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Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead 4:29 pm, 21st January 2020

May I first say, Madam Deputy Speaker, what a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair and welcome you to your new role as Chairman of Ways and Means?

I thank the Secretary of State and the Government for bringing this further debate to the House. It was good that we had an initial debate in the previous Parliament, on 30 October, when this phase 1 report was published by Sir Martin Moore-Bick. However, as the Prime Minister recognised at the time, it was not possible to go into the detail of this very detailed and lengthy report to the extent that the House would have wished, and a further debate was necessary, so I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving us that opportunity. I was able to speak in the debate on 30 October, so I will limit my comments here today, because I know that other Members wish to speak.

I want to raise two issues. I have already touched on the first in my intervention on the Secretary of State. It is the question of interoperability and the communications between the emergency services. I am pleased to hear that the Home Office is working with his Department to look at this issue. Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s recommendations included some changes to the wording of the protocol. That should be relatively easy and, I hope, quick to achieve, and should be relayed to all those who are likely to have responsibility for major incidents and therefore be responsible for putting that protocol in place.

The other issue I want to touch on today goes absolutely to the heart of what happened at Grenfell Tower. There are many quotes that I could use in reference to this, but I am looking at page 584 of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report. His essential conclusion, which he did not need to go into in phase 1 of the report but did, was that he could see

“no rational basis for contending that the external walls of the building met requirement B4(1), whatever the reason for that might have been.”

Requirement B4(1) is the regulation that requires the external walls of a building

“to adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls…having regard to the height, use and position of the building”.

It seems to me that absolutely at the crux of this issue—Sir Martin Moore-Bick acknowledges that it is a key issue for phase 2 of the report—is why that building in which so many people were living did not meet the building requirements, because it had on it material that would not adequately resist the spread of fire. It was not just the material, but other issues such as the positioning of the windows, which was changed when the refurbishment was done in a way that actually made it easier for fire to escape from a flat and take hold of that combustible cladding.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick goes on to say that

“on completion of the main refurbishment, the external walls of the building did not comply with requirement B4(1) of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations. A separate question is how those responsible for the design and construction of the cladding system and the work associated with it, such as the replacement of the windows and infill panels, satisfied themselves that on completion of the work the building would meet requirement B4(1).”

This seems to me to be absolutely crucial.

In his intervention, my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin used the phrase that the inquiry is not there to place blame. Actually, the inquiry is there to find out what happened, why it happened and how it happened. Phase 1 has shown what happened. The crucial issue for phase 2 is how, despite the regulations and the requirements that were there, we still had this building with cladding that did not meet the building regulations. The questions must be: who took decisions along the line that led to that being possible; were the decisions taken because there was a misinterpretation or a misunderstanding of building regulations; was it about the drafting of the building regulations; and did people properly inspect the buildings? Further on in the report, on page 590, Sir Martin Moore-Bick says:

“The failure to appreciate the nature of the risks posed by the cladding at Grenfell Tower was due in part to the approach adopted by the LFB to the discharge of its obligations under section 7(2)(d) of the 2004 Act.”

He notes further on that

“there was no attempt to carry out a visit which comprehensively addressed each of the listed matters to ensure that the information relating to the refurbished building and the assessment of the risks it presented was accurate and up to date…no good explanation was given for the failure to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the tower after the refurbishment had been completed.”

He goes on to say that individual members of the London Fire Brigade had not received training and that they cannot be blamed, because they could not be expected to assess the risks.

What this shows is a failure of the system, and this is where I slightly take issue with the shadow Secretary of State. He referred to the Government being able to make decisions and regulations. Yes, Ministers decide policy and this House passes legislation. We can pass all the legislation we like, but if it is not properly implemented on the ground, it is of no effect. That is the issue that lies behind the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. We should be worried not just because of all those people who lost their lives and the many families whose lives have been absolutely turned upside down because they lost everything and have had to rebuild their lives; we should also be worried about other areas. The purpose of this place is to pass legislation for the betterment of our society and the protection of our citizens, but we rely on others to ensure that it is then implemented properly.

It is essential, as Sir Martin Moore-Bick himself states, that

“the principal focus of Phase 2 will be on the decisions which led to the installation of a highly combustible cladding system on a high-rise residential building and the wider background against which they were taken.”

That, it seems to me, is absolutely crucial. The shadow Secretary of State has said that this inquiry is taking longer than any of us would have wished. Crucially, however, Sir Martin Moore-Bick is ruthless in getting to the truth, and that is what we want, not just for the victims and survivors of Grenfell Tower but for the wider good of our society. We need those answers and I have every confidence that, given the integrity he has shown, Sir Martin Moore-Bick will come forward with them. Then, of course, this place and the Government will have to respond to the inquiry’s findings.

As I said on 30 October, the detail in this report and the ability to start to find answers are only possible because people who went through hell have been willing to stand up and give their testimony and to fight for justice. This House and the Government owe them that justice.