Motion to Take Note
My Lords, before we embark on the next debate, it is appropriate that we collectively show our respect and appreciation for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and their families. I therefore invite the House now to rise and to observe a one-minute silence.
The House observed a one-minute silence.
My Lords, on 14 June 2017 events occurred that have left a dreadful scar on the nation’s conscience. We cannot turn the clock back, but we can take urgent action, some of which is outlined in this phase 1 report. One of the most moving parts of the report, which runs to four volumes and is considerable in its extent, is the tributes paid by loved ones and friends of those who lost their lives on that fateful night. It demonstrates what the country has lost, what the community has lost and what the families of Grenfell lost. It shows a diverse community of different races; a wondrous, breathing, living, loving community; children doing great things in sport, in school and in culture; a community at work and leisure; charitable work and strong community relations in Grenfell Tower. It also demonstrates the work that was done by the churches, the mosques, the synagogues—places of worship and public services coming together after the dreadful fire and, more widely across the country, the concern that this has left.
My focus this afternoon is on what we must do as a country and as a Parliament to honour those who died, to show solidarity with those who survived, and to work together to learn the lessons and ensure that we simply never again are in this position—and I mean never again. In that regard, I very much welcome the role, the work and devotion of Grenfell United, which I know will be following our deliberations and, more importantly, monitoring our actions. I acknowledge the work done by Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his fellow assessors in what is a very strong report with some very clear recommendations in phase 1. Of course we await phase 2, which starts in the new year and will look at other aspects, and I will touch upon them later.
This part of the consideration focuses on what happened on the night, and particularly the role of the London Fire Brigade, and to some extent the other emergency services. First, I ask the Minister, who I know shares my concerns, to ensure that this is carried forward for all fire brigades in our country: it is addressed specifically to the London Fire Brigade, because of course it was the one involved on the night, but the findings and recommendations apply much more widely. We need also to ensure that it is shared with devolved Administrations and more widely across the world. There are references in the report to other high-rise fires, in Australia, the Middle East and so on, and I hope that we will share the findings much more widely.
Before I get into the meat of the report I shall look at some preliminary issues. One that is identified, and that I think the inquiry will come back to in phase 2, is the height where we consider that different rules apply. In England and Wales, it is 18 metres; while in Scotland it is 11 metres. It is not clear why there should be that discrepancy. Consistent with what the approach of the inquiry and of the Government has been, I invite the Minister to confirm that safety, not cost, will be the prime consideration in whether we carry this forward with 18 metres or 11 metres as the appropriate height.
A second issue that I think is important and is not touched on particularly by the report, although it does say something about it, and I will touch on that in a minute, is criminal charges. This is obviously independent of the inquiry and independent of this House and of the Government—it has to be—but I merely say that the report makes it clear that this should be happening concurrently. There is no reason why criminal charges have to wait while the inquiry is being conducted. Indeed, in many ways criminal charges are important early on, if that is possible, because memories fade and people forget things—they move on, they retire, they resign and they die. It is important for there to be closure for people who may well be subject to criminal charges. This issue must be carried forward and I would like the Minister to recognise that and to say that it is being made clear to the police and prosecuting authorities. When I was Minister I was able to indicate how many cases there were of people being interviewed under caution. Is the Minister able to update the House on this?
One other issue, before I look at some of the recommendations, is that of sprinklers, which many people think is important. I have heard many experts say that if sprinklers had been there, the fire would not have happened. Again, this has some urgency. I recognise that it is in phase 2 of the report, but where do the Government stand on this? Is safety the watchword rather than cost, because this is important? I invite the Minister to look at the Welsh experience, where it was carried forward in the National Assembly—I was proud to adopt and support that policy when I was there.
I turn to the report itself. A key issue was the “stay put” versus “get out” policy on the night. That is clearly central as the judge chairing the inquiry found that, if an evacuation had happened more quickly, lives would have been saved. That is a very serious point. It has nothing to do with those who were there fighting the fire: the heroism and bravery of people in Grenfell, at the bridgehead, fighting the fire, was faultless and they went well beyond what could have been expected. It is perhaps systemic, but there was certainly an issue of communication between people in the control room and those at the fire itself. It is perhaps not surprising, in a sense, given the sheer overwhelming nature of the fire. In the Lakanal fire in 2009, a serious fire that I will make reference to later, there were six calls relating to fire survival guidance. In Grenfell there were more than 400, such was the sheer overwhelming nature of what was happening. It meant that communication was under strain. We have to ensure that the very strong recommendation about improved communication between the control room and the people in the building and at the bridgehead is carried forward. It was clearly not as effective as it could have been; there are doubts about whether the communication worked for people wearing helmets and breathing apparatus. There may be costs associated with this, and again I ask the Minister to respond on that. I know we are accepting all the recommendations; the issue is what the timeline will be. The Prime Minister said in the Commons yesterday that there would be legislation. When will it be brought into effect? This is clearly of key significance.
The switch of policy within the building itself also comes up in the report, because it was not clear; the transition from “stay put”—the normal policy when a building is sound and all the regulations are being abided by—to “get out” was not done uniformly. Again, part of that was due to not having clear notice of the switch, which can be done by a sounder device. Could the Minister comment on that as well? Good communication is key to this.
Undoubtedly, the factor that caused the fire was the flames sweeping up the outside of the building along the cladding. The judge quite rightly approves of the banning of ACM cladding and the programme to ensure that it is taken down from blocks. He also says that he agrees with the local government committee, which says that progress is too slow. He does not quite say, “Get a move on”, but does say that this should be pursued more vigorously. That is a very serious recommendation, and we need to pay attention to it. I would be grateful for a comment on how that will be pursued, because it is very important.
Another issue on the night was that communication between the different emergency services was not effective; it was not always compatible between the ambulance service, police and fire brigade. They seemed for a long time to be acting independently of each other. The system in the police helicopter was not compatible with the fire brigade, so the latter was not able to access what was happening on the helicopter. Again, some comment on how we will carry that forward would be welcome.
In terms of obligations on the owners of buildings, the judge recommends that the plans of buildings should be made available to the fire brigade and that any updates or changes to the structure or design of the building need to be carried forward as well, so that the fire brigade is aware of them. That is not happening consistently now, but there is a recommendation that it must happen. The lifts were working, alas, in some ways, but the fire brigade was not able to take control of them. They were being used by residents, often with fatal consequences, because they did not know not to. There is a recommendation that owners should test lifts on a regular and thorough basis. This is also important.
Signage was also homed in on by the inquiry; the signage on floors was not clear and should have been advertised on each floor such that one could see it in low lighting and through smoke, both in the lobby area that needs to indicate where and on which floor the flats are and on the floors when you get to them. You can only imagine the hell it must have been for the people trying to escape and the emergency services trying to operate not always knowing where they were. Particularly in the context of Grenfell—this will not apply to every block of flats; it very much has to be appropriate to the area we are looking at, but certainly applies to many parts of the capital city and other large cities—English was not the predominant language. It was not the first language for a lot of people there. All the signs about fire procedures were in English and no other language. Individual owners of blocks need to be aware of whether signage should go up in other languages such as Arabic, Urdu, Spanish or whatever it may be. It is clearly an important consideration.
The judge also homes in on fire doors, which need regular testing. They were not working effectively in Grenfell, which meant that, although the fire was going up the outside, the smoke was not compartmentalised and spread very quickly. If the fire doors had been effective, that would not have happened. It is a really important consideration that the spread of smoke was enabled to happen. A clear recommendation from the judge, one that he says may involve extra cost, is that fire doors on buildings with unsafe cladding— those identified with ACM—should meet current standards rather than the standards of when they were built. That is a very important recommendation that must be carried through quickly; I would be grateful for the Minister’s thoughts on the timeline of this, as I know the Prime Minister has accepted all the recommendations.
These are the key issues. In phase 2 we come to others: the responsibility of local government, which is not touched on; the responsibility of Government; sprinklers, which I touched on; and the Lakanal fire and the lessons from that, progress or lack thereof in relation to which will be looked at when phase 2 is considered.
It is a very weighty report with a lot of good things in it. I know that this House and the other place want to do the right thing by the people who suffered and perished that night and the survivors who have shown awesome resilience and determination in carrying on the fight to ensure that these things are done. I am very pleased that the House is taking this very seriously. We clearly have a good representation of speakers, who I know will be addressing their concerns. We have three maiden speeches, which I know your Lordships’ House looks forward to hearing very much, from my noble friend Lady Sanderson and the noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Woolley.
In the meantime, the clear message from the judge, the community and the country is that we really have to get on with this, to make sure that it never happens again and to honour both the memory of those who perished that night and the survivors who have been carrying on the fight for justice and action. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for that introduction and for his continuing engagement with this issue as a Minister and since. I think that is recognised in the community. I also thank the House for recognising that the aftermath of this tragedy is still with us—that there is continued grieving, distress and loss within the community. This report answers some of the questions; it makes some very good recommendations, most of which the noble Lord has underlined, and I agree with them. There are serious questions to be answered by all parties in fire protection ownership and the fire forces.
However, I fear that the sequence in which we have approached these reports, and to some extent the balance of this report, which focuses overwhelmingly on the night itself, are in danger of missing the main point. Unfortunately, bits of the report were leaked. They were seized on by elements in the media effectively to put a lot of blame on the fire brigade. Undoubtedly the fire brigade’s systems were found wanting in some ways, and the fire brigade has to examine whether to change its procedures; some of this has been demanded by the FBU for some years. The chief officer should perhaps consider her position, as mistakes were made. But the essential mistakes were made long before that. It is not just that the balance of blame in the media’s pre-coverage of this report has been unfortunate; it also obscures the many acts of bravery, dedication and innovation by individual firefighters that night. The focus is more than slightly the wrong way around.
I hope that subsequent stages will look at the cause of the fire—Sir Martin has started to do some of that, and some of it is in the Hackitt report. A simple fire in one flat went from the fourth floor to the 24th floor in 30 minutes. That was clearly the fault of the cladding, compounded by a degradation of the compartmentalisation of the building by the refurbishment that had taken place.
The key questions in this report and at the next stage must be why so much was ignored, why the owners and managers of the building had not provided the fire brigade with sufficient information, why concerns from the tenants had been utterly ignored for several years—regrettably, that situation is not uncommon in some of our social housing—and why, as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said, they ignored the lessons from Lakanal in Camberwell, which is just around the corner from where I used to live, and indeed ignored the lessons from some overseas brigades and terrible incidents there. We now need to examine the relationship between the owners, public and private, of high buildings and the fire brigade, and we need to look at whether the regulations have perhaps been changed too much, taking the responsibility away from the fire brigade and leaving too much to self-regulation. We need to ensure that the regulations relating to cladding actually work. The report finds that it did not meet the law, yet the providers of it say that they met the regulations and were advised as such. There is a problem there.
The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, also referred to the issue of how we define high buildings when, for firefighting and safety purposes, there has to be an enhanced safety position. In Scotland, as he says, it is already at 11 metres rather than 18 metres. We need to re-examine that. If we do not do so and come to some conclusions, I regret to say that more individuals, families and communities will suffer the kind of distress that still exists in the Grenfell area. The real villains are not the firefighters but those who took those decisions and, in order to save money, failed to provide safe cladding or make the refurbishment safe. That is why I repeat the question of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne: where do we now stand and why are we so slow in bringing criminal charges? Otherwise, we may face this situation again in some other community in another part of the country. That would indeed be a tragedy, and it would be the fault of the authorities—by that I mean the Government and local government—that we have not learned the lessons even now.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety Rescue Group. Our APPG is very active and has been making recommendations and questioning Ministers—including the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, when he was Minister—since the Lakanal fire in 2009. I also co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Victims of Crime and I am a former trustee of UNICEF UK.
First, I pay tribute from the Liberal Democrat Benches to the Grenfell survivors and the bereaved families. Their determination to be heard and to achieve justice for those who died and whose lives have been changed forever by the Grenfell Tower disaster is humbling. I say to them that we too will not rest until changes are made that mean another disaster like Grenfell will not happen. We put the Minister and any future Government on notice that, while we welcome their acceptance of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s recommendations in part one, we will push for action on the many parts that can happen swiftly, especially those that do not require primary or secondary legislation.
I also note that firefighters have been praised significantly for their individual behaviour—there were many acts of heroism. The systemic failures of the fire service must not take away from the exceptional performance of individual firefighters at the scene.
We also need to note that, once again, our media has behaved badly. Grenfell United, the group representing survivors and the bereaved, has rightly said that it was “unacceptable” that people learned findings through the media, without having the opportunity to first read the report. What on earth was the Daily Telegraph thinking? Shame on you.
