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Fire Prevention and Safety

Volume 626: debated on Monday 3 July 2017

7. If she will discuss with Cabinet colleagues reviewing fire prevention and safety regulations, banning the use of flammable material in cladding and ensuring that fire inspections are not outsourced to private firms. (900121)

The Secretary of State, who I believe is making a statement on Grenfell Tower this afternoon, has established an expert advisory panel to provide independent advice on any immediate measures that may need to be put in place to make buildings safe for residents following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Survivors and relatives of the victims of the Grenfell disaster are concerned at the proposed scope of the public inquiry, as the Minister knows, but does he agree that Departments, including his own, should act now to address many of the concerns raised? They include the safety of building materials, the resilience of the fire service across the country, the enforcement of regulations and a lack of trained professionals to carry out fire inspections as thoroughly and often as are needed.

The Grenfell tragedy, which should never have happened, and subsequent events, in terms of what we are learning about the fire safety of buildings, mean that there is a system failure, which has been allowed to build up over too many years. It is imperative that we do not just wait for a public inquiry, but that we get on with the work of reviewing not just regulation, but the whole system of enforcement and management of risk, and that we lead on that and are informed by an inquiry.

I, like all Members, have been inundated with emails from constituents demanding immediate changes to fire regulations. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that we look at what changes are needed to the fire regulations, but also at what changes are needed in the implementation of existing regulations, so that tragedies such as Grenfell do not happen again?

I do agree with my hon. Friend, and his question allows me to build on what I was saying before. There has been a system failure, built up over many years, and we need to address it as a matter of urgency and with rigorous analysis underpinned by evidence. As part of that we will of course look at whether the regulations are effective, but my instinct is that the biggest failure has been in the system of enforcement, inspection and risk management.

Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack, who is conducting some of the inquiries, has said that the insulation has proved

“more flammable than the cladding”.

Has the Home Office had representations from the police or the fire service on this? Does the Minister sit on the Government’s taskforce and, if not, has whichever Home Office Minister does raised the testing of the insulation with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government? If not, will they do so urgently and call for testing of insulation to be done?

I can assure the right hon. Lady that both the Home Secretary and I have sat on the regular Cobra meetings that have addressed this, and I sit regularly on the sub-group as well. The right hon. Lady is right; of course, testing the cladding was the priority, but it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not just about the cladding. There is a significant issue with insulation and fitting, and there are considerable questions to be answered about safeguarding and risk inside buildings. That is what we have to understand better, informed by the police investigation and the public inquiry about what exactly what has happened, but we also have to get on with the business of stress testing our current systems.

Banning flammable cladding is clearly a no-brainer. It should never have been used in those buildings, and nor, indeed, should any other flammable materials. As we start to beef up the rules and regulations, will my hon. Friend ensure not only that best guidance is spread around all local authorities in the United Kingdom and action is followed, but that we work with other Governments in other countries that contain tower blocks, so that the tragedy that has befallen the people of the United Kingdom will never befall another country?

I entirely agree with that sentiment, which was expressed very powerfully. The materials, particularly the panels, were not compliant, and should not have been used on those buildings. We must now re-examine systematically, using all the best evidence available, the landscape of policy and regulation—both the regulation itself, and what is meant to happen in respect of building inspection.

The concerns about fire prevention and safety are vital issues, but does the Minister agree that we should not lose sight of the immediate plight of the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, their families and their community? Does he understand that one of the factors preventing people from coming forward, either to obtain the help that they need or to provide the information that we need, is concern about their immigration status? I know he has said that their papers will not be checked, but will he consider announcing an immigration amnesty for the survivors of Grenfell Tower? Otherwise there will be people who have died whom we will never know about, and too many people who need help will not receive it.

The right hon. Lady is right. That is an issue, as I know from conversations that I have had and will continue to have with survivors. One of our big problems is not being able to identify fully who was in the building on that night, and concerns about immigration status are part of that. We have communicated some advice which was meant to reassure, and we are reviewing with people closer to the community whether that advice is sufficient.