I now ask the House to rise to observe a minute’s silence to reflect on the Grenfell tragedy and those whose lives were lost.
The House observed a minute’s silence.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the report from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
I will be making quite a lengthy speech this afternoon, reflecting the comprehensive nature of the report, so if hon. Members will bear with me, I am sure that I will address many of the issues on which they may be planning to intervene.
The bereaved, the survivors and the members of the north Kensington community joining us in the Galleries today each have their own story to tell, their own perspective on what happened at Grenfell, but over the past two and a half years, they have been united in their fight to uncover the truth. It is not a fight they would ever have chosen, but it is one they have taken up with determination, dedication and great dignity. Yet their exceptional tenacity in seeking justice has not always been matched by their faith in the system’s ability to deliver. This is no surprise. After all, they have been let down many times before, too often overlooked and ignored in the months and years before the tragedy and shamefully failed by the institutions that were supposed to serve them in the days and weeks after it.
Since then, the survivors, the bereaved and the local community have endured one unbearable milestone after another—the funerals, the anniversaries, giving and hearing evidence at the public inquiry, the painful process of building a new life in a new home without loved ones and without treasured possessions, and then the publication of this report today—all the while carrying with them the unimaginable trauma suffered that night. I am very much aware that no report, no words, no apology will ever make good the loss suffered and the trauma experienced, but I hope that the findings being published today and the debate we are holding this afternoon will bring some measure of comfort to those who suffered so much. They asked for the truth. We promised them the truth. We owe them the truth. And today the whole country and the whole world is finally hearing the truth about what happened at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017.
When the sun rose over London that morning, it revealed an ugly scar of black smoke cutting across an otherwise clear blue summer sky, and on the streets of north Kensington a scene of horror and desperation. Shortly before 1 o’clock that morning, a faulty fridge freezer had started a small fire in the kitchen of a flat on the fourth floor of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower. The resident of the flat did everything right. He raised the alarm, called the fire brigade and alerted his neighbours. Within five minutes, firefighters arrived to deal with what appeared to be a routine incident, and in the normal course of events, the fire would have been contained and extinguished, and that would have been that, but what happened that night was anything but normal.
Even before firefighters began to tackle the blaze on the inside of the tower, unbeknown to them flames were already beginning to race up the outside. Just seven minutes after the first firefighters entered the kitchen on the fourth floor, a resident on 22nd floor dialled 999 to report the blaze at her level, almost 200 feet higher up. By 1.27 am, a column of fire had reached the roof, one whole side of the building was ablaze and dense smoke and searing flames, visible across the capital, began wrapping around the tower, penetrating its heart. By 1.30 am, less than three quarters of an hour after it began, it was clear to those watching below that the inferno was completely out of control.
Grenfell Tower, filled that night with almost 300 souls in its 129 flats, was beyond saving. The fire that shocked the nation and the world that June morning took the lives of 72 men, women and children. The oldest, known simply as Sheila, was a poet, artist and great grandmother who had brought joy to many and seen and experienced much in her 84 years. The youngest, Logan Gomes, had never even seen his own parents. He was stillborn hours after his mother made a narrow escape from the choking, noxious smoke. Many who lived together died together: husbands and wives, parents and children were found in each other’s arms. Those who survived saw everything they owned reduced to dust and ash: wedding dresses, irreplaceable photographs, beloved children’s toys—all gone. The true scale of the trauma, the impact of the fire not only on those who survived but on those who lost loved ones or who witnessed its destruction, is unlikely ever to be known.
Grenfell represented the biggest loss of life in a single incident in the UK since the Hillsborough tragedy 28 years previously, but my predecessor as Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), was determined that there would be no repeat of the travesty that followed that disaster, which saw the friends and families of those who died forced to fight the establishment tooth and nail, year after year, decade after decade, to secure justice for their loved ones. That is why just 15 days after the tragedy she appointed one of our most experienced and respected former judges, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, to lead a rigorous public and completely independent inquiry into what happened.
Sir Martin has today published his report on the first phase of that inquiry, covering the events of 14 June: the cause of the fire and its rapid spread, and the way in which emergency services and others handled the immediate response. As the sponsoring Minister under the terms of the Inquiries Act 2005, I laid copies of the report before Parliament this morning. I was in no doubt that the House should have the opportunity to debate it on the day of publication.
Grenfell was a national tragedy, and this is a report of great national importance. However, I recognise that Sir Martin has produced a very substantial piece of work—almost 1,000 pages across four volumes—and that therefore the vast majority of Members will have not yet have had an opportunity to digest and analyse it in any great detail. I believe that Members have an important role to play in scrutinising such reports and the Government’s response to them, so let me reassure the House that we will seek to schedule a further debate on Sir Martin’s findings at the earliest suitable opportunity so that Members can debate the report in detail. Obviously that may be after the election, but we will certainly ensure that it will happen.
Of course, what happened during the hours in which the fire raged is only half the story. Phase 2 of the inquiry, which will start taking oral evidence earlier in the new year, will look at the wider context, including the nature and application of building regulations, the way in which local and central Government responded to the fire, and the handling of concerns raised by tenants over many years. Phase 1 sets out what happened; phase 2 will explain why. Such a complex process will inevitably take time—longer than any of us would wish—but, as I have said, we owe it to the people of Grenfell Tower to explain, once and for all and beyond doubt, exactly why the tragedy unfolded as it did, and with the standard set by this first report, I am confident that that is exactly what will happen.
Sir Martin’s work is exhaustive in its detail. He provides an authoritative, and often harrowing, minute-by-minute account of the fire and its terrifying spread. Led always by the facts, his recommendations are clear and numerous, and where there are failings to be highlighted, he does so without fear or favour. Nowhere is that clearer than in his verdict on the single biggest cause of the tragedy. He leaves no doubt that the cladding on the exterior of Grenfell Tower was the defining factor in the rapid and all-consuming spread of the blaze.
It was the cladding—the aluminium composite material rainscreen—and the combustible insulation behind it that ignited because of the fire in flat 16. It was the cladding that allowed the flames to climb so rapidly up the outside of the tower, causing compartmentation to fail. It was the cladding that turned into molten plastic raining fire on the streets of north Kensington and causing the blaze to travel up and down the building. In short, it was the cladding that turned a routine and containable kitchen fire into a disaster of unprecedented proportions that cost 72 people their lives. Sir Martin is clear that the cladding on Grenfell Tower was fitted in breach of building regulations. Why that was allowed to happen, and who was responsible for it, will be covered in phase 2 of his inquiry.
I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, who I know was bereaved, or suffered the loss of a friend, in the Grenfell fire.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way, and for the manner in which he is making his speech.
It is still the case that men, women and children up and down the country will be sleeping tonight in buildings with that cladding. So many years after the tragedy, does the Prime Minister not think that, in this sixth richest democracy in the world, we could have done more to prevent people from sleeping in infernos across our country?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point; indeed, I was coming to that very matter in my explanation of what happened. All I can say is that he is quite right. We cannot afford to wait for the full conclusions of the report. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has just pointed out to me, we have allocated a further £600 million to the removal of such cladding. It is essential that we remove similar cladding on all buildings as soon as possible, which is why we have established the fund to pay for the removal of such cladding systems from tall residential buildings.
I know that progress is not as fast I should like, but I am pleased to say that all such buildings owned by central and local government have now had their cladding removed, are undergoing work to remove it, or, at the very least, have such work scheduled. In the private sector, progress is slower, and too many building owners have not acted responsibly.
What action will be taken against private building owners who fail to remove or replace the cladding by the June 2020 deadline?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We propose to name the businesses and companies that own those buildings but are failing to comply, to encourage them to get on with this vital work. While the people living in those privately owned buildings are safe—and, as the House will know, round-the-clock fire patrols and other temporary measures ensure that that is the case—I am in no doubt that they need a long-term and lasting solution.
May I just make some progress?
Nearly all private high residential buildings where such cladding remains are now in line to have remedial work scheduled. Where that is not the case, the Government will work with local authorities to take enforcement action if landlords refuse to deal with the problems themselves. I think the House will agree that they have had enough time. There are no more excuses; they must make those buildings safe, or face the consequences.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has done a lot of work on this issue, and we have highlighted the need for speedy removal of the cladding. It is in the private sector that there are often disputes between the freeholder and the leaseholders, who may be legally responsible but simply do not have the wherewithal to do the work. I am pleased by what the Prime Minister has said, but will he confirm that he will work with local authorities and they will do the work in default, in order to ensure that people in these properties are safe?
We will indeed be working—in fact, we are already working—with local authorities to enforce the requirement that they remove the cladding in question. Although I—like, I think, many Members—feel that progress should be faster, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are hard at it to remove that cladding.
If I may, I shall turn now to the second and most important factor that Sir Martin identified. The cladding on Grenfell Tower caused the fire to spread out of control and to behave in ways that nobody had seen before. This unprecedented fire created an unprecedented challenge to the men and women sent to fight it. Since 2017, much has been written from many perspectives about the way in which the London Fire Brigade handled the unfolding disaster, so let me be very clear from the start.
I thank the Prime Minister for the thoughtful delivery of his speech. I have seen the report this morning, and I have seen its recommendations. Will he give an undertaking today to enable adequate extra funding so that those recommendations can be taken forward as a matter of haste? It has been two and a half years, and that is too long. We need that money specifically so that they can be taken forward quickly.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I can tell her that I will be coming to that matter—and, I think, probably all the matters that hon. Members wish to address—a bit later in my remarks.
I think that the House will want to hear now about Sir Martin’s opinions on the way in which the London Fire Brigade handled the disaster. After examining all the evidence and listening to hundreds of witnesses and experts, Sir Martin does not call into doubt the actions or the bravery of any of the rank-and-file firefighters dispatched to Grenfell Tower. No one in this House or the other place should be in any doubt about that. As Mayor of this great city of London, I saw for myself the courage and commitment demonstrated by the men and women of the London Fire Brigade, and Sir Martin’s report bears that out. It tells of firefighters exhibiting
“extraordinary courage and selfless devotion to duty”
as they pushed themselves
“to and even beyond the limits of endurance”,
facing choking smoke and temperatures as high as 1,000° C. Their work that night was nothing short of phenomenal.
However, Sir Martin concludes that the firefighters on duty that night were
“faced with a situation for which they had not been properly prepared”.
He finds the London Fire Brigade’s planning and training for such an incident were “gravely inadequate”, and that on the night of the fire there were “serious deficiencies” in command and control. The report highlights a lack of co-ordination between emergency services, which Sir Martin calls a “serious failure” of stated policies. He also finds—the point that will be of most concern to those who lost loved ones—that the failure to order an evacuation of the tower once the fire was clearly out of control most probably led to the deaths of individuals who could otherwise have been saved.
If I may, I will continue, as it will be important for the House to hear the whole context in which these criticisms and points are being made.
The so-called “stay put” policy is the bedrock on which all plans for fighting fires in tall residential buildings are based. Building regulations are supposed to mean that fires cannot spread beyond individual flats, because they are compartmented. When that is the case, it is indeed safest for most residents to stay in their homes until the fire is extinguished, but at Grenfell that was not the case. The fire spread widely and rapidly, up, down and across the tower.
Will the Prime Minister give way?
If I may, I will continue so that the House can get the whole picture that Sir Martin wants to convey.
By 1.30 am, it was clear that the compartmentation had failed. By 1.50 am, it was still not too late to order an evacuation, yet according to Sir Martin senior officers simply could not conceive of a situation in which compartmentation could fail so comprehensively. In the report, “stay put” is described as such an article of faith within the fire service that senior officers were reluctant to let the reality before them override their training. As a result, the decision to order an evacuation was not taken until 2.35 am, by which time the tower’s single staircase was already filling with impenetrable smoke.
Even after that time, poor and confused lines of communication meant that operators in the 999 control room were not aware that the advice had changed. Swamped by the sheer volume of calls, and dealing with a challenge well outside their experience and training, some continued to give conflicting advice to callers trapped inside the tower. Sir Martin notes that many operators did not realise how all-encompassing the fire had become until well after 5 am, when a lull in calls allowed them to check their phones and see images of the burning building for the first time. Information gleaned from callers inside the tower was faithfully recorded, but only rarely made its way to firefighters who could act on it.
I thank the Prime Minister for the tone and the reflective manner in which he is delivering his speech, but may I point out that this was not the first time that compartmentalisation had failed? In July 2009, Lakanal House, a multi-storey building, suffered a similar tragedy in which six people lost their lives and more than 20 were seriously injured. Subsequently, the coroner wrote to the then Minister, Eric Pickles, with a recommendation that the “stay put” policy be reviewed, but no action was taken.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point, as the whole House knows. As I said at the outset, that is among the issues that will be addressed in the second part of Sir Martin’s report, but I will say a little bit about it later on. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue.
While brave firefighters led many people to safety from inside the tower, Sir Martin concludes that the chaos and confusion meant that some calls for help were not responded to until it was too late.