I wish to focus on some of the specific fire service-related problems but will first briefly cover some of the other key failures that contributed to the deaths of so many people. First, in report after report over the decades, coroners and chairs of inquiries have talked about the inability of our public services to work together in an emergency. The inquiry reports that the fire commander, the Met Police commander and ambulance control all declared major incidents at different times and were not co-ordinated. Surely, at such an incident there should be one senior commander in charge of the entire incident, working together. We know that it can be done. In terrorist incidents such as the Westminster and London Bridge attacks, we have seen examples of good practice. Why did that not happen in this case? Sir Martin also comments that Kensington and Chelsea Council and the TMO were not prepared for any such emergency—and that is before we even get to the appalling issue of the lack of checks on the fire protection for the building. Fire doors that did not work and refurbishment works that destroyed compartmentation—which is absolutely key if any “stay put” policy is to work—meant that the key role of public services in supporting emergency services just did not happen. For disabled people having to wait in refuge areas, to have failing fire doors and no PEEPs—personal emergency evacuation plans—is very serious.
Secondly, the treatment of the survivors and bereaved families by the various bodies that should have been there to help was woeful. Reading the report of Inquest, the charity that provides expertise on state-related deaths, was absolutely grim. As a former trustee of UNICEF, I know that in major emergencies around the world NGOs come together to work together and respond, not just during the emergency but to support survivors long after. Through the UN and other bodies, the protocols for working in such emergencies are well known, well founded and followed. Each NGO knows what it is to do at each stage of the emergency and in the aftermath, and who leads at each stage. The UK Government fund many of these NGOs, yet Government after Government have failed to address our own problem here for our own disasters. This just is not good enough; the Government must take a lead in changing the attitude, not just through legislation but by leading by example.
On some of the specific fire service-related issues, it is just extraordinary that there was no LFS contingency plan for the evacuation of Grenfell Tower. Following the Lakanal House fire coroner’s inquest in 2013, our APPG was aware of exchanges of letters between the coroner, the Secretary of State and the London Fire Brigade, and this kind of issue was supposedly satisfactorily resolved. What follow-up and monitoring have taken place since 2013, and what is the role of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of fire services to ensure that such key plans are in place?
The LFB maintains an operational database and has a risk assessment policy, accessible by all firefighters at any such incident. However, the entry for Grenfell Tower contained almost no information of any use to an incident commander called to a fire, and some information was out of date as it did not take account of the refurbishment and was therefore wrong. In addition, what about the fire survival guidance calls being communicated to the incident commanders, arrangements relating to the internal spread of the fire, and deficiencies in command and control, where senior officers arrived but failed to give sufficient practical support or inform themselves quickly enough, given that the spread of the fire was so visible? All these issues had plans in place—or should have—which should have been inspected by the HMI of fire services in its yearly inspection for each service.
Finally, I mention automatic fire sprinkler protection. We now have five years of compelling evidence from real fires in the UK that automatic fire sprinkler protection controlled or extinguished fires where they operated on 100% of occasions in flats. A single fire death in a working sprinkler building designed for the purpose anywhere in the UK is an extremely rare occurrence. Multiple deaths are unheard of. We must implement sprinklers in high-rise residential buildings. As others have said repeatedly in this House, sprinklers in Grenfell would have changed everything.
My Lords, I thank the Whips Office for understanding that my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans cannot speak due to the change of time, and that I have been allowed to speak in his place.
It is important for us to remember that for the bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, who have now suffered for so long, the past week has been particularly difficult. The report mentions many contributing factors, including issues of fire safety, communication between emergency services, building regulations and the use of materials. In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, spoke eloquently on all those, and many other noble Lords will be able to speak about them from a position of informed authority.
However, faith groups such as the Church of England have played what has often been an unmentioned—although I thank the Minister for his strong mention—but critical one in the lives of Grenfell survivors. That is why I and all those on these Benches feel so passionately about our collective role in this matter. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, three of the main spaces used for public meetings were St Clement’s Church, Notting Hill Methodist Church and the al-Manaar Muslim cultural centre. The role of faith communities in bringing people together in the face of adversity was a critical factor in assisting in the immediate recovery from the fire. Local community groups, such as the Harrow Club, the Rugby Portobello Trust and the ClementJames Centre, motivated by faith in the local community life, played an important role in the wider and longer-term response. Such local community groups, faith-based and otherwise, will always provide important spaces for social cohesion and the cultivation of habits of community building. Members from all faiths and none will join me in praising the wonderful work of all those groups and all they continue to do in the Grenfell area.
Amidst the tragedy and horror of that event in 2017, there is an opportunity for policymakers and community stakeholders to consider what is wrong in some of our society’s very fabric and how we can all work together to improve it. The social legacy of Grenfell is something that my colleague the Bishop of Kensington, Bishop Graham Tomlin, has spoken about repeatedly. The perception of neglect is very strong on the ground, yet there is also hope found in local groups and communities, which provide a vision of possibilities for society in and around Grenfell Tower.
Nevertheless, the neglect felt by many before the tragedy has not gone away. Prior to the fire, as Bishop Graham states, there was an overwhelming feeling that the issue of Grenfell was not being heard. There is a common thread of perceived neglect by authority figures. Stories are repeatedly told of residents trying to get the tenant management organisation to attend to repairs. When people complained about the service they received, they were made to feel that they were the problem. This disincentivised them to pursue it.
This feeling of being a burden on society cannot be solved overnight. Nor can the perception that the voices of Grenfell are ignored. It is clear that lessons have not been learned by wider British society. Members of this House will be concerned at the sense of outrage that survivors of the tragedy have felt at the media’s publication of and speculation about the report before they had time to read it themselves. Is this not a sign that Grenfell voices are still not respected, taken seriously or appreciated in and of themselves?
The experience of Grenfell residents about repairs to their homes raises wider issues of social neglect and the perception of affordable and social housing. Affordable and social housing has slipped down our list of priorities over the years, and with its loss of priority went effective opportunities for tenants to voice complaints or have a say in accommodation standards. Furthermore, as a result of our drastically reduced social housing stock, many have felt that they have become the,
“dumping ground of the most vulnerable in our society”,
to cite my colleague Bishop Graham again. As Christians, we believe that each person is created and loved by God and that within all people is an innate value. Moving towards a better regulated social housing framework would do much to work towards that valuing of every person.
Housing is a health issue as well as a moral one. The WHO’s report on health states clearly:
“Improved housing conditions can save lives, prevent disease, increase quality of life, reduce poverty, … mitigate climate change”.
We need to find a wholly distinct approach to housing, which sees it primarily not as a financial asset but as a home and a key to our well-being. All people deserve to live in a place that is truly a home. Until we can deliver on that ideal, the contributing factors to the Grenfell tragedy cannot be said to have been solved.
In conclusion, can the Minister provide clear data on the link between the quality of British social housing and the health of those communities? Can he explain to the House what steps are being taken to address the shortage of social homes and the quality of existing social housing? Above all, will he comment on the perception of neglect felt by far too many of our citizens?
My Lords, the report makes deeply harrowing reading. Memories of the terrible hell of that night and the awful pain of loss are bound to be worsened by the thoughts of “if only” and “what if”. Of course, people are seeking who to blame, but reading the report one senses that a web of failures resulted in disaster, against which incredibly brave humans at many levels risked their lives to try to save others. They now live, day in and day out, haunted by the harsh fact of so many deaths.
From the outset, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has done all he could to keep this House updated with unfailing sensitivity. From all Benches, we owe him a debt of gratitude.
In my few minutes, I shall focus on the trigger-point for evacuation. The communications failure seemed to be at many levels, from equipment not working, the way to how calls were handled, where the gas should be in such buildings and, crucially, how survivors were collated and supported immediately and in the long-term.
At the core is the decision to stay put rather than evacuate. As soon as fire gets hold, the risk of rapid spread rises so fast that there seems no reason to avoid immediate evacuation. Sir Martin’s powerful report states:
“The evidence taken as a whole strongly suggests that the ‘stay put’ concept had become an article of faith within the LFB so powerful that to depart from it was to all intents and purposes unthinkable”.
That the commissioner had to ask the rhetorical question, “It is all very well saying, ‘Get everybody out’, but then how do you get them all out?”, emphasises that the London Fire Brigade was inadequately prepared, trained and equipped to lead a total evacuation of such a building. People have to practise evacuation. Should we return to timed fire practice for all buildings where people are grouped together, whether residing, working or studying?
The report refers to the need to have instructions in languages other than English. If you make people do something, they will remember it, but if you hand them a leaflet written in their own language or give them a drawing or cartoon, they will remember it only in part, if at all. Is every first responder in the country now required to stress-test their major incident emergency procedures to the limit and beyond in order to prepare them for dealing with the unthinkable, so that back-up systems are active?
The trigger-point for recognising Grenfell as a major incident and the point at which to evacuate seemed to be remarkably slow, as if protocols were taking precedence over professional, collated judgments. That may be because the information was not being collated rapidly due to the communications failures, but it was terrible to read that some of the same errors were made as those that had occurred in the Lakanal House fire. Let us not forget that failures in communication also hampered rescue efforts in the London Underground bombings.
On the 999 calls coming in, it was not just the number but the rate of calls that should have alerted people that something quite remarkably dangerous and awful was going on. Are 999 call handlers now undergoing thorough stress testing in order to cope with the unthinkable? Communication between those on the ground and people in the control room was inadequate. The military organisation that one would expect was seriously lacking. There was also a lack of compatibility between the systems used. I would ask the Minister whether we are moving towards a national system, with an additional national back-up system, if the first one fails. If the communication systems do not work, everything falls apart.
Sir Martin cites the watch manager, who lacked critical information from the control room, which meant that he was doubly blind to what was unfolding. A relatively junior fire officer had,
“little or no support from more senior officers”,
and was let down by institutional failings. As the report states:
“The behaviour of the fire was outside his experience and nothing he had done appeared to be having any effect. He was at a loss to understand what was happening or to know how to respond”.
When that happens, is it not by definition serious, if not major?
The co-ordination of emergency services was lamentably slow. This lack of communication marked a serious failure to comply with the joint working arrangements and protocols designed for major emergencies in London. The failure to share declarations of a major incident meant that the need for a properly co-ordinated joint response was delayed, conversations that should have happened did not, and there was no single point of contact.
In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, eloquently invited us to change behaviours. Will the Government now undertake to amend the JESIP Joint Doctrine to make clear that each emergency service must communicate the declaration of a major incident to all other category 1 responders as soon as possible?
I also wonder about gas in high-rise buildings. While it was not directly implicated, should we be pushing towards the use of electricity in all such buildings, along with trip-switches in place if they overheat or surge?
Perhaps the most worrying aspect relates to the survivors themselves. People had difficulty in establishing the whereabouts of friends and relatives who may have been taken to hospital after escaping from the building. They had no idea where they were and did not know how to contact them. We are meant to see a Metropolitan Police casualty bureau, but we need such bureaux to be set up across the country to establish the identity and whereabouts of people and to provide a central point of contact for gathering and distributing information about individuals who have been or may still be involved in an incident. No register of building occupants will ever be up to date, but there must be rapid contemporaneous information gathering. People were left for days and weeks desperate to know the fate of their nearest.
It has been estimated that more than 11,000 people have been directly affected by Grenfell, so we must take forward the lessons learned. I suggest that we return to this issue year on year for at least five years in order to keep it in our sights. We owe it to Grenfell United.
My Lords, it is a great honour to stand before the House today. I confess that I do so a little earlier than I had intended and while there is still an awful lot to learn. Yet, in the space of less than a fortnight, one thing is overwhelmingly apparent, and that is the good-hearted professionalism of all those who work in this place. From the doorkeepers to the librarians to Black Rod and her team, everyone has been so kind in gently, and sometimes literally, steering this new Member around the House.
I would like to thank all those in the Chamber for their unfailing courtesy and encouragement, as well as my supporters, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble friend Lady Barran. Their humour and warmth on the day of my introduction helped to keep the nerves at bay. More importantly, it was a privilege to receive the support of these two formidable women who have achieved so much, particularly in the fields of modern slavery and domestic abuse. I would also like to thank my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington. She is someone who has helped many women in the political sphere, and she has certainly helped me with her generous mentoring and characteristically no-nonsense advice.
I hope that my former press colleagues will not be offended when I say that this is a very different atmosphere from that of Fleet Street, where I spent 17 years at the Mail on Sunday. I worked in the features department, sometimes known as the “shallow end” of a newspaper; in truth, it is anything but. While I covered my fair share of lighter stories, the real privilege of the job was in meeting people—real people, not celebrities or those seeking to promote themselves—who found themselves, for whatever reason, in unforeseen and unimaginable circumstances. They were men and women from all walks of life who had become the victims of events that only ever happen to “other people”—until they happen to you.
