With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the disaster at Grenfell Tower. I apologise to the Leader of the Opposition for the short notice he has had of this statement. In the hour before making it, I received an important update, which I felt was essential to bring to the attention of the House this morning.
What happened in the early hours of last Wednesday morning was one of the most unimaginable tragedies that our country has seen in many years. As of this morning, 79 people have been confirmed dead or listed as missing presumed dead, and with work still ongoing to recover the bodies, sadly the death toll may rise further.
We already know that many children are among the dead and that in some cases whole families perished. Those who survived have lost loved ones, friends, neighbours and, in many cases, everything they own. It should never have happened. In a few moments, I shall say how we will discover why it did, but, as I said yesterday, that initial failure was then compounded by the fact that the support on the ground in the initial hours was not good enough. As Prime Minister, I have apologised for that second failure and taken responsibility for doing what we can to put it right.
On my first visit to north Kensington, I met the emergency services. These extraordinary men and women put their lives on the line in an effort to save others, and my first responsibility was to check that they had all the resources they needed. I then visited Chelsea and Westminster hospital, where I met some of the most seriously injured survivors—it was from that experience that I decided to have an emergency fund. I also met a group of residents in Kensington whom I then invited to Downing Street last weekend. I returned to Kensington again last night to hear directly from them about the progress that we are making. What became clear very quickly was that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea could not cope, and it is right that the chief executive officer has now resigned. It is also why I set up the Grenfell Tower recovery taskforce, which I have been chairing personally.
This is about not just the steps that we take in the first few weeks, but a lasting commitment that we make to supporting the affected families, long after the television cameras have gone. Let me set out in detail the steps that we are taking to support the victims and to rehouse those who have lost their homes.
On Friday morning, the Government established a central command centre under the leadership of John Barradell, the chief executive of the City of London and former lead for London local government on resilience, and Eleanor Kelly, chief executive of the London borough of Southwark. On behalf of the whole House I thank John and his team for all the work that they are doing.
I also pay tribute to the London boroughs for their fantastic response, including a number of chief executives who are currently working at the command centre, as well as the Mayor of London and leading figures from a number of councils from outside London. I thank the army of volunteers who stepped in to provide shelter, sustenance, comfort and practical support. I also thank the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Ministers for Housing and Planning, for London and for Policing and the Fire Service for the work that they have been doing.
Currently, there are around 600 people working on the site and in the immediate area to provide support to the victims. The Westway sports centre has been transformed into an emergency community hub, staffed by 40 officials from six Government Departments. Those officials are making sure that people have essential documents such as driving licences and passports, which are fundamental to them carrying on with their lives. They have also been joined by experts from organisations such as Transport for London, Citizens Advice and the Red Cross, NHS mental health staff, nurses, care managers, and a GP. Anyone affected by the blaze can walk in and access the support they need, and so far there have been almost 700 visits to the centre.
The centre’s on-the-ground work is supplemented by the victim support unit, whose emergency helpline provides a single point of contact for victims who need to deal with multiple Government services in the wake of the disaster. Each family whose home was destroyed is receiving a £5,000 down payment from the emergency fund so they can buy food, clothes and other essentials, and outreach workers are seeking to make sure everyone gets the money they are entitled to. We are also paying all additional adults over 16 in these households £500 in cash. Other cash payments are being paid out by the council on a discretionary basis, for example to those whose home has been severely impacted but not permanently destroyed. As of midday on Wednesday we had made payments of more than £700,000.
It is absolutely essential that people understand they can keep the money they receive; these grants are not loans and they will not be expected to repay a single penny. Neither are they waiving any legal rights as a result of accepting this financial help. The payments will be disregarded for means-tested welfare payments, so no one in receipt of benefits will see their benefits cut if they accept emergency support. I would like to reassure people that we will not use this tragic incident as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved or on those providing vital information to identify victims or those assisting with the criminal investigation. We will make sure that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, can access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation.
In terms of local schools, Kensington Aldridge Academy, the school right next door to the tower, remains closed. However, all its pupils have already been accommodated at other schools in the area. The Department for Education is working with Ofqual to ensure that children who are sitting their GCSEs receive an appropriate exam dispensation, and specialist counselling has been offered to local schoolchildren and also to teachers affected by the fire.
Turning to re-housing, 151 homes were destroyed in the fire, most in the tower itself but also several in the immediate vicinity. All those who have lost their homes have been offered emergency hotel accommodation, and all will be offered rehousing within three weeks. Already, 164 suitable properties have been identified and they are being checked and made ready for people to move into. In the longer term, everyone whose home was destroyed will be guaranteed a new home on the same terms as the one they lost. Sixty-eight of those will be in a brand-new low-rise block that has just been built by Berkeley Homes. The developer has generously offered to turn over the entire block at cost price. Contractors are on site now, working 24/7 to speed up fit-out so that the first families can move in this summer.
Within the wider cordon area, many more homes were damaged by smoke or water or have lost gas, heating and hot water. Emergency hotel accommodation is available for anyone who does not want to remain in a damaged property and more than 100 hotel rooms have already been provided. We are also putting in place practical support to help to accelerate necessary repairs and yesterday drew on expertise from the Army to assist with this.
Some survivors have said that they want to leave the local area, and we will of course support that and help them find a home elsewhere. But I want to be absolutely clear: nobody is being forced to move somewhere they do not want to go, and if any hon. Member thinks they know of anyone being treated in this way they should contact my office in Downing Street with the details.
As the scale of the tragedy became clear we quickly decided there had to be an independent public inquiry. As I said to the House yesterday, it will be chaired by a judge to get to the truth about what happened and who was responsible, and to provide justice for the victims and their families who suffered so terribly. All those with an interest—including survivors and victims’ families—will be consulted about the terms of reference, and we will pay for legal representation for those affected. Listening to survivors last night, it also became clear that they want support to come together as a group to have their voices heard, and the Government will play our part in helping them to do so.
For too long residents have been overlooked and ignored. We will ensure that they are involved in every step of this process. No stone will be left unturned in this inquiry, and there will be nowhere for any guilty parties to hide. I am clear that we cannot wait for ages to learn the immediate lessons, so I expect that the chair of the inquiry will want to produce an interim report as early as possible.
I know that many others living in tall residential buildings will have concerns about their safety after what happened at Grenfell. All social landlords have been instructed to carry out additional fire safety checks on tower blocks, and to ensure that the appropriate safety and response measures are in place. This is being done in co-operation with local fire and rescue services. We have also taken steps to make private landlords aware and have made our checking facilities available to them for free.
The House should of course be careful when it comes to speculating about what caused the fire, but the Government have arranged to test cladding in all relevant tower blocks as a precaution. Shortly before I came to the Chamber, I was informed that a number of these tests have come back as combustible. The relevant local authorities and local fire services have been informed. As I speak, they are taking all possible steps to ensure that buildings are safe and to inform affected residents. Immediately after this statement, the Department for Communities and Local Government will contact any MPs whose constituents are affected, and the Communities Secretary will provide a further update later today.
We can test more than 100 buildings a day, and the results come within hours. I urge any landlord who owns a building of this kind to send samples for testing as soon as possible. Any results will be communicated immediately to local authorities and local fire services. Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings. Where they cannot do that, we expect alternative accommodation to be provided. We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes.
It is clear that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was not able to cope with the scale of the tragedy, so we will develop a new strategy for resilience in major disasters, which could include a new civil disaster response taskforce that can help at times of emergency.