I have visited Grenfell Tower twice to sympathise with the relatives, but I have also been able to see at first hand how firefighters in these complex situations risk their lives. I had a meeting only yesterday at the Fire Service College in my constituency, which provides worldwide training for every type of fire officer. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we owe it to our firefighters up and down this country to enable them to have the very best training?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am well aware that he has a centre for the training of firefighters at Moreton-in-Marsh in his constituency. Directly on his point, Sir Martin cautions all of us against making judgments at a distance, and I agree with him wholeheartedly on that.
It is very easy for us on these green Benches to have 20:20 hindsight. We are not about to run into the heart of a fire that is blazing more than 200 feet into the night sky.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. First, when he was Mayor of London he presided over fire service cuts despite warnings from London MPs from across parties, which he did not heed. Does he regret that? Secondly, on his Government’s watch, the regulators were stripped of powers, including the ombudsman’s power to investigate complaints without complainants having to go to their MP first. Will he now take action? He does not have to wait for the reports to come out to take action to strengthen the regulations. Will he provide the much-needed resources? We had to fight tooth and nail for two years with Grenfell United and the survivors to secure the £600 million. It is time that he acted and provided the necessary additional funding so that our constituents can sleep at night without having to worry about whether their homes may be set alight.
Sir Martin notes that appliances were at the site within five minutes, and he makes no findings that I am aware of about a lack of resources, nor about the other issues that the hon. Lady raises.
It is vital that individuals are held accountable for their errors, and when we do so we must do so very carefully. It is clear from this report that the firefighters on the ground were in a position that they should never have been in. They were doing their damnedest to tackle a fire that should never have been allowed to happen. But that does not absolve us of responsibility.
We must ensure that the failures identified by the inquiry are corrected, because not only does Sir Martin highlight that mistakes made by the London Fire Brigade in responding to Lakanal House, which the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) mentioned earlier, were repeated, he also raises concerns that the London Fire Brigade is, I am afraid,
“at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire.”
I must make some progress.
It is vital that the London Fire Brigade learns those lessons, and I am sure that everyone there will want them to do so. As a constituency MP, Mayor, or journalist, I never met any firefighter who was anything less than totally committed to public safety. I will be working with the London Fire Brigade, the Mayor’s office and local authorities across London to ensure that the lessons of Grenfell are learned and that Londoners are made safer for it. Where Sir Martin recommends that responsibility for fire safety should be taken on by central Government, I can confirm that we will legislate accordingly.
If hon. Members will allow me to complete my points, I think they will hear the answers to their questions.
More widely, we plan to accept in principle all the recommendations that Sir Martin makes for central Government. We will set out how we plan to do so as quickly as possible, but I can assure the House and all those affected by the Grenfell tragedy that where action is called for action will follow.
I thank the Prime Minister for giving way and for his tone in delivering his response to the report. On the night of Grenfell, it took 38 minutes for a high-reaching aerial appliance to arrive. By that time, the building’s cladding had already caught fire. Will the Prime Minister consider his own actions in removing aerial appliances from London Fire Brigade’s engines and in the cuts made to the fire service when he was Mayor of London?
Sir Martin makes no recommendation on that point to the best of my knowledge.
For the survivors, the bereaved and the local community, the report will prove particularly harrowing, yet I hope it will strengthen their faith in Sir Martin’s desire to determine the facts of the fire and this Government’s commitment to airing those facts in public, no matter how difficult they may be, and to acting on them. That commitment is absolute—
Mr Speaker, I have given way enough.
That commitment is absolute, because if any good is to come of this senseless tragedy—a tragedy that should never have happened—and if it is to become a catalyst for change in our approach to fire safety and, indeed, to social housing more widely, we must get to the truth about what happened and why. We must expose and fix the failings that allowed an otherwise safe building to become so dangerous, that allowed a small kitchen fire to become a devastating inferno, and that led to so many people being told to stay in their homes when they could and should have been fleeing to safety. The inquiry is a vital part of that.
I thank Sir Martin and his team for all their work so far, and I know that all current and former Ministers, civil servants and all public sector workers will fully co-operate with phase 2. While uncovering the truth is very important to the survivors and the bereaved, it is not the only aspect of the post-Grenfell story that requires our attention. We will continue, as the previous Prime Minister promised, to support the affected families long after the television cameras are gone. We will continue the work of the Grenfell ministerial recovery group, which brings together the efforts of all parts of central and local government in meeting the needs of the community. We will continue to ensure that a beautiful and appropriate memorial is created on the site of the tower—a process that is being led by the bereaved and the local community.
Will the Prime Minister give way?
No, I am winding up.
We will continue to make sure that those affected by the fire have an active and engaging role to play in implementing the lessons of Grenfell, including working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to develop the policies in our social housing White Paper. We will continue to implement the findings of the Hackitt review of building regulations, and I have asked the civil servants responsible for implementing Sir Martin’s recommendations to provide me with regular and frequent updates on their progress. I will not allow the lessons of this tragedy to fall through the cracks.
The night of 14 June was horrendous, but in the darkness we have also seen the best of humanity: the residents who sacrificed their lives to save their children or neighbours, the local community that rallied round in such an incredible fashion, holding the survivors in a tight embrace as the authorities failed to step up, and the bereaved and survivors here with us today. Those who would have every reason to hide away have instead fought to uncover the truth about what happened that terrible night. They have forced themselves to relive time and again the kind of trauma that most of us, mercifully, cannot begin to imagine. They have dedicated so much of their lives in so many ways to ensure that those who died on the night of 14 June 2017 will always be remembered. To them, I say once again that the truth will out, that justice will be done, and that Grenfell Tower and the people who called it home will never be forgotten.
May I start by thanking the Prime Minister for the serious way in which he has approached this matter and for his speech today on the findings of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s first report? I also thank you, Mr Speaker, for ensuring that we had a minute’s silence at the start of the debate for those who lost their lives on that terrible, terrible night.
I start by paying tribute to the survivors of the fire and their family members, who have campaigned with such dignity and determination for the past two years—two long years. Many of them are here today in the Gallery or watching the debate on television. For them, it is yet another horrible day of remembering a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a cousin, a nephew, a niece who they will never see again and who will never come back. Those memories will never go away. With sympathy we should have an understanding of our responsibility to ensure that everyone is able to live in safety, wherever they are in this country.
Seventy-two people lost their lives on that night in June 2017. That situation rocked the community and shocked the whole country. It brought together help from lots of people—people from local churches, mosques and synagogues, and from different community organisations. People rushed to Grenfell as the fire was still blazing with gifts of food and toys, and with support. That simple human understanding from so many people is something we have to cherish and begin to understand, because it demonstrates that there is a natural human instinct to help people.
I cannot forget going there straight after the fire and talking to dazed people who did not really understand what had happened and to exhausted firefighters, police officers and many others who were trying to comprehend the enormity of the situation. It was truly horrific. I pay absolute tribute to all those volunteers and others who turned out that day to help. Local government officers from all across London immediately volunteered to try to help, because the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea seemed to have difficulty in responding to the enormity of the situation—I say no more than that at the moment.
It was a tragedy, Mr Speaker, but it was an avoidable tragedy. A tragedy is when there is an earthquake, a tidal wave or a volcano that we cannot understand or predict. This was an avoidable tragedy. All the survivors—all of them—deserve a new home and safety and security in this country, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary demanded at the time. All those responsible for this avoidable tragedy must understand that justice must prevail. Every necessary measure must be put in place to prevent a fire such as Grenfell from ever happening again.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a national fire response issue and that it is not just about London? Will he comment on my request to the Prime Minister that extra funding be made available so that the recommendations can be put in place, because I have not heard a positive response that says, “Yes, we will pay for that”?
Yes, it is a tragedy at Grenfell and a tragedy in that part of London, but obviously it is a potential tragedy anywhere where there is dangerous cladding on blocks of flats. My hon. Friend, who is our shadow Fire Minister, specifically asked that question about funding. Perhaps the Prime Minister or whoever responds for the Government would care to answer that point.
I have been on a number of the walks for Grenfell. Over my life, I have been on many marches and demonstrations, but I have never been on anything so poignant and powerful as thousands and thousands and thousands of people silently walking through north Kensington and then walking past the carcase that is Grenfell Tower. The power of that—the power of silence—is palpable. What is also palpable is the way in which the community as a whole supports those people.
When the silent march passes the fire station, there is genuine love and affection for all the firefighters who risked their lives that night. I know that nobody is trying to do this today, but let us not blame firefighters for their work. They did everything they could, and well beyond that.
I thought that it was absolutely right to hold the service in St Paul’s, because it was a way of bringing people together to try to come to terms with the horror of their loss. The events that I have been to in the mosque have also brought people together to try to comprehend the horror of their loss.
I was privileged to be the Minister for Civil Society at the time and, along with the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), I met many of the charities and support organisations. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in thanking them for all the work they have done, both in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and since then, to support the victims, their families and the wider community?
I absolutely do, and I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I have never forgotten meeting so many different groups and charities that day, who were already doing their best to meet in the church. Community organisations, the citizens advice bureau, North Kensington Law Centre and so many more were all doing their very best. There were also collections in the local community to try to ensure that people had what they needed.
We welcome the report on the first phase of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inquiry, which, as the Prime Minister pointed out, not everybody has yet had a chance to study in detail. It has, after all, only just come out. We expect the Government and the other agencies cited to respond in full. It is very unlikely that a further debate will be held in this Parliament, so it will be for the next Parliament, I hope, to start with an urgent debate on this matter.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would like to reflect on the two events that Mr Speaker organised in Speaker’s House to which survivors came. I thought they were very useful occasions for Members to speak informally to people who had had this dreadful experience. It was remarkable how stoical they were and how grateful they were to the fire service and all those who had helped them.
Those were memorable occasions. There was courage and determination in support of the families and those who were bereaved, but there was also a strong determination to make sure that Grenfell never happens again anywhere else.
I think that the Grenfell survivors are the heroes of all this. When people go through a tragedy, the natural human instinct is to put it behind them, move away and do something else if they have that choice or opportunity. The survivors have not done that; they have stayed in the community and kept that community together, in order that the rest of us might learn the lesson of the pain they went through.
The limited scope of the inquiry was agreed by the Government. The fact that phase 1 looked only at what happened on the night of 14 June is important, because many questions inevitably remain unanswered and the recommendations do not cover the range of issues that need urgent action from Ministers. The Prime Minister talked about the whole truth, but sadly the whole truth is not yet with us.
One of the unanswered questions for phase 2 of the inquiry relates to the types of flammable cladding that are out there on buildings right now. The Government’s response to date has focused solely on ACM-type cladding. There has been a failure both to acknowledge fully that there are other types of cladding that might be just as flammable and just as much of a risk, and to commission an adequate range of tests so that building owners and residents can know what is on their buildings and what response is required. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on the Government urgently and ahead of the second phase of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report to address comprehensively the range of flammable cladding that is still putting residents at risk?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I am going to come on to more details about that a bit later in my speech, but she is right about it. She and I represent constituencies that include people living in high-rise blocks, and we know the stress and pain they go through. She is absolutely right on everything she said in that intervention.
I, too, welcome the tone of the Prime Minister’s presentation and the Government’s position. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) has just alluded to this, but does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a much bigger picture than phase 1? Phase 1 focuses on the fire brigade response mostly, and many in the media have targeted the fire brigade for criticism, some of which is not unfair, but they are targeting only the fire brigade, as opposed to waiting for the big picture. The inquiry was always going to take a long time, it is incomplete and there are others, including ourselves here in this Parliament, who have some responsibility for the conditions that led to the Grenfell tragedy taking place.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He knows, as a former firefighter, not only the stress and strain firefighters go through, but the way in which, because we now live in an age of such instant media, people half-read half a bit of a report of a bit of the report and decide that that is the conclusion of all things. This is the first of two major reports and we should be cautious in throwing blame around too quickly and too soon, because these are serious and tragic matters.
Does my right hon. Friend also agree that many of the families are waiting for the criminal prosecutions and inquiries being made by the Met police? A number of people have been interviewed under caution. There are many who believe that what happened at Grenfell amounts to corporate manslaughter and that we should also wait to find out who is going to be prosecuted for what happened.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He lost a dearly loved friend in that fire and he has done great work in supporting the Grenfell community, and I thank him for that. I ask the Government also to listen carefully to the remarks he has just made. Remembering people who lost their lives in a wholly preventable fire has to be met with a political response, which is what we are trying to do; with a procedural response, which is about the fire service and fire training and which I will come to in a moment; and of course with building regulations. But this also has to be about justice, because of those people who have knowingly—perhaps or perhaps not; that is what a court must find out—clad buildings with materials that they knew to be dangerous. That is where the corporate manslaughter issues arise. I hope that neither the Government nor anybody else will put any obstruction in the way of that process. The Prime Minister talks about the whole truth and that clearly is not with us yet.