In a House where the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence of Clarendon, and my noble friend Lady Newlove both sit, I would never pretend to any great authority. Their dedicated and courageous campaigning was cited again and again by those I met after moving to the Home Office to work for the then Home Secretary, Theresa May. During her time there, and in No. 10 as Prime Minister, she gave a voice to many who had previously gone unheard, very often for decades. She established public inquiries for the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and those affected by the infected blood scandal. She fought for justice for the families of Hillsborough and introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill. Through her, I have learned what it means to engage in work that makes a difference, and through her I have had the honour to work with many different people, all of whom have found themselves in those unforeseen and unimaginable circumstances, which brings me to today’s debate.
I think noble Lords will agree that none of us can truly comprehend what the residents of Grenfell Tower and their neighbours, friends and families went through that night. Yet amid the devastation, in the days and weeks after the fire, the residents and relations came together to form a number of different support groups, the main one being Grenfell United. In the months and years since, they have proved themselves to be powerful advocates, and they have done so while having to rebuild their lives, return to their jobs and settle into new and unfamiliar homes. It has been an uphill struggle, and I know that those of us working in government often added to their frustrations. The machinery of the state is agonisingly slow in such circumstances, yet the survivors have prided themselves on showing dignity throughout. It would have been easy not to.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report makes clear in unflinching detail the horror of that night and is unambiguous about the grave mistakes that were made. He states that the cladding breached building regulations and caused the fire to spread, and he draws the distressing conclusion that fewer people would have died had the “stay put” policy been revoked at an earlier stage. I am pleased that the Government have agreed to all of his recommendations, but there is of course more to do. Sir Martin has clearly signposted his intentions for phase 2 of the inquiry, which will establish how Grenfell Tower came to be in a condition that allowed this tragedy to occur. He will also look at the response of the Government and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in the aftermath.
Then there is the work which is outside of the inquiry’s remit, in particular the response to the Green Paper consultation on social housing and forthcoming White Paper, which must now wait until we return to this place. If it tackles, as it must, the stigma of living in social housing and gives tenants a proper voice, then residents believe, rightly, that this can be the positive legacy of Grenfell.
Someone from North Kensington once told me that you can always tell the people who live in the area from those who do not. Those who live there never look up at the tower—there are too many painful images; too many painful memories. The Grenfell community will have to live with those memories for the rest of their lives, but it is to their enormous credit that they wish to be remembered not for what happened in the early hours of 14 June 2017 but for the change that must happen as a result, for which they continue to fight tirelessly.
I thank my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth for calling this important debate. I join other Members of the House in making sure that we do all we can to help them, thereby honouring all those who lost their lives.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend and to commend her on her moving maiden speech. Following the Grenfell tragedy, as we heard, my noble friend worked closely with the survivors of the fire and the families of those who lost their lives.
My noble friend has skills which we are going to need, because she was also involved in setting up the inquiries into child sex abuse and infected blood. The theme running through all three inquiries—one mentioned by the right reverend Prelate—is the loss of trust in authority on the part of those who felt let down. When we have such a breakdown in confidence in the governance of the country, my noble friend can help us build the bridges that we need to restore it. We welcome her warmly and look forward to her future contributions.
I endorse the sympathetic remarks made by my noble friend Lord Bourne and others for the survivors and the families of those who perished in this tragedy. We were all moved by the press conference that they held yesterday, at times dignified and at times understandably emotional. I also endorse the commendations for the individual firefighters who risked their lives to save others, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and others.
I too welcome this debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Bourne, who, when he was a Minister, handled our debates and questions on the Grenfell Tragedy with such sensitivity, as well as taking a close personal interest in the welfare of the survivors. He was a model of a Lords Minister and I hope that it will be possible, perhaps after the election, for him to return to the Front Bench.
I will focus on one aspect of the consequences of the fire that has not been mentioned so far—namely, its impact on the residents of high-rise blocks in private ownership. The Government successfully persuaded a number of freeholders to take responsibility for remediation, without passing the costs on to leaseholders. But they were a minority. Case law has established that freeholders can pass the costs on to leaseholders. The Government responded in July, with the document Private Sector ACM Cladding Remediation Fund. I welcome this and know that my noble friend Lord Bourne pressed hard for it.
As the freehold of a number of privately owned blocks is now owned by the leaseholders, there is, in effect, no freeholder for them to look to. My questions for the Minister are about the regime set out in that document to help leaseholders in private blocks that are vulnerable. The document mentions the figure of £200 million. Is that a cash limit, or will the figure be higher if it turns out that the costs are also higher? If it is exceeded, will the excess come from the Treasury or from the department’s budget?
Then there is the issue highlighted in the Times earlier this week, which pointed out that of the nearly half a million flats in high-rise buildings clad in combustible materials, only 30,000 are covered by the Government’s scheme. Those leaseholders are unable to sell or remortgage. The Select Committee in another place recommended support for all high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding. There is a risk of long-term erosion of the value of the housing stock and its impact on mobility. I understand the Government’s reluctance to take on more liabilities, but I hope they might be proactive in looking for effective solutions for those in the blocks.
In Answer to a Written Question on 22 October, the Minister for Housing, Esther McVey, stated that, to date, no buildings had been awarded a grant from the fund. The Answer also stated that, by 18 October, 55 applications for funding had been started. It went on to say:
“We expect first applications to be approved in October. Homes England and the Greater London Authority are our delivery partners for the fund and are working with eligible building owners to ensure remediation is completed”.
Can my noble friend update us on progress?
The document also says that “building owners”—and in the case I have in mind, leaseholders—should,
“actively identify and pursue all reasonable claims against those involved in the original cladding installations, and to pursue insurance and warranty claims where possible”.
I quite understand that, but are those costs covered by the fund, and how will the department judge that enough has been done to try?
The document states that state aid declarations are required from every leaseholder. Is that absolutely necessary? Many leaseholders may be overseas and some are offshore companies, and it is really difficult to track them down. Is it really the case that everyone else is denied help if one leaseholder does not sign the state aid form? Finally, will right-to-buy leaseholders in local authority tower blocks get the help outlined, or is it just for those in private blocks? If they are not covered, they will be uniquely disadvantaged?
I appreciate that these are complex questions and my noble friend the Minister may not have all the answers, in which case I would settle for a written reply. But I know he will understand that there are many anxious leaseholders out there hoping for reassurance. The cry that went up yesterday, “Never again”, was repeated by my noble friend this afternoon. It is one that they hope the Government can respond to.
My Lords, it is a sad thing to make a maiden speech in a debate on a tragedy such as this, but I have one point to make, albeit one that has already been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. But like the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, I begin with thanks. I am indebted to noble Lords for the kindness and warmth of welcome from all sides of this House since I was introduced last Monday, and the help that you have all given me. Mind you, I have to say that the well of gratitude is a little shallower than it might have been, as noble Lords introduced me to this House on Monday and on Wednesday decided to dissolve it, although I am told that there is no connection between the two. I also thank the amazing staff of the House who have been unfailingly helpful to me in giving me advice, telling me where to go and so forth.
It was not quite the same in East Ham magistrates’ court when I started my practice at the Bar many decades ago. However, my life in crime was cut short because I spent the past 42 years in the practice of labour law—the law of the workplace, of workers, employers, employers’ associations, trade unions and industrial relations. I mention that because I am conscious that, in coming to the House with that specialism and with that interest, I am attempting to follow in the footsteps of my late noble friend Professor Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, whom many noble Lords will remember. I can never hope to emulate his achievements, but he will be an inspiration to me in my time here.
I have not spent all my time in labour law. I interspersed it with other areas of the law, and I should mention them because they are relevant to the point that I have to make. I had the privilege of being instructed in a number of public inquiries, the first of which was into the King’s Cross Underground fire disaster, where I appeared on behalf of the Association of London Authorities. After that, I appeared for the bereaved and injured in the Southall train crash inquiry and then for the bereaved and injured in the Ladbroke Grove train inquiry. I appeared at the Potters Bar train crash inquest and for the bereaved and injured in the Lakanal House fire disaster, which has already been mentioned. I appeared for the National Union of Journalists in the Leveson inquiry, and I currently appear for the Fire Brigades Union in the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry. In speaking this afternoon, I do not pretend to speak for the Fire Brigades Union—I have declared the necessary interest—because I do not think it would be proper to do so in this House and, perhaps more significantly, because the Fire Brigades Union, particularly its general secretary Matt Wrack, has made its reaction to the publication of phase 1 of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report into Grenfell Tower very clear over the past 48 hours.
All those inquiries shared a number of features, of which two are significant. One was, of course, that they were terrible tragedies which cast a long shadow over all those involved in any way. I speak not of that. The other was that they all involved the publication of reports. They were public inquiries. What is significant about that is that in every case the judge in charge of the inquiry, having written the report and prepared it for publication, gave it to the core participants 24 or 48 hours before it was released to the public. The reasons are obvious: so that those who were so deeply affected would have a chance to prepare themselves for the media onslaught that would follow, and those who were the subject of criticism would have a chance to speak to lawyers if the inquiry report might lead to prosecution.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick followed that process. On Monday, the report was released to the core participants, of which there are over 600. Every one of them was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep that report confidential until the deadline of midnight on Tuesday night had passed. Somebody leaked it to the Daily Telegraph, as my noble friend mentioned. The Daily Telegraph then set journalists on to reading that report, cutting and pasting pieces in order to publish it in the next day’s newspaper. Other responsible media outlets—the Guardian, the BBC and so forth—followed suit and cut and pasted from what the Telegraph had written. That leak is clearly reprehensible, and I trust that whoever did it will be discovered in due course, but the publication of that report, breaching a non-disclosure agreement and the embargo set by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is absolutely outrageous. I hope that Sir Martin at least considers the possibility of summoning the editors involved and the director-general of the BBC to explain what conceivable public interest there could have been in releasing parts of that report verbatim before Wednesday morning.
I thank noble Lords for their patience in listening to me.
My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hendy, who made an outstanding maiden speech. I am not surprised. I am sure that somebody who cut his teeth in the Newham Rights Centre and then became “the barrister champion of the trade union movement” will fit into your Lordships’ House and its various strands of view with great aplomb and that he will add immeasurably to the quality of our debate and counsels. In fact, I am sandwiched between two maiden speeches. I am looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, whom I think I first worked with about 20 years ago, possibly more, on Operation Black Vote.
The fire on 14 June 2017 was an appalling disaster and a tragedy for all affected. I am quite clear that the reason why so many lost their lives was the nature of the cladding and the condition of the building. I want to focus today on one narrow aspect of the tragedy: the problem with communicating effectively with the residents. Assistant Commissioner Andrew Roe told the inquiry that he made a decision to change the policy soon after taking over as incident commander and by 2.47 am—almost exactly two hours after the fire started—control room staff were told to advise residents who called to evacuate immediately. At 4.14 am, an hour and a half later, the police started telling onlookers to contact anyone still trapped in the building and tell them to evacuate immediately. There were no other means of contacting residents in the tower directly. Indeed, the Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton, told the inquiry that as there was no central fire alarm, evacuating the building,
“would physically require someone to go and knock on every single door and tell people to come out”.
Likewise, Michael Dowden, the North Kensington watch manager, told the inquiry:
“For me to facilitate and change a stay-put policy to full evacuation was impossible”,
because there were no means of communicating directly with the residents in the 20 floors above the fire.
I am not wanting today to make any judgment on the rightness of the “stay put” policy generally in fires in tower blocks, nor am I qualified to make any comment on how quickly that policy should have been overridden in the specific circumstances of Grenfell Tower. What I want to concentrate on is that through no fault of its own, the fire brigade could not tell those in the tower that the “stay put” policy had changed and that they should evacuate at once.
One of the many tragedies of that appalling night was that the technology that would have enabled that communication to happen exists and is widely deployed elsewhere in the world, but not in Britain. It has been tested here; the Cabinet Office deemed the tests a success; but it has not been deployed. The issue has frequently been raised in your Lordships’ House. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, was wheeled out time and again as a Minister to defend the indefensible. I apportion none of the blame to him personally because I know that behind the scenes, he tried to get this issue moving.