Finally, we must learn some of the lessons of this and previous disasters where bereaved families have not had the support they need, so we will introduce an independent public advocate for public disasters—a strong independent voice for victims, acting on behalf of bereaved families and supporting them at public inquests and inquiries.
In the past week, a lot of remarkable people have gone above and beyond to help to deal with the fire and its aftermath. First and foremost, of course, are the incredible men and women of the emergency services who did so much to save so many lives. I cannot imagine the kind of bravery it takes to run into a burning building and head upstairs when any normal person would be heading for the exits. We have also seen sterling work from people across the public sector including teachers, nurses, staff from various local authorities and civil servants, who are doing all they can to help. We have seen incredible acts of generosity from private businesses, and we have seen the people of this great city and this great country stepping up to help in any way they can: donating money, clothes, toys and food, volunteering their time and so much more.
Above all, I pay tribute to the people of Kensington. They have opened their hearts and homes to people affected by the fire, coming together and showing what a real community looks like. The selfless actions of local people and the courage and resilience of the survivors should give us all pause for thought.
Right now, our focus is on supporting the victims, finding homes for those made homeless and making sure that the country’s housing stock is as safe as possible. But as we move forwards, we must also recognise that for too long in our country, under Governments of both colours, we simply have not given enough attention to social housing, and that this is actually a symptom of an even more fundamental issue.
It should not take a disaster of this kind for us to remember that there are people in Britain today living lives that are so far removed from those that many here in Westminster enjoy. In this tower—just a few miles from the Houses of Parliament and in the heart of our great city—people live a fundamentally different life, do not feel the state works for them and are therefore mistrustful of it. So, long after the TV cameras have gone and the world has moved on, let the legacy of this awful tragedy be that we resolve never to forget these people and instead to gear our policies and our thinking towards making their lives better and bringing them into the political process. It is our job as a Government and as a Parliament to show that we are listening and that we will stand up for them. That is what I am determined we should do. I commend this statement to the House.
I acknowledge the Prime Minister’s apologies for the very late arrival of her statement to my office, and I understand the reasons for it.
I met the survivors at Grenfell Tower, as have a number of colleagues in the House, as I did the very inspiring volunteers co-ordinating so much of the relief effort for families who had lost so much. There is grief, there is anger, and there is also great solidarity in that community. I hope the whole House will join with me in commending the community spirit and public support which helped so many traumatised families, and the amazing response of so many local people and faith groups who rushed to the scene to give clothing, to give food, to give help, and to provide a sort of online restaurant for just about anybody who was helping with the disaster relief. Our love, our condolences and our solidarity go out to those families again today, and in what will be the very difficult days and weeks ahead; many of them will be reliving the trauma of that dreadful night for a lifetime. They were, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, let down, both in the immediate aftermath and so cruelly beforehand, and the public inquiry must establish the extent and by whom.
At least 79 people are dead. It is both a tragedy and an outrage, because every single one of those deaths could and should have been avoided. The Grenfell Tower residents themselves had raised concerns about the lack of fire safety in the block. The Grenfell Action Group had warned:
“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord,”
the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. The Prime Minister said that it is right that the CEO of Kensington and Chelsea Council has now resigned. It may be right, but why are the political leaders not taking responsibility as well for this whole dreadful event? From Hillsborough, to the child sex abuse scandal, to Grenfell Tower, the pattern is consistent: working-class people’s voices are ignored, their concerns dismissed, by those in power.
The Grenfell Tower residents and the north Kensington community deserve answers, and thousands and thousands of people living in tower blocks around the country need very urgent reassurance. Our very brave firefighters must never have to deal with such a horrific incident again. The Prime Minister is right when she talks about the bravery of firefighters running into a burning building; I have spoken to firefighters on many occasions. But they are overstretched and they are traumatised—traumatised by dealing with London Bridge, traumatised by Grenfell Tower—yet they carry on doing it, overstretched and understaffed. We need to look at the whole issue of the security of our fire service.
Those of us with over 30 years’ experience in this House would have struggled as constituency MPs under the pressure generated by an incident of this scale. As I said yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) deserves praise for the tireless and diligent way she has stood up for her constituents in the very short time since she was thankfully elected to this House. Her constituents need answers. The public inquiry must address, first, the appalling failure of the fire alarms at Grenfell Tower, which meant many residents reported that they were only alerted to the fire by the screams of their neighbours or by young Muslim men banging on the door who had broken from prayers in order to try to save life. Something went catastrophically wrong which lost life.
The inquiry must also address whether the advice given to tenants to stay in their homes was correct; what advice should be given to the people living in the 4,000 other tower blocks around this country in the event of similar disaster; why sprinklers were not installed and whether they now should be retro-fitted into all tower blocks—we need urgent answers to that question—whether the cladding used was illegal, as the Chancellor has suggested, and whether it should be banned entirely; and what wider changes must be urgently made to building regulations. As the Prime Minister indicated in her statement, this is obviously being urgently addressed. The inquiry also needs to address the fire prevention regulations, including the frequency and the enforcement of fire safety checks, because my suspicion is that many local authorities—strapped for cash after seven years of cuts—have cut back on fire testing and cut back on inspections because they simply have not got the staff to do it anymore.
The inquiry must address whether tenant management organisations are responsive enough to their tenants, and what greater powers tenants need, both in council or social housing and in the private sector, to ensure their own safety. It must address whether survivors and people evacuated from adjacent properties were rehoused promptly and adequately. The Prime Minister has addressed some of those matters, but I would be interested in her response to those living nearby who are equally traumatised by the event. Those people should of course be rehoused within the borough, and I hope there will be no increase in their rent.
The inquiry must also address the resources available to the fire and rescue service, and whether response times and capacity are adequate for all areas of the country, since the number of wards in which response time targets are not being met has increased tenfold since 2011. Lessons must be learned in the public inquiry, and a disaster that should never have happened must never happen again. The Government must delay no longer, and must now implement the recommendations of the 2013 inquiry report into the Lakanal House fire. The public inquiry into Grenfell Tower must also establish whether lives could have been saved if those recommendations had been implemented in full, and if the recommendations of the all-party group on fire safety and rescue had been heeded by the Government.
Fire safety measures cannot be left to a postcode lottery, and I therefore ask the Government to make available emergency funds, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) raised yesterday, so that councils can carry out immediate fire safety checks and install sprinklers. The timetable for that must be made known to residents. A huge cost is obviously involved in removing and recladding blocks that are found to have flammable materials in them, but the resources—the money—must be made available immediately, because it is a huge job of work. The Prime Minister says that those people who are in danger must be moved out of their properties, but this is a massive undertaking and it will require a huge focus of Government resources.
Will the Prime Minister ensure that the counselling and mental health services that she said are now being provided at the Westway sports centre are made available to all the residents of both Grenfell Tower and the areas around it, such as those who witnessed the fire unfold on the Lancaster West estate, and to those in the emergency services who have been through such trauma during the last few days? Counselling and mental health services are important in the days and weeks after a tragedy, but they have to go on for a very long time, because the trauma does not end a few days afterwards.
