Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry

Part of Humanitarian Situation in Mosul – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 12th July 2017.

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Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma Minister of State (Communities and Local Government) 6:41 pm, 12th July 2017

We have had a detailed and wide-ranging debate on the Grenfell Tower public inquiry, but I start by congratulating all the Members who made their maiden speeches today: the hon. Members for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), for Leigh (Jo Platt) and for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones).

We heard some incredibly powerful speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith), for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) and for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), and we of course heard from Emma Dent Coad, who has been very involved in dealing with the residents and has been part of the response.

We also heard from the various members of the all-party group on fire safety: my hon. Friend Sir David Amess and the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). I can tell the shadow Minister, Andrew Gwynne, that I met them recently to hear their views. They will be writing to me in some detail to set out what they want to see happen in the inquiry.

Colleagues have had an opportunity to express a range of views—some obviously different from others—but the House is today united in the view that ultimately the people who matter the most are those who have been affected directly by this terrible tragedy. They must have their questions answered, and that is precisely what the inquiry will do.

In his opening remarks, the shadow Secretary of State, John Healey, said that he will not rest until the residents have the help they need, until we get to the bottom of what happened, and until we make sure that this never happens again. I assure him that I, too, will not rest until all three of those conditions are met, and nor will the Secretary of State or, indeed, any colleague in this House.

I again put on record my deepest condolences for all those who have suffered such great loss as a result of this fire, which we all agree should never have happened. Colleagues from all parties have paid tribute to the victims, their families and the heroism of the emergency services, and I know that such heart-felt views will be heard and echoed throughout the country. This debate has provided an opportunity to reflect on the scale and human cost of this tragedy, but it has also given us a valuable chance to start to look ahead to what comes next—principally, the public inquiry that will establish precisely what went wrong, why and who is responsible.

Colleagues have raised a range of issues, and before I continue with my speech I shall take a few minutes to respond to some of them. On the help available to those who are directly affected, Members will know that we have made first offers to all those who are ready to have such offers made to them. A large number of second offers have been made, and 19 of the families have now accepted an offer. I just point out that, as I know Opposition Members have acknowledged, we need to go at the pace that the families want us to go at. That is incredibly important. I know that some of them will want to move into permanent homes rather than into temporary homes, and we accept that. We have had a discussion about Kensington Row, and I hope we will soon be in a position where we can start viewings of the flats there. We are also looking to secure similar accommodation so that we have net additions to the social housing, rather than take up homes that others might have occupied. The key thing is that nobody is going to be forced into a home that they do not want to go to.

On funding, I can report that 120 of the households have received a grant of £5,000, and many others have also received the £500 cash payment. In total, almost £4 million has been paid out from the discretionary fund. Colleagues have raised issues relating to trauma support, which of course is being made available to those who need it. Given the exceptional nature of the incident, we have agreed that MOPAC—Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime—funding will used for this, even though no crime as such has been committed that we are aware of.

We heard a discussion on the Government’s response and the testing regime that we have put in place. The Secretary of State has led right from the start on that. I have been by his side, so I can tell Members that he has led on it. I ask hon. Members to look on the Government website because it will tell them about all the letters we have written to local authorities and housing associations, and all the tests that we have suggested are done. Yes, 211 tests have come back as positive—or negative; it depends on who one looks at it—but I just say that we are working with the Local Government Association and others to encourage housing associations, local councils and private landlords to send in the cladding for testing. What I say to every Member here, as they can help with this, is that I know they will be in touch with their local authorities and housing associations, so please help us. They should ask their local—