In the light of the particular focus on actions of the London Fire Brigade in phase 1 of the inquiry report, we urge that the recommendations made of the London Fire Brigade are given the full response they require. At the same time, I want to pay tribute to the heroic actions of firefighters in our country every day, including on the night of the Grenfell fire. A lot of the time they stand in fire stations waiting for something to happen, but then they have to go and deal with it. They do not know what they are going to deal with before they get there. Our natural instinct whenever we see a thing of danger is to put ourselves in a place of safety—to run away, to avoid, to do whatever—but firefighters do not do that. They cannot do that. They have to run into a burning building while the residents are trying to escape from it. Firefighters know that is in their job and they know it is their responsibility, and they do it day after day. We should understand the bravery of those who sacrificed so much that night. Despite being told, when they came out of the fire, exhausted and dehydrated, that they must not go back in, as it was against fire service regulations, they said, “No, we might manage to save a life” and so they went back into that fire. That is what they do.
Matt Wrack is the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union and a man who has been a firefighter. His union is composed of firefighters and he is a strong man who fights for his members. He spoke that summer at the Durham miners’ gala. I had never before known 200,000 people in absolute silence, as there were while he described what his members—his firefighters—had done at Grenfell. We should pay tribute to all firefighters and of course to the work done by the FBU, which helps to make us all safe.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the great tribute he is paying to our fire brigade service. Does he agree that between 2010 and 2016, the Government cut central funding by 28% in real terms, leading to 11,000 fewer firefighters? The then Mayor of London, now our Prime Minister, was at the forefront of cuts to the fire service, cutting 27 fire appliances, 55 firefighters and 324 support workers, and closing 10 fire stations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Prime Minister should apologise for removing aerial appliances from the London Fire Brigade fire engines when he was Mayor of London?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Like other colleagues who have intervened, she represents a constituency in which many residents live in tower blocks. I do not suppose too many Members of Parliament live in high-rise, council-owned tower blocks, but we should all understand the stress and strain that people go through with worry about what would happen in a fire.
The Government’s response to Grenfell has been too slow and not strong enough, on every front, from rehousing survivors to dealing with Grenfell-style ACM cladding on hundreds of other blocks across this country.
On the Government response, one in 10 of the council blocks in England are in Birmingham; we are talking about 213 and 10,000 households. In the aftermath of the fire, the west midlands fire service recommended the retrofitting of sprinklers in all those blocks, costing £31 million. At the dreadful time we lived through at Grenfell, pledges were made that local authorities would be helped and supported in making tenants safe. Birmingham has not received one single penny, and that cannot be right.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and he is absolutely right; this is a huge gap in the Government’s response. The retrofitting of sprinklers will help to control and possibly stop the spread of a fire. It will not stop every fire, but it will save lives, which is why it is so important that that issue be addressed properly.
The Prime Minister must now act urgently on the Government’s failures following Grenfell: the failure to learn the lessons from previous high-rise fires, with no proper response having been made to the coroners’ recommendations made in 2013 following the Lakanal House fire and the Shirley Towers fires in Southampton. Those were terrible tragedies, where lives were lost—those of firefighters in the case of Shirley Towers and those of residents in the case of Lakanal House. We have to learn those lessons. We cannot be here, going on towards 2020, still talking about the coroner’s response from 2013 to the Lakanal House fire. Another failure was the failure to rehouse survivors, with some families still living in hotels and temporary accommodation more than two years on—that is shocking.
The Government have also failed to re-clad blocks identified with dangerous, Grenfell-style cladding. Disgracefully, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) pointed out, eight in 10 residential blocks have still yet to have that ACM cladding replaced. Almost 60,000 people are still living in blocks that have this cladding: 18,000 in the residential social sector and 41,000 in the private sector. Thousands of blocks of flats all over the country need to be dealt with urgently now. I say that in respect of those with ACM cladding, but, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that is not the only dangerous cladding that must be dealt with. Local authorities must act quickly to ensure that every block in their community, whether public or private, is inspected and that the dangerous cladding is removed.
My constituency has some tower blocks. I went to a meeting after there had been a small fire in one flat, when fear ran all through the estate because people could see what had happened at Grenfell. Dangerous cladding was found in another block, and I commend my local authority, Islington, for immediately responding when it was discovered by putting fire watchers in within two hours and starting removing the cladding a week later. That is a local authority that is totally on it. The local authority got on to it straight away, and it is with pleasure that I have seen that the scaffolding is about to come down because the replacement has already happened. That shows what happens when local authorities work efficiently and quickly because they are totally on it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is an outrage that the Government have allowed so much time to be wasted before supporting local authorities to deal with ACM cladding? Only three buildings in my constituency have had the work done. There are 39 private blocks in which people cannot sleep at night. Does he think that the Government should learn some empathy? Perhaps the Prime Minister should visit some of the residents who have to live like this; he might then learn the importance of urgent action. We do not see urgent action on this Government’s watch.
My hon. Friend is so right: it is a question of urgent action. That means recognising that local authorities are underfunded and very stressed and strained by the situation. Local authorities know full well that unless they get the money refunded from the Government—that has not always happened—other services are affected because of their trying to bring about safety for their community.
Grenfell Tower would not have happened to wealthy Londoners. It happened to poor and mainly migrant Londoners. I have met Grenfell survivors on many occasions since that dreadful night, and they have all told me about the wonderful community that existed in and around Grenfell Tower. Those in the multi-ethnic, multi-racial community around Grenfell Tower are supporting each other now and were supporting each other that night. People tried to wake others who were frightened of the fire and those who were asleep and did not realise that the building was on fire. People did all that.
Although the report does criticise London Fire Brigade, we should remember that it was not firefighters who deregulated building safety standards; it was not firefighters who ignored the concerns of tenants; it was not firefighters who ignored the coroner’s report and failed to put sprinklers in high-rise blocks; and it was not firefighters who put flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower.
It is disgraceful that, two years on, there has still not been a major review or assessment of the “stay put” policy. I echo the Prime Minister’s words when he said that it is an article of faith in dealing with high-rise block fires, but although it may be an article of faith, there clearly has to be a serious review and examination of that policy. The Fire Brigades Union has raised the issue with Ministers on numerous occasions. Concerns about the “stay put” policy were raised with the Government years before Grenfell, by the FBU and others. Will the Government today stop dragging their feet and act?
I raised the “stay put” policy at Home Office questions on Monday, so I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has raised it today.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention.
The past nine years of austerity have seen cuts degrade our fire and rescue services. The reality and the truth is that we have fewer firefighters, fewer fire appliances and, as a result, slower response times. I am not being critical of individual firefighters or their collective response to try to deal with Grenfell. The reality is that if we cut fire services, we live in a more dangerous place. While firefighters selflessly risk their lives to protect others, the Government have not provided them with the resources that they need. Between 2010 and 2016, the Government cut central funding by 28% in real terms, followed by a further cut of 15% by 2020. These cuts have led to the loss of 11,000 firefighter positions—that is 20% of firefighters.
The Prime Minister will know that, as Mayor of London, he was at the forefront of the cuts to the fire service. In the eight years for which he was Mayor of London, the London Fire Brigade was required to make gross savings of £100 million. That led to the cutting of 27 fire appliances, 552 firefighters, 324 support staff, two fire rescue units and three training appliances, and it closed 10 London fire stations.
We all agree that Grenfell must never happen again. It happened because of the way in which building regulations either have not been adhered to or are inadequate, because of an inspection regime that was either non-existent or inadequate and because of a response that was insufficient.
I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts).
My right hon. Friend is right that one of the real problems with the inspection regime is the way that responsibility was taken away from local authority building control officers, who acted independently. Very often developers can now appoint their own friends to sign off the buildings. Is that not something that Dame Judith Hackitt identified as a real problem that needs addressing? We need urgent action now, rather than to wait for legislation in two years’ time.
As Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, my hon. Friend has done excellent work in highlighting all these issues, for which I thank him. That is Parliament at its best, examining what has happened.
I give way now to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin).
I was going to make exactly the same point as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts).
That is a first, Mr Speaker: someone rises to intervene but does not actually do it. I thank my hon. Friend; he represents a community with mixed housing so also has to deal with these issues.
There are serious questions to be asked about what the Government have done, about what has been happening with the funding of the London fire service and, of course, about the performance of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The night of 14 June will never, ever be forgotten. I have never forgotten talking in my office that evening to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad)—who has been and is a wonderful representative for the people there—about what it was like being an MP. She had been an MP for only for a few days. I said, “It’s great, but it’s hard work and you need to get into it slowly.” She went home and had probably the greatest test of her life two hours later. The way she has spoken up for her community and what she has done is something we should all be very proud of.
The shameful fact is that feet have been dragged. The exact same cladding is on similar high-rise blocks; sprinklers have not been fitted; and thousands of people in this country will go to bed tonight, and tomorrow night, not feeling safe. I pay tribute to the firefighters and, most of all, I pay tribute to the dignity and solemnity of the survivors and the bereaved, who continue to campaign for justice so that no one else has to suffer like them.
I welcome Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report and look forward to the second part of the inquiry. I want us to have a properly funded fire service in all parts of the country. I thank Grenfell United and all the survivors for everything they have done to try to bring people together and keep communities together. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has said that an appropriate memorial will be constructed near or on the Grenfell site, but the real memorial will be a properly funded fire service. The real memorial will be safety for people in every tower block throughout the country. Currently, 60,000 people are unsure of their own safety, and there are many more tower blocks with other kinds of composite materials that are just as dangerous. We need very tough regulation to ensure that all our people can sleep safely and soundly in their beds at night, rather than having in their minds the image of that burning monstrosity of a fire, which took the lives of so many wonderful, wholly innocent people.
I thank the Government for scheduling this debate, which gives the House the very earliest opportunity to debate the recommendations from Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report on part 1 of the public inquiry into what happened at Grenfell Tower. I thank the Prime Minister for his commitment to make time for further debate on this issue when Members from all parties will have had an opportunity to look more fully at the report and its recommendations.
Today’s debate gives us an opportunity to recognise, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition did, the appalling nature of the tragedy that took place at Grenfell Tower in June 2017. I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the tone that he took in his speech and the understanding that he showed. This was a horrific loss of life and, of course, it was a tragedy that should never have happened. I pay tribute to the survivors and to the families and friends of those who died for the dignity and fortitude that they have shown in circumstances that none of us would ever want to face. They have shown not just dignity and fortitude, but commitment and dedication in their struggle for the justice they want for all those who lost their lives and also for those who lost everything they possessed and the home that they had built up.
I also thank and pay tribute to the survivors who gave evidence to the public inquiry. Reliving those horrific times cannot have been easy, but without their evidence it would not have been possible for Sir Martin Moore-Bick to produce his report. I also thank him for his thoroughness and for the considerate and thoughtful way in which he has produced this report. It is detailed, and aspects of it are shocking.
The public inquiry was set up not only to get to the truth of what happened on that night, but, crucially, to understand why it happened. As has already been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and by others in interventions, there are many questions as yet unanswered because they lie in phase 2 of the inquiry. Crucially, they are issues around building regulations, the cladding, the enforcement of regulations, and why cladding that was non-compliant with the regulations was put up—and it was agreed it be put up—on this building. It is significant that Sir Martin Moore-Bick found himself able to say clearly that the cladding was non-compliant. That was an important aspect and finding of phase 1 of the inquiry, although greater detail in relation to those matters will be gone into in phase 2 of the inquiry.
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. Does she not accept that, while phase 2 will need to deal with these more difficult issues, there are hundreds and hundreds of families still living in conditions that are completely unacceptable because actions have not been taken? These actions could be taken prior to phase 2 coming forward. For instance, in St Francis Tower in my own constituency, people are living in a building, which is, quite frankly, no longer fit for habitation because the cladding has been removed and there are now gaps around all the windows.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that, of course, the Government have put in place support both for local authorities and for the private sector to take action in relation to cladding. Following a question that was asked earlier not just about ACM cladding but about other cladding, I can say that the Department has also been ensuring that tests are undertaken on other cladding on these buildings. We also initiated Dame Judith Hackitt’s report and are clear that the recommendations of that report have been accepted by the Government.
I said that the issues around cladding, building regulations and so forth will need to be addressed in phase 2, but so, too, will the question of the role of Government and the role of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that it just cannot be right that the survivors and bereaved of Grenfell are not properly permanently rehoused?
I recognise that since this terrible tragedy took place, significant efforts have been made to ensure that the survivors—those who have lost so much—have been provided with accommodation that is suitable for their needs. I know that in the early stages many people felt that that work did not go as quickly as it should have done. I recognise, too, that in the struggle that the survivors have been facing to ensure that justice can be done, that the truth can be uncovered, and, crucially, that responsibility for what happened is identified, they have felt that the response of Government at national and local level has not always been as swift or as full as they wished it to be. Every effort will be made, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, to continue the work to support the families of those who suffered this terrible experience in this appalling tragedy. There are other aspects of support that need to be provided in the longer term as well, not least the question of providing mental health support for people who have been affected by this tragedy.
Of course, today we can only look at phase 1 of the inquiry, because that is the report that is before us. One thing that comes through from phase 1 and will be clear to anybody who has met or has had any discussions with members of the Grenfell community is the care that they feel for each other—not just care within families, but care for friends and neighbours, too, and, indeed, for their whole community. The Grenfell community has a lot to teach all of us about the true meaning of community.
