His objective view is that the current powers are sufficient. He told the BBC after the Prime Minister’s speech in which she called for more powers:
“My view coming into the scrutiny which we are told the prime minister wants to conduct is that we do have the appropriate laws in place, and that essentially the police and security services, and those whose job it is to keep us safe, do have the powers at their disposal.”
He added that there was a case for increased use of terrorism prevention and investigation measures.
On the question of resources, it is one thing to talk about specialist policing and security resources, but the Opposition do not believe we can overstate the importance of neighbourhood policing. It is that neighbourhood engagement at all levels, often in what seem to be simple ways, that builds a community’s confidence in officialdom and the Government, and that encourages people to come forward with the information that may help us to stop future terrorist activity. We have said and continue to say that it is wrong that since 2010, we have lost 20,000 from police numbers. We oppose the further cuts to the police budgets that are in the pipeline.
The Home Secretary keeps saying that the Government have protected police budgets. I have to tell her that no policing stakeholders, including the Police Federation, support her in saying that police budgets and resources have not been hit. We are being told that austerity must end, so will the Home Secretary now commit to halting these cuts, or does austerity still apply to our safety?
Senior retired officers have said that police cuts have gone too far. I have heard that Mark Rowley, the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has written to the Home Secretary saying that counter-terrorism is not able to operate effectively because of demands in other areas of policing, and that if resources were diverted to counter-terrorism, other areas of policing would suffer. He is saying that cuts have consequences, and that the Home Secretary’s cuts run the risk of putting us all in danger. The Opposition’s understanding is that the Home Secretary is going to cut again.
Order. At this early stage of the Parliament, can I just say something that I think is quite important for future reference? There are time limits for questioning on statements, which, in the last Parliament, were very substantially disregarded. That cannot happen in this Parliament, because it is not fair to Back Benchers. That is my first point.
My second point—forgive me; the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) is extraordinarily articulate and very experienced—is one that Opposition spokespersons frequently just do not seem to understand: in responding to a statement, the Chair is not expecting to hear a counter-statement. The Chair is looking to hear, as provided for in our procedures, a very brief response, followed by a series of questions. That should be the character of the response.
On this occasion, I will allow the right hon. Lady to finish, but I hope she will be sensitive to quite a widespread feeling in the House that she is approaching her peroration. Thereafter, we must observe these limits. If they are not observed, I will regretfully have to ask the spokesperson concerned to resume his or her seat.
So can I ask the Home Secretary, does she accept that resources are as important as new institutions and new legislation? The Opposition welcome the measures to get internet companies to block and take down content that promotes terrorism, but does she accept the need for a review of the Prevent programme and the need to reframe the debate around it as relating not only to the Muslim community but to far-right terrorism?
The Opposition believe that there is considerable unity on these issues in the country as a whole. We believe that the country as a whole wants to know that we will not play into the terrorists’ hands by stoking divisions, demonising communities or rescinding our hard-won freedoms under the law.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments and the constructive way in which she is approaching this. The Government look forward to working with her to make sure that we have a constructive, united approach to this enemy that is trying to attack us.
The right hon. Lady asked particularly about new legislation. She is right that Max Hill has said that he does not see the need for new legislation, but he also said that he does see the need for a review of sentences, so we will certainly look at whether we can have tougher sentences. On our potential new legislation and approach, I ask her to hold fire for now on concluding that to be the case until we have done this review. Looking backwards, our review over the next few months into why so many terror attacks took place will be critical. For that, we will have independent assurance in the form of David Anderson. We will also have a review looking ahead to what else we can do.
As I said in my statement, we feel we have entered a new phase. That may mean that we need to introduce new legislation, but we will not rush to do that based on the attacks. We will look at doing that depending on what we find out from these reviews. I ask her to keep an open mind on that, depending on what conclusions the reviews reach.
I yield to no one in my respect for the work of the police, particularly the work of the counter-terrorism police in the past few months. We all recognise the enormous extra work and effort that has gone into following up on the attacks and keeping us safe. We have protected the police budget from 2015. There has been a lot of scaremongering about changes to the budget, and I repeat here, in the House, that it will be protected. We will ensure that we always give the security services and the police who work to keep us safe the resources that they need.
I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I want to raise just two or three points. First, I particularly welcome the review of the sentencing guidelines. That should happen because of the evidence that individuals who commit acts preparatory to terrorism may be receiving sentences that are insufficient, although clearly they need to be proportionate.