This technology was trialled in Easingwold in North Yorkshire on 18 September 2013. Those with a suitable mobile phone handset received an alert on the home screen of their phones saying “UKAlertTest. No Action Required”. It was trialled again in Glasgow on 3 October 2013 and in Leiston in Suffolk on 20 November 2013. Those tests were part of a Cabinet Office project on mobile alert systems for use in an emergency. The conclusion from those trials was that,
“emergency responders are still very keen to see the implementation of a national mobile alert system. Views from members of the public also suggest that the vast majority of people (85%) felt that a mobile alert system was a good idea .... it would be an effective way of getting people to take specific protective action during an emergency”.
The report recommended further trials. They never happened.
I looked at this as part of my 2016 review for the mayor—London’s Preparedness to Respond to a Major Terrorist Incident. That led to my recommendation that,
“the Mayor should quickly work with the Cabinet Office to introduce a London-wide pilot of this public alert technology”.
Three years further on, there is still little progress.
The fire brigade has said that it could not have communicated directly with the residents because it did not have the people to do so and, in any case, it would have taken too long, but the technology has been used regularly in Australia since 2009. The United States and the Netherlands started doing so in 2012. Portugal uses it. The summer before last when I was on holiday there, I received a text message on my mobile phone, in English, alerting me to the danger of forest fires. Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Saudi Arabia and Iceland have alerting systems. Earlier this year, thousands of lives were saved in India when 2.6 million text alerts were sent to residents in the path of Cyclone Fani. These systems work, are proven and save lives.
Australia’s emergency alert can send an SMS text message to every mobile phone in a tightly defined area. Precisely the same sort of scenario as the Grenfell Tower fire was tested six years ago. It focused on the 37-storey Department of Justice and Community Safety building in the heart of Melbourne. The system’s mapping tool was used to draw a warning polygon over the building and the presence of 5,736 mobile devices was detected. When the alert was sent, it reached over 90% of those devices within 12 seconds and delivered the alert to people on every floor.
Therefore, we have had six years of drift. Apparently, no one could decide which government department should lead and whose budget it should come from. Then there was a whole row about which technology was best—the best being made the enemy of the good.
I do not know whether an alerting system such as that deployed in Melbourne would have saved lives in Grenfell Tower, but at least residents could have been told that the “stay put” advice had changed and they could have tried to leave. Debating “what if” does not bring back any of those who lost their lives and it cannot heal the hurt of bereaved families and friends, but we cannot go on any longer without emergency alert technology being made available in this country. Next time there is a disaster, those alerts would make the difference between the life and death of those involved.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this extremely important debate. The tragedy of Grenfell makes us all weep, all the more so because it should not have occurred. However, before I talk about Grenfell, I should like to use my maiden speech to express some thanks.
First, I thank the great staff here in the House of Lords. They are attentive, polite and very helpful. For two weeks now, I have been constantly getting lost around the Westminster estate. A member of the Lords staff said, “Lord Woolley, you look a bit lost. Can I help?” I replied, “Yes, sir. Could you tell me where the Chamber is?” Back came the reply, “Yes, my Lord, it’s behind you”. I also want to thank the police. I met two black police officers, to whom I spoke briefly. I had a casual rapport with them. One said, “Yeah man, respect. It’s good to see another black Lord in the House”.
Equally, I want to thank noble Lords. They have made me feel very welcome in their—now, our—House. I spoke to my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe before I came in. He was going to leave half an hour earlier but said, “I heard that you are speaking, so I’m going to stay”. That is the type of generosity that I have encountered.
I particularly want to thank my supporters and friends, the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Hussein-Ece, my noble and learned friend Lord Judge, the noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi, Lady Lawrence and Lady Chakrabarti, my noble friend Lord Hastings and the noble Lord, Lord Morris. I follow in their footsteps.
It is also right that I thank the right honourable Theresa May, the former Prime Minister, not only for appointing me to this prestigious role but for having faith in the idea of a race disparity audit. That leadership role has meant that we have established a policy framework that lays bare the uncomfortable truths about racial disparities: the educational underachievement of some white working-class boys and girls; the fact that youth incarceration of black, Asian and minority-ethnic individuals is at a staggering 45%; and the simple fact that too many people of African, Asian and Caribbean origin are born into poverty. All that data has been laid bare, with the former Prime Minister establishing the mantra, “Explain the inequality or change through policy and collaboration”. The model has been applauded by the United Nations, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has said that it is an exemplar framework for migration analysis.
Lastly in my list of thank-yous, I want to thank my mother, who fostered and then adopted me. On the St Matthew’s council estate in Leicester, where we lived, my mum taught me to have good manners and respect, to fight for myself and to fight for others. I think that she knew I would be a disciple of Dr Martin Luther King and Bernie Grant—this is still Black History Month, by the way. They both had a dream but also a plan, and step one of that plan was voter registration. They said, “Don’t ask for justice; demand it. We don’t beg for equality; we vote for it”. That is how we started Operation Black Vote nearly 25 years ago with Rita Patel, Lee Jasper, Dave Weaver, Ashok Viswanathan, Audrey Adams, and Meena Dhobi.
Back then, we had four black and minority-ethnic MPs. Now, there are over 50, with a number of city mayors, many from Operation Black Vote, including Mayor Marvin Rees of Bristol, Lord Mayor Anna Rothery of Liverpool, Tan Dhesi MP, Helen Grant MP, Marsha de Cordova MP and Clive Lewis MP. However, we have also nurtured BAME magistrates— more than 100 who have collectively completed more than 1,000 years of public service. Voter registration was, and still is, our bedrock. You give people a voice by ensuring that they have political power. It is our duty to ensure that we get all our citizens registered to vote and engaging in our democracy. It takes three minutes to register to vote and we should ensure that everybody has a voice.
I hope that noble Lords are getting a picture of what I care about—social and racial justice. My view is that there is potential talent in every street, in every city and in every corner of Great Britain. I put it to the House that it is our task to ensure that there are real pathways for that potential talent to flourish. This is not a zero-sum game, by the way. We all benefit by unleashing talent. We become more creative, more dynamic and more comfortable with ourselves.
Noble Lords should also know that I care deeply about some of the most vulnerable and, often, voiceless in our society. They are the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities. Both here and right across Europe they are among the most persecuted peoples. My message—our message—to them must be, “Your struggle is our struggle”.
My other challenge is for us to have an adult conversation about drugs policy. It is heart-breaking to read about young men, many of whom are black, murdering other young men, often in drug gang rivalry. Equally, I am saddened when I hear about those with a drug addiction overdosing when I know that their deaths might have been prevented. If we have an adult conversation—a grown-up discussion—about drugs policy through the prism of public health, I promise that we will save lives, and actually we will save money too, as well as heartache.
My final point concerns the tragedy of Grenfell. We owe it to those who have lost their lives, to the survivors and to the families and friends still grieving, to lay bare the most uncomfortable truths not just around that day but around broader contributory elements, including poverty and powerlessness. This is not a party-political point; I am just imploring noble Lords, from their position of privilege, to give voice to those families. How do we challenge the systemic structural failures?
My final, final point—for today at least—is that we should be a beacon of hope, even more so than we probably are now. More than ever we must rise above what is often the very tribal nature of British politics and seek common ground. Right now, our society and our nation are crying out for leadership: strong, decent and collective.
My Lords, what a privilege to follow the magnificent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley. I have long been an admirer of the work of Operation Black Vote, and of the noble Lord as its inspiration. As he has described, huge strides have been made in social and racial equality in the past 20 years, much of it the result of his campaigning work. I thank him. Having heard him speak today with insight and passion, it is clear what a significant difference he will make to the work of this House, as well as continuing his campaigning zeal across the country. I wish him good luck.
There are just a few tragic incidents of such magnitude and horror that they become seared into our collective memory: Aberfan, the “Herald of Free Enterprise”, Lockerbie—and now Grenfell.
Grenfell brought out the absolute best of human reaction: Grenfell residents supporting, caring for and rescuing others; the heroic efforts of the firefighters who put their own lives at risk. All those at the heart of that horrific fire need to know that reasons are unearthed and responsibilities allocated. The Phase 1 inquiry report is thorough and unflinching in setting out some of the answers. It says:
“The principal reason why the flames spread so rapidly ... was the presence of the aluminium composite material”,
as well as panels which,
“acted as a source of fuel”.
We should bear that in mind as we consider the responses of the London Fire Brigade.
What struck me as I read the report was that communication failure and lack of training were fundamental to how the emergency services responded. The control room operators were understandably inundated with calls. There were insufficient operators, and routing the calls to other fire and rescue services was not as helpful as it should have been because there was no ability to share information of the incident; as a consequence, differing advice was given. Neither did the emergency services have sufficient training in fire survival guidance or, crucially, the implications of a decision to stay or evacuate; nor were they able to give firm, clear messages when evacuation was the only option.
The lessons of the Lakanal House fire of 2009 have not been learned and here the Government bear considerable responsibility. Information between the control room and the site of the fire were totally inadequate. That finding in the report is quite astonishing; in itself, inadequate information-sharing contributed to poor decision-making at a senior level that surely led to lives being lost.
As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, the report states that the communications equipment used by the LFB was unreliable and in some cases failed to work at all. How can it be that firefighters are asked to put their lives at risk without the invaluable aid of modern and effective communications equipment that is reliable in all situations? How can that be?
The failure in communication systems did not end there. Each of the emergency services that responded so heroically to the fire failed to share vital information. For example, as we have heard, each service declared a major incident at a very different time. During the incident, this lack of shared information meant that the nature and extent of the fire was not properly understood. Even helicopter surveillance of the fire was of little help as the pictures of the scene could not be communicated to the incident commanders because the downlink failed to function.
This catalogue of communication systems failures should be—must be—a lesson learned by emergency services and gold command operations across the country. In an age of easy, instant communications, it is simply shocking that the failures were so widespread. These failures have made me question whether the very deep cuts to government funding to the London fire service contributed to that communication failure, resulting in more lives at risk and more lives lost. There ought to be a review of the impact of these cuts in the light of Grenfell. Will the Minister respond to that?
This report focuses on the horrors of the day itself. It is rightly critical of operations, but also clearly indicates the failures of others; for instance, the landlord. A further obvious failure of communication was the lack of internal signage in Grenfell. The floor numbers were not clearly marked and, where there were floor numbers, they did not reflect the additional floors created during the refurbishment. That leads me to conclude that the managers of the building were not sufficiently concerned about the building’s safety or appearance, and that this reflects what they thought about their tenants.
The Grenfell Tower inquiry report is thorough. It concludes with over 40 detailed recommendations. It is the utmost duty of this Government not just to accept but to respond with urgency to all these recommendations to assure Grenfell survivors that the loss of their loved ones was not in vain.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for bringing this debate to our House. I also thank the three noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches today: the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, and the noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Woolley.
I welcome the phase 1 report on the fire that took place at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017 and on why the fire spread so rapidly on the night. Before the night of the fire there were complaints about the block, which housed many families from different backgrounds. The majority of residents were refugees, asylum seekers and British citizens from our diverse society. Some residents felt that, prior to the fire, the local authority did not give their complaints attention because of who they were. This information was gathered after the fire. There were complaints prior to the fire about safety and, as far as the tenants were concerned, their complaints fell on deaf ears in Kensington and Chelsea Council.
Many survivors and families are still experiencing trauma from that night. One survivor I spoke to was Mr Paulos Tekle, whose six year-old son died that night. Mr Tekle lived on the 18th floor with his wife and two children, and they were joined on the night of the fire by another family; so they were five children and three adults.
After some time and several calls, he was told to leave his flat. He entrusted his six year-old son to an adult—a tenant from the block—who was to lead his son out to safety while he followed down with his wife and the other children. When Mr Tekle got out, he started looking for his son and the man he had entrusted him to. Mr Tekle’s only concern on the night was to get his family out safely once he knew that the block was on fire.
My support of Mr Tekle in a recent interview was to do with the maintenance of the building and the length of time it took for him to get his family out to safety. His trauma continued as he searched for his son at the local hospital. It took 11 days before it was confirmed that his son was one of the victims who had died because of the fire. I would like to put on record that my comment about authority was to do with Kensington and Chelsea Council, its lack of building maintenance and the low-level cladding to the building, not the fire brigade.
There may be many reasons why there was a delay in Mr Tekle receiving this information about his son. He is unable to speak without crying as he feels such guilt that he allowed someone other than himself to take care of his son. On the night of the fire and in the days that followed, there were 72 deaths. Seventy other people were injured and 223 people escaped. I would like to pay my respects to all those affected by the tragedy of that night.
My Lords, I declare my interests as the vice-chairman of the APPG for fire safety. I am also the Local Government Association’s building safety spokesperson.