It was that care for each other that led to their raising their concerns and fears, over a period of time, about the safety of the building in which they lived. Concerns were brought home to me at a very early stage—when I first met survivors from Grenfell Tower—that they had been raising these issues about the safety of their building over a period of time, and yet those issues, their voices and those concerns had gone unheeded and had been ignored. I want to go on to reference some of the shocking aspects of this report, but I think that one of the most shocking features that has come out of consideration of what happened at Grenfell Tower is that those people had been genuinely raising matters about safety and yet felt that those matters were just completely ignored—and in some cases they were indeed just completely ignored. That was what led to the work to look at social housing across the country. I am grateful that a number of Housing Ministers undertook that work.
I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), the first Housing Minister who started that work, in his place on the Treasury Bench. That work was due to lead to a social housing Green Paper. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reference a social housing White Paper. We are now about to go into an election. There is purdah, but I urge the Government, as soon as possible after Parliament is reconvened, to publish that White Paper, because change is needed to ensure that those who are living in social housing are able to have their voices heard so they can have the confidence that, when they raise issues, those issues will be acted on, and if they are not, they can seek redress in order to ensure that their concerns are being heard.
There are other shocking aspects of this report on which I wish to touch briefly. Some of them relate to the conclusions on the London Fire Brigade. Our emergency services do an amazing job, day in and day out, and there is absolutely no doubt that, on that fateful night, individual firefighters gave totally of themselves. They bravely went into a building with a fire whose like, as they said to me afterwards, they had never seen before, yet they bravely put themselves in danger to try to rescue others. None the less, it is also clear from Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report that there were questions over the command structure, training and communications in London Fire Brigade, which all need to be addressed.
When there is an emergency, we are used to seeing—indeed we expect to see—our emergency services working seamlessly, both in teams within an individual service but also in services working together. Sadly, on that fateful night, that was not the case. Now these were the most challenging of circumstances. None of us should take away from the fact that people were dealing with something that they had not seen the like of before and were having to respond with instant and split-second decisions. But there is absolutely no doubt from the report that the lack of communication and of the passing on of crucial information had an impact on the response. Sir Martin Moore-Bick states in the report:
“The chaotic nature of the communication links meant that neither the control room nor the command units nor the incident commander could know whether rescue attempts had been made in response to calls, or if they had, what had been the outcomes.”
That seamless working together is important within teams but also across the services. It is very important that when our emergency services attend an emergency, they are able to work together in the best possible way to deal with it.
When I was Home Secretary, I oversaw the work on the joint emergency services interoperability principles, or JESIP. The whole purpose of that work was to ensure that there was a way of our emergency services working together that enabled them to provide the service we wanted them to provide. And yet on this night, a major incident was declared by each of the services at different times, but they did not communicate that to each other. Sir Martin Moore-Bick makes that point when he says:
“One of the consequences of the declaration of a Major Incident by the emergency services is that there should be a multi-agency conversation between the control room leads. This was a requirement of the joint operating requirements established under the Joint Doctrine…That was also a requirement of the Procedure Manual…The evidence that such a conversation…took place is at best unclear.”
This need to communicate is very important and it is absolutely right that Sir Martin Moore-Bick has raised it as an issue that needs to be addressed in his recommendations.
I want to comment on what in many ways must be the most heartbreaking aspect of the report for the survivors: the use of the doctrine “stay put”. I can quite understand why there was a doctrine of staying put. The experience was that a fire in a flat within a tower block would normally remain in that flat and would be able to be dealt with in that flat—compartmentalisation or containment within a flat. But of course that did not happen in this circumstance; something else happened because of the cladding on the outside of the building.
The doctrine of “stay put” had been developed for good reasons, based on the normal experiences of firefighters. The problem was not the fact that that was the doctrine in such circumstances; the problem was that there was no flexibility to know how to deal with and respond to different circumstances. As we see in the report, at a point in time—the Prime Minister referenced that point—a decision was taken to evacuate rather than to continue to operate the “stay put” doctrine, but even at that time the messages that were getting through were not clear and the messages being given by the control room were not as clear as they should have been. One of the issues here is making sure that there is training to ensure that those who are making decisions on the ground know that they have the flexibility to make a different decision, but also know when and how to exercise that flexibility.
This doctrine did have an impact. On the Friday after the fire I was visiting survivors in hospital, where I met one family, the father of which told me that he, his wife and child had been told to stay put in their flat and that others had been brought into their flat as a place of safety. There came a point when this father took the decision that they could no longer stay in the flat, so he said what he was going to do and took himself, his wife and his child out of their flat. They survived. The others did not. So this doctrine did have an impact that night.
The worst thing that could happen now would be to lurch to having everyone say, “We can’t have ‘stay put’ at all”, because there will be circumstances in which “stay put” is still the right advice to give. But what is important is that flexibility is provided, and that training is given so that individuals know when and how they can exercise that flexibility and change the advice.
If there is to be this change—a flexibility, under which there may be a full evacuation from time to time—would the right hon. Lady agree that it would be essential for buildings to have sprinkler systems, at least in communal areas, more than one means of escape and a central alarm system, and that Grenfell Tower would have benefited from those measures? Would she support those provisions being introduced in new buildings and retrofitted?
I have been asked about sprinklers on a number of occasions. Of course, the response to the Lakanal House fire was not that sprinklers should be fitted in all high tower blocks, but that the landlord should look at that issue. Sir Martin Moore-Bick is going to address the issue of sprinklers in part 2 of the inquiry, and he references that and makes the point that I have just made about the Lakanal House fire in this report. On the issue of the means of escape, there was a central stairway in Grenfell Tower, and I think firefighters have raised the question of the means of escape in that regard. This is another issue that part 2 of the inquiry is likely to look at, as it is looking at the requirements and regulations necessary for the future.
There are issues about the cladding itself and about the responsibility for why the fire was able to happen because of the circumstances of the building. I set up the inquiry to get to the truth, and Sir Martin Moore- Bick has shown that he is capable of and determined to get to the truth. His report so far has been clear and uncompromising, and I have every expectation that his report on part 2 of the inquiry will also be clear and uncompromising, whoever or whatever it needs to address.
I welcome the Government’s commitments, set out by the Prime Minister, to accept the recommendations, but change requires a willingness to change. I refer to paragraph 28.55 in volume 4 of the report, where Sir Martin Moore-Bick references the evidence of the Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade and says that he feels that it
“only serves to demonstrate that the LFB is an institution at risk of not learning the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire.”
For the families and friends of those who lost their lives, the pain of that loss will never go away. But for their sake, and in memory of all who lost their lives, the lessons must be learned.
Colleagues will see that many hon. and right hon. Members wish to speak in this debate. Time is limited so I will impose a five-minute time limit after the speech from the Scottish National party Front Bench, and that time limit may have to be reduced.
It is my pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who made a very careful and considered speech in response to these matters. It is good to know that the days of establishment cover-ups in the immediate aftermath of tragedies—such as we saw over Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday—are over. Although I find much to disagree with the right hon. Lady about, I know that she has been pivotal in ensuring that there was an inquiry in this case, and that her actions were also pivotal in relation to Hillsborough. That is something about which we can agree.
I welcome on the publication of phase 1 of the reports, but I agree with the Leader of the Opposition when he says that this was an avoidable tragedy, and I will come back to that in a moment.
Before I say anything else, I want, like others, to pay tribute to the resilience of the survivors of this tragedy and the bereaved. Like many other hon. Members, I had the privilege, thanks to you, Mr Speaker, of meeting some of the survivors and bereaved at a reception in your offices. That was of great use to me in understanding their lived experience of this avoidable tragedy, which must be central to how we deal with preventing this sort of thing and ensuring that it never happens again.
As well as paying tribute to the fortitude and dignity of the families—the bereaved—and the survivors, I want, like others, to pay tribute to the bravery of individual firefighters. For most of us, it is really unfathomable that they had the courage to run back and forth in and out of that inferno. I believe that the bereaved families have had very warm words for the coroner, Fiona Wilcox, and tribute should be paid to her, as well as to Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his staff. Of course, tributes should also be paid, as others have said, to the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad), who had to deal with this terrible tragedy on her patch very shortly after she had been elected a Member of Parliament, and has been able to do so, again with great fortitude and resilience, because she knew the area so well.
It is important to remember that this is only phase 1 of the inquiry. Many have argued that perhaps the inquiry was the wrong way round and that phase 1 should have looked at the cause of the fire and phase 2 at the response. There is some force in that, but we are where we are. It is very important to look to the statement that the Fire Brigades Union made, pointing out:
“Before any firefighter arrived that night, Grenfell Tower was”
“a death trap. Firefighters…acted bravely in impossible circumstances, many of them repeatedly risking their own lives to save others.”
Indeed, that is reflected in the report. The Fire Brigades Union goes on to say:
“The true culprits of the fire are those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding.”
It is good that the inquiry has recognised that, and I am sure that phase 2 will spend a lot more time looking at it. Also contributing to this avoidable tragedy were those who gutted the fire safety regime of the United Kingdom, who ignored the warnings from previous fires, and who did not hear the pleas of a community who were worried for their safety.
I cannot help thinking that the story of the avoidable tragedy of Grenfell is a modern tale of two cities. Do we really think that this carnage would have been allowed to happen if the residents of the tower were white, wealthy, middle and upper-class residents such as we find elsewhere in Kensington? Do we really think that the survivors and the bereaved would have waited so long for state support and rehousing if they had been white, wealthy and middle-class? Of course not. This divided city, and our divided society, have developed under the watch of the Conservative party. As others have pointed out, the Prime Minister was Mayor of this great city of London at the time when cuts were made to the fire brigade. There are issues of political responsibility that are properly the province of this House.
Some outside—I am not saying that the hon. and learned Lady is doing this—have said that the fire brigade differentiated its response because of the ethnicity of the people in the building. That is complete and utter nonsense, as I am sure she will agree. On her point about the social class of the people in the in the building, a number of colleagues have referred to the privately owned freehold buildings across the country that are not getting reclad. They are all private blocks that are owned by leaseholders. The social blocks have all been done—perhaps a little slower, but they have all been done. These people are mostly white middle-class, and they are in desperate need of their cladding being taken down and replaced.
I cannot disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s second point, and I also agree with his first point. However, the point that I sought to make was that it has not gone unnoticed by many of us that the social class and ethnicity of the people who died in Grenfell Tower was very different from that of other people who live in the surrounding area, and there is a very strong suspicion that that has led to the some of the shortcomings in this case.
Will the hon. and learned Lady give way?
No, I am going to make some progress.
When this House reassembles after general election 2019, we must not allow political blame for this avoidable tragedy to be deflected. The second phase of this inquiry, I believe, will be uncomfortable for Conservative Ministers and Conservative councillors who sat on their hands or took actions that let circumstances occur that contributed to this tragedy. I believe that phase 2 will be far more uncomfortable for them than phase 1 has been for the fire service—and that is as it should be.
I welcome the undertaking from the Prime Minister to implement all the recommendations for central Government, but I reiterate the question that other hon. Members have asked: will he commit to the requisite funding to implement those recommendations? In the past, many post-death inquiries have made very important recommendations, but there is not always national oversight of those recommendations. There is not a national body keeping track of whether they have been implemented, and the reality is that important recommendations often fall by the wayside.
The hon. and learned Lady is making a very important point. Does she think that as soon as the Government, whichever Government it is, have had a chance to consider the recommendations in detail, they should publish a list of those recommendations, what they are going to do to implement them, how much that will cost, and the timeframe in which they will be delivered?
That is an eminently sensible suggestion.
Others have mentioned Lakanal House. The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) pointed out that the tragedy at Grenfell was not the first time that compartmentation had failed. The Lakanal House fire, which resulted in the deaths of six people, with 15 residents and a firefighter injured, was the subject of a coroner’s inquest. As the hon. Gentleman said, the coroner sent a rule 43 letter to the then Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, on 28 March 2013, recommending that the Westminster Government should
“publish consolidated national guidance in relation to the ‘stay put’ principle and its interaction with the ‘get out and stay out’ policy, including how such guidance is disseminated to residents.”
Ministers promised to review that guidance with the Local Government Association. However, in the four years after the coroner’s letter, no guidance was produced. So the lessons that should have been learned from the Lakanal House fire, and that might have prevented at least the scale of this avoidable tragedy, were not learned. It is vital that this House is empowered to make sure that the recommendations of phase 2 are implemented promptly, because important recommendations have not been implemented promptly in the past.
Does the hon. and learned Lady accept that what took place after the Lakanal House fire should have involved an examination of the Government of the day? That is not to be partisan, but simply to say that it is important that justice applies to everyone. The firemen are not here, but it is important that justice means that anyone, wherever they are and of whichever party—because it may have gone back many years—may be found culpable and must be able to answer for their failure on behalf of these people.
I entirely agree. This is the job of the inquiry, but it is also the job of this House, as I said, to scrutinise the political responsibility for factors contributing to this tragedy.
In Scotland, building regulations are devolved. After a tower block fire in Irvine in 1999, just before devolution kicked in, a Select Committee of this House recommended that all cladding on high-rise dwellings should be non-combustible. Subsequent to devolution, that report was taken seriously by Scottish housing authorities, and building regulations in Scotland were duly amended in 2005. All new high rise domestic buildings in Scotland after that date were, by regulation, fitted with non-combustible cladding or a cladding system that met stringent fire tests, and with sprinklers. The same recommendation was seen as optional south of the border. It appears that that has had tragic consequences, so it is vital that this House finds a way to ensure that the inquiry’s recommendations are properly implemented.