The second issue concerns the response and how our security services work to deal with the threat. My right hon. Friend will know that the Government have invested considerably in that. The money spent and the number of officers available have been greatly enhanced. Equally, it is right that, because of the classified nature of the work, some details cannot be given to the House. That emphasises to me that one of the problems in the past three and a half months has been that we have not had an Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to provide the sort of scrutiny that might be helpful to hon. Members in understanding what has gone on, what should happen in the future and whether any improvements could be made. I therefore gently urge my right hon. Friend to make representations to the Prime Minister that that should be given priority.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments. He is very experienced in the matter, having been Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He makes a good point and I will follow up his suggestion that we establish that Committee as soon as possible so that we can give the House the confidence of knowing that Members from both Chambers will look at the matter and provide assurance.
I add the voice of the Scottish National party to those who condemn the terrible attacks, and extend our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the dead and our best wishes for a full recovery to those injured.
I welcome the Home Secretary back to her place and look forward to working with her on this and other important issues.
The Finsbury Park attack reminds us that terrorism is a threat to all communities in the United Kingdom and it is therefore important that measures to counter extremism never segregate or stigmatise communities.
I have three questions for the Home Secretary. First, I am concerned that, while commendable, the Government’s plans to establish a commission risk, without legislation, bypassing parliamentary scrutiny and the need for legal certainty about the definition of terms such as “extremism” and “British values”. How will she ensure that Parliament gets to scrutinise those matters?
Secondly, we in the SNP believe that to fight terrorism effectively we can use existing legislation, and that what really matters is that the police and security services have the necessary resources to act effectively under that legislation. Will the Home Secretary confirm that such resources will be made available in the future?
Thirdly, during the election campaign, the Prime Minister spoke of ripping up human rights to fight terrorism. Will the Home Secretary confirm that there is nothing in the Human Rights Act or the European convention on human rights to prevent us from taking a robust approach to terrorism? Will she therefore confirm that there are no plans to tear up human rights and that we can tackle terrorism and uphold the standards of this society without doing so?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question and her kind welcome.
The recommendations that the commission on extremism makes will need to be brought before Parliament. I therefore expect full scrutiny of the recommendations when they are brought to Parliament to be taken forward.
I can confirm that we will always provide the resources necessary to keep our citizens safe. We have already announced substantial uplifts to the security services. There will be 1,900 new people joining the security services up until 2020, and an increased number of armed officers are being made available in the country.
I can also tell the hon. and learned Lady that later this year we will conduct a full-scale counter-terrorism exercise involving Police Scotland and forces from the north of England. We will always work with the Scottish Government and police to ensure that we keep all parts of the United Kingdom safe.
Will there be an opportunity to give evidence to the commission for countering terrorism and extremism, based on the lessons that we have learnt in the past to counter other totalitarian ideologies such as communism and Nazism? Does my right hon. Friend accept that organisations like ISIL/Daesh and al-Qaeda rise and fall, but the underlying doctrine of what ought to be called un-Islamic extremism persists? Does she accept that that is what must be countered, and that an active Government agency to counter it is what is required?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Extremism comes in many different forms. “Un-Islamic extremism” is one way of describing it, and it is a perfectly reasonable description. I would expect the commission on extremism to ask people to give evidence, so that we can be sure to collect the best possible information in order to do the best possible job for our communities.
I join the Home Secretary in remembering the victims, and in paying tribute to the immense bravery of the emergency services and the public. I also join her in saying that extremists and terrorists must never divide us, be they Islamist extremists or far-right extremists, and wherever that violence comes from.
I welcome the proposal for a review by David Anderson of the attacks, but will the Home Secretary also tell us a bit more about them? For example, the Manchester attacker is reported to have been known to the intelligence services, and also to have travelled repeatedly to Libya. Will the Home Secretary tell us whether the man who committed that vile attack was on a watch list, and whether he was ever stopped by Border Force in the course of those journeys? Will she also ensure that the relationship between the intelligence services and Border Force is looked at as part of David Anderson’s review?
The right hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the relationship with the border forces and the security services. I would expect that to be looked at as well. I cannot, at this stage, give the right hon. Lady the additional details that she seeks. It is, of course, part of the nature of the security services that they do so much good work and we are not really at liberty to talk too much about it. However, I hope that the work that David Anderson does with them—which will start almost immediately—will help us to find the answers to some of those questions: for instance, quite how much the security services knew about that man, and whether there were instances that were missed, or whether this was just part of the much higher level of attacks that we are sadly witnessing at the moment.