I was with some of the families of the victims and a couple of the survivors yesterday morning, and universally they had nothing but good words to say about the report. So Sir Martin has delivered a report in tragic circumstances in a way that has gone down well with the people who are most affected by it. That is the nice thing—but now I will disagree with the order of the reports. We should not be talking about the phase 1 report today but the phase 2 report. Phase 2 should have been first. While phase 1 deals with some serious failings by the bureaucracy that was supposed to look after the welfare of the people the firefighters were trying to protect—and that is important—they are largely lessons for London to learn. We have high-rise buildings at the same risk as Grenfell all over the country. We need to get to the bottom of what that fire was about and understand why that piece of white goods, which was a recalled machine, still burst into flames. Fire safety for white goods in this country does not work properly. There is no accessible national database for the public to see. We should be pushing hard for that.
The cladding seems to be what everybody is focusing on at the moment, but that is not the only part of the problem. The problem is also the insulation that sits behind it. There are lots of other buildings with that insulation but different cladding. The fire breaks that were supposed to be there did not work, so the compartmentalisation was breached from the day the building was renovated. Nobody knew about that until it was too late, but we know about it for other buildings now.
Those are the things that we should be drawing out from this, but the trouble with this report is that it has allowed the public narrative to be about the failings of the fire service. When you say, “fire service”, most people think, “firefighters”. How can we allow a situation in which so many brave men did things on the night that seem insane—going in and out of that building several times and risking their lives—and now we have that whole group of people feeling that they are the butt of the problem? Clearly, they were not; they were real heroes on that night, and this House should make sure that the message that leaves here is that we feel nothing but immense gratitude to the firefighters on that night and to the support staff who worked with them. I cannot imagine how traumatic it must have been for everybody.
If we are really going to do anything about this, we need to insist that the second report is started now, not in the new year, and is done expeditiously, rather than taking two years to deliver. Every single interim finding must be released, as soon as it can be, so that the Government can bring in policies to act on it and try to do something to make people safe when they sleep at night. I know it is a hard thing for the Government to get their head around, but we have to accept the fact that this was caused largely by failures in the system that were beyond the control of any one individual or set of partners. Local councils have a lot to learn from this, as do the Government. I hasten to add that that is not just the current Government; this goes back to when Members on the other side of the House were running what was going on. The seeds of Grenfell started in 2006, I think.
So there is learning that needs to be learned, but it is a bit like being an alcoholic; unless you realise you have a problem, you cannot hope to fix it. We all need to make sure that the Government—of whatever colour after the election—are held to account. They must accept the failings that have gone before and have a clear plan for what to fix. If these reports had been the other way around, we would now have a solid evidence base to start to do that—but at the moment we still do not have it.
I will ask the Minister for two things. First, in summing up, will he make sure that the House’s feelings about the bravery of the firefighters on the night is the main bit that sits in the public record about this report? Secondly, will he urge the department to make sure that the report is done expeditiously and that we get early sight of any recommendations, so that the Government can start to formulate policies that will address some of the safety issues? This goes much wider than just the one building. This is a national problem affecting buildings all over the country, including some with different types of material, not just the type that has been singled out here. Until we get that done, we are letting the real criminals off the hook—and, with some of the things that have gone on with this, they are criminals, almost certainly.
My Lords, I start by commending the firemen who carried out such acts of bravery on the night, as the noble Lord, Lord Porter, rightly said.
I wish to declare an interest. Since the day after the fire, my husband has been a regular visitor to Grenfell, and on behalf of the National Theatre, with a colleague, has been writing a play that directly captures the voices of the survivors and the bereaved. Because of that, I have watched much of the inquiry and been able to speak directly to lawyers and survivors. I thank them today for taking the time to brief me.
I commend the patience and bravery of the residents, survivors and bereaved of Grenfell Tower who have not only tirelessly fought to seek justice for themselves and their loved ones but made it their mission to ensure that a fire of this nature should never happen again. I want to put on the record that Mr Kebede, in whose 4th floor flat the fire broke out, has been entirely exonerated. The vilification of this man, who at each point did the correct thing, was a disgrace.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s phase 1 report confirms that the fire at Grenfell was a preventable tragedy. Significantly, the report finds that the cladding used in the refurbishment—which was a primary, but not the only, cause of the fire spreading—was non-compliant with building regulations. That is a shocking and scandalous fact, yet he also finds that similar cladding remains on 400 other tall buildings across the UK. On this issue he makes no recommendation because:
“It is unnecessary for me to recommend that panels with polyethylene cores on the exterior of high-rise buildings be removed as soon as possible and replaced with materials of limited combustibility because it is accepted that that must be done”.
Sir Martin then adds his voice to that of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that called the lack of progress in removing Grenfell-like cladding “unacceptable” and speaks of the Government’s moral duty to act swiftly. The chairman of this most rigorous and thoughtful report felt that the removal of cladding was already identified as such an urgent and obvious action that it was “unnecessary” to make a further recommendation. So I ask the Minister, when he is back in his place, whether he can today commit to taking down non-compliant cladding of all varieties, irrespective of the occupants’ tenure or the final cost. It seems that fire spreads quickly, but justice moves slowly.
The report is a bracing critique of the specific failings which, on the night, contributed to the tragedy at Grenfell. However, it will escape no one who reads the report in full that Frances Kirkham, the coroner who investigated the cladding fire at Lakanal House in 2009, also made recommendations, which were equally clear but remained unheeded. If they had been heeded, we may have avoided the fire at Grenfell.
I hope that the House will be as appalled as I was to be told that between 2014 and 2017 the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group wrote to Ministers 21 times to ask for the Lakanal House recommendations to be implemented—only to be comprehensively ignored. That is an outrage, and it must not happen this time. It is imperative that the Moore-Bick recommendations are implemented without delay. While I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday that he will accept the findings and act on the recommendations, it is necessary for the Government to say today when those recommendations will be implemented and how we can trust them to do so.
A briefing from the campaign group Inquest, which has worked closely with the families of Grenfell, makes a recommendation for the establishment of a “national oversight mechanism”, described as,
“an independent public body tasked with the duty to collate, analyse and monitor recommendations and their implementation arising from inquiries, inquests and post-death investigations”.
Perhaps the Minister can say whether the Government will implement such a mechanism to make sure that history does not repeat itself, because we cannot take oversight for granted. The Public Authority (Accountability) Bill, which had its First Reading just three months before the Grenfell fire, provided statutory duties for public and private bodies to protect and implement recommendations in the interests of victims—but it was withdrawn just before the 2017 election and never reappeared. We are about to have another election, so can the Minister assure the House that the interests of victims will not once again be sidelined for political expediency?
The Grenfell inquiry has been world class—a collective effort of the residents, bereaved and survivors, and the tireless work of the legal teams and the inquiry team itself. But it has met obfuscation and obstruction by commercial companies actively responsible for creating a non-compliant building surface that not only failed to prevent the spread of the fire but actively promoted it. It is clear from chapter 34, paragraphs 7 to 12, that Sir Martin intends to tackle this forensically during phase 2, so I will not pre-empt those findings. But there is something rotten with our culture when our regulatory system and business practice can commission a human tragedy on the scale of Grenfell. I hope that the Minister will join me in condemning the obstruction of those who should step up and acknowledge their part in the tragedy. As one survivor said to me this morning, “We fear a carousel of scapegoating and finger-pointing, but what we need is for the carousel to stop and for individuals and organisations to now accept their responsibilities”.
The legacy of the lives lost and the safety of those in buildings still dangerously clad are in the Government’s hands. The Moore-Bick recommendations must be taken up with the greatest expediency. This would represent the best way of moving towards justice for Grenfell.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for the opportunity to have this debate. I acknowledge the huge efforts he made as a Minister in the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster. I pay tribute to the resilience of local people since the fire, in particular to the campaigning work of Grenfell United, which has had a profound impact on our thinking and will have much more yet.
We have heard that this report is forensic in its detail, and it is. It shows that compartmentation did not work; that the “stay put” policy became a mistake; that external walls failed to comply with building regulations; that the new cladding and insulation boards actively promoted the spread of fire; that the command plan on the night of the fire was not adequate; and that there were some very serious deficiencies in training and organisation. That said, we must pay tribute to all the individual firefighters who showed immense personal bravery on the night.
A great deal has been said about the causes of the fire and its extent and I shall not repeat it all. Rather, I will concentrate on the implications of Grenfell for tenants and leaseholders in residential blocks, whether over 18 metres or lower. The first relates to compulsory electrical safety checks. We know that the fire broke out as the result of an electrical fault in a large fridge- freezer. It should not have done. Do the Government take account of the experience of other countries and their policies for regular safety checks of electrical appliances, and how policies in this country might be changed to reflect the need to reduce the number of faulty electrical appliances? What discussions have the Government had with the Electrical Safety Council on ways risks can be reduced?
My second concern relates to local councils and fire and rescue services right across the country, and the quality and robustness of their emergency planning. At this point, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I have previously asked this question but I ask it again: have the Government taken any steps to ensure that the emergency plans of local councils and fire and rescue services across the country are up to date and properly tested?
My third point relates to the need for the Government to be clearer on timescales for the next stages of their work on building safety, by which I mean they need to speed things up. The report by Sir Martin Moore-Bick is very critical, at paragraph 33.6, of the Government’s slowness in getting combustible materials off affected buildings. I hope the Minister is in a position to clarify how quickly they can achieve that clear objective.
Further, the Government’s consultation on strengthening building safety regulations, arising from the Hackitt report, ended in July, so can the Minister tell the House what the Government’s timescales for reform actually are, given that it is now the end of October? The noble Lord, Lord Porter, made a very forceful case for faster action. I support every word he said.
Next, I have an issue about the right of tenants and leaseholders to have up-to-date information about the safety of their blocks. Surely everybody should have a right to know how safe their building is, yet it is astonishing that Grenfell, which was run by a tenant management organisation, fell outside the remit of the Freedom of Information Act, as do all housing associations. I raised this issue in a debate in July and the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said:
“The review of social housing regulation, announced in the Government’s social housing Green Paper last summer”—
that is, in 2018—
“will look at how transparency and accountability for tenants can be improved. I will ensure that this review takes on board the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about the legitimate requirements of tenants”.—[Official Report, 23/7/19; col. 740.]
I make the request again: it is terribly important that information is available for those who live in buildings about which they might have concerns.
I mentioned the need for the Government to speed up. It was reported in the Times on Monday that owners of up to 500,000 flats might have difficulty selling them because of the Government’s guidance in their advice note 14, “Advice on external wall systems that do not incorporate aluminium composite material”. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, referred to this issue in his speech in greater detail I plan to, but there is clearly a very serious problem. Mortgage lenders are requiring a certificate of compliance, which can be impossible to get since it requires technical information on the original construction of the building. Can the Minister confirm what government policy now is in respect of such blocks, since they represent 94% of the total? ACM cladding affects only 6% of all blocks.
As we have heard, the fire at Grenfell Tower should not have happened. I am pleased that Sir Martin Moore- Bick’s recommendations are being accepted by the Government, but the question that has been posed by several contributors in this debate remains: how quickly will those recommendations be implemented?
My Lords, our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the 72 people who lost their lives at Grenfell, and our admiration is for the firefighters and emergency staff who dealt with that terrible tragedy.
The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, made a very well-judged and comprehensive speech when opening the debate. He highlighted all the major issues, which I hope the Minister will address in his conclusion. However, reading Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report and, crucially, the House of Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, published on 15 July, it is clear that cladding and what should be done to remove it is a big and compelling issue.
I will cut to the chase, as this is an issue directly for the Minister. Significant criticism is being made of the speed at which the Government are responding to the recommendations on the cladding, the amount of money they are prepared to put in and their acceptance of the scale of the task of removing the cladding. The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, was absolutely to the point on this. She made all the points that I would wish to make in my speech. They go to the heart of the issue, because in Sir Martin’s report, it is clear that the 400 other blocks with the same cladding, and others with related types of cladding, are a set of further disasters waiting to happen. There can be no excuse whatsoever for not being forewarned and taking the appropriate remedial action.
As the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, this goes back not just to the Grenfell Tower catastrophe but further, to the 2009 Lakanal House fire and the coroner’s report, which was very specific about this type of cladding and what should be done to remove it. Reading the report, it is clear that we are in exactly the same position we were in after the 2009 disaster. The failure to act speedily after clear recommendations, then by the coroner and now by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, could lead—let us be blunt—to further lives being lost if there is another incident of this kind.