The public inquiry must report as soon as possible, and changes that can and should have been made must now be made without delay. We must be aware that this has been a wake-up call to the whole country: the fire at Grenfell Tower has taken the lives of people who should be with us and alive and happy today, and residents of tower blocks all over the country are concerned, worried and frightened for their own safety. We need a step change in our attitude towards housing in this country to deal with the permanent housing crisis that so many of our constituents and residents face. We need Government intervention to support local authorities in bringing about safe solutions to the housing crisis so that this tragedy can at least change our attitudes and we can at least say that we as a country will seriously address the housing situation that so many people face. People have died and they will never come back. We have to learn the lessons to make sure that this tragedy is a turning point in our whole attitude, and that never again people die needlessly in a towering inferno, while living in poverty surrounded by a sea of prosperity.
May I first join the Leader of the Opposition in commending the work of his new hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad)? I am sure we all remember getting to grips with our first few days as a Member of Parliament, and having to deal with a disaster and tragedy of this sort in her constituency so early on must have been very difficult. I commend her for the work that she has done.
The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues, many of which will be matters for the inquiry to get to grips with. I would expect the inquiry to address the responsibility for this issue and the advice given by the fire service. As I said in my statement, we want to ensure that we are able to provide justice to the victims and survivors of this terrible tragedy. I expect the chair of the inquiry to produce an interim report so that we see early lessons. It is important that we know anything that needs to be learned and addressed as soon as possible and that we take action as soon as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Lakanal House coroner’s report in 2013. All the coroner’s recommendations from the Lakanal House inquiry have been acted on. It is important to recognise that the coroner did not propose any change to the building regulations. There were issues with the guidance to the building regulations and other issues were raised, and all of those have been acted on.
We will offer rehousing in the borough or in neighbouring boroughs. As I said, a significant number of properties—164 properties—have been identified and are being looked at. A significant number of people have been assessed for their housing needs and some have already been offered housing. It is, of course, up to them whether they accept it or whether other properties need to be offered to them. That process is in hand and I have set the commitment that people will be rehoused within three weeks.
The issue of the tenant management organisation, which the Leader of the Opposition mentioned, has come across loud and clear to me from my conversations with local residents. One of the first acts of the new chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council will be to look at the tenant management organisation and any action that needs to be taken.
The Leader of the Opposition also referred to Hillsborough and the child sexual abuse inquiry. I was pleased to work with the families from Hillsborough. They should have had justice at a far earlier stage. The issues are ongoing, with the Crown Prosecution Service looking at potential criminal charges, but we have provided an opportunity for the Hillsborough families to know the truth of what happened to their loved ones and for the public to know the truth of Hillsborough.
I was also pleased to set up the child sexual abuse inquiry because, as I said when I did so, I agree that for too long, people have made assumptions about certain people in our society and how they should be treated, and those assumptions are wrong. We need to dig into that and find out why it has happened, and we need to change it.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am keen to accommodate the level of interest in this extraordinarily important and grave subject. May I appeal to colleagues to help me to help them? There is a premium upon brevity, which I feel sure will be brilliantly exemplified by Mr Iain Duncan Smith.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the actions she said that she and the Government will take. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those who have suffered so terribly and who will continue to suffer in the days to come.
I ask the Prime Minister to add one further remit to the public inquiry: to look at whether the whole process of retrofitting old tower blocks is viable at all and at whether there is a better way to house and support tenants in these areas without the use of the many incredibly badly designed and very faulty tower blocks. Will she ask the public inquiry to look carefully at whether it is feasible to bring some of the blocks down and provide more family friendly housing?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He suggests that the inquiry should go a great deal further than looking into this particular instance. We will ensure that the survivors and local residents have an input into the terms of reference of the inquiry so that they can have confidence in it and know that it will produce the results and justice that they need. I will reflect on my right hon. Friend’s comments, but it is important, primarily, that the local residents have confidence in the terms of reference of the inquiry and feel that it will get to the truth as they need it.
All of us in the House and, I am sure, throughout the entire United Kingdom, welcome the opportunity provided by the Prime Minister’s statement this morning. We can all reflect on the scenes that we woke up to last week: the horror, suffering and pain that those who were living in the tower block must have gone through and the agony of seeing the fire spread through that building. I thank the members of the emergency services for putting their lives on the line, in this case and other instances that we have seen over the course of the past few weeks. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to them.
We in the Scottish National party want to work with the Government on these matters. I think the incident last week is a defining moment in the evolution of our society. However, I respectfully say to the Prime Minister that, although she apologised to the Leader of the Opposition for the short notice of her statement, the third party and all parties represented in the House should receive adequate notice. In her statement, the Prime Minister said that the initial failure was compounded by the fact that the support on the ground in the initial hours was not good enough. If the public inquiry makes recommendations on changes that have to be made, I ask that the Government accept those.
If the £5 million that has been put into the initial emergency fund is not sufficient, will the Government commit to doing what they need to in order to make sure that the appropriate financial resources are available? I welcome the Prime Minister’s saying that the new housing block that has been built by Berkeley Homes will be made available to some of the families. She talked of families moving in over the summer, but can she be more specific as to when that will happen? Can we make sure that families who wish to live in the local area will have that commitment that housing will be made available? That should be done on the basis that there will be consultation, and that if the first offer is not acceptable, alternatives will be put in place.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the public inquiry should be empowered to consider all the steps that were not taken leading up and contributing to this incident? All those with a legitimate interest must be able to participate. That has to include bereaved families and survivors as well as individuals and organisations with an interest, such as the residents’ campaign and local representative organisations. This needs to be about Parliament recognising the significance of what has happened. We should never be in this position again as a country.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s remarks about social housing. Let us make sure that we invest in social housing. I grew up in social housing and I fondly remember my childhood. I want people to have the same opportunities that we had to live in social housing of which we can all be proud.
I take this opportunity to make clear that the testing facilities that I referred to are open to the devolved Administrations as well. I obviously encourage anybody in the devolved Administrations to send in samples of such buildings so that they can be tested.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the £5 million fund. If necessary, more money will be made available. As I said, something like £700,000 has already been paid out, and further moneys will be paid out, but we will look at that sum over time.
The planning conditions attached to the Berkeley Homes development have been relaxed to enable work to take place over longer hours, so that the work can be speeded up. The current expectation is that the homes could be available by the end of July, but that is caveated, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman and others will recognise. It is dependent on the work being completed.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the inquiry. It is absolutely crucial that the inquiry looks at how this happened, and part of that will be looking at what led up to the fire, the immediate response to the fire and the aftermath. We need to know why this happened and who was responsible for it. The judge who will chair the inquiry will have a role in determining how the inquiry is handled, in terms of the witnesses that he wishes to take and so forth. As I said, I am clear that we need to ensure that people can have full confidence in this inquiry, which is why I want to see residents involved in setting the terms of reference, so that they know that it is an inquiry that will meet their needs.
Will the Prime Minister encourage local authorities to follow the lead that Barnet Council showed, with an immediate re-inspection of its high-rise blocks and the announcement of a programme of investment in new safety measures to be guided by the fire service, and to include sprinklers where they are needed?
I thank my right hon. Friend for drawing that to the House’s attention and I commend Barnet Council for its action. The Department for Communities and Local Government has asked every local authority to undertake those tests, ensuring the safety of the properties in which they accommodate people.
I thank the Prime Minister for her kind words—words that must be followed by deeds. I speak on behalf of a traumatised and frightened community, who have little trust in authority. Early reports suggest that there may have been issues with the fire safety audits and that fire regulations were not sufficiently robust. While we wait for the results of the inquiry—I hope it will not be too long—will the Prime Minister commit to providing adequate funds to enable emergency services, particularly the London fire brigade, to be fully funded to carry out their work, and reverse the cuts to the funding of fire services that have made their lives so difficult? Those people have, quite literally, our lives in their hands. In short, where is the funding?
