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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing 4:01 pm, 30th October 2019

The interest in this debate and the abbreviated speeches that people have been forced to make underline the fact that this must be only the start of this House’s debates on the results and findings of the phase 1 report that was published today. I thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his staff for the huge amount of work that they have done on the first phase of the inquiry, and I thank all those who contributed to the inquiry with oral, written and expert evidence. My hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick quite rightly said that there is a bigger picture to come with the second phase of the inquiry, but this report is, as he said, digging deep and telling the world what it needs to know.

Most of all, I pay tribute to the Grenfell survivors, the families of the victims, and the community in north Kensington, who have conducted themselves with such dignity during the course of this painful inquiry. I say to them, “You have suffered unimaginable trauma and loss, but thank you for having the courage to share this and the resolve to turn your grief into the fight for justice and change.” It is with them in mind that I say now what I said in the days immediately after the terrible Grenfell fire: the Labour party is totally dedicated to seeing all survivors get the help they need, to getting new homes for those who need them, to bringing all those culpable to justice, and to putting in place every measure needed to prevent a fire like Grenfell from happening again.

We heard those sentiments in the days after that fire, and we must learn the lessons and never let this happen again. We heard that again today in the speech of Jo Swinson, who said that we must turn words into action. However, nearly two and a half years on, it is shocking and shameful that we still cannot say with confidence that a fire like Grenfell could not happen again in this country, a point that the Secretary of State himself conceded on a podcast last week.

The former Prime Minister, Mrs May, was quite right to say that Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his team could not have produced a thoughtful and thorough report like this without the testimony of survivors, and her contribution today was also thorough and thoughtful. She was right to say that the central important finding, which I will come back to if I have time, is that the cladding was non-compliant. She noted that the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s report were accepted by the Government, but I say to her and the House that that report was 18 months ago and still no legislation has been introduced, let alone implemented. She spoke movingly about what she said was one of the most shocking things: residents of Grenfell telling her how they had raised concerns about the safety of the block but had been ignored. She rightly said that the Government then introduced a social housing Green Paper, but that report was 15 months ago and still we are only promised a White Paper as a follow-up.

My hon. Friend Emma Dent Coad again demonstrated her relentless quest for justice and to speak, on behalf of her constituents, the hardest truths to those in power. My hon. Friend Grahame Morris was right to pay tribute to her and to the work of the FBU. The Secretary of State has a number of points to take from this debate—an agenda for action that is still not done.

My right hon. Friend Mr Lammy knows, as a result of the report, more about the death of Khadija and her mother. He reminded us that many friends and survivors look to phase 2 of the inquiry not just for answers and truth, as in phase 1, but for justice and convictions.

Bill Grant spoke, with great authority from his experience in the fire service, about systematic shortcomings, with lessons not being learned or changes made.

Sir David Amess rightly said that he was appalled by the leaking of the report, as were we. It was embargoed so that the survivors had time to read it in full, rather than see bits in the media. He was right that it is a job for Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services to ensure that the required action follows.

The Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, my hon. Friend Mr Betts, said that the report rightly says that there are serious concerns about the serious delays in getting dangerous cladding off the side of buildings. There is a big question for the Government, because cladding that is now banned on new blocks is in place on thousands of existing blocks. My hon. Friend Rushanara Ali rightly spoke about constituents of hers feeling alone in fighting private block owners to get them to remove and replace Grenfell-style cladding. When eight in 10 blocks with Grenfell-style cladding still have it in place nearly two and a half years on, it demands more from the Government. The Prime Minister said that nearly all buildings have work in hand. He is quite simply wrong. Sixty-nine block owners do not even have a plan in place to remove this cladding.

My hon. Friend Karen Lee was right about the singular importance of retrofitting sprinklers. My hon. Friend Matt Rodda spoke about the shortfalls in the powers of councils as planning and inspection authorities, which the Government must fix. My hon. Friend Andy Slaughter rightly said that the Government have only scratched the surface because of the other materials and other buildings that are still at risk.

Grenfell Tower was unprecedented but not unavoidable. Joanna Cherry and my hon. Friend Mr Reed both talked about the Lakanal House fire and the coroner’s report in 2013. Points picked up in the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry report were there a full four years earlier in that coroner’s report to Ministers after the Lakanal House fire: to publish national guidance on the “stay put” principle and its interaction with the “get out and stay out” policy; to require high-rise residential building owners to provide design and safety details for the fire services in information boxes or plates on premises; and to encourage retrofitting of sprinkler systems in high-rise residential blocks.

So it was after Lakanal; so it has been after Grenfell. Action from the Government has simply been too slow and too weak on all fronts. Since the fire, Grenfell survivors have seen three Secretaries of State and four Housing Ministers, all serious and sincere as individuals about the lessons of Grenfell but all fettered by the fundamental basic failure of policy, based on an ideology that is simply too reluctant to take on the vested interests that profit from a lax system of building regulation, too unwilling to have the state act when private interests will not do what is in the public interest and too reluctant to legislate or regulate to require higher and safer standards.

When they were at that Speaker’s House reception marking the two-year anniversary, to which many Members have referred, the victims and the survivors told us, “We should not be here. We should be at home rebuilding our lives. In two years, little has changed and justice still seems so far off.” A national disaster on the scale of Grenfell Tower requires a national response on the same scale from the Government and this has not happened. They have failed to right the wrongs of Grenfell, and it will fall to the next Labour Government to do so.