Therefore, I would like to put to the Minister the four key recommendations of the House of Commons’ Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report, which was published in July, and ask for his response to them. I have gone through the paper trail and there still has not been a compelling and adequate government response to those recommendations. Let me repeat them. First:
“The Government should set a realistic, but short, deadline by which time all buildings with any form of dangerous cladding should be fully remediated. It is taking far too long to remove and replace potentially dangerous cladding from high-rise and high-risk buildings. Government policies and funding mechanisms should work to meet this deadline, while sanctions should follow for building owners who fail to make their buildings safe within a reasonable timeframe”.
What timescale are the Government setting for removing the cladding from these 400 buildings? Can the Minister give us a date by which it will be removed?
The second recommendation was:
“The Government is highly likely to need to provide additional funding to remediate buildings with dangerous ACM cladding. It is welcome that the Government has finally provided funding to meet the costs of replacing unsafe ACM cladding from privately owned high-rise residential buildings, as we called for in July 2018”.
That was well over a year ago.
“We fear, however, that £200 million will not be sufficient to fully remediate all affected buildings”.
That is the judgment of the House of Commons. Can the Minister tell us what his judgment is? Is the £200 million enough? If it is not, what additional resources will the Government provide?
The third key recommendation from the committee was that:
“The Government cannot morally justify funding the replacement of one form of dangerous cladding, but not others”.
The committee then asked what the Government’s view was on related types of cladding, and I would like to ask the Minister that question too.
The fourth and final, but equally important, recommendation of the committee, was that:
“The Government should immediately extend its fund to cover the removal and replacement of any form of combustible cladding—as defined by the Government’s combustible cladding ban—from any high-rise or high-risk building … There is an unfortunate feeling of deja vu around the Government’s approach to non-ACM cladding and a sense that they will inevitably end up paying for it after a short period of prevaricating. In the meantime, tens of thousands of affected residents continue to live in potentially dangerous buildings, or have been sent large bills for remedial works”.
It cannot be satisfactory to Parliament that tens of thousands of residents of blocks with potentially dangerous cladding are being subject to high risk and potentially high personal bills to deal with circumstances which are beyond their control. Therefore, although I enormously admired the measured tone in which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, opened the debate, I stress that the issues raised here are extremely urgent. The judgment of Sir Martin Moore-Bick and the House of Commons committee is that the Government are not acting with sufficient alacrity. We hope that the Minister will give a reassurance that this is now going to be tackled.
My Lords, I can begin only by repeating the sentiments that many noble Lords have expressed about the amazing, powerful work of Grenfell United, the victims, survivors and families, who have, through their grief and suffering, fought to say, “Never again”. Like many other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the brave work of so many firefighters and emergency staff on the ground that night.
I begin by reflecting on a personal experience. In 2007, there was a fire that in many ways presaged later tragedies. It was in a block called Bucklebury, on the Regent’s Park estate in Camden. The staircases—the fire escapes—filled with smoke because the fire doors had been removed. The firefighters had to use breathing apparatus to evacuate the residents. I know about this because, until a couple of months before, I had been a resident of Bucklebury. When using the fire stairs, I had noticed that some of the doors were missing. I rang the council, after which I assumed that the matter had been dealt with. I was moving, so I did not think about it again, yet when we heard the reports of the fire in the excellent local newspaper, the Camden New Journal, we found that those fire doors had not been fixed.
We move forward two years, to an incident that many noble Lords have referred to, the Lakanal House fire. My noble friend Lady Jones was part of the London Assembly inquiry into that fire. There were lessons from that fire: the “stay put” guidance had to be reconsidered, and it was noted that there was no plan in place to change that advice to “get out”. That was in 2009. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, referred to the fact that there is very strong evidence of how sprinkler systems could make an immediate difference. Yet we are two years on from the great tragedy of Grenfell and nothing has happened. We have heard again and again, on many different points, a call for action. We do not want to be here next year, the year after that and in five years’ time, making calls for the same kind of action on fire safety in tower blocks that I was calling for in 2007. I do not want to go over the same ground. Many powerful points have been made already, but I want to follow the lead of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham in looking at some big systems issues behind what happened in the tragedy of Grenfell.
Your Lordships will hear me talk often about the need for transformational system change. I used to be a newspaper editor and one of the stories behind the Grenfell tragedy is the loss of local newspapers, and their local journalism and reporting. There was a very powerful website for the Grenfell Action Group blog, which drew attention to many of the issues now covered in this report. There was also a local journalist called Camilla Horrox, who reported for the Kensington and Chelsea Chronicle in 2014 on the issues around fire safety and electricals in Grenfell Tower. Later that year, the newspaper closed down and those stories disappeared from the internet. When the residents sought local journalists—we have to ask other London journalists why they had not picked this up—to report their concerns, there was nothing there. In his powerful maiden speech, the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, referred to the Leveson inquiry. The undelivered second part of that inquiry focused on the concentration of media ownership, and it might have looked at the lack of local media coverage. If we are to have democracy and safety, we need strong local media.
To address another systemic issue, I go back to February 2017, when details were posted on a government website about an anti-red-tape agenda on new-build properties. In a separate report at about the same time, the Government were boasting that fire inspections were being reduced, in some cases, from six hours to just 45 minutes. There is a very lazy phrase that we hear not just, I am afraid, from one side of this House or one side of politics: “We are going to cut red tape”. I ask your Lordships to consider Grenfell every time you hear that phrase, and think about replacing “red tape” with “the rules and regulations that keep us safe, at work and in our homes”. I really had this driven home to me back in 2014 by a meeting at the Green Party conference with the brilliant Hazards Campaign, which focuses on safety at work. It has a phrase, “Better red tape than red bandages”, which is one that I have repeated often since.
We have to focus on the issues about cladding and safety rules, and about the resources available to our emergency services. But in looking at Grenfell, we also have to look at some very broad systemic problems in our society and the need for transformational change.
My Lords, I too express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for introducing this debate. As a practising chartered surveyor, I spend much of my time investigating and trying to head off building defects. I must declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and patron of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers. However, I speak not from a special knowledge of tower blocks but more generally. I warmly congratulate our three maiden speakers on their splendid contributions to our debate and look forward to hearing from them in future debates.
That in this country, with its systems for product testing and approval and its long history of construction regulation and fire safety, we should be considering a report into so many avoidable deaths and shattered lives, and the gutted shell of a once purposeful block of homes, should make us all pause to reflect. I share the appreciation of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inclusion of a place in his report for each and every one of the victims by name. His Grenfell phase 1 report is truly vast in scope and forensic in its detail. I congratulate his team on it.
My purpose is to look at the failings across the sectors of building construction, improvement and maintenance, and use and management. Like the noble Lord, Lord Porter, I would have preferred to see phase 2 now rather than later because we have a substantial legacy of, and commitment to, high-rise residential blocks in this country. Over time, the perceived risks and the regulatory environment governing them has evolved. Not all critical change to a building is obvious; some really quite subtle changes can alter risks in ways not apparent even to local authority building control or environmental health officers, let alone to the fire and rescue service. Regulations governing post-construction alterations are not always retroactive in effect, as I understand it. At any given time, many buildings will almost certainly not meet the latest standards. On fire doors, at any rate, the report serves to change that, but there is clearly yet more to uncover about wider systemic construction failings.
It seems that there is no more than an informal voluntary system among management bodies for recording or storing the critical features of design and performance data for buildings, for the handing over of core information to successive owners and for logging alterations and repairs. In some cases, these are carried out without reference to expert examination, or perhaps even to the insurers and other interested parties—including, yes, residents. Localised or specialist installation works can fail to take into account the larger implications for a block as a whole. But to be fair to the fire and rescue service across the country, it can fulfil its duties only to the extent that the information is current and available in a useable form, so that it can use it. The report makes valuable recommendations here also and let us note that poor co-ordination is not the exclusive preserve of public bodies.
There has in the past been no equivalent to product recall for buildings, whether from a design fault, critical component failure or poor manufacture and assembly. Many construction warranties seem to protect the developer under the caveat emptor principle and give comfort to mortgagees rather than provide a guarantee of construction adequacy to the consumer. Stricter liabilities will, I am certain, be something for the future.
I note that a recent fire in Greater London in a modern four-storey block of flats erected by a respected housebuilding group appears to have revealed serious workmanship, construction management and warranty sign-off shortcomings. It looks as if, even now, we are not erecting new residential accommodation to the standards legally required. I am not sure that the current regulatory balance of expendable buildings provided occupants can get out safely gives the right signal or avoids perverse outcomes. Not only should occupants be able to evacuate safely but the accommodation unit must contain fire, and perhaps modest explosion, safely and not result in wholesale building failure.
The report’s implicit assertion that blocks of flats should withstand modest kitchen fires is therefore timely. From faulty tumble dryers subject to recall but where the ownership, whereabouts and circumstances of use may be largely unknown, to poorly manufactured smartphone and laptop batteries, in dwellings accidents can happen.
Some will point to the dwindling resources available to local authority building control as a factor. The truth is that their resource has been eroded by manpower losses to the private sector. Approved inspector firms have taken a lot of the available capacity. I have on too many occasions seen defective workmanship and short-cutting in site supervision and construction management. We need more inspectors of higher quality and better regulation and not their alienation.
There is not always an adequate understanding of a building’s fire protection philosophy, any more than there is sometimes of the thermal envelope or the style and category of occupation. That is not unique to social housing or to tower blocks; it happens everywhere. There is fragmentation of responsibility, lack of integration and limited scope of roles, the silo mentality that we hear about, budgetary delimitations, a lack of holistic approach and checks by rote rather than asking those awkward “what if” questions. As we know, modern contracting arrangements in building construction are also fragmented, with known shortcomings in labour, management and contractual arrangements.
I sense that we have lost sight of some of the objectives of delivery of safe, durable and competent housing, and lost an ability to maintain an all-encompassing grasp of the construction process. Technology could assist us, but it is no good if the raw data is not stored properly. Management clearly needs to know, and to inform and educate residents. The bottom line, referred to by other noble Lords, is that the process of the law will follow. The Australian court decision in the Lacrosse fire case has put all on notice of collective responsibility and the pursuit of justice when professionals get it wrong. Phase 2 will undoubtedly complete the picture of just how much more work there is to do, and I look forward to it.
My Lords, it is both a privilege and a challenge to contribute to this debate, in which there have been so many excellent contributions. The terrible events of 14 June 2017 will leave a mark on our national public consciousness for years to come. Today, we have remembered the victims and their families, and those traumatised by their experiences not just that night but in the days, weeks, months and, sadly, years since. They were all victims of a catastrophe that should not have happened and that must not be repeated. To avoid that, we must have a clear understanding of what went wrong, what the contributing factors were, what measures are needed to remove and change those factors; and, quite rightly, survivors and residents want to know who made the mistakes that created the disaster.
I want to join other noble Lords in warmly welcoming the phase 1 report by Sir Martin Moore-Bick. It is forensic; it is forthright, and it is devastating. I want to hear the Minister repeat what I heard the Prime Minister say yesterday—that the Government will accept all the recommendations—and I hope that he can put some timescales on it, as a number of noble Lords have requested.
If one looks at chapter 34 of that report, one sees that it gives a precursor of the likely, equally devastating conclusions that will come from phase 2 next year; that is, in respect of the adequacy of the regulations, the monitoring and competency of the construction and material supply industry, the testing of products and the record-keeping. All these are matters which noble Lords have raised during this debate, and I hope that the Minister will take to heart the point that we do not have to wait for the publication of phase 2 to start work on tackling the problems already identified.
It is a sad truism of major disasters of this sort that they happen only when there are multiple system failures—it is never just one thing. Unfortunately, at Grenfell that was exactly the case, so it is not to be expected that the solution comes from one particular sector; it comes from all sectors and we have to be alert to that.
I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for introducing this debate, which has been valuable and has had plenty of expertise brought to bear on it. I thank him for the leading role he played as a Minister in the Government post Grenfell, not just for keeping this House well informed but for the sensitivity and thoughtfulness that he always showed, and continues to show, about the terrible issues that Grenfell raises. His courteous and thorough answers to our sometimes difficult questions have been a model of ministerial accountability over the past two years, and I echo the thoughts of others that I hope on a future occasion—but perhaps not in the next Government—he will again have that opportunity.
I also want to say how much I value the contributions from all three of our maiden speakers today. The noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, is clearly far from being at the shallow end, and we look forward to her further contributions very much. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, who is perhaps the self-definition of a Labour lawyer, I am sure that we will find many occasions to listen carefully to the advice that he gives. And it is a real pleasure to see the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, in this House. I think the noble Lord will find that he already has many noble friends. You will be able to tell the friends of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, because they will all have little nibbles in their ears from the times that he has so effectively lobbied us to take action, in our political parties and in our public life, to make sure that we have a more diverse public life. We have seen from his outstanding speech today that he will not rest until we get there.
