I spoke today in the debate to mark the two-year remembrance of the devastating fire in Grenfell Tower. This tragedy has fundamentally affected the lives of a great many people and I asked the Minister for an update on progress so that the former residents and their families can obtain closure.
Bill Grant (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock)
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck).
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) on securing the debate and commend her for the tenacity and dignity she has shown over the past two years, which must have been an immensely difficult journey. I thank her for that.
This is an intensely emotional subject, and I am aware that some in the House have strong views on what the royal Borough or the Government might, or should, have done differently in their immediate response to the aftermath of what we all know as “Grenfell”. Likewise, the former residents, who have all been through the most traumatic event—some having lost family and all having lost their home—have every right to expect clarity going forward. I hope that this debate will go some way towards providing a bit of clarity, because it has been lacking to date.
There have been well-publicised cases of families still waiting to be offered permanent accommodation, seemingly for reasons that are not swiftly resolved. Given the magnitude of the tragedy, I suspect that the response was reasonable in the circumstances and accepting the constraints of a single London borough, particularly considering that those working within Royal Borough of Kensington would have been just as devastated—and probably more devastated—as the rest of us in the UK when we first learned of the tragedy that summer morning, as the facts unfolded. This includes people working in the housing department, in adult social care and in family and children’s services, as well as local councillors and, not least of all, the MP, all of whom will have liaised with the residents of Grenfell Tower over the two-year period and will have been deeply affected by the fire and its aftermath and consequences.
Whatever some of us might feel or think about the response, we must commend those workers for their efforts in the most extreme and distressing circumstances. They worked tirelessly and efficiently to find temporary accommodation and support, and they should be proud of their efforts. I note, however, that there have been failures in that journey—not by all, but by some—and the failures that I have heard about in the Chamber today are totally unacceptable. A number of emotional support schemes were set up to assist former residents of the tower after the fire, but I hope that those working within the borough have also had all the support necessary to help with their emotional wellbeing in dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy and the personal contact that they had with individuals.
Former residents have rightly and reasonably expressed concerns about the speed at which the Grenfell Tower inquiry is progressing, or, as might be the case, not progressing. They are understandably keen for closure to an extremely traumatic episode in their lives—an episode that someone can only imagine unless they experienced it themselves. It must be borne in mind that by all accounts there is a remarkable weight of written evidence and verbal testimony, and giving that testimony would have been a challenge for those individuals. That is all to be worked through and properly considered and the response will take time. Nevertheless, will the Minister update the House on the progress of the inquiry? I am sure that it would bring some comfort to the residents to know that progress is hopefully being made on the journey towards securing the truth and justice that they so richly deserve.
There are few adjectives sufficient to describe the bravery of the fire officers and other emergency responders on the night of the Grenfell fire—and a very dark night it was in London. We owe those individuals a great debt and I thank them. I am aware that the review of the fitting of sprinklers is ongoing. It is a natural move from the effectiveness of the home smoke detector. It is a natural move for the system where we live to have sprinklers, irrespective of the cost, which should not come into it. It will be only a small fraction of the new-build cost of a house, and retrofitting can be achieved. In my time in the fire service, as a fire officer of 31 years’ standing, I have seen the effectiveness of sprinklers. They work—that is not in any doubt.
The key issue is cladding, and how the fire spread so rapidly is of particular interest to me. Pending the release of the inquiry report, I would be grateful to know from the Minister what progress has been made in remediating social, public and private buildings with regard to the high-risk cladding that is attached as we speak. There are unsafe homes in the United Kingdom. We need to speed up addressing, resolving and mitigating or removing that risk—mitigating is an option, but the final thing is to remove the risk entirely. I know that there has been difficulty in persuading the owners of some private dwellings to do the right thing for their leaseholders and tenants. An update on that matter would be most welcome from the Minister.
For those who have been through an ordeal such as this, there is seldom enough that can be done to restore personal confidence or relieve long-term anxiety. I am hopeful, however, that with the right support and with post-inquiry progress on building and construction standards, we will—and must—do everything possible to ensure that this tragedy can never be repeated, as I have said before. That thought, I hope, will bring a little comfort to those who survived this tragedy. I am fearful that they and others will remain troubled and traumatised for years to come. The loss of 72 innocent lives at Grenfell must focus the minds of legislators. Their loss must not be in vain.