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Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Conservative, Kensington 4:46 pm, 21st January 2020

I start by paying tribute to my constituents. I believe most hon. Members are aware that Grenfell Tower is in my constituency of Kensington. The Grenfell bereaved and survivors, and their friends and neighbours, have suffered hugely, but they have always conducted themselves with huge grace and dignity. I pay tribute to them, some of whom are in the Gallery today.

The report will never make good the loss of so many lives on 14 June 2017. It will not take away the pain and anguish that the bereaved and survivors and the community continue to feel. But if there is any meaning that can come out of this appalling loss of life, it is that a tragedy of this nature can never be allowed to happen again.

As my right hon. Friend Mrs May said, we must establish the truth of what happened, not only through phase 1 but looking forward to phase 2. We must learn the lessons and, very importantly, we need to implement the recommendations with a sense of urgency.

I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has accepted all the recommendations from the first phase of the inquiry. I encourage him to implement those recommendations quickly and decisively. I am concerned that there continue to be residential high-rise buildings that have ACM cladding, so I ask him to ensure that local authorities use their enforcement powers to take action on those buildings.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement yesterday, as well as his review and consultation on combustible cladding and whether the threshold should be decreased from 18 metres to 11 metres. Will he consider reviewing whether the ban on combustible cladding and the threshold for sprinklers should also apply to all blocks of flats, all schools, all hospitals and all care homes?

Let me move on to talk about the Fire Brigade. There is no doubt that individual firefighters on the night showed the most remarkable courage and bravery. Where most of us would have run away from that towering inferno, they went in, and I want to pay great tribute to them. But it is also clear that there were institutional failings within the London Fire Brigade. I met Andy Roe, the new commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, just yesterday. I was struck by his openness and his desire for change. He immediately said that he accepted all the recommendations of the first phase of the inquiry, and he accepted that, at a corporate level, the Fire Brigade needed to work to regain the trust and confidence of the north Kensington community. He assured me that he would drive change, and we agreed that, as the MP for Kensington, it is my responsibility to hold him to account.

I want to raise one other matter, referred to by John Healey, which is the appointment of Ms Benita Mehra to the panel of the Grenfell inquiry. I am sure that Ms Mehra is a very well-qualified engineer, but I must reflect to the House that the north Kensington community is very concerned that she has a conflict of interest, since while she was president of the Women’s Engineering Society, it received a donation of £71,000 from the charitable arm of Arconic, which provided the external cladding of Grenfell.

It is vital that the north Kensington community has faith in the second phase of the inquiry. One of the lessons that we learnt from Grenfell is that decision making cannot be only top down; it needs to be community-facing. I know that the composition of the panel does not lie within the Secretary of State’s jurisdiction, but rather with the Cabinet Office, so I ask the Cabinet Office to consider that appointment very carefully.

As the new Member of Parliament for Kensington, I am going to spend a lot of my time and focus on fire safety, building regulations and the social housing sector in general. I look forward to working with Members across the House to ensure that all housing in this country is safe and truly fit for purpose.