With permission, I should like to make a statement to the House about the tragic fire at Windsor castle.
Shortly before midday on Friday, a fire started in or near the private chapel close to the state apartments. It took hold rapidly. The county fire service arrived within eight minutes and built up to 39 fire appliances and more than 200 firefighters. By late afternoon, the fire had been contained in the north-east corner of the castle. The fire services continued fighting the fire throughout Friday night, and by Saturday morning it had been largely extinguished.
The fire severely damaged several of the state rooms in the north-east corner of the castle, including St. George's hall and the grand reception room. An extremely effective pre-planned salvage operation was carried out to remove pictures, furnishings, carpets and other valuables from threatened rooms.
I visited the castle on Saturday and saw the extent of the damage. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in saying to Her Majesty that we share with her the sadness of the devastation of what is, at one and the same time, her home, a major state building, and a unique asset and attraction of our national heritage.
I would like to pay tribute to the county fire services, to the Windsor castle auxiliary fire service, and to all those who so quickly and efficiently helped to salvage so much from the burning buildings. In very difficult and dangerous circumstances they performed with skill, courage and dedication. There was no loss of life and only limited damage to works of art—one picture, one sideboard, and an antique carpet appear to have been lost. The fire was contained to one area, and the contingency planning was put into effect most successfully.
Investigations into the cause of the fire started almost immediately, and I will receive a complete report in due course. Scaffolding is being erected to stabilise the structure, and temporary roofing will be provided. Surveys will then be carried out to identify what action is needed to restore the buildings, and a full report is expected within a month. Meanwhile, the rubble will be carefully sifted by experts from English Heritage and elsewhere, working in close co-operation with the royal household, to provide essential information for authentic restoration work. It will then be possible to estimate the scale and cost of the restoration work, and to plan for it. Those of the state apartments that have not been damaged will be open to the public as soon as feasible.
Windsor castle is the property of the state, and it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that resources are provided to maintain it in a manner commensurate with its status, and its role on occasions of state. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that resources will be provided to restore that most precious and well loved part of our national heritage.
Once preliminary examinations of the circumstances of the fire have been completed and considered, I shall want to decide in consultation with the royal household that further investigations are necessary.
Windsor castle is a world famous symbol of this country. I believe that it is our duty to ensure that the damage is repaired as soon as possible.