It is also the case that a history of deregulation and its legacy has contributed to this tragedy. That history dates back many years and includes previous Conservative party Administrations’ decisions to cut building regulations drastically and the coalition Government’s cutting of fire budgets by around 28% in real terms. Those are facts. The fact is that the regulatory regime for housing and fire safety created in England has contributed to the scale of this tragedy.
I believe that the coalition Government’s policy of austerity has contributed to conditions surrounding the scale of this tragedy. I am conscious of not taking up too much time, so that others can speak, but Labour Members have mentioned cuts made by the Prime Minister to the London fire service when he was Mayor. I have read carefully comments from Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, who notes that a review of the London Fire Brigade’s resources in 2016 warned against any further cuts to its budget and advised that City Hall
“be ready to mitigate any unacceptable negative impacts arising from cuts in frontline resources”
made by the then Mayor, the Prime Minister. Those allegations come from somebody who knows what he is talking about.
Despite those concerns, the Prime Minister, when he was Mayor of London, went on to insist to Londoners that he had improved fire cover, despite cutting the number of firefighters, fire engines and fire stations. When confronted in the Greater London Assembly chamber about that matter, he told a Labour party Assembly Member to “get stuffed”. I am sorry for that language, Madam Deputy Speaker, but that is a fact, and I have seen the video. It is a great indictment of our politics that that sort of approach to such serious matters is seen as acceptable by some.
As the charity Shelter has said, this tragedy outlines the fact that we need a national conversation about some of the broader policy issues, particularly social housing. In Scotland, even under the constraints of Tory and Lib Dem austerity, we have taken steps to build tens of thousands of new social homes. We have got rid of the right to buy, built council houses and reintroduced security of tenure in the private sector. Those things are all widely accepted in other European democracies, and we need to look at improving them in England and Wales.
Finally, the families must never be forgotten. Working with the organisation Inquest, the families have produced a blueprint for the handling of future disasters. They have called in particular for a co-ordinated response from central and local government and emergency services. They have also recommended that a central point be set up for families to contact about missing relatives and for help and information. The views of the families, whose lived experience is central to our consideration of this avoidable tragedy, must be put at the heart of any work that the next Parliament takes forward, to put right the terrible wrong that occurred on that night.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry). Grenfell is a tragedy that should never have happened, and the likes of it must never happen again. I welcome any report that allows us to learn lessons for the future, but we must not simply learn; we must follow through and apply those lessons. Unfortunately, given the timing of the phase 1 report’s release, I have been unable to read the 1,000 or so pages of the four volumes. That said, as a former firefighter and senior officer in Strathclyde fire brigade, I feel compelled to make a short contribution to this important debate.
I want to take a moment to set the record straight. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West referred to the wealth of the individuals concerned. Firefighters the length and breadth of the United Kingdom will do their very best, irrespective of people’s colour, wealth, religion or gender. It is uniform throughout the UK. We will do our best, irrespective of where people live. If they ask for our assistance, they will get it.
On that dreadful night, firefighters did not set out to fail; and nor did they fail. I am relieved that the inquiry, in its report published today, is not overtly critical of the frontline firefighters, but rather highlights systemic failures. Firefighters respond where others would fear to tread, often putting their own lives on the line. A question I would ask, assuming that the media coverage is accurate, is: why are we regrettably seeing a pattern emerging of the same or similar systemic failures or shortcomings, from which lessons are apparently not being learned and with no timeous action being taken to rectify such failures?
We live in a world where scientific developments and technological advances aim to enhance our safety. That may lead us all on occasions to feel a false sense of security. Indeed, perhaps too often we take such matters at face value and for granted. In the fire and rescue service, there are often specialist divisions, such as fire safety, fire investigation and fire engineering. However, regrettably, fire certification by fire services has given way to fire risk assessments being conducted simply by responsible persons. There needs to be sufficient exchange of relevant information, particularly to the frontline fire crews and operational commanders, including appropriate familiarisation training and support for those who may, in their firefighting role, have less cause to visit, inspect and become familiar with premises.
Many of those improvements have led to a reduction in the number of recorded fires. As a result, practical experience at incidents, as opposed to on fireground training, is in decline, and that gap needs to be addressed. My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) mentioned the Fire Service College at Moreton-in-Marsh, which is a wonderful facility. Under the stewardship of the then chief officer, Brian Sweeney, my old service—the Strathclyde fire and rescue service—built a wonderful, modern training facility at Cambuslang in Scotland.
For many years, compartmentalisation has been seen as offering, in effect, a safe refuge. It has worked well on many occasions, but we have learned the hard way that it may not necessarily offer a safe refuge, due in no small way to construction materials and subsequent modifications that may involve original fire-stopping or fire spread-limiting measures being compromised.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; I call him my hon. Friend because there is an affinity and comradeship between ex-firefighters. In London alone, there have been 5,000 high-rise fires since 2014, and compartmentalisation worked in the vast majority of those. That is not an excuse for the London Fire Brigade not taking evacuation action earlier, but it explains why people arrived at the scene conditioned to expect a certain action, and Grenfell did not act like a normal building.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is correct. In Glasgow, where there are many high-rise flats, that policy has worked well, but as I will come on to say, we need a bit of flexibility. I firmly believe—I think he would share this view—that the events that night at Grenfell were exceptional. They were not normal; they were an extreme. It was a very difficult fire for any responding firefighters or senior officer to manage well.
While rules, procedures and practices are needed for health and safety, they require to be applied in such a manner that we do not stifle freedom of thought. One of the greatest assets in my early days as a firefighter was the use of initiative and improvisation. To some extent, that has been curtailed over time by the fear of disciplinary action, of being sued in an increasingly litigious society, or of departing from the perceived norm or any policy of long standing. Policies are often quite rigid and lack the flexibility that takes account of the inexact science of firefighting and the unpredictability of both fire and human behaviour.
The greatest question of all is: who was informed, and what revised fire risk assessment took place when the whole dynamic and risks presented at Grenfell changed? A high-rise building was draped in flammable cladding and became an inferno, costing the lives of 72 individuals. Their deaths must not be in vain. I would just comment that, as we speak today in this Chamber, there are still flaws in the building regulations in Scotland. We can still apply flammable cladding. I hope that the Scottish Government will put that right; I am sure that they will.
My sympathies go to the families of those who lost their lives in the Grenfell tragedy, but my sympathies also go to the families of the frontline firefighters, who have to deal with their loved one’s experiences on that dreadful night of 14 June 2017, together with external pressures from very intense public scrutiny. Grenfell must be a catalyst for change and secure improvements for fire safety and firefighting not only for the London fire brigade, but for the whole of the UK. Finally, I thank Sir Martin and those who gave evidence and shared their experience of that dreadful night, which will haunt many for years to come.
Order. As the next speaker is the constituency MP, I will remove the time limit, but I know the hon. Lady is aware of the time pressures. I call Emma Dent Coad.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to overrun the time limit.
There is one finding in this 1,000 page document that I welcome without hesitation: my former neighbour whose Hotpoint fridge freezer burst into flames, the match lighting a bonfire created by others, is entirely blameless and, indeed, did everything he could and should have done to alert the emergency services and his neighbours. He has been vilified by the gutter press, not by our community, and I would welcome an opportunity to reunite him with the neighbours he was advised—wrongly, I believe—never to speak to again, at huge personal cost to himself. Another point I welcome with some hesitation is that the building was non-compliant at the time of the fire. This finding, although very welcome, is left hanging with no commentary and no resolution.
Much of the rest of this story is, in my opinion, a litany of vested interest protecting itself. How very disappointing it is that the inquiry has to a certain extent gone along with this narrative, as we feared. I do hope people will bear with me, but I did not have the benefit of having the full report on Monday morning, as The Daily Telegraph seems to have done. I will be giving a visceral response, and I will give a more measured response in time to come, when I have absorbed all the details of the report.
For me—and I have spent a mere four hours reading the documents—one of the worst of many disappointments is the naming of some of the firefighters who, as has already been said, risked their lives in a bonfire made by corporate greed and by the disdain and complacency of politicians over many years. To create some balance and to point the finger of blame as I personally see it, I am naming some of those at the top of the pyramid of responsibility.
I am going to start with the chief executive of Arconic, which makes the cladding, Chip Blankenship, who, when he left in 2017, had a going-away present of $17.5 million, which is 500 times the earnings of a firefighter who ran into a bonfire that he was potentially responsible for. The chief executive of Whirlpool now, Marc Bitzer, who manufactured the now banned plastic fridge freezer that burst into flames and lit the bonfire, was on record as earning $11.8 million, which is 300 times as much as firefighters. The chief executive of Celotex, Pierre-André de Chalendar, made a mere £4 million from salary and dividends, and the chief executive of Rydon, Robert Bond, who constructed the bonfire of now banned combustible products—and did a pretty shoddy job of it from what we gather, with gaps creating chimneys, badly fitting windows and dodgy fixings, some fitted upside down which encouraged the fire to spread—earned a mere £2 million, which is a mere 80 times that of firefighters. All these men are responsible to some extent for the events of 14 June 2017, but if they are named at all, it will not be for two years, when their army of lawyers will have created a firewall between them and any degree of accountability.
I also name the Prime Minister who, as Mayor of London, was responsible for the brutal cuts that weakened the fire service and forced it to economise, and who, in his current role, will potentially happily allow further cuts to an already depleted service. I do hope that Ministers will deny that. When, as the Mayor, he was challenged about the cuts—at the time I was fighting, and I fought very hard, for North Ken fire station, which I hope we have managed to save—he, as we have heard, emitted a foul expletive, just to show his disdain for the concerns of his fellow human beings.
I also name the current chair of the Conservative party, James Cleverly, who, as the then chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, presided over those very same cuts and takes no responsibility for the outcome of those cuts. He did nothing in the aftermath of the Lakanal House fire of 2009 in which six people died.
May I just check whether, in line with the standard protocol, the hon. Lady advised my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), whom she has referred to by name rather than by constituency, that she would mention him in her speech?
Order. I believe that the hon. Lady referred to the Mayor. Did she use those words?
And James Cleverly.
I am not sure whether the hon. Lady used an actual name, but if so, that would be incorrect. The right hon. Gentleman was here earlier, but I am sure she will bear in mind that it is important not to refer to right hon. and hon. Members by name.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I would also like to name the previous Fire Ministers and Housing Ministers Brandon Lewis and Gavin Barwell, and Eric Pickles, the then Secretary of State, who turned a deaf ear to pleas about the fire cuts, as well as our current Fire Minister, whom I have had many conversations with. I feel that I have spent two years—I apologise for this—shouting into a void.
I also name the former Kensington and Chelsea cabinet member in charge of the refurbishment, Rock Feilding-Mellen, a man whom we have no love for in North Kensington. He abandoned his fourth home, a modest London crash-pad, which he had bought for cash, that now overlooks the shrouds of the Grenfell Tower he was so keen to improve the appearance of. He is a man who called my beautiful Golborne ward a “ghetto”, but he can sleep at night safe in one of his three stately homes, one of which appears to be a castle. He is a man who demanded good prices on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, and I am sure this will come out in the second phase of the inquiry in two years’ time.
I also name the past leader of the council, Nick Paget-Brown, a man who was happy to spend £250,000 on pre-Raphaelite paintings, but as the tower blazed behind him on that horrible morning—as my neighbours burned to death behind him—he said on camera that the residents had been offered sprinklers and refused them, which was an entirely provable black lie.
It is these people—cushioned by their millions, devoid of any conscience, protected by taxpayer-funded legal teams, reputation advisers and empathy coaches—who are the guilty ones here. They sleep easy in their beds, while half of North Kensington, including myself, have sleepless nights broken by nightmares, and tens of thousands of our fellow human beings across the country live in dangerous buildings, some of whom have put their life savings into them—all lost. Those I have named and the system they represent built a bonfire, lit the match and stood by wagging their fingers as firefighters, ill-trained and ill-equipped for a situation that should never have happened, ran into an inferno to save lives.
This interim report has failed us, as far as I am concerned. It does nothing to protect people tonight or into the future. In addition to protecting corporate interests and declining to look into potential dodgy dealings or even possible corruption, which is for police to investigate, it fails even to support the recommendations that would stop this man-made atrocity happening again. There are some things that could have been done at this stage, and they have not been done. Why should we wait another two years for that? These failures of corporate interests, the complacency of politicians over many years and the failures of this report mean, to my mind, that Grenfell 2 could happen tomorrow. I wonder whether they, if their children were living in a flat in the sky wrapped in solid petrol, would wake up to the potential disaster and legislate now.
The hon. Lady is making some fair points, but there have been failures over decades in terms of free regulation in relation to fire, and is it helpful at this point in time simply to use this issue in a party political perspective, as she is doing? This is about failures of previous Governments and, one could argue, failures of the current Government. Nevertheless, this should not be about party politics.