Will the Home Secretary join me in expressing condolences to the family of Elaine McIver, an off-duty police officer who was killed in the Manchester attack, and who had worked at the Winsford police headquarters in my constituency? Will she also join in the praise for the Cheshire police, who went to the aid of their Manchester colleagues during a desperate attack which had a devastating effect on the local community, and will she confirm that the additional armed officers will be allocated to areas across the country, including Manchester and Cheshire?
Of course I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the immense bravery of, in particular, the off-duty policewoman whom she mentioned, and that of other members of the public who joined in to protect people. The work that Manchester did in responding to the attack was heroic. I particularly commend the chief constable, Ian Hopkins, who did such good work. It was part of a very well-practised and well-operated scheme. Other forces came in to assist: they “surged” their assistance to ensure that, in both police and emergency terms, the resources were there to protect people and look after them in the future.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. In the days following both the Manchester and London Bridge attacks, a number of my constituents were arrested, with suspicions around terrorism. This is the first time that that has happened in Barking and Dagenham. Most of my constituents, of all religions, creeds and ethnicities, share with all of us the horror at the outrages, the praise for the services and the feelings of empathy for those who have been affected by the attacks. However, the Home Secretary said in her statement that those who perpetrate terrorism seek to spread fear, intolerance and hate, and I have concerns that, in the aftermath of the attacks, that is precisely what could happen in my constituency. The Muslim community in particular are feeling very vulnerable and isolated, and the police have not been able to give them the reassurance that they want. Will she take steps to ensure that police resources are made available so that there is a police presence there, the allegations of race hate crime, which are already growing, are dealt with, and other measures that will provide security for all communities in my constituency, and therefore promote tolerance, are put in place rapidly and not left to fester?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. I share her concern: we must ensure that we do not see an increase in Islamophobia. We must be a country that can deal fairly with all communities. My hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service is meeting the Met commissioner, and he will raise that matter with her, thinking particularly of the right hon. Lady’s constituency of Barking.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and through her the people in the police and security services, who put their lives on the line to keep us all safe. Following on from the question from the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), I think that the Home Secretary acknowledges that all our communities, and particularly our Muslim communities, including the Muslim community in my constituency, need to have confidence in the protections afforded by those services. Will she therefore ensure that all our police forces have the resources to provide the continuous training that is required for the officers who are needed to provide those assurances throughout our communities?
My right hon. Friend builds on the question from the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) about hate crime and what more we can do in our communities. I agree with my right hon. Friend that we must ensure that our police have the best training, so that they are aware of the best way to approach what could be sensitive issues. We have the College of Policing, a national body that provides such training to ensure that police officers have the information and that they can learn the best way to approach sensitive situations. Last year, we published the hate crime action plan to ensure that people have the confidence to report such incidents and that we have the procedures to follow them up. We are in no way complacent about the need always to be on the front foot to reassure communities that we will take seriously any incidents of hate crime.
I associate myself and my party with the Home Secretary’s expressions of sorrow and condolence for all the victims of the horrific terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. During my visit to Muslim Welfare House in Finsbury Park on Tuesday, one of the key messages from the Muslim leaders was that there is a strong feeling that Government action on counter-extremism has so far failed to bring together all voices in the different communities. Therefore, will she today guarantee that the new commission for countering extremism will engage with all representative groups and that no group that wants to help the Government to defeat extremism will be excluded?
It is essential to ensure that people are aware that the Government’s counter-extremism initiatives, their Prevent initiatives and their initiatives through Channel are focused on all extremism. The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) asked me about Prevent, and I would like to remind people that 25% of the Channel referrals—Channel is the additional part of Prevent that some people are put on—are extreme right wing. In fact, there are some parts of the country where the extreme right wing is the real danger, rather than radical extremist Islamic terrorism. I would like to reassure the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) that we will listen to all parts of the community and to different bodies, to ensure that the counter-extremism commission has the opportunity to gather all the necessary information.
During the recent terrorist incidents, we all saw images on our TV screens of desperate families and friends going from hospital to hospital clutching pictures of their loved ones and trying to get more information on their whereabouts. I full appreciate that telephone helplines were set up, and I understand that in such instances people can sometimes have injuries that make them unrecognisable. Also, people often do not carry identification with them. Nevertheless, given modern technology, is it possible for the Home Secretary to work with her Government colleagues to establish a central point that families and loved ones can go to, and to which hospitals can provide information, so that people do not have to go from hospital to hospital?
