“Grenfell Tower would not have happened to wealthy Londoners” – Corbyn’s speech

Jeremy Corbyn

Below is the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech responding to the first public inquiry report on Grenfell.

Mr Speaker, I want to thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement. I want to start by paying tribute to the survivors of the fire, and those family members who have campaigned with dignity for justice these past two years. 72 people lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017, a horror that not only rocked that community but that shook an entire nation.

It brought a community together to help and it must bring our nation together to say never again. It was a tragedy and an avoidable tragedy. All the survivors deserve a new home and the support they need. All those responsible for this avoidable tragedy must be brought to justice and every necessary measure must be put in place to prevent a fire like Grenfell ever happening again.

We welcome the report of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry which we will study in detail. We expect the government and other agencies cited will respond in full to the recommendations it contains. However, given the limited scope of the inquiry agreed by government, and the fact that phase 1 only looks at what happened on the night of 14 June 2017, many questions inevitably remain unanswered and the recommendations do not cover the range of issues that need urgent action from Ministers.

The Prime Minister talks about the “whole truth” but that is not yet with us. In light of the particular focus on the actions of the London Fire Brigade in phase 1 of the inquiry report, we urge that the recommendations made of the London Fire Brigade are given the full response they require.

At the same time, we pay tribute to the heroic actions of firefighters in our country every day, including on the night of the Grenfell Tower fire. While our natural instinct is to run from danger, they are trained to run towards it. Those brave firefighters saved lives that night and without their public service many more people would have died.

The government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire has been too slow and too weak on every front, from rehousing survivors to dealing with Grenfell-style ACM cladding on hundreds of other tower blocks across the country. The Prime Minister and the government must now act urgently on their failures since the Grenfell Tower fire:

· The failure to learn the lessons from previous high-rise fires with no proper response to coroners’ recommendations made in 2013 following the Lakanal House and Shirley Towers fires.

· The failure to rehouse survivors with some families still living in hotels and in temporary accommodation more than two years on.

· The failure to re-clad blocks identified with dangerous, Grenfell-style cladding. Disgracefully 8 in 10 residential blocks are still yet to have that ACM cladding replaced.

· And the failure to identify suspect non-ACM cladding with tests on potentially dangerous cladding still not complete more than two years on.

The government’s response has been inadequate, uncaring and frankly insulting. Grenfell Tower would not have happened to wealthy Londoners. It happened to poor and mainly migrant Londoners.

I’ve met with Grenfell survivors on many occasions since that dreadful night and they have all emphasised the wonderful community that existed around Grenfell Tower. That is what working-class life is like in London. And while this phase of the report makes criticism of the London Fire Brigade, we should remember; it was not firefighters that deregulated building safety standards. It wasn’t firefighters who ignored the concerns of tenants. It wasn’t firefighters who ignored a coroner’s report and failed to put sprinklers in high rise blocks and it wasn’t firefighters who put flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower.

Likewise, Mr Speaker it’s disgraceful that over two years on there has been no major review or assessment of the ‘stay put’ policy. The Fire Brigades Union has raised this with government ministers on numerous occasions. Concerns about the ‘stay put’ policy were raised with government years before Grenfell. Will the government today stop dragging its feet and act?

The past nine years have seen this Conservative government’s cuts degrade our Fire and Rescue service. We now have fewer firefighters, fewer fire appliances and slower response times. While firefighters selflessly risk their lives to protect others, the government has chosen not to provide them with the resources and support they need.

Between 2010 and 2016, the government cut central funding by 28% in real terms, followed by a further cut of 15% by 2020. These cuts have led to 11,000 fewer firefighters (a 20% cut). As Mayor of London, the now Prime Minister was at the forefront of the cuts to our Fire Service. In the eight years that he was Mayor, the London Fire Brigade was required to make gross savings of over £100m, cutting of 27 fire appliances, 552 firefighters, 324 support staff, two fire rescue units, three training appliances and closing ten London fire stations.

Mr Speaker, Grenfell must never happen again. It happened because of the negligence and recklessness of a Conservative government, a Conservative Council and a Conservative Mayor of London. The night of 14 June 2017 will never be forgotten but just as importantly it must never happen again. The fact that this government has dragged its feet – that the exact same cladding is on similar high rise blocks, that sprinklers have not been fitted, that thousands of people will go to bed tonight and tomorrow night not feeling safe – should shame this government.

Mr Speaker, I pay tribute to the firefighters. I pay tribute to the local community. But most of all I pay tribute to the solemn dignity of those survivors and bereaved who have continued to campaign for justice, so that no one else ever has to suffer like they have. Whoever forms the next government owes it to them to say: never again.

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