I acknowledge that, and I have not pointed to any parties at all. Indeed, there has been complacency and failure over many, many years.
If we wait another two years, we will see another Grenfell, and a finger of blame will point at the Government and their failures to act, and at this interim report. “Stay put” was the correct advice in Grenfell Tower for 45 years, until the building’s safety was compromised by a refurbishment designed by five years of bad decision making. This is a national Government policy that the fire services have been asking be reviewed for particular buildings for many years, ever since the first cladding fires. Firefighters are being blamed for Government policy failures and the Government still refuse to review the policy—it is “in due course”—because to do so would be, I believe, an admission of guilt.
I hope that the Government will reconsider and take immediate action. This is urgent. We must deal with safety and building regulations without delay. If another Grenfell happens, the Government will have knowingly sent residents and firefighters to their deaths. Let that be on their conscience and in their nightmares forever.
Order. Just a reminder that if right hon. and hon. Members are to refer to other right hon. or hon. Members who have not been in the debate, they should give them notice of that. I now impose a four-minute time limit.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the content and tone of his speech. I was appalled that this report was leaked two days in advance, and I was extremely worried that the fire brigade would be used as an excuse and blamed. That is quite wrong. I spoke to the fire brigade and found that it has dealt with internal learning and improvement, predetermined attendance, new equipment, training, control improvements, information gathering and other matters.
The reality is that Parliament is to blame, because over many years we have not prioritised this issue at all. Of course, we come together when there is such a tragedy, but over many years Parliament has not prioritised the situation. I gently say to colleagues that we have all been sent emails about fire training measures in this place, but I am afraid that the take-up among colleagues is relatively small, and I hope that we will do better.
We are all aware that when the fire brigade has to attend a fire the magnitude of Grenfell, that is because of a failure in the building system, which according to Dame Judith Hackitt is seriously broken and not fit for purpose. As we have heard, phase 2 of the public inquiry will commence next year and look at the original design, construction and composition of the tower and the subsequent modifications both prior to and during 2012 to 2016, including compliance with regulations and guidance and industry practice.
I only wish that we in the all-party parliamentary fire safety rescue group had been listened to many years ago. I am delighted that the group has three Members who were Ministers and two firefighters, all of whom make excellent contributions. Our group will be represented at stage 2 of the public inquiry by the group’s adviser, former chief fire officer Ronnie King.
As I said, the fire tragedy that unfolded at Grenfell Tower cannot be laid at the door of the firefighters. I have had only a brief opportunity to look at the 1,000-page report, but I want to pick out one or two words. Sir Martin Moore-Bick says that the London Fire Brigade’s readiness for the Grenfell fire was “gravely inadequate”. He stated that
“incident commanders had received no training in how to recognise the need for an evacuation or how to organise one”.
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of fire services really should be picking up that sort of thing. Whether it failed to notice it or just failed to act is a matter of grave concern.
There was no contingency plan for the evacuation of Grenfell Tower. Assurances had been provided following the 2013 inquest into Lakanal House that this kind of issue had been resolved. It clearly had not. The London Fire Brigade has an operational database of buildings in London and has a risk assessment policy accessible to all operational firefighters. The information available about Grenfell Tower contained almost nothing of any use to an incident commander called to a fire. I also understand that what was there did not reflect the significant refurbishment work that had gone on. Once again, Her Majesty’s inspectorate really should have picked up that shortcoming. The first incident commanders, although experienced, were of relatively junior rank. They were faced with a situation for which they had not been adequately prepared, and I know the fire service will look at that.
We should not argue any more about this. We should ensure that the cladding is dealt with everywhere in private and public buildings, we should ensure that sprinklers are retrospectively fitted, and we should ensure that a tragedy such as Grenfell never ever happens again.
Order. I am sorry; after the next speaker, I will have to reduce the time limit to three minutes.
I thank the Prime Minister for the tone in which he opened the debate, the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), for setting up the inquiry in the first place, and Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his inquiry team for the detailed work they have done. I also thank the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad). It is entirely understandable that the community is angry and wants justice. She expressed that, and she is right to do so. When she says this is urgent, she is absolutely right.
Nobody could not be moved by the horror of reading or listening to the testimonies of those who experienced that fateful night: the horror of people being trapped in a burning building, or of knowing that their loved ones were. In the report they then read the heartbreaking finding that advice to stay put was given to people who could otherwise have escaped, and that led to loss of life.
There are so many lessons to be learnt, but the truth is that the people who survived, and their friends and family, bear this burden every single day, as do those from our emergency services. There are the firefighters who bravely ran into danger in that hellish building—that inferno. There are those who gave medical support to the people who were affected, and those who picked up the pieces in the community, including people in the education service. I am struck by the story of the young woman who escaped from the tower and the next day went to set her GCSE chemistry exam. The reach of Grenfell, with the number of people whose lives were affected, or who have helped those affected, is huge. It continues to this day.
The report makes absolutely clear that the Grenfell tragedy was the result of several institutional failings. Simply put, it should not have happened. We need solutions now to ensure that it can never happen again—from local authorities having emergency planning procedures and risk assessments to the fire service having the support needed on lessons that must be learned about communication. It is also about the regulations made in this place about cladding and materials, the rules that we have for buildings, and learning the lessons from previous tragedies such as Lakanal House.
Everyone deserves a safe and secure home to live in, and, bluntly, the residents of Grenfell did not have that. It is unacceptable that that cladding was ever approved for use on buildings such as Grenfell. In part of the report, Sir Martin Moore-Bick finds that it is hard to understand whether it could ever have been compliant with building regulations—it is important that that is fully investigated in phase 2—yet 200 buildings still have that cladding today. People are going to sleep in buildings where that is the case. That is not good enough two and a half years on.
It is incredibly important that the next phase of the inquiry can proceed. It needs to be comprehensive and detailed, and it needs to do its work as quickly as possible, but the very fact that that cladding is still there on buildings more than two years on should shock us all. It is long past time that we matched our words with actions.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate, and I am honoured to follow the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson).
I need to start by acknowledging the grief, pain and anger of the bereaved and the survivors from Grenfell. No one can be anything other than deeply saddened at the huge loss of life. Anything other than complete condemnation of this event is unacceptable. No one escapes their share of the blame from Grenfell. This includes the London Fire Brigade, and I speak as a former operational firefighter with the brigade. London Fire Brigade is not hiding from the criticism levelled at it, but the catastrophic failure that is Grenfell was not caused by the London Fire Brigade, which did its best to deal with it. Compartmentalisation normally works. I have fought high-rise fires, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) has, too. It has saved countless lives over many years, but Grenfell was not compartmentalised. The building failure led to London Fire Brigade making many mistakes of which, I am sure, it is absolutely ashamed and that it regrets deeply.
Responsibility for what happened lies with us here in Parliament, with the Government and with many others—local government, building suppliers, construction companies and the rest. The focus of the inquiry is, in phase 1, on the initial evidence supplied by witnesses called by the inquiry. Subsequent phases will apportion more responsibility to a wider number of organisations and individuals. I believe therefore that the criticism of London Fire Brigade has to be viewed with that perspective—that there is a bigger picture and that it will subsequently be uncovered. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for his kind words about London Fire Brigade, to the Leader of the Opposition and to Sir Martin Moore-Bick for commending the brigade’s bravery in his report.
The conspiracy theorists have had a field day, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) for putting on record that the resident who suffered from the fire and was vilified for it has been proved to be completely innocent. There were accusations that London Fire Brigade had used different operational firefighting techniques because of ethnicity, as well as accusations of cover-up and that the body count was not accurate; all these things are not only offensive but insulting to everyone involved in firefighting all the way through.
Nobody can deal with the pain of the survivors or bring back the victims. What we all have to do is to learn the lessons; I believe that London Fire Brigade has, and it is obvious that that is already being demonstrated. I say to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government that cladding is still a huge issue, both in terms of safety and policy.
Finally, I thank the inquiry. People said that it would not get to the truth and that it would be a whitewash. I had faith that it would never be that, and the inquiry has demonstrated that it is digging, and digging deep. There is a lot more to do, but the first phase demonstrates that the inquiry knows what happened and is telling the world.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), perhaps making his last speech in this House. I thank him for his friendship over the years and his unswerving commitment to fire safety. He will certainly be remembered for that. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) for her outstanding work on behalf of her constituents. This disaster happened shortly after she had been elected, and I do not think that anyone in this country could have had better representation through the difficulties that the community faced and the work that she has done on their behalf.
I thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick for his recommendations in the inquiry. Of course, they need to be implemented and the funding needs to be made available. To pick out certain salient points, it is very clear that the cladding on that building did not meet fire or building regulations. It was there illegally. Eventually, the inquiry will look at how it came to be in that situation, but at some point someone will have to be held accountable because if that material had not been on that building, the disaster would not have happened. That is absolutely key.
The second issue, a concern to which Sir Martin draws attention in paragraph 33.6, is the delay in getting action in removing this cladding from other buildings. Indeed, the Secretary of State has said that he has concerns about that. The Government were too late in providing funding for social housing and in providing money for the private sector. They now have to act to make sure that disputes between freeholders and leaseholders in the private sector do not lead to further delays and to support local authorities in taking enforcement action.
What can the Government do? We referred to this in the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee the other day: they should act quickly to deal with the conflicts of interest in testing, where producers go round from one testing organisation to another to find one that will approve their product with no public transparency about the products that have failed various tests. That must be rectified quickly.
As I said to the Secretary of State the other day, the process whereby developers in high-risk buildings can appoint their friends to be the building inspectors who sign off the work is not acceptable. It cannot be allowed to continue. I have referenced a block of student accommodation in Sheffield evacuated the other day because the building inspector had not even been on site to give approval to the building and sign it off. That, again, needs to be stopped here and now.
Finally, reference has been made to non-ACM cladding. There are materials on half a million properties—half a million flats and apartments—in this country now that would not be allowed and approved on a new building but that are thought acceptable, and people have to stay in those homes and live in them at night. That cannot be right either; that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency as well.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
Khadija Saye, my friend who died, was Facebooking her friends at 1.47 that night. I now know, as a result of this inquiry and the review by the fire brigade, that firemen were on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower at 2 am. I so wish that those fire officers—and I am sure they do as well—had knocked on the doors of people on the 20th floor so that they could make their way out. The “stay put” advice stayed in place until 2.47. Khadija made her way out of her flat with her mother at 3.14, an hour and 14 minutes after she should have done. She died on the 10th floor and her mother died on the 13th.
This report goes into tremendous detail about the leadership, the co-ordination and the communication of the advice that was offered to tenants, but of course it is important to recognise that much of this had been explored previously in the Lakanal House fire, the coroner’s report that followed it and, frankly, the lack of progress that should have been made following that tragedy.
But we are not really talking about a tragedy; we are talking about what many see as a crime. For that reason, I look forward to the next phase of this inquiry. I look forward to establishing whether companies like Arconic, Rydon, Celotex and Whirlpool, leaders of the local authority, mayors and Ministers will be held to account for the decisions that were made.
I also look forward to the Metropolitan police’s inquiry and review of the evidence and the prosecutions that many of us hope will follow. I said on the day afterwards that this was corporate manslaughter, and it cannot be right that people with lots of money escape justice if they are culpable. So, yes to the inquiry, but also to the Metropolitan police examination of this issue.
Everything I do in relation to this is in memory of that wonderful young woman who had so much to offer this country and lost her life in what was a preventable fire and all those victims and survivors who deserved better from the country in which they lived.
Let me start by joining other Members in commemorating the 72 people who lost their lives in the Grenfell tragedy, which was completely needless: it was a man-made disaster. I also want to acknowledge the tireless efforts of community organisations but, most importantly, of public servants such as firefighters, who worked incredibly hard to save people.
As others have pointed out, the issue with ACM cladding affects many thousands of residents across the country, in social housing as well as in private housing blocks. My constituency has among the largest number of ACM-clad blocks, and Tower Hamlets as a whole probably has the most blocks. Families are living in fear of their lives because of the failure of the Government to take urgent action. After continuous campaigning with Inside Housing, Grenfell United, the survivors and colleagues across the House, some funding has been provided, but it is not enough and it does not address the wider systemic failures that the Grenfell fire disaster exposed. That is why we have continually called on the Government to ensure that the resources are available and to take action to go after private freehold owners of private blocks, because our constituents are being left to take that fight to them. It has been over two and a half years, and very few of those blocks have had work undertaken on them to remove cladding. The lack of urgency from the Government is extremely worrying, because we all have to deal with the spectre of other fires that have taken place since Grenfell and the risk of further fires and disasters happening if action is not taken quickly.
In addition, the Government’s actions to deregulate have meant that residents do not have recourse to the support necessary to deal with problems when they arise. I ask Ministers to urgently address that matter rather than waiting for the inquiry’s further findings and reports to come out. The Government know what the problems are. They know that these actions can be taken immediately to provide remedy and reassurance to our constituents and the resources that are required to ensure that they can live in safety.
My final point is that, instead of constantly making excuses, the Government should ensure that they take action. That is what we all expect. That is what the survivors of Grenfell expect, and it is what the victims deserve.