I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion. I saw those photographs and pictures as well; it must have been very distressing for the families involved, not knowing what had happened to their loved ones. We have to make sure, despite that, that the safety of the people involved is the first priority when the police and the emergency services arrive to secure the scene. I will certainly take his suggestion back to the counter-terrorism unit.
Two members of my immediate family were present at the Manchester Arena bombing, and my contempt for that bomb is heightened by the fact that this was not a thrash metal gig; it was Ariana Grande, and the targets were little girls. Does the Home Secretary share my concern about the continuing presence of far-right hate preachers in organisations such as the English Defence League, and does she agree that we ought to be tightening up on some of their activities as well, in order to prevent further Islamophobia?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We must root out extreme right-wing violent hate, as well as radical Islamic terrorism, wherever we find it. I was the first Home Secretary to ban a far-right group, National Action, which was proscribed last year. That has given the police a legal basis on which to go after people who join it. We will continue to be vigilant.
I should like to thank the Home Secretary for coming to the Chamber today and giving us this statement and our first opportunity in this new Parliament to ask important questions about these horrific attacks. My question is very simple—and short, Mr Speaker. Can she update us on the progress in recruiting the extra armed police officers?
Time is tight, so I shall focus on Borough Market in my constituency. The horrific attack there was met with a community spirit, business action, and police and NHS responses that were truly second to none. This makes me even prouder to be re-elected to serve the area. The Home Secretary has said again today that the terrorists will never win, but that will require more action. How are the Government ensuring that tourist and leisure hotspots such as Borough Market are better protected? What budget is being made available to fit barriers and bollards to protect civilians? How will the Government ensure that the NHS is not a victim of major incidents? Southwark hospitals are struggling financially, so what additional budgets are being made available to ensure that their tremendous efforts are covered? How are the Government going to ensure that the police have not just the numbers but the resources and powers to prevent atrocities and to act when they occur? This short, brutal attack at Borough Market was over quite quickly, but the market remained closed for over a week, costing some of the small traders tens of thousands of pounds. What are the Government doing to make insurance companies pay out on their business interruption clauses, given that some are, outrageously, withholding payment?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. May I say how much I enjoyed my recent visit to Borough Market? It was a pleasure to see it so vibrant and active, and I hope that people will show their support by continuing to visit or by shopping there for the first time.
We have put additional resources into the security services and will continue to do that, and additional money is going into the armed police uplifts. It is essential that we wait for the review to happen, rather than rush in now, so that we can find out where we have holes and where we should be putting in additional support.
After the memorial ceremony at Southwark cathedral, I met some of those who had been at the hospital in Southwark, and it was a great honour and privilege to speak to them and to hear about the fantastic work that they have done.
At the weekend, I drove my family back to London from my constituency. My wife and daughters are Jewish. We were met by a protest where there were anti-Semitic banners and chants and where people were waving Hezbollah flags—for those unfamiliar with the flag, I should add that it has a big machine gun on it. To make a mockery of the law, somebody had put a post-it note on one of the flags saying, “You cannot arrest me because I support the political wing of Hezbollah, not the military wing—this time.” If enough really is enough, will the Home Secretary take action against such rallies, ban them, so that they can never happen on the streets of London again, and ensure that the whole of Hezbollah is a proscribed organisation?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is always distressing to see that sort of march going on, and the provocation that he describes must have been very upsetting for him and his family. I will certainly consider what he has suggested and come back to discuss it with him and, if needed, the House.
Order. There is a balance of obligations today. On the one hand, I am keen to accommodate the extensive interest in this matter. On the other hand, I should advise the House that the business statement follows, in which there is usually interest, and that no fewer than 29 colleagues wish to speak in this afternoon’s debate on the Gracious Speech, of whom five are would-be maiden speakers. I would like to accommodate them, so brevity is imperative.
First, I have one bit of advice for the Home Secretary: please be very careful about language. Many people feel alienated by talk of “stamping out” and “enough is enough”.
Secondly, will there be just one commission? As a west Yorkshire MP, a neighbour of Jo Cox’s constituency and as part of a brilliant group of hard-working MPs who work with their communities, I know that Muslim communities are absolutely disgusted by these terrorist outrages. Could we have local commissions up and down the country that work together? There will be one national commission, but having local ones would be a great advantage.
