Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 31st October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Porter of Spalding Lord Porter of Spalding Conservative 3:00 pm, 31st October 2019

My Lords, I declare my interests as the vice-chairman of the APPG for fire safety. I am also the Local Government Association’s building safety spokesperson.

I was with some of the families of the victims and a couple of the survivors yesterday morning, and universally they had nothing but good words to say about the report. So Sir Martin has delivered a report in tragic circumstances in a way that has gone down well with the people who are most affected by it. That is the nice thing—but now I will disagree with the order of the reports. We should not be talking about the phase 1 report today but the phase 2 report. Phase 2 should have been first. While phase 1 deals with some serious failings by the bureaucracy that was supposed to look after the welfare of the people the firefighters were trying to protect—and that is important—they are largely lessons for London to learn. We have high-rise buildings at the same risk as Grenfell all over the country. We need to get to the bottom of what that fire was about and understand why that piece of white goods, which was a recalled machine, still burst into flames. Fire safety for white goods in this country does not work properly. There is no accessible national database for the public to see. We should be pushing hard for that.

The cladding seems to be what everybody is focusing on at the moment, but that is not the only part of the problem. The problem is also the insulation that sits behind it. There are lots of other buildings with that insulation but different cladding. The fire breaks that were supposed to be there did not work, so the compartmentalisation was breached from the day the building was renovated. Nobody knew about that until it was too late, but we know about it for other buildings now.

Those are the things that we should be drawing out from this, but the trouble with this report is that it has allowed the public narrative to be about the failings of the fire service. When you say, “fire service”, most people think, “firefighters”. How can we allow a situation in which so many brave men did things on the night that seem insane—going in and out of that building several times and risking their lives—and now we have that whole group of people feeling that they are the butt of the problem? Clearly, they were not; they were real heroes on that night, and this House should make sure that the message that leaves here is that we feel nothing but immense gratitude to the firefighters on that night and to the support staff who worked with them. I cannot imagine how traumatic it must have been for everybody.

If we are really going to do anything about this, we need to insist that the second report is started now, not in the new year, and is done expeditiously, rather than taking two years to deliver. Every single interim finding must be released, as soon as it can be, so that the Government can bring in policies to act on it and try to do something to make people safe when they sleep at night. I know it is a hard thing for the Government to get their head around, but we have to accept the fact that this was caused largely by failures in the system that were beyond the control of any one individual or set of partners. Local councils have a lot to learn from this, as do the Government. I hasten to add that that is not just the current Government; this goes back to when Members on the other side of the House were running what was going on. The seeds of Grenfell started in 2006, I think.

So there is learning that needs to be learned, but it is a bit like being an alcoholic; unless you realise you have a problem, you cannot hope to fix it. We all need to make sure that the Government—of whatever colour after the election—are held to account. They must accept the failings that have gone before and have a clear plan for what to fix. If these reports had been the other way around, we would now have a solid evidence base to start to do that—but at the moment we still do not have it.

I will ask the Minister for two things. First, in summing up, will he make sure that the House’s feelings about the bravery of the firefighters on the night is the main bit that sits in the public record about this report? Secondly, will he urge the department to make sure that the report is done expeditiously and that we get early sight of any recommendations, so that the Government can start to formulate policies that will address some of the safety issues? This goes much wider than just the one building. This is a national problem affecting buildings all over the country, including some with different types of material, not just the type that has been singled out here. Until we get that done, we are letting the real criminals off the hook—and, with some of the things that have gone on with this, they are criminals, almost certainly.