There were so many other important and valuable contributions that it is quite embarrassing to comment or not to comment, but there were some really important points that I hope the Minister has noted. Those that particularly struck me were: the need to stress-test for the unthinkable, which is something that, apparently, had not happened; the need to look carefully at the public alert technology that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to, which it seems is stuck in a ministerial in-tray and just needs a good kick to get going; and that red tape is not always what it looks like. Sometimes, red tape is a safety net, and knowing the difference between red tape and a safety net is something that we need to be absolutely sure we get right.
I echo what has been said about the valiant work done on the night by firefighters. I absolutely support and commend the work that they did and the comments in their support that have been made today, but there is no getting away from the fact that the report found that there were fundamental problems with the command and control systems of the emergency services. I am indebted to the London Fire Brigade, the mayor’s office and the LGA for their responses to the report’s criticism. They have made some strong and pertinent points by way of what we might broadly speak of as rebuttal. However, the report did expose that recommendations made by the coroner to the brigade and other emergency services back in 2013 as a result of Lakanal had not been implemented. The response of the fire chief at the inquiry hearing was deeply troubling, as the report sets out.
London is one of the largest cities in the world. It is complex and multi-risk, and the London Fire Brigade and emergency services in general are charged with protecting it and the people who live here. We need to have confidence that the resources, the competencies and the leadership are there for them to do so. I want to hear the Minister say that the Government will make sure that they are, and that resources from the centre will never be a barrier to making sure that that happens.
Phase 2 needs to start immediately and to proceed at pace; I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Porter, on that really important point. Apparently, it will start in the new year—which is about when the new Government is going to start, so perhaps I should not be too critical of that—but we surely need to get things moving. Residents are already downcast at the time it has taken to produce phase 1, and they are urgently in need of reassurance that phase 2 will start quickly, deliver quickly, and produce closure and outcome for them. Of course, it is also important because we need to get started on putting right the many systems that must be overhauled and changed. We must allow the police to pursue their own inquiries into criminal liability and to bring charges where evidence supports it. We absolutely must not have another sequence of events like Hillsborough, where lingering uncertainty and prosecutions go on stretching years ahead.
In parallel to that, I want to see rapid action by the Government on legislation to implement the Dame Judith Hackitt report. I welcome the Government’s consultation proposals on that. They are due to complete that consultation in January; I hope that they can say—as a new Government—that they will commit to having in their new Queen’s Speech a Bill to cover that, just as I can assure the Minister that, if the Liberal Democrats have any power to do so, we will certainly be saying exactly the same thing.
I want to pick out some of the consequences of the Hackitt consultation. In many ways, its implementation will answer many of the points that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and others raised about the need for far higher quality buildings, properly supervised, with a golden thread of responsibility from the very beginning of the design, right through the building’s life, to demolition at the end of its life. Many of the questions and problems that have emerged in this debate and from the report will be answered by such a system being in place. The London Fire Brigade in its response this week has said it wants to see the Hackitt programme of oversight and supervision of high-rise buildings, which is in the report, extended to all buildings, not just high-rise buildings. I notice that the Government’s consultation document, in paragraphs 241 and 243, asks for views on extending it to all building regulations: the one way of improving the woeful standards of our construction industry is to say yes to that question and to get on with it.
Grenfell has been an unmitigated disaster for the families and the local community and has touched the hearts of the whole nation. It must not happen again, and I believe that every noble Lord in this House will want to make sure that whatever Government we have after the election are held to account to deliver that.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for bringing this Motion to the House today. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others, that he always kept the House informed when he was a Minister. If we are going to have a Conservative Government, I hope that he will be a Minister in it—maybe not soon, but if there is to be one I will always want him to be a member of it. The report enables the House to debate the first stage of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, and we are very grateful to him for bringing the Motion before us.
We heard three excellent and powerful maiden speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson of Welton, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, and my noble friend Lord Hendy. I congratulate them all and, like others in this House, look forward to further contributions from each of them in the period ahead. I thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick for his thorough and comprehensive report into what happened at Grenfell Tower. It is a powerful and compelling document. The noble Lord, Lord Porter, made an important point about the order of the inquiry and the fact that it is actually back to front. I agree with him, but that is what has happened so we must now get on with the second stage of the inquiry as speedily as we can in the new year, as other noble Lords have said.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, referred to, reading chapter 32 is heartbreaking, telling of 70 lives lost on the night, a child stillborn as a result of the trauma and another resident who died in hospital a few days later. It is a fitting tribute to celebrate their lives, their hopes and dreams and the contribution the victims made to their community. I pay tribute to the survivors and their families in their fight for justice and to uncover the truth with that steely determination and dignity they have shown all the way through. I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, about the work of Grenfell United.
It makes me even more angry at the lack of respect shown to the victims of the fire, to the survivors and their families, by the publishing of parts of the report in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday of this week. There is no justification whatever for the paper: it was a truly dreadful thing to have done. My noble friend Lord Whitty referred to this. No public interest was served; it was just to get it out there first, ahead of other media outlets, ahead of the game and ahead of colleagues who would be attending the press briefing and getting copies of the report the following day. Survivors, families and core participants should have been able to read the report, take in what had been said and prepare themselves for the formal publication yesterday, but that was cruelly denied them. I condemn the actions of the Daily Telegraph in the strongest possible terms
I agree with my noble friend Lord Hendy that it would be very welcome indeed to learn that Sir Martin intends to summon the editors of the newspapers to the inquiry to explain their actions. I hope that there will be a full investigation into the leak, that we will identify whoever was behind it and that action will be taken against them. When the Minister speaks shortly, could he confirm that the Government will ensure that a proper police investigation into it will take place? Let us be clear: if the leaker and the Daily Telegraph get away with this in stage 1, it will happen in stage 2, and then any other inquiry on any other issue in the future will be at risk of leaks and the further hurt and damage they entail.
The report makes it clear that it was the cladding on the building, the aluminium composite material rainscreen and the combustible insulation behind it that was the cause of the fire spreading so rapidly on the outside of Grenfell Tower. The cladding was fitted in breach of building regulations, producing a fire which cost 72 people their lives. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell the House how many other blocks of flats, nearly two and a half years after the fire, still have the same cladding fixed to the building. Private or public, it makes no difference; even if there is only one block, it is a scandal and must be rectified immediately.
My noble friend Lord Adonis made the point that there can be no excuse for the remedial work taking so long—it must be done urgently. However, there is a further problem. Cladding is being used on schools, hospitals and office buildings. It is everywhere. This material has to come off all buildings; it is just not an appropriate material to use today. In this Chamber I have called on the Government to empower local authorities to remove cladding from private blocks where there is no response from the building owner or where they refuse to act. We must ensure that happens. Could the Minister update us on that?
I pay tribute to all the emergency services for their bravery and courage: the Metropolitan Police, the London Ambulance Service and particularly the London Fire Brigade, the firefighters on the night who went into that tower to fight the fire and save people. These are enormously brave people who worked in the most challenging of circumstances at Grenfell Tower, going well beyond what would normally be asked of them at any time. I concur completely with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Porter, in his tribute to the brave firefighters risking their lives again and again to save people on the night of the fire. They are heroes.
Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s recommendations are thorough and challenging and need to be carefully assessed and fully implemented. They will require changes to practice and procedures, new ways of working and a whole new approach to building safety. There can be no excuse for not delivering what has been set out in the report: changes to operations in the London Fire Brigade, and in every other fire and rescue service in the country and I expect across the world, and changes in how first responders communicate with each other and members of the public. My noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey gave a compelling case for the urgent introduction of emergency alert technology into the UK without any further delay.
There is also the question of how local authorities look after blocks of flats and their tenants and leaseholders, and how the owners of private blocks of flats maintain them and look after their residents. There is a huge challenge for the Government not only in implementing the recommendations or the legislation that is needed but in providing the resources that must be commensurate with the new obligations that will be placed on fire and rescue services, first responders and local authorities and others: the training on an ongoing basis which will have to be repeated again and again; the gathering of information and making it immediately available as required to those who need it in times of emergency; the establishment of thorough procedures; the upkeep of that information; and the powers that will have to be given to the fire service, the police, the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities so that they can take legal action and prosecute to the full extent of the law those who will not take their responsibilities seriously.
Dame Judith Hackitt called for fundamental reforms to fix the broken system of building regulations. Buildings must be designed, built and maintained with fire safety as a priority. We need to see urgent action from the Government on these matters. Could the Minister update the House on the progress they are making in this regard?
I very much hope that the Government listen to calls from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and others for sprinkler systems to be introduced. This happened in Wales, having been introduced by the Welsh Assembly when he was a Member. The Government have to follow that action and introduce sprinklers here in England. I fully support the calls for urgent research on buildings that fail on fire safety, as that leaves the “stay put” advice compromised and no longer viable.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said that the response in the aftermath of the fire was truly shocking, and it was. It was the community, the churches, mosques, the synagogue and the charities that stepped in when the local authority failed to deliver. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham told the House of the wonderful work they undertook, and I join him in paying tribute to everyone involved. I also recognise that when the emergency support plans were put in place a few days after the fire, teams of local authority staff from across London and civil servants came together to bring stability to the situation on the ground. We also pay tribute to them for their work.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate that we have to change our attitude to housing. The loss of council housing and the failure to see housing as homes needs to change. Everyone deserves to live in a home that is clean, safe, warm and dry, and there is nothing wrong with growing up or living in a council property.
I very much agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, about the loss of local papers and the ability to hold local power to account, be that the local council, the local police or any other power centre. As a local councillor in Southwark in the 1980s and 1990s, the South London Press was a vital part of holding the authority and others to account. It knew what was going on in Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham, Greenwich and Wandsworth, it knew who the leadership was, and it would hold you to account. The current state of affairs is regrettable, as we do not have those local papers in many parts of our country. I also agree with her remarks about red tape. As has been said, these regulations often keep you safe and alive. The “two in, one out” policy was daft— absolute nonsense—and I hope that the Minister can confirm that it is no longer the case.
In concluding my remarks, I again pay tribute to the survivors, the families and to Grenfell United for their determination to get to the truth of what happened at Grenfell Tower. I thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his team for all their work to date and as we move on to the second phase of the inquiry, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to my predecessor in my role, my noble friend Lord Bourne, for initiating this debate on the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report. I, and the whole House, know that he understands these matters so well, and I am now honoured to respond.
It is fitting that my noble friend Lady Sanderson of Welton made her heartfelt maiden speech in this House today. I pay tribute to her for her tireless work in the aftermath of the tragedy, building a strong relationship with the Grenfell community on behalf of the previous Prime Minister and ensuring that those impacted received the critical support that they needed. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, a tireless campaigner for social and racial equality, and the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, a renowned QC in the field of industrial relations and employment law, for their maiden speeches in this House, which were both excellent and had some serious messages. We will no doubt hear much more from them in future, and from my noble friend, as they make their mark in this Chamber.
Over two years have passed since the tragedy that shook the nation, but the 72 people who died following those horrific events will for ever remain in our thoughts and prayers. All those who lost loved ones and their homes deserve to know why the Grenfell Tower fire happened. Yesterday’s publication of the report was an important step in this regard. I take this opportunity to thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick and the inquiry team for their work, both in producing this report and in preparing for the next phase of hearings. It provides some comfort that, as we have heard today, the report is widely regarded as thorough, informative and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said, forensic.
It was important for the Government to establish this as a full independent public inquiry. It has been able to establish, first, what happened on the night of the fire; secondly, how emergency services responded; and, thirdly, how the building was so dangerously exposed to the risk of fire. We were clear that the inquiry should leave no stone unturned, no matter how uncomfortable the facts. The people of the Grenfell community must be allowed to learn the truth behind that appalling loss of life and how it was allowed to happen. They deserve nothing less.
My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked about criminal charges and how many people have been interviewed under caution. It is not for the Government to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, but I can say that the Metropolitan Police continues to investigate the causes of this terrible tragedy, needing to take into account the work of the inquiry, including this report and the next.
I take a moment to commend the bereaved, the survivors and everyone affected by this tragedy. We will never truly understand all that the victims of this tragedy went through. My noble friend Lady Sanderson mentioned the essential need for change. She is right. Let there be no doubt: our commitment to ensure change is unwavering.
Noble Lords will know that the phase 1 report is focused on what happened that fateful night, and particularly on the response of the emergency services. Let me be clear in my message today, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Porter. I also pay tribute to the heroism and bravery of those who responded to the fire: running towards danger, some more than once, entering a burning building and saving lives that night.