When I spoke to the emergency services on my first visit to Kensington, one of the challenges I gave them was whether they had the resources they needed to do the job that they were doing. They assured me that they did. Obviously, as I have said, the inquiry will have to look at the whole question of how it was possible for this to happen. I am sure that it will look at the adequacy of the tests that took place on the tower, and the adequacy of any response to the issues. I want the inquiry to find those things out as soon as possible because that could have implications for other local authorities and other blocks around the country, and we want to ensure people’s safety.
Perhaps I may be the first person publicly to congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) on her election to the House, and on being, albeit in the most grave and traumatic circumstances, the first newly elected Member to put a question in this Chamber—and she has done so to the Prime Minister. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her contribution.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement and the reassurance that she has provided. I also take the opportunity to thank my two boroughs—Richmond and Kingston—on conducting urgent reviews and providing reassurance to residents.
There will be people in positions of authority who probably fear the implications of a proper public inquiry, and there are likely to be people in the affected community who fear that, consequently, there will not be a full public inquiry. That scepticism will exist, for obvious reasons. I therefore ask the Prime Minister to say a little more about the terms of reference for the public inquiry and explain how local residents will have meaningful input into the way in which they are set.
I fully recognise the picture that my hon. Friend set out about the inquiry. That is why it is important that it is judge led. The judge will be completely independent and it will be up to them to determine the witnesses who are called and how they manage the inquiry. That is important, because we want people to have the confidence of knowing that, when the inquiry reports, it will bring out the truth. We also want people to have the confidence to know that actions that arise from the inquiry’s findings will be taken and that those responsible will be held to account. On the terms of reference, as I have said, residents will be involved. We are in the process of looking at how that is possible. The judge who leads the inquiry will want to reflect on how they want to speak with and hear from residents. The message that I have had from residents about bringing a survivors’ group together as a single voice is important and will be helpful in this regard.
I thank the Prime Minister for her statement. The news she has given the House today—that the cladding was indeed combustible, as testing showed—is chilling, and will be horrifying confirmation of what we all saw on our television screens; but it will be even more frightening for others. There are 58 tower blocks in my constituency, and there are thousands all around the country.
May I suggest that the Prime Minister get a grip on this personally, right away, and that what she does—[Interruption.] I am just going to make a suggestion, if I may. I suggest that the Prime Minister uses Cobra to call together all local authorities and require them, within a certain timeframe, to check the cladding on every one of their tower blocks. If she has done so already, I look forward to hearing that, and to hearing about the timescale. She should also give authorities the resources that will enable them to conduct their inspections within a certain timescale, and commit resources that will enable the cladding to be replaced within a certain timescale when others find that it is combustible. That is exactly what Cobra should be used for. It is not good enough just to congratulate or encourage other councils; the Prime Minister must get a grip on this personally.
The Prime Minister said that the Lakanal House coroner’s inquest findings had been acted on, but I can tell her that they have not. In 2013, the coroner said that those deaths had been avoidable, that there should have been sprinklers, that there should have been a change in the fire instructions, and that there should be greater supervision of contracts and fire inspections. The Prime Minister said that this was an “unimaginable” tragedy, and that those deaths should not have happened. They would not have happened if the Government had acted on the Lakanal House coroner’s inquest rulings.
First, let me clarify what I said in my statement. I said that local authorities had been invited to send in samples of cladding on similar buildings; they have done so, and some of the samples have been found to be combustible. It was in relation to that testing that I used the term “combustible”. I think it important that I clarify that. As the right hon. and learned Lady suggested, we immediately took the precautionary measure of asking all local authorities to go out, identify blocks with similar cladding, and take measures, together with their local fire and rescue services, to ensure that people in those buildings were safe. Part of that process has involved the testing. As I have said, we stand ready to continue to test for all local authorities that wish to send in samples.
As for the right hon. and learned Lady’s description of the coroner’s report on Lakanal House, the coroner did not, as I understand it, say that there should be sprinklers in every property of this type. What is important, and what underpinned what she said, is the necessity of ensuring that people living in similar blocks are able to feel reassured about their safety. We have taken the steps: local authorities have been working with fire and rescue services. Once the tests on the cladding have been given to local authorities, they are acting immediately to ensure the safety of people within. There are a number of steps that they can undertake, and we expect them to do what is necessary.
In recent years, London has seen many high-quality high rises being built, often financed with hot foreign money, and then left empty for years, sometimes with their kitchens clingfilmed and pristine. We all understand that a landlord will need to leave an apartment empty from time to time, but does the Prime Minister think that when brand-new properties are left empty for many years it is right that she discuss with her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer changing the taxation regime so that, as happens in New York City, such people face punitive taxes?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. During his time in the House, he has taken a long interest in issues related to housing. I understand that the number of empty homes is currently low, but, of course, we always look to see what we can do. We want to ensure that people are housed, and that properties are being used for the purpose for which they were built.
If the building regulations are fit for purpose, all of us, whether rich or poor, should be protected from fire in our own homes. What assurance can the Prime Minister give that the review of building regulations and Approved Document B, as recommended by the Lakanal House coroner, will be carried out as urgently as possible, and that the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which has historically undertaken this work, will be recalled as a matter of urgency? That could be done in tandem with the public inquiry; it would not be necessary to wait until the end of it.
The hon. Gentleman, given his background, has a particular interest in these issues. The coroner’s recommendation was in relation not to changing the regulations but to the guidance that followed the regulations. That work is indeed in hand. My understanding is that the fire regulations have not been changed since 2006. Obviously, that will be one of the issues that the public inquiry will want to look at.
The amount of remedial work that may need to be carried out on a limited timescale will possibly mean that great pressures will fall on the workforce that are capable of carrying out that remedial work. Will the Prime Minister ensure that her colleagues in government will make all the necessary funds and resources available if we need to recruit or train further personnel to carry out remedial work on those blocks that fail the test?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. We need to ensure that the resources are there in every sense for the remedial work that is necessary. We are looking at a variety of ways in which we can ensure that that is indeed the case.
All Members, across the House, will have mentored and employed young people and want to see them flourish. My wife, principally, and I mentored, employed and encouraged a young woman called Khadija Saye, who, with her mother, lost her life on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower. I spoke to her father on Tuesday and he described, with anguish, obviously, losing his only daughter. We had a discussion about how he would cope in going to the mortuary to visit his daughter in the state that she is clearly in. On their behalf, and on behalf of all the people who died, I urge the Prime Minister to say something more about the criminal investigation that was announced last week. She has talked about the public inquiry, but she understands that most people see this as a crime and they know that rich and powerful organisations get away with crime. Can she say what resources have been brought to bear for the Metropolitan police? How big are the teams, and why is it that we have not had any commentary about charges, arrests or the seizure of documents?
May I first say how sorry I am to hear that the right hon. Gentleman lost a friend in this terrible tragedy? There are obviously many people in that position, but it brings it home to this House and right into the Chamber.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the issue of bereavement. A family bereavement centre has opened, which provides a suitable place in which people can be counselled. A great deal of thought and care is being undertaken in relation to those families who will, obviously, want to see the bodies of those who died in the fire. This is a very sensitive and difficult matter, as I am sure Members will recognise, and every action is being taken to do this as sensitively and thoughtfully as possible, in consideration of those who have lost loved ones.