We have an open mind about working out the best way of approaching the commission for countering extremism. We will ensure that it covers all parts of the country, as has been suggested, and that it applies itself to rooting out and discovering information about extremism, wherever it is found. When we have more information, I will come back to my hon. Friend.
According to security sources, some 150 ISIS terrorists are living in Northern Ireland and the Republic, either working together or alone. Will the Home Secretary ensure that security forces in Northern Ireland, the UK mainland and the Republic work together to monitor and resource the police efforts to ensure that those people do not become a threat to all of us in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Our working relationship with Northern Ireland and the security services is very good. I will certainly take his suggestion under advisement to ensure that everybody is aware of his concerns and that we continue to step up that work.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, given in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), that she believes that she is on target to recruit the number of armed officers that she is seeking. I have been speaking to the armed officers who protect us on this estate, and interestingly, however, there is one common piece of feedback: they are worried about the quality of potential recruits due to the disincentive of automatic referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I wonder whether it is time to consider whether that should still apply in terrorist attacks.
I can reassure my hon. Friend that for certain attacks, such as marauding firearms attacks, which are sometimes declared as a terrorist attack, as occurred here, the IPCC immediately states that such a referral is not necessary. A particularly different approach is taken when there is a terrorist attack, but in general the IPCC does an important job in creating that clear line, which is as useful to the police as it is to the rest of us.
I join the Home Secretary in her congratulations to Ian Hopkins and all our public services in both Manchester and London on what they did during the recent attacks. I set the budget for Greater Manchester police for this current year and I was faced with cuts from central Government. If she wants to bring us all together to fight terrorism, she needs to recognise that combating terrorism, like other things, places real strain on our police service. We need more police officers to combat not just terrorism, but the things that we need a modern police force to do.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the House. We have protected the police budget from 2015 to 2020. We will be conducting the review to find out what else we could do better to combat terrorism. The security services are leading on the review, looking at what has happened in the past. We will have an open mind as to what is needed, depending on what that review reveals.
At present, a person who pleads guilty to possessing a well-known extremist publication, which includes instructions for making home-made bombs, will typically be sentenced to just 14 months. So they will be out in seven months, and will still be radicalised and a danger. Does the Home Secretary agree that the time has come to toughen up sentences under sections 57 and 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000?
On behalf of my constituents, may I express our deepest condolences to the victims of the terror attacks and their families? We utterly condemn the horrific attacks, as most people in our country do. Will the Home Secretary heed the warnings of the Mayor of London and the head of the Metropolitan police about the £400 million cuts, which would put prevention at risk? Will she also update the House on where she has got to on ensuring that internet companies immediately take down religious extremist and far-right sites that promote violence?
I thank the hon. Lady for her important question. I have had several meetings with the Mayor of London and I commend him on the work he has done. He has been working closely with us to make sure that we are really united on getting the right approach. Again, let me say that there have been no plans for police cuts and we have protected the budget; I hear the numbers she gives but I simply do not recognise them. In terms of the internet, we are making good progress. We have set up, in the UK, an internet forum to try to get more action. The companies are taking down—after we ask them to do so—2,000 pieces of hate material a week. There is more to do and we are hopeful of having a constructive international agreement with them so that we can get a really proactive approach from them.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement. I know she will agree that the people who committed these atrocities and the idiots who stoned Torquay mosque in reprisal are just two sides of the same coin of hate. How does she see the commission for countering extremism being able to deal with both those threats?
That is a very good point to make. I hope that our commission will do exactly that; it will make it clear that extremism in any form is, as my hon. Friend says, two sides of the same coin and is unwelcome in this country. We need to find out what else we can do to make sure that we reduce it.
I thank the Minister for her statement. If reports are correct, the recent attack on Finsbury Park mosque was a premeditated attack by a self-radicalised extremist. My constituency knows more than most about the devastation that one extremist can bring. I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement that 25% of the referrals to Prevent have been for far-right extremists, but how many of those referrals have been acted upon?
Let me take the opportunity to commend the work that the Jo Cox Foundation did on the Great Get Together last weekend. Like many Members—many Labour Members as well—I took the opportunity to show that something good had come out of Jo’s horrible, terrible death. I am so sorry, but I have forgotten the hon. Lady’s question.