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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:48 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:48 pm, 30th October 2019

I entirely agree. This is the job of the inquiry, but it is also the job of this House, as I said, to scrutinise the political responsibility for factors contributing to this tragedy.

In Scotland, building regulations are devolved. After a tower block fire in Irvine in 1999, just before devolution kicked in, a Select Committee of this House recommended that all cladding on high-rise dwellings should be non-combustible. Subsequent to devolution, that report was taken seriously by Scottish housing authorities, and building regulations in Scotland were duly amended in 2005. All new high rise domestic buildings in Scotland after that date were, by regulation, fitted with non-combustible cladding or a cladding system that met stringent fire tests, and with sprinklers. The same recommendation was seen as optional south of the border. It appears that that has had tragic consequences, so it is vital that this House finds a way to ensure that the inquiry’s recommendations are properly implemented.

It is also the case that a history of deregulation and its legacy has contributed to this tragedy. That history dates back many years and includes previous Conservative party Administrations’ decisions to cut building regulations drastically and the coalition Government’s cutting of fire budgets by around 28% in real terms. Those are facts. The fact is that the regulatory regime for housing and fire safety created in England has contributed to the scale of this tragedy.

I believe that the coalition Government’s policy of austerity has contributed to conditions surrounding the scale of this tragedy. I am conscious of not taking up too much time, so that others can speak, but Labour Members have mentioned cuts made by the Prime Minister to the London fire service when he was Mayor. I have read carefully comments from Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, who notes that a review of the London Fire Brigade’s resources in 2016 warned against any further cuts to its budget and advised that City Hall

“be ready to mitigate any unacceptable negative impacts arising from cuts in frontline resources” made by the then Mayor, the Prime Minister. Those allegations come from somebody who knows what he is talking about.

Despite those concerns, the Prime Minister, when he was Mayor of London, went on to insist to Londoners that he had improved fire cover, despite cutting the number of firefighters, fire engines and fire stations. When confronted in the Greater London Assembly chamber about that matter, he told a Labour party Assembly Member to “get stuffed”. I am sorry for that language, Madam Deputy Speaker, but that is a fact, and I have seen the video. It is a great indictment of our politics that that sort of approach to such serious matters is seen as acceptable by some.

As the charity Shelter has said, this tragedy outlines the fact that we need a national conversation about some of the broader policy issues, particularly social housing. In Scotland, even under the constraints of Tory and Lib Dem austerity, we have taken steps to build tens of thousands of new social homes. We have got rid of the right to buy, built council houses and reintroduced security of tenure in the private sector. Those things are all widely accepted in other European democracies, and we need to look at improving them in England and Wales.

Finally, the families must never be forgotten. Working with the organisation Inquest, the families have produced a blueprint for the handling of future disasters. They have called in particular for a co-ordinated response from central and local government and emergency services. They have also recommended that a central point be set up for families to contact about missing relatives and for help and information. The views of the families, whose lived experience is central to our consideration of this avoidable tragedy, must be put at the heart of any work that the next Parliament takes forward, to put right the terrible wrong that occurred on that night.