It is a particular honour to follow three new maiden speeches, all made by three new female Members. I made my maiden speech two weeks ago, so I am now speaking as a very experienced old timer. What particularly resonated with me was what Stephanie Peacock said: people matter. That is very relevant to our debate today.
One month on from this tragedy, there is no less pain for the victims and their families, no less fear, and no less anger over the failings of the political system. The disaster at Grenfell Tower has left a huge scar, not just in the local community of Kensington, but across Britain. It has moved people deeply, whether they have local connections or not, and that has been reflected in the generosity shown by public donations. It has also exposed deep divisions and inequalities in our society which we have ignored for far too long. This disaster should have been avoided. How is it possible that, in a very wealthy borough like Kensington and Chelsea, dozens of people can burn to death in their own homes?
We now need to find out from the public inquiry exactly what happened and what mistakes were made, but reports that unsafe building materials were used, that the need to cut costs was put above tenants’ safety, and that concerns raised by the residents were repeatedly ignored paint a picture that goes much deeper than this disaster. It goes to the heart of our political system and its failures. Trust between our local communities and the political system has been seriously eroded, and must be restored.
Trust is a very precious thing which takes a long time to build. It is an essential part of a healthy democracy and a functioning society. It is vital that, in the work to restore lives affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, everything possible is done to rebuild that trust, which means genuinely listening to victims’ families and the local community, involving residents in the decisions that affect their lives and their future, and taking all possible action to put things right. That action must include an urgent increase in social housing provision throughout our country. The Grenfell Tower disaster was the result of a long-term failure of successive Governments to invest in social housing, in terms of both the quality and the number of homes. Leaving house building to the private sector has utterly failed. It has led to a housing crisis that has driven vast inequality and pushed many families into poverty and homelessness, and until we take radical action that crisis will continue to spiral out of control.
Furthermore, we need widespread reform of systems and structures. We need an immediate review of the building regulations to ensure that they are up to date and appropriate. We cannot wait for the results of the public inquiry. We cannot have a repeat of what happened after the Lakanal House fire, when a review of regulations was promised but never delivered. This time, lessons must be learned and implemented fast.
Given that the fire started in a fridge, there must also be reform of electrical safety. My colleagues in both Houses have been fighting for a long time for the introduction of compulsory electrical safety checks in rented homes. So far the Government have seen that as an unnecessary regulation, but now it is surely inexcusable not to make a simple change that has the potential to save lives.
All residents in Britain, whatever type of housing they live in, have the right to live in homes that are safe, warm, and set in well-run, safe, green and clean neighbourhoods. This disaster has exposed huge weaknesses in the housing provision of our country, and has undermined people’s trust. We all have a responsibility to rebuild trust between the public and their elected representatives, but the Government have the power to take radical steps to fix the system, and they must do that now.