A criminal investigation has been opened by the Metropolitan police. The right hon. Gentleman invites me to comment on that in a variety of ways. As he will know, this is an operational matter for the Metropolitan police. It is for them to determine any point at which they have evidence that could lead to charges or prosecutions. We must let the Metropolitan police do their job. They are doing it carefully and properly. I assure him and others that they will get to the truth and leave no stone unturned. If there are charges and prosecutions to be made, they will be.
I attended an understandably heated group discussion with local residents in the shadow of Grenfell Tower last evening. There seemed to be confusion about the coroner’s recommendations on the retrofitting of sprinklers. I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) is also unclear on that. The coroner recommended that we should encourage housing providers to retrofit. Despite the fact that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea carried out an £8.7 million refurbishment, it did not retrofit sprinklers. Does the Prime Minister agree that perhaps now is the time to provide incentives for local authorities to retrofit when they carry out such refurbishments?
My hon. Friend has rightly identified the recommendation that the coroner made, which was that encouragement be given to landlords to retrofit sprinklers, but I would just say to Members that the situation is not as easy as it would perhaps appear, in that the retrofitting of sprinklers will not be the thing that makes the difference in all cases. There is a whole variety of reasons why that may be the case. Some work has been undertaken on testing the retrofitting of sprinklers in a number of tower blocks in different parts of the country. As I say, it is not just a case of assuming that you can go in and do it and that it is automatically going to work and do the job that is necessary. This is an issue that is being looked at, and it continues to be looked at, but it needs to be done carefully to ensure that any work that is required is genuinely going to operate in a way that will help to keep people safe.
I should like to express my condolences and that of my party to those affected by this disaster, and our praise for the local community and the emergency services, who stepped up in the immediate aftermath when, unfortunately, the local and national authorities failed to do so. I also thank the Prime Minister for this statement today and for setting up the public inquiry. Can she confirm when the work on the guidance on building regulations and fire safety will be completed? Can she also confirm that as much focus will be put on private blocks—perhaps particularly those that have been converted from office blocks into residential blocks—as is being put on to local authority and housing association blocks? Can she confirm that the Government will immediately ban the use of combustible materials to ensure that such a tragedy cannot happen again?
The building regulations set out the materials that are compliant and those that are non-compliant. As we go through this process of looking at the materials that have been used in various blocks, the question of whether they comply with building regulations will need to be looked at. That issue will need to be looked at in relation to the public inquiry.
Work on the guidance for the building regulations is ongoing and, I would expect, imminent—it is not just a question of producing something; various organisations need to be consulted. We need to ensure that when the fire services and police have done their investigation, any action that is necessary immediately as a result of the identification of the cause of the fire and the reason it took such hold—the issue of particular concern—should be taken, and will be taken.
My right hon. Friend might be interested to know that I spent about three hours on Monday quietly walking around the Grenfell Tower area talking to people. I met traumatised victims who did not want to go into the centres to get help, so clearly people need to go out to them. They were angry that there was no clear housing policy on when and where they were going to be rehoused. Above all, I found an enormous amount of work being done by voluntary bodies—all sorts of bodies—but there was a clear lack of co-ordination on how those bodies were to move forward together. I strongly support what my right hon. Friend has said this morning about establishing a high-level Government taskforce that is able to go into a similar disaster. It should be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to take over from the immediate Gold Command.
I thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done and the feedback he has provided to Ministers following his conversations with residents and victims on the ground. He is absolutely right: the point has been made to key workers that they need to go out to see people, to ensure that they know what is available to them, rather than just expecting them to come into the centre. I can assure him that we are looking actively at what further resilience we can put into the system by establishing the sort of taskforce that he and I have both spoken about. None of us wants to see a circumstance like this happen again, but we must ensure that there is full resilience, where disasters take place.
While many of the questions that those affected by this disaster want answers to will have to await the outcome of the inquiry, it is surely possible to answer one factual question now. Was cladding of the type used in Grenfell Tower compliant with the fire safety and building regulations applicable when the refurbishment was undertaken—yes or no?
My understanding is that the fire service and BRE, which was on the scene early to look at that issue, have been identifying the cause of the fire and any contributory factors. They are testing the cladding on the building, and they expect to make the results public in, I think, the next 48 hours.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether the firefighters who attended this harrowing scene, and their families, will get the psychological support that they may well need in the months and years ahead? Will she commit to report back to the House on how that will be set up for them?
Yes. My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which the Leader of the Opposition also touched on. I can confirm that we are ensuring that that support and counselling will be available. There will be further updates to the House on the response to the Grenfell Tower fire, and that will be an issue to be included.
Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the cladding on the tower is a standard product that is available for sale. I do not understand why the Prime Minister cannot tell us whether that product is compliant with the building regulations for a tower that is this high. Why can she not tell us the answer? Will she also confirm that the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which should be looking at part B of the building regulations on fire safety, has not yet actually met to look at how the regulations could be improved?
I will add to the answer I gave to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and I ask hon. Members to remember that a criminal investigation is taking place in relation to this matter. The testing of the cladding and of the materials used is being undertaken, and a statement will be made by the police and the fire service within the next 48 hours.
The London Resilience Forum has a number of multi-agency plans for things such as mass shelter, mass fatalities and mass casualties. Can we confirm whether those plans were fully implemented? Can we also ensure that what lessons we learn from the inquiry process are fed back into resilience forums, both in London and around the country, to ensure that the lessons are promptly implemented?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He obviously has experience from when he was on the London Assembly and took a particular interest in the London Fire Brigade and fire service matters. I can indeed confirm that we have already looked at the whole question of resilience forums around the country. We will ensure that any lessons learned from the Grenfell Tower fire are fed into those resilience teams and forums, but we also need to ensure that resilience forums around the country are as resilient as they need to be in providing support should any disaster happen. We have seen this issue in relation to other disasters, such as flooding. We need to ensure that resilience forums are operating as they should at every local level.
Will the Prime Minister please confirm when the judge will be appointed? Following the comments from my Opposition colleagues, I would be grateful for some clarification on whether she is advising us that she does not know whether the cladding was compliant with building regulations. The question that she has been asked is about whether the material was compliant; is she advising us that it needs to be tested before she can give us a reply?
As I have said, the material is being tested. The results of those tests will be—[Interruption.] The information that the fire service and police are able to give publicly they will give; this is part of the criminal investigation. [Interruption.] It is. Hon. Members may shake their heads, but let me make this point: they want to ensure that if there are criminal charges to be brought, those charges are indeed brought, and we must therefore ensure that we give the police the opportunity to do the job that they undertake and that nothing we do prejudices that.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to the publication of an early interim report. After the Croydon tram crash last year, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch published two interim reports within three months, which identified the immediate cause of the crash and so action could be taken. Will she assure the House that a similar approach will be taken with this interim report?
I thank my hon. Friend for that. It was very important that interim reports came out quickly in relation to the Croydon inquiry. I can confirm that I fully expect the judge to bring out an interim report. May I say to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya) that I am sorry I did not answer her first question about the judge? I would expect within the next few days to be able to announce the name of the judge. We very much want to ensure that when the judge takes charge of this inquiry people feel, as I said earlier, that they can have full confidence in it, and so we are taking steps to ensure that that is the case.
