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Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:37 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (North of England) (Northern Powerhouse), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Food and Rural Affairs) 6:37 pm, 21st January 2020

I appreciate you calling me to speak, Mr Speaker.

I begin my brief remarks by paying tribute to the Grenfell survivors and their families bearing the weight of bereavement. They have fought for justice in the face of suffering that I cannot begin to imagine. Their dignity and determination continue to be awe-inspiring, and I uphold them in my prayers. On top of that, I honour the bravery of the firefighters. The personal risks they took are utterly humbling and we should be clear that any systematic failures in how the disaster was handled detract in no way from the phenomenal courage and hard work of firefighters on the ground.

The new building safety regulator must have the widest possible scope to ensure that people are safe and feel safe in their homes. It must, for example, look at all building materials. We need a complete review of the content and implementation of building regulations, including provisions for the use of sprinklers and cladding in tower blocks; local councils’ ability to check the details of developments prior to and during building or renovation; the ability to update building regulations as new products, processes and techniques become available and to use the regulations to enforce changes, where necessary, in buildings, based on updated knowledge of new products, processes and techniques.

It is unacceptable that thousands of families are still living in unsafe high-rise buildings. Smaller, often privately rented buildings in places such as south Cumbria can be, potentially, lethally unsafe, with their residents living in fear of what might happen or—more likely—in ignorance of the risk they are in. So I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement in his statement yesterday that from next month those responsible for failures to remove cladding would be named and shamed, but we cannot rely on that being sufficient when so many of those living in their properties may not have the means to take action. The Government must establish deadlines for the removal of the cladding. If that does not happen, they must step in and change the buildings themselves, and even present landlords with the bill. If they cannot be trusted to provide safe buildings, they cannot be trusted to be landlords. That may seem a radical step, but two and a half years after this tragedy is enough time to start the remediation of the work. It is not enough to ask them to remove it and pass on the responsibility; the Government must ensure that that happens. It is nothing less than a matter of life and death.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State referred to the Government’s absolute duty to ensure that action continued to be taken as quickly as possible so that a tragedy such as the one at Grenfell could never happen again. I commend him for his ambition, and plead with him to take those steps to enact the recommendations so that he can be true to his word.