The tragic, avoidable loss of life in the Grenfell Tower disaster is seared into our national consciousness as a shocking example of corporate greed and governmental complacency. The firefighters who responded on the night acted with commendable courage and professionalism, and yet, by choosing to focus on the fire and emergency services in its first phase, the inquiry has made a scapegoat of those who risked their lives to save others. The Labour party welcomes a thorough investigation into the disaster, and it is important that the LFB recognises where there were issues and where it can improve, but firefighters who go into burning buildings to save others must not be blamed for this disaster. I am particularly concerned by the inquiry’s unprecedented decision to name individual firefighters—I think that is shocking.
To deliver justice for the community, we must hold to account those who repeatedly ignored expert advice, deregulated building safety laws and allowed such dangerous materials to be fitted. This inquiry ought to have considered what led to the catastrophic fire at Grenfell before it looked at events on the night. Any recommendations should be implemented and fully funded, but nationally, not just in London. The inquiry’s report confirmed that the 2016 refurbishment of Grenfell Tower was catastrophically non-compliant with fire safety regulations. It also confirmed that the flammable cladding was a primary cause of the rapid spread of the fire, contrary to evidence given by the manufacturer. It took just 12 minutes for the fire to spread 19 floors to the roof.
The Government had been consistently warned about the danger of high-rise residential fires, and the coroner’s report on the Lakanal House fire in 2013 recommended a review of the “stay put” policy, retrofitting sprinklers and clear guidance on compartmentalisation, but the Government ignored that expert advice and failed to act.
In the two years since the disaster, the Government have let down Grenfell survivors with inadequate housing—that is disgraceful. They have dragged their heels on safety regulations and left people to live in unsafe buildings. The only meaningful reform of building regulations has been a ban of combustible materials on select buildings. There has been no review of “stay put”, nothing to ensure that sprinklers are installed and no widespread reform of building regulations. The deep and damaging cuts to our fire service continue. It is time that the Government—or perhaps the next Government—put people before profit and that we prioritised delivering justice for the local community and confronted the ongoing fire safety threat to communities across the UK.
I have only a few seconds left, so I just say this: we are all analysing what happened on the night, but my feelings are for the families and bereaved who are affected. Let us all spare them a thought today—they are certainly at the forefront of my thoughts.
The inquiry and the Government’s wider response had two obligations. One was to get justice for the families and survivors of the Grenfell disaster, and the other was to make sure that nothing like this could ever happen again. I welcome Martin Moore-Bick finding as a matter of fact that the content of the ACM cladding was the principal reason the flames spread so rapidly on the outside of the building. That clarity provides us with a helpful basis for stage 2 of the inquiry, however frustrated the community and survivors feel, quite understandably, about the length of the process.
The fact is, however, that far too many people are still living in properties with either ACM or other flammable cladding. For example, it was confirmed this summer that in London alone 315 joint inspections had taken place between the London Fire Brigade and local authority housing officers of tall residential buildings with flammable cladding. Some 26 of those were in my borough of Westminster—the third highest in London after Tower Hamlets and Greenwich. Those people are living in fear in blighted accommodation. This week, The Times has confirmed its findings that there are half a million owners of properties in the private sector who cannot sell or remortgage their properties because of the uncertainty over Government advice. This is having incredibly damaging consequences for their lives and mental health. We need greater speed. We do not have to wait for stage 2 of the inquiry to make progress in removing flammable cladding.
The Government have also failed to tackle some of the consequences of the complexities around properties with multiple tenure, such as council blocks with some privately owned properties in them, which is one reason there has been so little progress on the retrofitting of sprinklers. Westminster Council was going to make progress on that, but could not do so, and still cannot do so, because there remains a lack of clarity about its rights to enter those properties.
Finally, the Government promised us a wholesale rethinking of the attitude towards social tenants. Social tenancy was part of the approach to be reviewed. We have seen nothing of that change in attitude. Only this week, we saw it from the ex-councillor from Barnet, Brian Coleman, on the “Victoria Derbyshire” show, showing complete contempt for council tenants in temporary accommodation. It is really important that in addition to making the essential progress on fire safety, we carry through this rethink of our whole attitude towards social tenants.
With hindsight, I think we could have had part 2 of the inquiry first, because those are the difficult and complex issues of culpability that need to be addressed. Although there are policy issues such as “stay put” that come out of part 1, there is also a concentration on individual action. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad), whom I, too, compliment on the role she has played: I would rather the politicians and the corporate chisellers had been identified.
Very little progress has been made on cladding. I have read the briefings for this debate from the Royal Institute of British Architects, the London Fire Brigade and Rockwool. Yes, there is a ban on combustible cladding on high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres, but what about non-residential high-rise buildings, including hotels and offices? What about high-risk buildings under 18 metres, such as schools, hospitals, care homes and sheltered housing, and what about the range of materials? It is not just ACM cladding; there is now the high-pressure laminate cladding and many other types. The Government have only scratched the surface in relation to these matters.
On the “stay put” policy, I intervened on the former Prime Minister because I hoped she might agree and say not just that these things might be in the inquiry, but that, if there is a problem fitting sprinklers in leasehold properties, at least they could be put in communal areas. One cannot vary the “stay put” policy unless there is a reliable means of evacuation, which requires more than one means of escape. Planning consent is being given now for tower blocks in my constituency built on the Grenfell model with one central staircase. That has to change. We have to have alarm systems.
We also have to crack down on product safety. A block of flats in my constituency, Shepherds Court, which was not compartmentalised, caught fire a year before Grenfell. That fire was also caused by a defective white good manufactured by the Whirlpool corporation. We need to be much tighter on these issues.
My final point goes beyond the Moore-Bick inquiry, but it concerns a matter that the Government have themselves highlighted. I have as yet seen no sign of a changed attitude towards social housing generally. Less than a mile from Grenfell are the West Kensington Gibbs Green estates, which, through the collusion of developers and Conservative politicians, have been blighted for 10 years. Two thousand people have lived in those homes without any security because of the greed of developers, who are now suffering because of the current climate. I should like the Secretary of State to go down to those estates with me, and see whether that changed attitude can apply not just to fire safety in Grenfell but across the board in social housing.
The Government have never fully accepted their responsibility for failings in the building fire safety regulations. The lack of clarity in those regulations was identified by the coroner at the inquest following the fatal Lakanal House fire as long ago as 2013, but Ministers failed to act. That lack of clarity meant that fire safety tests on cladding and insulation combinations were unreliable. Builders, developers, architects, planners—none of them knew with any certainty whether materials, or combinations of materials, were safe or complied with the regulations when they went up on buildings. A series of Ministers who were directly responsible for the failure to correct the problem were later rewarded with promotions, including to the Cabinet. That tells the victims’ families that this Government do not care, when Ministers are rewarded for such serious errors of judgment.
The Government have now announced, belatedly, a partial ban on flammable cladding on some new buildings, but they are still allowing it to go up on schools, hospitals and residential blocks less than six storeys high, and on hotels. I cannot imagine a single parent who would be happy to know that their child’s school was covered in flammable cladding, but the Government do not seem to think that it is a problem.
The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), rightly expressed and echoed concerns that fire safety issues raised by Grenfell Tower residents had been ignored. How much more shocking, then, that we continue to ignore issues raised by thousands of families who are still living in blocks covered in flammable cladding today. That is, quite simply, negligence on a grand scale.
The Government’s main objective throughout all this seems to have been to absolve themselves of blame, not to right the wrongs for which they are responsible. Far too many people are still stranded in potentially dangerous homes, facing bills that they cannot afford to pay for failures that have absolutely nothing to do with them, and that is simply not acceptable. I am left wondering, the victims are left wondering, and thousands of people living in accommodation of this type are left wondering what more needs to happen before this negligent Government finally take the necessary action to keep every home safe from the kind of tragedy that so horrifically destroyed 72 lives at Grenfell Tower.
I commend what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) and what has been said by many other Members, particularly the Leader of the Opposition. Let me also pause for a moment to convey my sincere tribute and deepest sympathies to the families who have been through the most appalling, absolutely dreadful experience over the past two years.
I want to reinforce some of the points made by colleagues from London, but also to make the point that this is a national problem, and a very serious one. It affects towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom. In my own area, Reading, several thousand people live in blocks of flats, some of which are very tall, and there is a significant expansion in the number of towers in the town. Those who travel there by train will see that a huge new tower block is being built right next to the station. There are plans for another enormous tower block on top of the Butts Centre, and the process is continuing as we rapidly urbanise and become more like an outer-London borough. Yet at the same time we face significant problems with cladding, and other fire safety issues which have not been fully discussed here today.
Immediately after Grenfell, four blocks with the unsafe cladding Members have been describing were identified in our town. Some of that is being rectified only now, two years after the disaster. Is it not awful that, in the fifth wealthiest country in the world, we cannot get our act together to solve such problems in a medium-sized, wealthy town?
To make matters worse, new problems are being discovered all the time. In the past few weeks, in a development that was finished in the late 2000s or perhaps 2013, a block containing 200 to 300 people was identified as having dangerous cladding of a different type from the kind we have been discussing today. There is also a series of other problems. I was briefed about this by Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, to whom I pay tribute along with other colleagues in the fire service around the country. It was deeply worried about a whole series of related and interconnected problems in building safety that are not being addressed by central Government. The fire brigade felt that it did not have the resources or the powers to intervene, and it was unable to get the necessary support from building control because the regulations had been stripped away. This is very serious.
I can give examples of poor conversions in which builders have unwittingly knocked through partition walls, allowing the potential for fire to spread through large blocks without any interruption. There was a case of that in Slough that the fire service was deeply concerned about. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North said, fire services are also concerned about the cladding on a whole range of other buildings, including commercial buildings, schools and health buildings. They are also worried about the serious problems of houses in multiple occupation, including conversions over chip shops or takeaway premises. Some of these are deeply unsatisfactory, because a fire could easily be caused by the business premises. There are also examples of Victorian buildings in densely populated areas being wrongly converted. [Interruption.] I appreciate the pressure on time, Madam Deputy Speaker. Thank you so much for letting me make these points. I call on the Government to act urgently.
I am pleased to be able to speak in this important debate. I wish to declare an interest as a member and co-chair of the Fire Brigades Union parliamentary group. I would like to thank members of the FBU who gave up their time this week to brief me and other MPs on the implications of the report, and to speak to us about their concerns. I would also like to pay tribute to my good and hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) for her work, her remarkable personal courage and her bravery in naming the names that need to be named, and more generally for the work that she has done following the tragedy. I want to acknowledge and pay my respects to the victims and their families and, indeed, to the whole community of Grenfell and to all those who have been terribly touched by the tragedy. I also want to acknowledge the contribution of, and express solidarity with, the fire and rescue services and the firefighters who put their own safety and lives at risk on that most dreadful day.
In the little time I have, I want to make a couple of quick points about the inquiry that I hope are salient. Like others, I believe the inquiry has been conducted back to front. It might have been more valuable if we could have looked at some of the corporate aspects at the same time and the two aspects could have been run in parallel. Individual politicians and Ministers, including senior Ministers, should be held to account for their actions and the consequences of their policy decisions. I was just thinking about other common strands in this Parliament, where Ministers failed to accept responsibility for the consequences of the decisions. We call it culpability, don’t we? We saw it with the Windrush scandal and the then Home Secretary. We also saw it to a large degree with the May train timetable fiasco under the then Transport Secretary, and now we are seeing the tragic consequence of the dreadful loss of life at Grenfell Tower.
We have to hold the Prime Minister to account. People were huffing and puffing about that, but when he was Mayor of London, he was responsible—despite protestations from the fire authority and from London MPs—for the closure of 10 fire stations, the loss of 27 fire engines and 600 firefighters, and the cutting of 10 of the 52 fire safety inspectors. Someone mentioned the role of fire control, which is absolutely critical. He cut fire control by a quarter over that period. So in my opinion, the inquiry’s decision that phase 1 should focus on the night of the fire has given a reprieve to some of the companies, individuals and politicians who should be held account for their decisions.
I pay tribute to the families and people from the Grenfell community who are here to listen to this important debate. Upon reading the report, all of us should have the human reactions of anger, grief and shock at what happened on the fateful day of 14 June 2017. Those who lost their lives could have been our friends, our brothers, our cousins, our parents or our grandparents. They had their futures ahead of them. Birthdays, engagements, exams, graduations—they had a lot to live for. However, we know now that that tragic loss of life could to some extent have been prevented. Regardless of the politics, the families and the community deserve truth and justice, and this first report, in its clarity and bleakness, goes a step in that direction. It does not answer all the families’ questions, but I hope that the next report and the police inquiry will ultimately offer the necessary closure.
I commend the fire officers on the night for dealing with an unimaginable tragedy. Much has been said about the report today, but not much has been said in this House about compassion. One thing that came out of this event was the compassion of the people of London. Indeed, I think the Evening Standard managed to raise £7.4 million to support the families and the community. However, we know that all that is no substitute for the local authority doing its work to ensure that people are permanently housed properly as dignity requires. There is a lot that needs to be done, and there are many actions that the Government need to take, but this should not be about cost. Public safety—not just in Grenfell, but around the country—should be the most important issue in our considerations.