Sympathies are not enough but, on behalf of my party, I offer them to all who have suffered. I also express my gratitude to emergency services officers, who showed the dedication of heroes in unimaginable conditions. Criminal investigations are only to be expected, but penalising individuals is partial retribution; those in government should search their souls. Will the Prime Minister commit to ensure that future policy, legislation and resources will mean a disaster of this magnitude can never happen again in a 21st century, first world country?
First, may I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment as leader of the Plaid Cymru Members in this House? I assure her that we are doing everything we can, and, obviously, the inquiry will play an important part, through its identification of action that needs to be taken, in ensuring that a disaster such as this can never happen again.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the cladding is found to be illegal and other research finds that other towers have been similarly clad, the public inquiry will extend its remit to look at investigations into all towers that are similarly clad?
If illegal activity has taken place, that is a matter for the police and it is part of the criminal investigation they will be undertaking. It is not just a question of what the inquiry does; it is a question of what we are doing now in relation to other tower blocks, which is why we are encouraging local authorities, housing associations and indeed private landlords to send in their material for testing.
As the leader of a party that is responsible for seven years of austerity, which has cut 56% of the cash available to my local authority in the past seven years, and has spent its time talking about regulation as a bad thing, is the right hon. Lady now going to apologise to the country for the state of local government, when the richest borough in London could not cope with this emergency, while at the same time, it was giving money back to its council tax payers?
We are dealing with the aftermath of a terrible disaster that has led to people losing their lives and others losing their homes and everything that they owned. We are ensuring that we are putting the steps in place. As I have said, I recognise that initially the response was not good enough, which is why we have stepped up that response. It is why—I did not respond to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), but I said this in my statement—I have indeed been chairing the Cobra meetings myself. And it is why we have been putting extra resource in, to ensure that that response is suitable. This will be an issue of looking at the regulations. As I said, my understanding is that these regulations were established in 2006, and we will be looking at those. The inquiry will look at them and at how they were applied; it will look at the actions of the local authority; and I am sure it will look at the issues that have been raised about the residents’ complaints in advance of this disaster about the tenant management organisation, and it will get to the bottom of who is responsible.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. As befits the occasion, these are thoughtful and solemn exchanges, but I must advise the House that progress thus far has been very slow. I am keen to try to accommodate the extent of the interest, and therefore I appeal to colleagues now to confine themselves to pithy, short, single-sentence questions, of which the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) is a notable exponent.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
At the end of her compassionate and comprehensive statement, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we had to think about the people living very different lives from ourselves. As I am sure she knows, in opinion surveys going back over decades people never said they wanted to live in tower blocks. Can we change public policy so that tower blocks can become a thing of the past?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. There are many people who do not wish to live in tower blocks, and there are some who are perfectly comfortable living in tower blocks. What we have to look at, however, is the approach taken to social housing; that is one of the lessons that comes from this disaster.
Several hon. Members rose—
I do not want there to be an outbreak of sibling rivalry, so I must now call Maria Eagle.
The Prime Minister confirmed in her statement that testing arrangements have discovered combustible cladding on some tower blocks in other parts of the country. Given that people living in those tower blocks are perhaps going to fear more than others the consequences of that discovery, what steps can the Prime Minister take to ensure that the landlords and the local authorities where these tower blocks are located can deal swiftly with the consequences of this discovery?
That work is already being undertaken. First, local authorities and housing associations have undertaken the testing work of their blocks, and we encourage private landlords to do that, too, to ensure the fire safety. We encourage everybody to send in samples so that we can undertake this checking by lab testing. Local authorities are immediately informed if the material is combustible. They will then be looking, with their local fire services, at ensuring the safety of those buildings. That will be done in a number of ways, but of course there is a responsibility to ensure that people are housed safely, and the Government are working with local authorities to ensure that.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s statement and the extraordinary degree of personal responsibility she is taking in this response. Have she and her officials had the opportunity to look at reports by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and its predecessor Committee under Dr Tony Wright, which repeatedly recommended that the House of Commons should have more of a role in the setting up of such inquiries? Will she consider asking the House to establish a special Select Committee very quickly, to look at the terms of reference, to have a pre-appointment hearing of the chair of the inquiry, and to set the budget and the timetable, and make sure this public inquiry has cross-party and public confidence, which so many public inquiries have failed to have?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue about inquiries, and of course we always look carefully at the reports of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and its predecessor Committee. What is important is that that we get this inquiry up and running with appropriate speed and, most importantly to me, that the residents affected have confidence in it. Ensuring that the residents feel this inquiry is genuinely going to get to the truth for them is key.
I am still waiting to hear the Prime Minister say that she will underwrite the costs to local authorities of inspection and urgent remedial action, given the cuts of up to a third and a half in local authority budgets and housing providers being required to implement a rent cut, which has squeezed their budgets. We must not have a postcode lottery in safety provision, and that requires a commitment now from the Government to underwrite these costs. Will the Prime Minister do that today—yes or no?
We are providing testing facilities to local authorities and working with them to identify their needs, their requirements and the response that they need to take. We will work with them to ensure that they can respond in the way that is necessary.
Will the Prime Minister please confirm that residents will be housed as close as possible to where they lived, to ensure that they are close to friends, family and support networks?
Yes, I can give that reassurance. It is about being close to friends and family, but it is also important for children to be able to go to their local schools.
The Prime Minister talked about looking to the future and about those whose lifestyles are far removed from the lifestyles enjoyed by many here in Westminster. That is the reality in my constituency, where there is overcrowding, with two families living in many homes, and where homelessness is the worst it has ever been. Will she live true to her word and take a personal lead in taking forward plans to ensure that we deliver not just more housing, but more genuinely affordable housing for the people who need it?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government published proposals on housing before the general election. We want to ensure that there are more affordable homes and that more houses are being built. We are putting half a billion pounds into dealing with homelessness.
May I thank the Prime Minister for her detailed and compassionate statement? Does she agree that, although there are obviously legitimate questions surrounding the Grenfell tragedy and it is absolutely right that they must be asked, we should exercise caution in attributing blame or condemnation before we know the facts? As a former journalist, I feel really strongly about this. Scaremongering does not help anybody; getting to the bottom of things does.
My hon. Friend is right: it is important that the evidence is identified, that the issue is properly considered, that everybody is able to give their views and evidence to the inquiry, and that the inquiry is able to get to the truth, find the result and find out what happened. Obviously the fire services and the police are looking at the immediate cause of the fire and will make public any statements that they are able to, but the inquiry will get to the truth. It is important that we allow the inquiry to identify responsibility.
Leeds City Council has responded swiftly by communicating with tenants and residents in all 116 blocks and testing the cladding, none of which uses the same material as was used in Kensington. Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), we now need to know that whatever recommendations are made on sprinklers, cladding, fire alarms and other remedial work, it will be central Government who provide the funds to ensure that tenants and residents in all the thousands of tower blocks throughout the country are safe.
I thought I had responded to a number of questions on this. The Government are working with local authorities. We will ensure that any essential works in terms of remedial action necessary for the safety of these blocks in relation to fire are undertaken. We will work with local authorities to identify how that—
Just say it!
There will be different circumstances in different local authorities. We will ensure that the work can be undertaken.
