Eddie Hughes – 2022 Speech on Fifth Anniversary of Grenfell Tower Fire

The speech made by Eddie Hughes, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in the House of Commons on 16 June 2022.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for their moving and thought-provoking contributions in today’s debate. I know that I speak for all Members when I say that the 72 men, women and children who senselessly lost their lives at Grenfell will never be forgotten. It is entirely right that the House has met again just two days after the fifth anniversary of that national tragedy to honour their memory and to discuss our collective duty to ensure that such a tragedy is never repeated and that no one ever has to go through what residents of Grenfell Tower were forced to go through on that night or what the bereaved and survivors have had to endure over the last few years.

As a Minister in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, I feel an acute responsibility to do the right thing by the Grenfell community, and I know that feeling is shared on both sides of this House and in the other place. For those directly affected by that national tragedy, life has never been, or ever will be, the same again. The tributes paid this week by the survivors and their families to the victims have brought that fact into the sharpest possible light. As Members have rightly highlighted in their moving tributes today, and in last week’s debate led by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the community has consistently shown incredible bravery, resilience and courage in the face of unimaginable loss.

Until the Grenfell Tower inquiry concludes and the police investigation finishes, the search for justice will continue. Five years on, the bereaved are still waiting for at least some sense of closure from that terrible night. Sir Martin and his counsels have been working diligently in pursuit of the truth, and they have already laid bare the opportunities missed by the Government and others, as well as exposing cut corners and wrongdoing on the part of several other organisations. We now need to ensure that we take seriously all the inquiry’s recommendations when it concludes.

I reiterate my humble appreciation of the way in which the bereaved and survivors have stoically campaigned for justice and reform. Their dignity and strength continues to inspire us all. They have been let down. No words and no apology could possibly make up for these failings, but I echo the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the debate last week when he said that we are sorry. For my part, I am sorry.

We are committed to making things right by fixing the building safety regime that badly failed those at Grenfell on that night through the Building Safety Act, by implementing the toughest and most stringent fire safety standards through the Fire Safety Act, and by putting residents at the heart of a reformed social housing sector through our Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. We are not naive about the scale of the challenges that remain and, as has been rightly pointed out in this debate, we still have a long way to go on several issues.

I do not want to cover the same ground as last week’s debate, but I will mention some of the comments and contributions that were made today. In congratulating the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) on securing this debate, I acknowledge that he and I agree on almost nothing politically, but we are united in our determination to ensure that a tragic event like Grenfell Tower genuinely never happens again. He called for an annual debate, as did the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), and my understanding is that the Secretary of State committed to that during the debate last week.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) asked why the debate did not take place on the anniversary of that terrible event. Clearly, partly, that was because the Grenfell bereaved and survivors could attend the debate last week. They were invited to, and they did—there were two rows of them in the Gallery—and the Secretary of State and I met them before the debate. It would have been inappropriate for us to have it on the same day that they were holding events in other areas to commemorate it.

Touching briefly on the technical point that the hon. Gentleman made with regard to electrical surveys that will be carried out and whether properties of other tenures will be caught up in that, we are going to consult so that we can understand some of the complexities he described where there are multiple tenures in a single building as to what would be the most appropriate position to take.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) for her support—I am incredibly grateful to her. I have recently done a lot of engagement with the Secretary of State. We have held a number of town hall meetings giving the opportunity for people to come in, for several hours if necessary, to speak to me and the Secretary of State to discuss their concerns and make their case.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) for putting on record his recommendations, which I am sure will be given serious consideration.

Sir Bernard Jenkin

Will my hon. Friend undertake to arrange a meeting between Keith Conradi, Nick Raynsford and me and the Secretary of State? We have not met the current Secretary of State, and we met a Lords Minister who has now changed, so we feel that we need more engagement with Ministers about this. I would be very grateful if he could undertake to arrange that meeting.

Eddie Hughes

I would be very happy to speak to the Secretary of State’s diary secretary on my hon. Friend’s behalf.

The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) made an important point about the memorial that may follow on-site. The Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission will ensure that the bereaved, survivors and, indeed, north Kensington residents lead decision making on the long-term future of the site.

