Grenfell Tower and Fire Safety: Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:12 pm on 20th July 2017.

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Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:12 pm, 20th July 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in the other place earlier today. I refer Members to my declaration of interests as a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I too pay tribute to the dedicated public sector workers across the fire service, police, ambulance service and the NHS, local authority staff and staff from various government departments. Some were the heroes during the fire and the immediate aftermath; others are working as we speak to help this community to get back on its feet. I thank them all for everything they have done and continue to do. But, as I have said before in this House, there is not one group of heroes and dedicated professionals, and another group of people employed in the public sector who are unfairly attacked. I draw the attention of the House to the crass and wholly unfair attacks on firefighters by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London. I hope that he never repeats them again, and that we never hear again the nonsense about health and safety and red tape, or the daft requirement that before a new regulation is agreed, two—or is it three?—have to be deleted.

The number of people dead, or missing presumed dead, stands at 80. It is important that we support the police and other authorities in the work that they are doing to identify the victims. I endorse the call from the Minister for anyone with information to come forward. As he said, no one with subletting or immigration issues should have any worries about coming forward; we just want to get to the truth.

In respect of the rehoming of people, the process seems very slow. I accept fully that people have the right to change their mind and make the decisions they want to in their own time, but can the Minister reassure the House that he is confident that everything possible is being done, because concerns have been raised about the quality of the accommodation being offered, as he said in the Statement?

I am pleased that gold command remains in control of recovery efforts and that that will not change until the Government are confident that the council can cope. The community is still very angry with the response of the council, and rightly so. I have observed that the new leader of the council is seeking to begin the process of winning the trust of the local community back, and that is very welcome. The Secretary of State has spoken at length with the new council leader, as we have heard. Can the Minister tell us what action he believes the council leader is taking to win back the trust and confidence of the community, and what discussions have taken place with the leader of the opposition on Kensington and Chelsea Council, Councillor Robert Atkinson, in this regard?

I am alarmed to learn today that samples from 27 tower blocks, all owned by housing associations, have still not been provided to the Building Research Establishment. What action are the Government taking to get those samples? After a month, this is totally unacceptable. I note that the Secretary of State has powers to direct local authorities to consider test results as part of their duty to keep housing conditions under review. What powers has the Secretary of State got to ensure that housing associations provide the samples requested? There is no excuse on their part for not providing them quickly.

I am pleased that work is continuing on establishing the public inquiry. I fully support this as the best way to get to the truth and to make provision so that nothing like this ever happens again. It is important that Sir Martin Moore-Bick is properly supported in his important work and that the widest possible agreement on the terms of reference and how Sir Martin should be supported is achieved.

The Statement also makes reference to keeping Members of the other place informed over the summer. Can I ask that Members of your Lordships’ House are also kept informed? Emailed updates to Members would not in my opinion be too onerous for the department to undertake.

I join the Minister in fully supporting the operations on the ground to restore confidence, and I pay tribute to all involved. I wish the leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, her fellow councillors and the staff of the authority, the vision and foresight to regain the trust of the community and to provide the proper civic leadership that the royal borough needs. As the noble Lord said, the truth must come out—justice must be done, and we must do everything in our power to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.