May I commend the Prime Minister for her statement and for talking about the public inquiry? From my experience of the public inquiry in my constituency that lasted for two and a half years, I know that it is vital that the inquiry is thorough but also as swift as possible. I urge whomsoever is appointed to talk to people such as Sir Robert Francis, who chaired the public inquiry in my constituency, to find out from his experience how that can best be achieved.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, and I will certainly pass that on. I absolutely agree that it is important that this is done as quickly as possible.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that the Government will pay for legal representation at the inquiry for those affected by the fire. Will she confirm that that means that not only victims but tenants’ groups will be given public funding for independent and separate legal representation sufficient to enable them to have a voice equal to that of local and national Government and the private management company? I ask because I understand that the tenants association was not allowed legal representation in the Lakanal House fire inquiry.
One of the experiences that came out of the Hillsborough inquiry was the importance of ensuring that those who were affected had appropriate legal representation, and the Government did fund that legal representation to enable them to have the strength of voice that they needed in that inquiry. Of course, as the hon. and learned Lady will be aware, with respect to the way in which the inquiry is conducted, the witnesses who are called and the representations that will be received, there will be an element of the judge deciding how he wants to conduct the inquiry. For those who require legal representation, that will be funded by the Government, and I have not set any limits in relation to the types of body or the individuals for whom that will be available.
My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to highlight the incredible work of the brave firefighters who attended the scene in the immediate aftermath of the incident, but will she ensure not only that they are properly recognised for their herculean efforts, but that any welfare needs that arise are met immediately?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Support is being given to the firefighters, and indeed to the police and others who attended the scene, because they, too, could potentially suffer trauma as a result of what they have seen, so that support will be available.
The Prime Minister, in concluding her statement, said that we should
“resolve never to forget these people”.
I would like to ask her who she thinks forgot these people. Was it the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, who defunded local authorities, including my own, which is still struggling with the consequences of the New Ferry explosion? Was it former Ministers who ignored pleas from this House on fire safety? Or was it her, who has seen other people in Britain as “these people”, rather than as our friends and neighbours?
I think that the best response I can give the hon. Lady on that matter is to refer her to the remarks I made on the steps of Downing Street when I became Prime Minister about a country that works for everyone.
I note that the Prime Minister said in her statement that all social landlords have been instructed to carry out additional fire safety checks, but that private landlords will be advised that they have the option of taking up the same facility. Can we ensure that the inquiry looks at both private and social tower blocks, because all citizens should be equal when it comes to safety and assurance?
The inquiry will obviously focus on what happened at Grenfell Tower, but any implications of the inquiry may very well affect not just social landlords, but private landlords.
The Prime Minister has already been asked this question several times and failed to answer it, so I will give her another opportunity. Will the Government fully commit to meeting the cost of proper and appropriate safety checks, to fully funding the recommendations and schemes for retrofitting sprinklers, and to meeting any other associated costs?
I have answered that; I have made it clear that where work is necessary, resources will be available to ensure that it can be undertaken. But it is for the Government to work with local authorities to ensure that that takes place.
The families of the victims are entitled to the truth—not speculation or conjecture, but the truth, based on evidence—so my right hon. Friend was absolutely right to set up the public inquiry, but can we ensure that an early date is agreed for publication of an interim report? In this case, perhaps more than any other, justice delayed is justice denied.
I would hope and expect that the judge, when appointed—obviously, that individual will be independent—will indicate publicly when they expect to be able to publish an interim report, so that people can have that confidence.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that the 68 flats in the Berkeley Homes Kensington Row development that are to be allocated to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire are already designated as social housing? What we need in places such as west London, where for many people social housing is the only affordable housing, is large investment in new affordable housing, not rearranging the same pot. Opposition Members will remain very sceptical about her conversion to social housing until she starts providing it, not just talking about it.
The important point about the Berkeley Homes development is that it is being ring-fenced for people who have been affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. That is the significance of this; it will be available purely for the people who have lost their home and been displaced as a result of this tragedy.
We have heard that the residents of Grenfell Tower had spoken out about their fears but not been listened to, like so many of our constituents, on whose behalf we, as MPs, frequently write to organisations asking for them to be given a fair hearing, despite the dedication of many thousands of staff. I ask my right hon. Friend to look at the management systems and culture in organisations that serve the public to work out what needs to change to ensure that every citizen of this country, whoever and wherever they are, are not just heard but listened to.
My hon. Friend raises an important matter. We must ensure that organisations that have a responsibility to the public do indeed listen to the public. With regard to any future disasters that should take place, I am considering the concept of an independent public advocate—somebody who can ensure that answers are given. They should ensure that people get not just the support that they need, but the answers that they need.
Obviously, many have paid tribute to the fire and rescue workers who put their lives in danger and who may still be feeling the trauma from that. As a surgeon of more than 30 years, I wish to highlight the fact that NHS staff will also be traumatised, because there is nothing more horrific than dealing with the victims of burns. In the autumn statement of 2015, the former Chancellor identified £800 million to be taken from the new housing bonus scheme to make up the shortfall in social care. Will the current Chancellor now reverse that?
The erudition of the hon. Lady’s inquiry was equalled only by its length, and we need to be shorter from now on.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As I have said, I visited one of the hospitals that had taken in victims and can say that, obviously, those NHS staff did a wonderful job as well. Here in London NHS staff have dealt with not only the Grenfell Tower disaster, but the terrorist attacks that have taken place. As she said, those NHS staff deserve support as do others in the emergency services to whom we referred earlier.
As a representative of an area of the country that has no tower blocks, I know that the overwhelming wish of my constituents is for us to have timely implementation of any recommendations that come out of a public inquiry in a non-partisan manner. They recognise that that may come at a considerable cost to the public purse. Is the Prime Minister aware that, across the country, that is the will of many people, and that is an acceptable cost?
Yes, and it is absolutely the case with any recommendations that come out of this public inquiry, because those recommendations will be about keeping people safe, and action will be taken on those recommendations.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am keen to accommodate the remaining interest, but it must be pithily conveyed.
I have a very quick question. Will the one-in, two-out approach to the regulatory “burden”—so-called—now be abandoned for fire safety?
We have always taken the issue of regulations in relation to safety very, very seriously indeed. The hon. Lady might know that when I was Home Secretary I was very clear that all regulation is not bad regulation; there is good regulation, which we need to ensure that we get right. The public inquiry will be asking that very question about fire regulation.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) on her succinctness. It is clear that she has now volunteered to author the textbook for distribution to colleagues.
I am sure that the Prime Minister will share my view that it seems almost inconceivable that an organisation should spend £8.7 million on refurbishing a tower block and not include inflammable cladding and a sprinkler system. Will she confirm that, when we have the outcome of the public inquiry, there will be an opportunity to debate it on the Floor of the House, and time made available for any necessary legislation?
Yes. I am happy to say that it would be appropriate for this House to have an opportunity to debate the outcome of the public inquiry and to look at those issues.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. We will have to wrap up at 10 past 11, so we will do what we can between now and then.
Residents of Grenfell Tower warned the housing provider of the dangers and said that it would take a fire in a tower block for notice to be taken. Will the Prime Minister relook at the Localism Act 2011, which currently requires residents to allow for eight weeks before they can make a complaint to the ombudsman for a matter to be taken up through their Members of Parliament?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising an issue that has not been raised with me before. I will look at the Localism Act. I think that there are reasons why that period of time was put into the Act. She is right that the issue of the response of the tenant management organisation has been raised, and that it needs to be looked at by the inquiry as it looks into the reasons for the fire.
Will the results of the individual examinations to which the Prime Minister referred be produced as they become available, or will they all be subjected to the public examination? If the former, may we have a timetable for that?