The interest in this debate and the abbreviated speeches that people have been forced to make underline the fact that this must be only the start of this House’s debates on the results and findings of the phase 1 report that was published today. I thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his staff for the huge amount of work that they have done on the first phase of the inquiry, and I thank all those who contributed to the inquiry with oral, written and expert evidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) quite rightly said that there is a bigger picture to come with the second phase of the inquiry, but this report is, as he said, digging deep and telling the world what it needs to know.
Most of all, I pay tribute to the Grenfell survivors, the families of the victims, and the community in north Kensington, who have conducted themselves with such dignity during the course of this painful inquiry. I say to them, “You have suffered unimaginable trauma and loss, but thank you for having the courage to share this and the resolve to turn your grief into the fight for justice and change.” It is with them in mind that I say now what I said in the days immediately after the terrible Grenfell fire: the Labour party is totally dedicated to seeing all survivors get the help they need, to getting new homes for those who need them, to bringing all those culpable to justice, and to putting in place every measure needed to prevent a fire like Grenfell from happening again.
We heard those sentiments in the days after that fire, and we must learn the lessons and never let this happen again. We heard that again today in the speech of the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who said that we must turn words into action. However, nearly two and a half years on, it is shocking and shameful that we still cannot say with confidence that a fire like Grenfell could not happen again in this country, a point that the Secretary of State himself conceded on a podcast last week.
The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), was quite right to say that Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his team could not have produced a thoughtful and thorough report like this without the testimony of survivors, and her contribution today was also thorough and thoughtful. She was right to say that the central important finding, which I will come back to if I have time, is that the cladding was non-compliant. She noted that the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s report were accepted by the Government, but I say to her and the House that that report was 18 months ago and still no legislation has been introduced, let alone implemented. She spoke movingly about what she said was one of the most shocking things: residents of Grenfell telling her how they had raised concerns about the safety of the block but had been ignored. She rightly said that the Government then introduced a social housing Green Paper, but that report was 15 months ago and still we are only promised a White Paper as a follow-up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) again demonstrated her relentless quest for justice and to speak, on behalf of her constituents, the hardest truths to those in power. My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) was right to pay tribute to her and to the work of the FBU. The Secretary of State has a number of points to take from this debate—an agenda for action that is still not done.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) knows, as a result of the report, more about the death of Khadija and her mother. He reminded us that many friends and survivors look to phase 2 of the inquiry not just for answers and truth, as in phase 1, but for justice and convictions.
The hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) spoke, with great authority from his experience in the fire service, about systematic shortcomings, with lessons not being learned or changes made.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) rightly said that he was appalled by the leaking of the report, as were we. It was embargoed so that the survivors had time to read it in full, rather than see bits in the media. He was right that it is a job for Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services to ensure that the required action follows.
The Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), said that the report rightly says that there are serious concerns about the serious delays in getting dangerous cladding off the side of buildings. There is a big question for the Government, because cladding that is now banned on new blocks is in place on thousands of existing blocks. My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) rightly spoke about constituents of hers feeling alone in fighting private block owners to get them to remove and replace Grenfell-style cladding. When eight in 10 blocks with Grenfell-style cladding still have it in place nearly two and a half years on, it demands more from the Government. The Prime Minister said that nearly all buildings have work in hand. He is quite simply wrong. Sixty-nine block owners do not even have a plan in place to remove this cladding.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) was right about the singular importance of retrofitting sprinklers. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) spoke about the shortfalls in the powers of councils as planning and inspection authorities, which the Government must fix. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) rightly said that the Government have only scratched the surface because of the other materials and other buildings that are still at risk.
Grenfell Tower was unprecedented but not unavoidable. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) both talked about the Lakanal House fire and the coroner’s report in 2013. Points picked up in the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry report were there a full four years earlier in that coroner’s report to Ministers after the Lakanal House fire: to publish national guidance on the “stay put” principle and its interaction with the “get out and stay out” policy; to require high-rise residential building owners to provide design and safety details for the fire services in information boxes or plates on premises; and to encourage retrofitting of sprinkler systems in high-rise residential blocks.
So it was after Lakanal; so it has been after Grenfell. Action from the Government has simply been too slow and too weak on all fronts. Since the fire, Grenfell survivors have seen three Secretaries of State and four Housing Ministers, all serious and sincere as individuals about the lessons of Grenfell but all fettered by the fundamental basic failure of policy, based on an ideology that is simply too reluctant to take on the vested interests that profit from a lax system of building regulation, too unwilling to have the state act when private interests will not do what is in the public interest and too reluctant to legislate or regulate to require higher and safer standards.
When they were at that Speaker’s House reception marking the two-year anniversary, to which many Members have referred, the victims and the survivors told us, “We should not be here. We should be at home rebuilding our lives. In two years, little has changed and justice still seems so far off.” A national disaster on the scale of Grenfell Tower requires a national response on the same scale from the Government and this has not happened. They have failed to right the wrongs of Grenfell, and it will fall to the next Labour Government to do so.
I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members from across the House for the contributions they have made today to what I think all would agree has been a deeply moving and important debate. Like the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), many were not able to speak at the length they would have wished today. I hope that, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming election, the next Parliament will hold a fuller debate at the earliest opportunity.
The Grenfell Tower fire was, as we have heard, an unimaginable tragedy. Today’s publication of the phase 1 report from the inquiry is an important moment, for the bereaved, for survivors, for the community in North Kensington and for the whole country. I know—and we have heard this expressed many times this afternoon—that no report can truly capture the heartache, sorrow, anger and grief that many people rightly feel. Having met survivors and the bereaved, some of whom are here today, I, like others who have spoken, have been truly humbled by their dignity and resolve. The greatest respect we can show them is to guide the path to the answers they seek and to the accountability and justice they are fighting for; to take responsibility where it is due; and to take action of a scale and at a pace that is commensurate with the tragedy that prompted it.
Across the House, there was thanks to Sir Martin Moore-Bick and the inquiry team for a report of great depth and seriousness, and of candour and clarity, including on issues of crucial concern, exemplified by his statement that the tower did not meet building regulations. He could have reserved that statement for the next phase of his report, but he and the inquiry chose to make it now. I hope that statement gives reassurance that the second phase of his report, which, as a number of hon. Members have said, sets these events into a much broader context, is likely to be equally candid and clear. As the Prime Minister said in his opening remarks, the Government will accept all of the findings of the report, and accept them in full. We want to ensure that the recommendations are implemented without delay. We will work with our partners, including fire and rescue services across the country, to deliver them. In answer to the hon. Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee) and the Leader of the Opposition, let me say that of course we will fund any actions that are required in order to do so. We will bring forward legislation as soon as possible, including ahead of the building safety Bill, if that would mean that any of Sir Martin’s recommendations can be implemented sooner than they would otherwise be.
Like the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and many other Members including, to single out just two, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), who are both ex-firefighters, I pay tribute to the incredible bravery of those who responded to the scene. They ran into danger with one ambition alone, which was to save lives, and they deserve our gratitude and respect.
Sir Martin has raised a number of concerns, including about preparation and planning, training, the basic information that was missing, serious deficiencies in command and control, and problems dealing with 999 calls. Lessons must be learned. My right hon Friend the Home Secretary will take up the matter immediately.
Most grievous of all was the failure to evacuate the tower once the fire was out of control—the failure to override the “stay put” advice. I want to be clear, as this has been raised a number of times this afternoon: Sir Martin makes it clear in his report that effective compartmentation is likely to remain at the heart of fire safety strategy and will probably continue to provide a safe basis for responding to the vast majority of fires in high-rise buildings. It will be necessary, though, as a number of Members have said, for building owners and fire and rescue services to provide a greater range of responses, including full or partial evacuation; for firefighters and those leading them to be prepared and trained for an alternative, should it be required; and for that training and guidance to be provided, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said, so that they can exercise their discretion in that most difficult and challenging of moments. With the National Fire Chiefs Council and others, we will review the “stay put” advice, to ensure that lessons are finally learned.
One thing that probably has not been mentioned so far is that yes, there need to be adequate responses from firefighters, but fire brigades and authorities also need to hold information about precisely what materials are on the buildings in which they are going to fight the fire.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and, as it is one of Sir Martin’s recommendations, that will be one of the items we will take forward and legislate for at the earliest possibility.
We have talked about the responsibility of, and changes needed in, the fire service, but does the Secretary of State agree that the people who caused the problem were the people who put on the cladding and did not deal with that properly? They are the people at fault here.
As the Prime Minister and I have made clear, and as Sir Martin has made clear in his report, we have the greatest admiration for firefighters. The next phase of the report will answer the question of how the cladding, which was not compliant with building regulations, ended up on the building and was such a primary cause of the tragedy.
In the few minutes remaining, let me answer as many of the questions raised as I can. The important questions in respect of sprinklers, signage and fire doors must now be taken forward. We have already announced—in fact, it was one of my first decisions as Secretary of State—that we will consult on reducing the building height at which sprinklers are required. It is not the case that retrofitting sprinklers is necessarily the right course of action for all buildings. Dame Judith Hackitt said in her review that it was not always the answer. What was required was a serious, independent, individual fire safety assessment of every at-risk building, and for the evidence to lead to actions.
I urge developers and building owners to consider Sir Martin’s report and Dame Judith’s report and to act on their recommendations now. We do not need to wait until legislation is in place, although people should be under no doubt that we will take it forward regardless. Building owners must take action.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I am afraid I cannot give way; I have only a couple of moments left.
The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne says, “Or else?” We have said—the Prime Minister reiterated this today—that those building owners who do not take action should face the full force of the law. Local authorities should use the enforcement powers they have, and my Department stands ready to support any local authority that wishes to do that. We will name those building owners that are not remediating ACM cladding at the pace that is required and take enforcement action against them. It is, as I have said previously, frankly shameful that £600 million of taxpayers’ money is now at their disposal to remove this dangerous cladding and yet some are prevaricating. We must and we will take action.
In the broader context, which we will learn about in the next phase, I want to see Dame Judith Hackitt’s independent review implemented in full. It will be through our building safety legislation that was announced in the Queen’s Speech. Building owners must now assess the safety of their buildings and take action if that is required.
A number of hon. Members raised the rehousing of the victims and survivors of the Grenfell tragedy. I can report that 95% of the 201 households who lost their homes have been permanently rehoused. Today, nine households remain to be permanently rehoused. It would be wrong of me to set out their cases before the House, but I know each of their individual circumstances and my Department and I will continue to scrutinise and to challenge the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to ensure that action is taken and hat these individuals, when it is right for them, move into permanent housing of their choosing.
In the remaining seconds available to me, let me say in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead that we will be taking forward the social housing White Paper. That is an important step in providing security and dignity to individuals who feel that they have not been listened to and that their views are not respected. We are working with Grenfell United, which represents some of the victims of the Grenfell tragedy, to ensure that that is done right and that we make the changes that are required for future generations.
That this House has considered the report from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
Northern Ireland Budget Bill: Business of the House
That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Northern Ireland Budget Bill:
(1) (a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at today’s sitting in accordance with this Order.
(b) Notices of Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules to be moved in Committee of the whole House may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.
(c) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
(d) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put
(2) When the Bill has been read a second time:
(a) it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;
(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.
(3) (a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
(4) If, following proceedings in Committee of the whole House and any proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, a legislative grand committee withholds consent to the Bill or any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill, the House shall proceed to Reconsideration of the Bill without any Question being put.
(5) If, following Reconsideration of the Bill:
(a) a legislative grand committee withholds consent to any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill (but does not withhold consent to the whole Bill and, accordingly, the Bill is amended in accordance with Standing Order No.83N(6)), and
(b) a Minister of the Crown indicates his or her intention to move a minor or technical amendment to the Bill, the House shall proceed to consequential Consideration of the Bill without any Question being put.
(6) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (1), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply:
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;
(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other questions, other than the question on any motion described in paragraph (17)(a) of this Order.
(7) On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
(8) if two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(c) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chairman or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.
(9) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (6)(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause of or Schedule to the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out. Consideration of Lords Amendments
(10) (a) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(b) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.
(11) Paragraphs (2) to (11) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (10) of this Order.
(12) (a) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(b) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.
(13) Paragraphs (2) to (9) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (12) of this Order.
(14) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order.
(15) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on the Bill.
(16) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.
(17) (a) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.
(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.
(c) Such a motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed.
(e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.
(18) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(19) No debate shall be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.
(20) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(21) No private business may be considered at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.—(Julian Smith.)
Under the terms of the Business of the House motion that the House has just passed, amendments for the Committee stage of the Bill may now be accepted by the Clerks at the Table only. Members may continue to table amendments up until the start of proceedings in Committee of the Whole House. For the benefit of everyone, however, I would encourage Members to table their amendments as soon as possible. The Chairman of Ways and Means will take a provisional decision on selection and grouping on the basis of amendments tabled a quarter of an hour after the beginning of the Second Reading debate, and that provisional selection list will be made available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website before the start of proceedings in Committee. If necessary, an updated amendment paper will be made available as soon as possible during proceedings in Committee.