The Minister for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service (Kit Malthouse)
No one in this House will ever forget the tragic events that unfolded in the early hours of 14 June 2017 or the 72 people who lost their lives in the most appalling circumstances. This city and country have had too many dark days, but the night of the Grenfell disaster must rank among the darkest. In a debate in this House on 30 October, the Prime Minister said that no words, written or spoken, can undo the pain caused to so many by this tragedy, and I am sure we all echo that sentiment. However, we can and must learn from it, so I want to thank personally Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his team for their work in producing this first report. Many questions about that night remain unanswered, but given the forensic and unflinching nature of part 1 of his report, I am confident that Sir Martin and his team will leave no stone unturned in getting to the truth.
I would also like to join every speaker in the Chamber this afternoon in acknowledging the survivors and the bereaved for their dignity and their resolution to see lessons learned following this devastating event. Their determination and resilience helps us to remember the scale of this tragedy and keep those who lost their lives firmly in our minds while we work to make the changes needed. For their sake, we must ensure that a disaster on this scale can never happen again.
I also want to express my own thanks to the firefighters who braved the unprecedented conditions they faced that night. As my hon. Friends the Members for Watford (Dean Russell) and for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) pointed out, many disregarded their own safety, returning time and again to the flames to try to rescue those who were trapped. Such individual acts of heroism cannot, however, undo the systemic failures that the inquiry has found in the London Fire Brigade response. They must be addressed, and work is already well under way.
The report makes a number of significant findings and recommendations. As highlighted in this House, in the Government’s published response to the report and in the opening of this debate, we are committed to driving forward the work needed to effect real change. The Government have accepted in full the principle of all the recommendations addressed to them. On legislation, it is clear that urgent action is needed from all corners of the fire sector and the construction industry to secure the future safety of residents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and others have pointed out, the pace of this change concerns us all. So the Government will bring forward the fire safety Bill, as outlined today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which will help our remediation efforts immediately. The foundation set by this Bill lays the groundwork for further regulations to meet a number of recommendations in the report, which we will consult on in the spring.
On “stay put”, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and Home Office’s expert stay put steering group met on 18 December to discuss the parameters of its stay put and evacuation research. The Home Office will begin the tendering process in February for the first package of research required. The outcomes of that will inform operational research later in the year. It is also relevant to stay put that the inquiry recommended that all high rise buildings be equipped with facilities for evacuation signals and have way-finding signage. The Government ran a consultation on building-wide alarms, signage and sprinklers, which closed on 28 November. The consultation led to more than 180 responses, which the Government are currently analysing. But we urge all developers and building owners to act now on the inquiry’s recommendations and not wait for legislation or other changes to take effect.
Turning to the criticisms of the LFB and the recommendations for it, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services completed its first tranche of inspections of all fire and rescue services in December 2019 and produced its first “State of Fire and Rescue” report last week. The inspectorate and the inquiry reports both show that there is much work to be done. The inspector found that the LFB had learned the lessons of Grenfell but that change has been slow. In November, the Home Secretary wrote to the previous commissioner asking that the LFB provide regular updates on its improvement actions. We have now received an action plan from the LFB setting out the work it will do to take forward the recommendations over the coming weeks and months. We will look for ongoing assurance from the commissioner and the Mayor of London, as well as from the inspectorate, that plans are robust and that progress is being made. I note that today the Mayor has today published his first update report on the work he is taking responsibility for in this regard. I have written to the Mayor and met the new commissioner, Andy Roe, and I welcome his commitment to work with the Mayor to ensure that performance improves and to ensure his acceptance of all the report’s recommendations.
Beyond London, the report and its recommendations have implications for all fire and rescue services. The Government are working with the sector leaders and the National Fire Chiefs Council to identify the improvements needed and to ensure co-ordination across the sector. The Home Secretary wrote to the chief fire officers after the inquiry published its report, asking that they work together and through the National Fire Chiefs Council. Her letter also announced that the Government would bring fire leaders together to discuss the report, and we will do so before the end of March.