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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government 4:10 pm, 30th October 2019

I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members from across the House for the contributions they have made today to what I think all would agree has been a deeply moving and important debate. Like John Healey, many were not able to speak at the length they would have wished today. I hope that, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming election, the next Parliament will hold a fuller debate at the earliest opportunity.

The Grenfell Tower fire was, as we have heard, an unimaginable tragedy. Today’s publication of the phase 1 report from the inquiry is an important moment, for the bereaved, for survivors, for the community in North Kensington and for the whole country. I know—and we have heard this expressed many times this afternoon—that no report can truly capture the heartache, sorrow, anger and grief that many people rightly feel. Having met survivors and the bereaved, some of whom are here today, I, like others who have spoken, have been truly humbled by their dignity and resolve. The greatest respect we can show them is to guide the path to the answers they seek and to the accountability and justice they are fighting for; to take responsibility where it is due; and to take action of a scale and at a pace that is commensurate with the tragedy that prompted it.

Across the House, there was thanks to Sir Martin Moore-Bick and the inquiry team for a report of great depth and seriousness, and of candour and clarity, including on issues of crucial concern, exemplified by his statement that the tower did not meet building regulations. He could have reserved that statement for the next phase of his report, but he and the inquiry chose to make it now. I hope that statement gives reassurance that the second phase of his report, which, as a number of hon. Members have said, sets these events into a much broader context, is likely to be equally candid and clear. As the Prime Minister said in his opening remarks, the Government will accept all of the findings of the report, and accept them in full. We want to ensure that the recommendations are implemented without delay. We will work with our partners, including fire and rescue services across the country, to deliver them. In answer to Karen Lee and the Leader of the Opposition, let me say that of course we will fund any actions that are required in order to do so. We will bring forward legislation as soon as possible, including ahead of the building safety Bill, if that would mean that any of Sir Martin’s recommendations can be implemented sooner than they would otherwise be.

Like the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and many other Members including, to single out just two, Jim Fitzpatrick and my hon. Friend Bill Grant, who are both ex-firefighters, I pay tribute to the incredible bravery of those who responded to the scene. They ran into danger with one ambition alone, which was to save lives, and they deserve our gratitude and respect.

Sir Martin has raised a number of concerns, including about preparation and planning, training, the basic information that was missing, serious deficiencies in command and control, and problems dealing with 999 calls. Lessons must be learned. My right hon Friend the Home Secretary will take up the matter immediately.

Most grievous of all was the failure to evacuate the tower once the fire was out of control—the failure to override the “stay put” advice. I want to be clear, as this has been raised a number of times this afternoon: Sir Martin makes it clear in his report that effective compartmentation is likely to remain at the heart of fire safety strategy and will probably continue to provide a safe basis for responding to the vast majority of fires in high-rise buildings. It will be necessary, though, as a number of Members have said, for building owners and fire and rescue services to provide a greater range of responses, including full or partial evacuation; for firefighters and those leading them to be prepared and trained for an alternative, should it be required; and for that training and guidance to be provided, as my right hon. Friend Mrs May said, so that they can exercise their discretion in that most difficult and challenging of moments. With the National Fire Chiefs Council and others, we will review the “stay put” advice, to ensure that lessons are finally learned.