Members have mentioned the pace of justice, and I recognise the importance of that to the families seeking justice who have already had to wait so long. The police, the CPS and the inquiry must rightly remain independent from Government. The police are keeping families updated and over the weekend issued a public update on their progress. It is also important that those affected by the tragedy can fully participate in the inquiry. As such, we have made a fund for legal expenses available to witnesses and to the building safety review’s core participants.

Of the 46 recommendations made in phase 1 of the report, 15 were directed to the Government. The majority have been addressed by the laying of the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and by the Building Safety Act. The remainder are being considered by a Home Office consultation that runs until 10 August. I urge all Members to contribute to that, not least because it will include reference to PEEPs—personal emergency evacuation plans—and it would be good to get contributions from Members across the House.

With regard to the pace of remediation, the building safety reset announced by the Secretary of State in January is galvanising activity across the board. The industry is gearing up to play its part, and over 45 developers have now pledged to remediate unsafe buildings that they developed. We are working rapidly to turn those pledges into legally binding contracts, and our goal is to get these out of the door before summer recess. In many cases, developers who made a pledge are getting on with it, contacting building owners and leaseholders and lining up surveyors to carry out assessments and prioritise work. For the 11-to-18 metre remediation scheme, in signing the pledge, developers have committed to working at pace with Government to finalise arrangements and commence remediation or mitigation work, as necessary, as soon as possible. We will announce further details of the launch of the 11-to-18 metre remediation fund shortly.

Jeremy Corbyn

I am interested in what the Minister says about the remedial works being done. What compensation will be made available to people who, as I outlined, have paid unbelievably excessive levels of insurance, through no fault of their own, and are seriously out of pocket and unable to continue doing so?

Eddie Hughes

I cannot speak to compensation, but I can say that the Department is in regular touch with the financial services industry to talk to it about the cost of insurance products and to do everything to ensure that it takes a balanced and proportionate approach so that those costs come down.

On the comments made by the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) on the work of the regulator, I ask him to meet the Housing Minister to discuss this in detail, because we are very keen to see progress made on a cross-party basis.

As a Parliament, we cannot and will not ever forget the events of 14 June 2017. The moving tributes of the past few days commemorating the lives lost and indeed lives shattered have brought home the responsibility for all of us to do right by the victims. I am certain I speak for every Member of the House when I say that we must never go back to where we were before this tragedy. Our job as parliamentarians is to make sure we never do. The magnitude of what happened at Grenfell Tower demands that we all try to find a way to put politics aside, and I believe we are already making progress in that direction.

When we one day look back at what followed the tragedy, one of the defining parts of the post-Grenfell era will be what we did to replace a broken building safety system with one of the most rigorous and robust building safety regimes in the world. But the job is not done—we know we still have a long way to go—so we must redouble our efforts to finish the job we started and deliver justice for the survivors of the tragedy, forcing the industry to take collective responsibility for the safety defects it created. As Members of this House we can rightly expect that we will all be judged not by our words, but by our actions to fulfil our promise of making sure that everyone lives somewhere safe and secure and that they can be truly proud to call home. That will be our ultimate tribute.

Richard Burgon

I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have contributed to this very important debate. I am glad that the Government have committed to an annual debate on this in Government time.

I hear the Minister say that he and the Government will take seriously every recommendation from the inquiry, but I would like the Government to commit to implement every single recommendation, not just to take them seriously. I would like the Government to revisit their decision and overturn their rejection of personal evacuation plans. I would like the Government to help all people hit by the cladding crisis and surely, as we have heard from other Members, the cladding companies should pay. We need a commitment that no one in this country will live in a fire-unsafe home, and we do need the urgent implementation of the Hillsborough law, because the duty of candour from public authorities is so important.

Along with other Members, I was on the very moving memorial walk the other night, and we sensed the unity. I want to pay tribute to Councillor Emma Dent Coad, who has continued to pursue this injustice and advocate for local residents in the community in which she lives.

I want to finish with two brief quotes. One is from the journalist Peter Apps, who wrote in a recent article:

“What has emerged is a profoundly depressing portrait of a private sector with a near psychopathic disregard for human life, and a public sector which exists to do little more than serve or imitate it.”

However, I want the final words of this debate, fittingly, to be from the families, the bereaved and the survivors of Grenfell United, who said:

“We must pave a new way forward. We must hold those responsible to account.”