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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:25 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Leader of the Liberal Democrats 3:25 pm, 30th October 2019

I thank the Prime Minister for the tone in which he opened the debate, the former Prime Minister, Mrs May, for setting up the inquiry in the first place, and Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his inquiry team for the detailed work they have done. I also thank Emma Dent Coad. It is entirely understandable that the community is angry and wants justice. She expressed that, and she is right to do so. When she says this is urgent, she is absolutely right.

Nobody could not be moved by the horror of reading or listening to the testimonies of those who experienced that fateful night: the horror of people being trapped in a burning building, or of knowing that their loved ones were. In the report they then read the heartbreaking finding that advice to stay put was given to people who could otherwise have escaped, and that led to loss of life.

There are so many lessons to be learnt, but the truth is that the people who survived, and their friends and family, bear this burden every single day, as do those from our emergency services. There are the firefighters who bravely ran into danger in that hellish building—that inferno. There are those who gave medical support to the people who were affected, and those who picked up the pieces in the community, including people in the education service. I am struck by the story of the young woman who escaped from the tower and the next day went to set her GCSE chemistry exam. The reach of Grenfell, with the number of people whose lives were affected, or who have helped those affected, is huge. It continues to this day.

The report makes absolutely clear that the Grenfell tragedy was the result of several institutional failings. Simply put, it should not have happened. We need solutions now to ensure that it can never happen again—from local authorities having emergency planning procedures and risk assessments to the fire service having the support needed on lessons that must be learned about communication. It is also about the regulations made in this place about cladding and materials, the rules that we have for buildings, and learning the lessons from previous tragedies such as Lakanal House.

Everyone deserves a safe and secure home to live in, and, bluntly, the residents of Grenfell did not have that. It is unacceptable that that cladding was ever approved for use on buildings such as Grenfell. In part of the report, Sir Martin Moore-Bick finds that it is hard to understand whether it could ever have been compliant with building regulations—it is important that that is fully investigated in phase 2—yet 200 buildings still have that cladding today. People are going to sleep in buildings where that is the case. That is not good enough two and a half years on.

It is incredibly important that the next phase of the inquiry can proceed. It needs to be comprehensive and detailed, and it needs to do its work as quickly as possible, but the very fact that that cladding is still there on buildings more than two years on should shock us all. It is long past time that we matched our words with actions.