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Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:26 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hendy Lord Hendy Labour 2:26 pm, 31st October 2019

My Lords, it is a sad thing to make a maiden speech in a debate on a tragedy such as this, but I have one point to make, albeit one that has already been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. But like the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, I begin with thanks. I am indebted to noble Lords for the kindness and warmth of welcome from all sides of this House since I was introduced last Monday, and the help that you have all given me. Mind you, I have to say that the well of gratitude is a little shallower than it might have been, as noble Lords introduced me to this House on Monday and on Wednesday decided to dissolve it, although I am told that there is no connection between the two. I also thank the amazing staff of the House who have been unfailingly helpful to me in giving me advice, telling me where to go and so forth.

It was not quite the same in East Ham magistrates’ court when I started my practice at the Bar many decades ago. However, my life in crime was cut short because I spent the past 42 years in the practice of labour law—the law of the workplace, of workers, employers, employers’ associations, trade unions and industrial relations. I mention that because I am conscious that, in coming to the House with that specialism and with that interest, I am attempting to follow in the footsteps of my late noble friend Professor Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, whom many noble Lords will remember. I can never hope to emulate his achievements, but he will be an inspiration to me in my time here.

I have not spent all my time in labour law. I interspersed it with other areas of the law, and I should mention them because they are relevant to the point that I have to make. I had the privilege of being instructed in a number of public inquiries, the first of which was into the King’s Cross Underground fire disaster, where I appeared on behalf of the Association of London Authorities. After that, I appeared for the bereaved and injured in the Southall train crash inquiry and then for the bereaved and injured in the Ladbroke Grove train inquiry. I appeared at the Potters Bar train crash inquest and for the bereaved and injured in the Lakanal House fire disaster, which has already been mentioned. I appeared for the National Union of Journalists in the Leveson inquiry, and I currently appear for the Fire Brigades Union in the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry. In speaking this afternoon, I do not pretend to speak for the Fire Brigades Union—I have declared the necessary interest—because I do not think it would be proper to do so in this House and, perhaps more significantly, because the Fire Brigades Union, particularly its general secretary Matt Wrack, has made its reaction to the publication of phase 1 of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report into Grenfell Tower very clear over the past 48 hours.

All those inquiries shared a number of features, of which two are significant. One was, of course, that they were terrible tragedies which cast a long shadow over all those involved in any way. I speak not of that. The other was that they all involved the publication of reports. They were public inquiries. What is significant about that is that in every case the judge in charge of the inquiry, having written the report and prepared it for publication, gave it to the core participants 24 or 48 hours before it was released to the public. The reasons are obvious: so that those who were so deeply affected would have a chance to prepare themselves for the media onslaught that would follow, and those who were the subject of criticism would have a chance to speak to lawyers if the inquiry report might lead to prosecution.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick followed that process. On Monday, the report was released to the core participants, of which there are over 600. Every one of them was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep that report confidential until the deadline of midnight on Tuesday night had passed. Somebody leaked it to the Daily Telegraph, as my noble friend mentioned. The Daily Telegraph then set journalists on to reading that report, cutting and pasting pieces in order to publish it in the next day’s newspaper. Other responsible media outlets—the Guardian, the BBC and so forth—followed suit and cut and pasted from what the Telegraph had written. That leak is clearly reprehensible, and I trust that whoever did it will be discovered in due course, but the publication of that report, breaching a non-disclosure agreement and the embargo set by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, is absolutely outrageous. I hope that Sir Martin at least considers the possibility of summoning the editors involved and the director-general of the BBC to explain what conceivable public interest there could have been in releasing parts of that report verbatim before Wednesday morning.

I thank noble Lords for their patience in listening to me.