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

No, I will not give way as I really must get on.

A range of views have been expressed about the cause of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. What is vital is that we have a full independent public inquiry with a remit that goes way beyond the design, construction and modification of the building itself. An effective and prompt inquiry will necessarily have to follow defined terms of reference, and setting those is obviously crucial. The terms will be set formally by the Prime Minister, but she will do so following recommendations from the chair of the public inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick. Sir Martin was appointed to head up the inquiry on 29 June and, on that very day he visited the site and spoke with some of those who had been affected by the tragedy. Sir Martin has been absolutely clear in his desire to consult the affected residents about what the terms of the reference should be. I know that he has been meeting them to hear their views. He has also said that he welcomes the views from the wider community. Those are the actions of a person who wants proactively to engage with those directly affected right from the start. I urge hon. Members who have concerns or ideas about the terms of the inquiry to raise them with the team. The details are available on the inquiry website: grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk.

During today’s debate, some concern has been expressed about Sir Martin’s suitability for the role, but as the First Secretary of State has said, he is independently appointed, extremely well qualified and totally impartial. Sir Martin is a hugely experienced former Court of Appeal judge. Judges decide cases solely on the evidence presented in court and in accordance with the law. As a senior judge, Sir Martin has worked across a range of cases. There have been cases where Sir Martin has been praised by civil liberties lawyers and cases where he has found in favour of housing association tenants, but in each case he will have made decisions based on the law and the evidence—nothing more, and nothing less.

Opposition Members may be aware that from December 2005 to December 2009, Sir Martin was chair of the legal services consultative panel, which advises successive Lord Chancellors on the regulation and training of lawyers, legal services and other related matters. The Lord Chancellors whom he served were Lord Falconer and Jack Straw. I have previously noted in this House that it is vital for Government, central and local, to work hard to win the trust of those people directly affected by this tragedy. I have no doubt that Sir Martin is similarly aware that he needs to foster that trust. I am sure that, as his dialogue with the local community continues, they will note that his only motivation is to get to the bottom of what happened.

I assure hon. Members that the Government will co-operate fully with the inquiry, and I hope that the same will be true of the local authority and any other individual or body whose work falls within the inquiry’s remit. It is absolutely vital that no stone is left unturned and that anyone who has done wrong has nowhere to hide. To help get to the truth, survivors of the fire and the families of the victims will receive funding for legal representation at the inquiry. Details of how they access that legal funding will follow once the inquiry is up and running.

Some concern has been raised about the lack of a coroner’s inquest into the deaths at Grenfell. Let me assure colleagues that there will be an inquest. The coroner is already investigating the deaths; that is a statutory duty. The police led investigation is already under way in conjunction with the London Fire Brigade and the Health and Safety Executive. The police investigation will consider potential criminal liability. The police have been very clear: arrests will follow if any evidence of criminal wrongdoing is found. Unlike a coroner’s inquest, a full, judge led public inquiry will allow us to look at the broader circumstances leading up to and surrounding the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. It will also allow us to take any action necessary as quickly as possible to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.

A number of colleagues have expressed concerns about timing. Of course, we want the inquiry to be completed as quickly as possible and the main priority will be to establish the facts of what action is needed to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. It will be for Sir Martin to determine the timescale for the inquiry, but I am certain that he will be aware of the universal desire for an interim report to be published at the earliest opportunity.

In cases of some past disasters, such as Hillsborough and the sinking of the Marchioness, it took far too long for the whole story of what happened to emerge. We do not want that to be the case with Grenfell Tower. That is why the Prime Minister ordered a full public inquiry as soon as the scale of the tragedy became apparent. Regardless of politics or ideology and of what we think is the best course of action, all of us here want one thing: the truth. It might prove uncomfortable for some and it might not fit the preconception of others, but the truth must come out. I am confident that Sir Martin Moore-Bick will see that the truth does come out. The survivors of the Grenfell fire and the families of those who were lost deserve no less.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry.