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My Lords, I am grateful to my predecessor in my role, my noble friend Lord Bourne, for initiating this debate on the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report. I, and the whole House, know that he understands these matters so well, and I am now honoured to respond.
It is fitting that my noble friend Lady Sanderson of Welton made her heartfelt maiden speech in this House today. I pay tribute to her for her tireless work in the aftermath of the tragedy, building a strong relationship with the Grenfell community on behalf of the previous Prime Minister and ensuring that those impacted received the critical support that they needed. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, a tireless campaigner for social and racial equality, and the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, a renowned QC in the field of industrial relations and employment law, for their maiden speeches in this House, which were both excellent and had some serious messages. We will no doubt hear much more from them in future, and from my noble friend, as they make their mark in this Chamber.
Over two years have passed since the tragedy that shook the nation, but the 72 people who died following those horrific events will for ever remain in our thoughts and prayers. All those who lost loved ones and their homes deserve to know why the Grenfell Tower fire happened. Yesterday’s publication of the report was an important step in this regard. I take this opportunity to thank Sir Martin Moore-Bick and the inquiry team for their work, both in producing this report and in preparing for the next phase of hearings. It provides some comfort that, as we have heard today, the report is widely regarded as thorough, informative and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said, forensic.
It was important for the Government to establish this as a full independent public inquiry. It has been able to establish, first, what happened on the night of the fire; secondly, how emergency services responded; and, thirdly, how the building was so dangerously exposed to the risk of fire. We were clear that the inquiry should leave no stone unturned, no matter how uncomfortable the facts. The people of the Grenfell community must be allowed to learn the truth behind that appalling loss of life and how it was allowed to happen. They deserve nothing less.
My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked about criminal charges and how many people have been interviewed under caution. It is not for the Government to comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, but I can say that the Metropolitan Police continues to investigate the causes of this terrible tragedy, needing to take into account the work of the inquiry, including this report and the next.
I take a moment to commend the bereaved, the survivors and everyone affected by this tragedy. We will never truly understand all that the victims of this tragedy went through. My noble friend Lady Sanderson mentioned the essential need for change. She is right. Let there be no doubt: our commitment to ensure change is unwavering.
Noble Lords will know that the phase 1 report is focused on what happened that fateful night, and particularly on the response of the emergency services. Let me be clear in my message today, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Porter. I also pay tribute to the heroism and bravery of those who responded to the fire: running towards danger, some more than once, entering a burning building and saving lives that night.
Sadly, heroism alone could not counter a fire of this nature, and Sir Martin outlines several significant shortcomings in the London Fire Brigade’s response. Clearly, there are lessons for our fire services from this tragedy and from this report. Crucially, he identifies the failure to change the “stay put” advice once it became clear that it was no longer the correct strategy. However, as Sir Martin said in the report:
“Effective compartmentation is likely to remain at the heart of fire safety strategy and will probably continue to provide a safe basis for responding to the vast majority of fires in high-rise buildings.”
The Government already took action on this issue following the Lakanal House fire, in particular by working with the sector to review national guidance on high-rise firefighting, including the “stay put” policy and evacuation. This was carried out both before and after the coroner’s findings in 2013.
As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State highlighted in the other place, the Government, along with the National Fire Chiefs Council and others, will continue to review the “stay put” advice to ensure that lessons are learned. We have already completed a call for evidence and published a summary of the responses, which showed consensus that “stay put” was the right approach but for buildings correctly designed, built and maintained.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised some important points about communications—the noble Lord particularly asked about mobile telephones. This must indeed be part of our work with the National Fire Chiefs Council. I will ensure that that issue is raised, if it is not already part of its considerations. I acknowledge those important points.
I am also acutely aware that the report concludes there were significant failings in both the construction and design of the building. I want to be clear today that we plan to accept in principle all the recommendations that Sir Martin makes for central government.
My noble friend Lord Bourne and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked about legislation. We will work with stakeholders to deliver that. That will include proposing legislation ahead of the Hackitt reforms, if that would mean that the recommendations can be implemented sooner. Our task must now be to consider how we can best implement the recommendations quickly and build on the work we have already done to ensure that people are safe in their homes.
To answer my noble friend Lord Porter’s question about the decision for phase 1 to focus on the events of the night, I must stress that the order of the independent reports is very much a matter for the chairman. I can only point to Sir Martin’s statement, in which he said that,
“there is an urgent need to find out what aspects of the building’s design and construction”,
led to the disaster, and to,
“understand the chain of events”,
of the night,
“in some detail”— and, as such, find out what steps must be taken so that those who live in other high-rise buildings are safe.
The noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made points about timings and urgency. That certainly chimes with me. The Government did not wait for the publication of this report, or the hearings to begin on the phase 2 inquiry, to press ahead with strengthening building and fire safety measures.
My noble friend Lord Bourne asked about high-rise buildings. The department has already consulted on proposals to apply higher standards to new high-rise residential buildings, including on sprinklers, signage and communication systems, which are now also a recommendation of the inquiry.
My noble friend also asked about the height at which buildings are considered to be high-rise. Although the consultation proposes a height of 18 metres, the Secretary of State has been clear that the Government will follow the evidence, should the height threshold need to be changed.