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Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:10 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Manufacturing) 6:10 pm, 21st January 2020

I congratulate Vicky Ford on her speech. I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate. I declare an interest, as a member and co vice-chair of the newly formed all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue. As a member of the APPG in my last term in this place, we seemed to have a revolving door of Ministers responsible for fire. That was not helpful when we were looking to progress any action on a range of issues. I hope that that will change and that we will have some continuity. I commend the Secretary of State for the way he conducted himself today.

This is my first speech in this place since being returned as the MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and I am honoured that the people of that incredible constituency have placed their faith in me once again to represent their interests in Westminster. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Ged Killen, who was a diligent representative for my constituents.

The success of my constituency has depended on the efforts of working people throughout the centuries, from the old shipyards of Rutherglen to the famous Hoover factory in Cambuslang. The traditional industries dominated my constituency and built up working-class solidarity, which is evident across Scotland’s industrial heartlands. It is with that heritage in mind that I will speak up for those people who do the hard graft and make my constituency the unique and special place that it is.

The Grenfell Tower fire is a stark reminder of what happens when we let down those hard-working people who deserve our support. I would like to pay my respects to the victims and their families and pay tribute to the families and survivors for their fortitude and dignity throughout this ongoing inquiry. I would also like to pay tribute to individual firefighters for their bravery. They deserve our gratitude and respect for the dangerous job that they do.

It is to the shame of the authorities that such a tragedy was ever allowed to occur in the first place. On 3 July 2009, 11 years ago, a fire occurred in a tower block in Camberwell, London, resulting in the deaths of six people and injuring 20. That fire was discussed many times at the APPG, and the words, “We must learn the lessons of the events that led to the Lakanal House fire to avoid another tragedy like this in the future,” are still ringing in my ears. We clearly did not learn the lessons. We should not allow tragedies like Grenfell to be the reason why we improve fire safety. We must always look for ways to protect the people we serve. There must also be political responsibility for factors contributing to this wholly avoidable tragedy. I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement yesterday on his proposed measures on building safety, although some questions remain unanswered.

In the immediate aftermath of Grenfell, the Scottish Government established a building and fire safety ministerial working group, and I am pleased to see that it has made progress on improving fire safety in domestic and public buildings in Scotland. The most prominent change to come from the group is a new requirement for all homes in Scotland to have interlinked smoke and heat alarms by 2021. That is a small but essential step towards reducing the risk of fires in homes, schools, prisons and hospitals.

The headquarters of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is based in Cambuslang in my constituency, which I have had the pleasure of visiting. It is a state-of-the-art resource, and I have seen at first hand the training that it undertakes to keep us all safe. It demonstrates the commitment of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to finding new and better ways to save lives and prevent fire. They are heroes in my eyes.

Everyone deserves to live in a safe home, and the people of Grenfell Tower had put their trust in the authorities to build, upgrade and modernise their homes, yet there is no doubt in my mind that cutting corners in building work ultimately proved fatal. Even though the phase 1 report is mainly concerned with the emergency service response to the fire, it cannot avoid highlighting the role that aluminium composite material cladding had in spreading the fire at devastating speed, which we will hear more of in the phase 2 inquiry. The public have a right to know if other buildings are affected by Grenfell-style cladding. Developers and building owners should consider this report very carefully and act on the recommendations with no delay.

I turn to the findings of the phase 1 report. We must learn the lessons that will enable fire and rescue services across the UK to respond quickly and effectively to situations like Grenfell. Recommendations about operational changes, specifically the procedure for communication between command and control and incident commanders, must be looked at during major incidents, and how we deal with a high volume of 999 calls. We must ensure that firefighters have enough training, especially on the “stay put” policy, and about if or when it should be used alongside the practical consideration of full or partial evacuation, which will require multi-agency co-operation. The fire brigades and authorities should hold information about what materials and methods of construction were used in the external walls of high-rise buildings, so that they know what they are dealing with on arrival. There must be flexibility in the decision-making process. Split-second decisions have to be made on arrival at a fire, and there must be good communication between the joint emergency services. These measures will go some way to protecting some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In conclusion, we must do everything in our power to ensure that an event like this does not happen again. The pain and anguish of the loss of 72 people will live with us all forever, especially for the relatives—many are in the Gallery today—who will continue to grieve for the loss of their loved ones every single day. As the inquiry progresses, they should be at the forefront of our minds. My constituency has always had a reputation for caring as much for the needs of others as for its own. David Livingstone, Blantyre’s most famous son, once said:

“Sympathy is no substitute for action.”

Let us embrace the spirit of these words in our determination to ensure that the victims of Grenfell are never forgotten.