Labour calls for fire safety inquiry to be completed by the summer

Labour is calling for an inquiry into fire safety in tower blocks to be completed by the summer and is asking searching questions about safety and procedures following the Grenfell Tower fire in west London.

The party has also called for the immediate implementation of improved safety rules proposed in 2013 following the inquest into the Lakanal House fire, but never implemented. 

The measures, say Labour, would include the installation of sprinklers in high risk flats and also include a review of building regulations which would include the safety of cladding, which has been identified as a potential accelerating factor in the Grenfell Tower blaze which has killed 12 people with many more feared dead. Labour estimated that sprinklers would cost around £1,000 a flat to install. The all-party parliamentary group on fire safety has also previously recommended fitting sprinklers to buildings to save lives.

The party said that if the 2013 recommendations were implemented it would also guarantee better emergency advice and information for residents. Labour said that the safety inquiry should be led by a cabinet minister and be accountable to parliament. 

Labour has also called for a special Commons session to ask a senior minister questions about what the government plans to do in the wake of the fire and ask why it failed to act on coroners’ concerns about two previous tower block fires.

The shadow housing minister, John Healey, said: “We are demanding now a minister comes to the House of Commons for a special statement session. We have asked the government to get a minister into parliament today and let parliament recognise how serious this tragedy is. It is the sort of thing that allows us to pay respect to the victims, but importantly it helps provide some of the answers that people are asking about what went off, what’s being done and most importantly what’s not being done to learn the lessons and act after the last tragedies that we saw now nearly eight years ago.”

Calling for an immediate fire safety review of tower blocks, Healey said: “What it really needs now is for a very senior cabinet minister to show they are getting a grip of this and reassuring tenants in other tower blocks that they will get to the bottom of the problems. They should commission an independent, immediate review so that the clear lessons must now be taken seriously.”

"We need an immediate, independent review so that the clear lessons must now be taken seriously. There are some serious questions for ministers to answer that residents are asking at Grenfell Tower."
- John Healey, shadow housing minister

He accused government ministers of rejecting or ignoring key recommendations of coroners’ reports into tower block fires in south London and Southampton. “The coroner after the Lakanal fire and the coroner, who did the same sort of inquiry into a fire in a tower block in Southampton reporting at the same time, did a Rule 33 letter. This is where coroners take the unusual step of recommending to government things that can be done to prevent future fire deaths. 

“Two of the recommendations were simply rejected - that’s information on site about complex blocks like this for firefighters and also encouraging the wider use of sprinkler systems in similar high rise blocks. The final important recommendation about reviewing the building regulations should be reviewed. That was four years ago and that has simply been neglected. So there are some serious questions to answer now,” said Healey.

“The recommendation to encourage the wider use of sprinklers in such blocks was rejected by the housing minister in front of a select committee. The important recommendation to review the building regulations, specifically looking at questions of cladding and potentially compromising the fire safety of the building itself, drawn attention by the coroners at that time, is simply being put to one side. So there are some very serious questions for ministers to answer now, that residents are asking at Grenfell Tower and very important reassurance to give to many, many people who live in similar tower blocks throughout the country. 

“Four years on from two coroners’ reports we are still waiting for even a plan to review building regulations that government said they would,” Healey said.

It is thought that a government minister will to make a statement in parliament this afternoon about the Grenfell Tower tragedy but that the statement will not take place in the main Commons chamber as parliament is not formally in session. Instead, the statement will take place in a Commons committee room. 

It has not yet been confirmed which minister will make the statement, though it is likely to be the policing and fire minister Nick Hurd.

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