Sadly, heroism alone could not counter a fire of this nature, and Sir Martin outlines several significant shortcomings in the London Fire Brigade’s response. Clearly, there are lessons for our fire services from this tragedy and from this report. Crucially, he identifies the failure to change the “stay put” advice once it became clear that it was no longer the correct strategy. However, as Sir Martin said in the report:
“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.”
The Government already took action on this issue following the Lakanal House fire, in particular by working with the sector to review national guidance on high-rise firefighting, including the “stay put” policy and evacuation. This was carried out both before and after the coroner’s findings in 2013.
As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State highlighted in the other place, the Government, along with the National Fire Chiefs Council and others, will continue to review the “stay put” advice to ensure that lessons are learned. We have already completed a call for evidence and published a summary of the responses, which showed consensus that “stay put” was the right approach but for buildings correctly designed, built and maintained.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised some important points about communications—the noble Lord particularly asked about mobile telephones. This must indeed be part of our work with the National Fire Chiefs Council. I will ensure that that issue is raised, if it is not already part of its considerations. I acknowledge those important points.
I am also acutely aware that the report concludes there were significant failings in both the construction and design of the building. I want to be clear today that we plan to accept in principle all the recommendations that Sir Martin makes for central government.
My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked about legislation. We will work with stakeholders to deliver that. That will include proposing legislation ahead of the Hackitt reforms, if that would mean that the recommendations can be implemented sooner. Our task must now be to consider how we can best implement the recommendations quickly and build on the work we have already done to ensure that people are safe in their homes.
To answer my noble friend Lord Porter’s question about the decision for phase 1 to focus on the events of the night, I must stress that the order of the independent reports is very much a matter for the chairman. I can only point to Sir Martin’s statement, in which he said that,
“there is an urgent need to find out what aspects of the building’s design and construction”,
led to the disaster, and to,
“understand the chain of events”,
of the night,
“in some detail”—
and, as such, find out what steps must be taken so that those who live in other high-rise buildings are safe.
The noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made points about timings and urgency. That certainly chimes with me. The Government did not wait for the publication of this report, or the hearings to begin on the phase 2 inquiry, to press ahead with strengthening building and fire safety measures.
My noble friend Lord Bourne asked about high-rise buildings. The department has already consulted on proposals to apply higher standards to new high-rise residential buildings, including on sprinklers, signage and communication systems, which are now also a recommendation of the inquiry.
My noble friend also asked about the height at which buildings are considered to be high-rise. Although the consultation proposes a height of 18 metres, the Secretary of State has been clear that the Government will follow the evidence, should the height threshold need to be changed.
The Minister mentioned my remarks and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. The House of Commons committee recommended:
“The Government should set a realistic, but short, deadline by which time all buildings with any form of dangerous cladding should be fully remediated”.
Can the Minister tell us what date the Government intend to set?
There is a lot of detail in what I want to say; I will come on to cladding. I also point out to the noble Lord that much of what we are doing must be regarded as part of a holistic approach so, on timetables, there may not be one particular date by which everything is done. It is a very complex process.
Soon after the fire, in July 2017, the Government commissioned Dame Judith Hackitt to conduct a review of building and fire safety. Noble Lords will recall that we have already agreed to take forward the recommendations of Dame Judith’s report in full as the basis for regulatory reforms in building and fire safety. Our comprehensive building safety programme, announced in the recent Queen’s Speech in the form of a Bill, will bring about a radically new building and fire safety system by: establishing a new regulatory framework; creating greater accountability and responsibility; issuing sanctions to tackle irresponsible behaviour by those responsible for buildings; and giving residents a stronger voice.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham referred to social housing. It is important that we improve quality and quantity, with a beneficial knock-on effect on health. We have committed to taking forward the social housing White Paper at pace. It will set out proposals for the standards that we set for social homes. We remain committed to increasing the supply of social housing, committing more than £9 billion as part of our affordable homes programme and delivering more than 250,000 homes by 2022.
Of course, we have had to take urgent steps in the interim to ensure that people are safe today. Much of this work has been around cladding. First, we have banned the use of combustible materials on high-rise homes and identified all buildings over 18 metres with unsafe ACM cladding.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked whether gas should no longer be used in high-rise buildings. It is an interesting point. I cannot answer her question easily today, but I can say that the Government have signalled their intention to prohibit the use of fossil fuels such as gas in new homes by 2025 for reasons of environmental protection.
Secondly, we have established a comprehensive programme to oversee the remediation of unsafe ACM cladding, providing £600 million of funding to support this work. My noble friend Lord Young and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, asked about the funding; it is beyond the £200 million that the Government are putting forward for private residential high-rise remediation. Both noble Lords asked what would happen if the costs go beyond this. I can confirm that the money set aside is an estimate and that plans are in place, should it become necessary, to revisit that estimate.
I am pleased that all social sector residential buildings with ACM cladding either have had the cladding removed, are undergoing work to remove it or, at the very least, have had such work scheduled. We have pushed on every front to ensure that the work is completed quickly, and today only a handful of building owners have yet to confirm their intention to remediate the ACM cladding on their buildings.
We have now completed remediation work on 61 buildings in the social sector, have begun work on a further 81 buildings and are working hard to ensure that remediation is completed on the remaining 16 buildings as soon as possible. My noble friend Lord Young asked about progress on this. As of October, only 10 of the 89 private sector buildings in scope of the fund have yet to engage. We will continue to put pressure on developers and building owners to get on with remediation. In response to a number of questions he raised, I will shortly provide a letter detailing the take-up of the private sector remediation fund and set out a fuller picture of the remediation figures, as well as the responsibilities of leaseholders and freeholders. As the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government made clear yesterday in the other place, there will be consequences for any building owners not making clear progress, including naming and shaming and enforcement action.
Thirdly, interim measures are in place in high-rise buildings with ACM cladding to ensure that all residents remain safe. We are working at pace to review different parts of the building safety regime. We have now completed testing on non-ACM cladding panels and are analysing the results, which will be released in the coming months.
We have recently launched a consultation on the use of sprinklers in all new residential buildings over 18 metres—a point that was raised in the debate. It also seeks responses on evacuation alert systems and improved signage, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Bourne and others. The consultation will close in November. My noble friend Lord Bourne also asked about fire doors. On the advice of the independent expert panel, the Government conducted an investigation and testing programme of glass reinforced plastic composite fire doors, leading to their withdrawal from the market. Following this, the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers has committed to deliver an industry- led remediation plan, which has our full support.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked about product safety, which was part of my old brief when I worked in the former BIS, now BEIS. In May 2018, an independent investigation into the Whirlpool fridge-freezer involved in Grenfell Tower confirmed that there was no need for further action, and BEIS supports its conclusion that no product recall other than corrective action is required. People who own that particular model can continue to use it as normal. The noble Lord also raised a point about electrical safety checks. Existing legislation already requires landlords to keep electrical installations in safe working order. However, the Government have reviewed the issue and have now committed to introducing mandatory five-yearly electrical safety inspections. I am confident that these steps will help us boost safety and transform the way we build in the future.
We have also been working across government to co-ordinate action on fire safety. First, the newly established fire protection board provides a bridge across the Home Office, my department, MHCLG, local government authorities and the National Fire Chiefs Council. The board will provide greater assurance that fire safety risks in high-rise residential buildings with ACM cladding are being identified, managed and properly recorded. It will oversee an increase in inspections and audits of high-risk buildings, and we have already signalled our commitment to getting this right by pledging £10 million a year. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in September in the other place, he expects,
“all high-rise buildings to have been inspected or assured by the time the new building safety regime is in place, or no later than 2021”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/9/19; col. 373.]
Secondly, the Home Office has run a call for evidence, alongside MHCLG’s Building a Safer Future consultation, on the fire safety order. This consultation seeks to ensure that the order remains effective and works as a whole with the new regulatory regime and other existing legislation. The call for evidence closed on 31 July and we are now analysing the responses.
Thirdly, the Home Office has established an independent Fire Standards Board, which should not be confused with the FPB, and has provided £1.5 million of funding to support its work. The board is supported by the National Fire Chiefs Council’s Central Programme Office to support continuous improvement of fire and rescue services. The board will be responsible for the development of a high-quality useable framework of professional standards, aligned to the work of the National Fire Chiefs Council and its national initiatives. It is clear from the report’s findings that this Government need to be playing an active role in supporting the sector through the fire reform programme.
In July 2017, the then Home Secretary expanded the remit of HMIC to establish Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services. This move sought to highlight areas for continuous improvement of good practice for fire and rescue services and to increase transparency for the communities they serve. The inspectorate has now completed inspections of all 45 FRSs in England and has published reports on 30 of them. We expect reports on the remaining 15 to be published shortly, alongside the inspectorate’s first “state of fire” reports.
Does that also include ensuring that all the points that I referred to that used to be covered by inspections are being covered by plans throughout every area of each fire service? It is one thing to do this at a superficial level, but part of the problem appears to be that inspections have not been as detailed as they used to be.
Yes, I can reassure the noble Baroness on that front and reiterate the point I made earlier about greater joined-up thinking across different agencies and bodies.
Learning from the inspectorate’s reports and the creation of national standards based on the best operational practice will help the LFB and the fire and rescue service as a whole to respond to the issues that the inquiry identified. We expect the NFCC to support services faced with challenging reports to drive improvement and make sure that cross-service learning is happening, which helps to answer the noble Baroness’s question.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lord Bourne asked about collaboration and co-ordination, and communication within the emergency services. An assurance programme was conducted in 2017 on joint interoperability with more than 100 police, fire and ambulance services. Findings showed that new processes are embedding, and the Home Office is continuing to drive work to embed this programme locally.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and others raised the issue of problems with communication between firefighters. Each fire and rescue authority, including the London Fire Brigade, must evaluate local risks and determine its priorities, policies and standards for fire protection and response, including equipment. It does this through an integrated risk management plan. It is for the Mayor of London to set the budget for the London Fire Brigade so that it has the equipment needed to do its work. The Government will work with the fire and rescue services to ensure that lessons are learned from this terrible tragedy.
To make it clear, my point about emergency alert communications was not a matter for individual fire brigades or for the Mayor of London. It is a more general one about the Cabinet Office and other government departments agreeing a system and ensuring that it is available for all emergency services.
I take note of the noble Lord’s point and will feed that back.
I realise that my time is running out, but on this very important subject I want to spend a couple of minutes on some final remarks. I want to reflect on the work of the Government in and around the Grenfell community. Rehousing the 201 households that lost their homes has been an absolute priority for the Government. Today, 95% of these households have now moved into their new permanent homes and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham alluded to, they must truly be places that they can call home.
We will continue to support the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council to ensure that the nine remaining households can move into permanent homes, and that those affected continue to have access to the services and support they need to rebuild their lives. But of course, there is much more to do to restore trust in that community and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, bringing different faiths together to help with this is of paramount importance.
We are committed to ensuring that government support remains in place for the bereaved and survivors for the long term. This is reflected in the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission, which is made up of representatives of the bereaved, survivors and local residents. While the Government have taken ownership of the site of the tower, it is for the community to determine the most fitting and appropriate way to remember those who lost their lives.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke about his concern about the neglect of humanity. Let us never forget that this tragedy is about human beings: human beings who lost their lives, human beings who survived and human beings who keep fighting for the truth and justice they so rightly seek, but now it is also about human beings who are taking—and must continue to take—responsibility and bring about the changes we need to see. No report can change what happened that night or bring back those who lost their lives, but yesterday’s report is an important step on the road to lasting change, and we must work tirelessly and without delay to ensure that we achieve it, so that when we say “Never again” we really mean it.
My Lords, I thank Members who have participated in this debate of enormous strength with many different contributions over a great range of issues. I think we all essentially spoke with one voice to say that we need urgent action to ensure that we never face the prospect of 14 June 2017 again. That is central and must be the prime aim. We had three incredible, moving and visionary maiden speeches and we look forward to hearing from those speakers again.
I thank the Minister. I know from private conversations that he is very concerned and intent on making sure we make the necessary progress, as is the Secretary of State, the right honourable Robert Jenrick. I press the Minister to write to contributors to the debate with a timeline for the recommendations and to place a copy in the Library. That is vital. We all agree on what needs to happen, but it is a question of when it happens. Until we have made it impossible that we ever face that prospect again, I do not think any of us can truly rest.
In addition, in the light of the Prime Minister promising another debate in the other place early in the new year, on the very valid assumption that there will be a Conservative Government, can we commit ourselves to a debate as well? Obviously, that decision involves the usual channels, but it would be good to know the progress that is being made.