I assume that my hon. Friend is talking about the tests on the cladding—
As regards the tests on the cladding, as soon as the results are available—the test can be done within hours of the samples being received—the local authorities, housing associations or private landlords will be informed of them.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. A single sentence, and a short one, from Jack Dromey.
Fire sprinklers save lives. May I correct the Prime Minister, because actually the inquest recommended that the Department issue guidance to all providers of high-rise blocks that they should retrofit sprinklers? There are 213 blocks with 10,000 households in Birmingham. Will the Prime Minister agree now to act on the advice given four years ago, retrofit sprinklers and have the Government pay for it?
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the recommendation was that the Department
“encourage providers of housing in high rise residential buildings containing multiple domestic premises to consider the retro fitting of sprinkler systems.”
May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the inquiry will look at the safety of tall buildings in which people work as well as those in which people live?
I think it is important that when the inquiry looks at the implications of the fire, it assesses them for all tall buildings, not just those in which people live. Indeed, we are ensuring that we consider other tall buildings that might have been clad in a similar way, which might not be residential properties but used for other purposes.
Will the Prime Minister please tell us why she will not choose to show leadership, require all councils to retrofit flats and provide the resources?
I made the point earlier that we need to ensure that any accommodation provided by local authorities or housing associations is safe. People are making assumptions about the work that needs to be done to ensure that. What needs to happen on the ground is for the local authority or housing association—the landlord—to work with the fire and rescue service to ensure that they can provide that safety.
When the Prime Minister considers her suggestion of a civil disaster taskforce, will she bear in mind one of the lessons of the severe Gloucestershire floods of 2007, which was to have a single leader at gold command responsible for co-ordinating all the different groups and controlling the media and information?
I thank my hon. Friend. We will consider that. Putting it in place here, with John Barradell as gold command, has helped to move things forward and ensure that the response has improved.
When an independent safety review of a block of flats recommends retrofitting sprinklers, or major refurbishment, will the Government fund it?
The hon. Gentleman’s question seemed to be about any blocks of flats in the country, whether they be in private or public sector ownership—[Interruption.]
What we are doing is ensuring first of all that the fire service and landlords—local authorities and housing associations—assess what is needed for the safety of those properties. Where action is needed and work is needed, the Government will work with those landlords to ensure that that can be done.
The Prime Minister concluded her statement by saying that it was the Government’s job to show that it is listening. Will she listen to the experts in the Fire Brigades Union and reverse the cuts to the fire and rescue service as well as retrofitting sprinklers in all high-rise residential accommodation?
As I have already said on the issue of sprinklers, some tests on retrofitting have been undertaken across the country, but it is not as simple as saying that retrofitting sprinklers is the one thing we need to do. There are a variety of ways in which action needs to be taken in blocks and what needs to happen is for the experts to assess that for every block.
The Communities Secretary has demanded that the chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea Council resigns. Should Councillor Paget-Brown resign?
That matter will be considered by the appropriate group on Kensington and Chelsea Council.
If Bristol City Council comes to the conclusion that essential work is needed on its tower blocks, will the Government fund it? If so, how soon will we get the money?
If the decision is made, in conjunction with the fire and rescue service, that work needs to be done on those tower blocks, there will be a discussion between the authority and the Department for Communities and Local Government about how that work can be undertaken and the provision of resources for that work.
I know that the Prime Minister believes that politicians should be accountable for their actions or their inactions. On that basis, has she told the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council that he should go because of the appalling way in which this tragedy has been handled?
I have had a conversation with the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council. I told him that he needed to ensure that residents, victims and survivors of this terrible disaster were being given the help and support they need. We have now added more help and support to ensure that that is happening on the ground.
In paying more attention to social housing, will the Prime Minister pledge to review the right-to-buy discount policy, the implicit message from Government that renting is not aspirational enough and how the one-for-one replacement process is managed, and will she allow greater building of council houses?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the housing White Paper produced by the Government earlier this year, he will see that we clearly expect there to be a diversity of ways in which people will be in their homes. Some wish to own their homes and some wish to rent. Some wish to have rent-to-buy schemes and others wish to have shared ownership schemes. I want there to be diversity to suit people and their circumstances.
Both the fire stations in my constituency are closing as a direct result of Government cuts, so will the Government now take action and increase funding to Merseyside fire and rescue service?
Fire services across the country are ensuring that they have the appropriate response to the fires with which they are dealing. Importantly, urban search and rescue as well as the London Fire Brigade were available for the Grenfell Tower fire. The resources were there and they were able to take the action that they took.
Short sentences—Matt Western.
I have heard the word “encouragement” used a lot today. In my experience, that word is not necessarily useful when we are talking about a tragedy of this magnitude. Markets do not work with encouragement; they work with regulation. There has been an explosion in the number of student properties built in the private sector in recent years. I suggest that it is incumbent on the Government to make it mandatory for not just the public sector, but the private sector to use their facilities and test all these properties.
There are fire safety and building regulations in place. Landlords have a responsibility for ensuring the safety of their properties. We are ensuring that facilities are available to them free of charge. I say, once again, that local authorities and housing associations are sending in samples. I encourage them and others to do so. As I said, the checking facilities are also available to the devolved Administrations.
Will the Prime Minister assure me that she will work with the devolved Administrations on the lesson-learning process, including with the Welsh Government, who have announced an expert group to do just that in recent days?
We are already talking to the devolved Administrations about the lessons and anything that is coming out so far, and we will continue to do so.
It has already become apparent that landlords do not always know who occupies their properties, and the vulnerabilities of certain tenants. Will the Prime Minister ensure that we investigate opportunities for data sharing between, for example, local authorities, social services departments, schools and registered social landlords?
The hon. Lady raises an interesting issue. At the heart of this is ensuring that the service given to people interacting with various Government Departments is focused on and identifies their particular needs. I will consider the issue of data sharing.
Cuts have consequences. According to Home Office figures, the number of home fire safety checks has fallen by 25% since 2010. Will the Prime Minister now give the service the funding it needs to carry out 100% of the checks required?
The fire and rescue service obviously does conduct checks. It does that in relation to residential properties of these sorts of tower blocks owned by local authorities and housing associations. It does so in conjunction with those landlords, and some of those checks will be conducted by landlords themselves.
Will the Prime Minister meet urgently the fire and rescue service to discuss the advice given to residents of tower blocks as, sadly, it would seem that the advice given to the residents of Grenfell Tower to stay in their flats may have been erroneous?
The fire and rescue service has representation at the meetings that I have been chairing in relation to the response to Grenfell Tower. The issue of the advice that has been given to residents has been raised with it. Obviously this matter will need reflection and consideration, and I would expect it also to be one that the inquiry will look at.
May I ask that as part of the inquiry an assessment is carried out of the capacity of the fire service to respond to incidents such as this, particularly with reference to crewing and high-reach appliances?
The fire service was able to respond in this instance, but of course when the inquiry looks at these issues I would expect that to be one that it considers.
Mr Shannon—15 seconds maximum.
There are 32 high-rise tower blocks in Northern Ireland where safety tests have been carried out. When it comes to the lessons learned and the suggestions and recommendations made, may I ask that the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive be made aware of those?
We will indeed do that. This allows me to say to the hon. Gentleman that I hope that the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive will be formed such that they are in a position for us to give them that information.
I thank the Prime Minister very warmly for her time this morning, and all colleagues for their spirited co-operation on this very important and grave occasion.