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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:22 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 3:22 pm, 30th October 2019

I commend my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the content and tone of his speech. I was appalled that this report was leaked two days in advance, and I was extremely worried that the fire brigade would be used as an excuse and blamed. That is quite wrong. I spoke to the fire brigade and found that it has dealt with internal learning and improvement, predetermined attendance, new equipment, training, control improvements, information gathering and other matters.

The reality is that Parliament is to blame, because over many years we have not prioritised this issue at all. Of course, we come together when there is such a tragedy, but over many years Parliament has not prioritised the situation. I gently say to colleagues that we have all been sent emails about fire training measures in this place, but I am afraid that the take-up among colleagues is relatively small, and I hope that we will do better.

We are all aware that when the fire brigade has to attend a fire the magnitude of Grenfell, that is because of a failure in the building system, which according to Dame Judith Hackitt is seriously broken and not fit for purpose. As we have heard, phase 2 of the public inquiry will commence next year and look at the original design, construction and composition of the tower and the subsequent modifications both prior to and during 2012 to 2016, including compliance with regulations and guidance and industry practice.

I only wish that we in the all-party parliamentary fire safety rescue group had been listened to many years ago. I am delighted that the group has three Members who were Ministers and two firefighters, all of whom make excellent contributions. Our group will be represented at stage 2 of the public inquiry by the group’s adviser, former chief fire officer Ronnie King.

As I said, the fire tragedy that unfolded at Grenfell Tower cannot be laid at the door of the firefighters. I have had only a brief opportunity to look at the 1,000-page report, but I want to pick out one or two words. Sir Martin Moore-Bick says that the London Fire Brigade’s readiness for the Grenfell fire was “gravely inadequate”. He stated that

“incident commanders had received no training in how to recognise the need for an evacuation or how to organise one”.

Her Majesty’s inspectorate of fire services really should be picking up that sort of thing. Whether it failed to notice it or just failed to act is a matter of grave concern.

There was no contingency plan for the evacuation of Grenfell Tower. Assurances had been provided following the 2013 inquest into Lakanal House that this kind of issue had been resolved. It clearly had not. The London Fire Brigade has an operational database of buildings in London and has a risk assessment policy accessible to all operational firefighters. The information available about Grenfell Tower contained almost nothing of any use to an incident commander called to a fire. I also understand that what was there did not reflect the significant refurbishment work that had gone on. Once again, Her Majesty’s inspectorate really should have picked up that shortcoming. The first incident commanders, although experienced, were of relatively junior rank. They were faced with a situation for which they had not been adequately prepared, and I know the fire service will look at that.

We should not argue any more about this. We should ensure that the cladding is dealt with everywhere in private and public buildings, we should ensure that sprinklers are retrospectively fitted, and we should ensure that a tragedy such as Grenfell never ever happens again.