Debate in Westminster Hall on the Grenfell Inquiry
On 14th May, I spoke in the debate in Westminster Hall on the petition calling on the Prime Minister to build public trust in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. I emphasised the importance of an inquiry that represents the victims of the tragedy. You can find a clip of my speech here. I said:
The inquiry is not for the Government, and it is not for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is for the victims. It is for the people who died in the Grenfell fire. It is for all who managed to get out of the tower, but still relive that night every single day. It is for the bereaved families and their broken hearts. It is for everyone who is grieving and carrying the burden of loss around with them, like a scar burned into their soul. It is for the people who saw the burning, saw people jumping to their deaths, and still have to look at that tower every day. It is for the people who are still living in hotel rooms, 11 months on.
This is about more than just a panel of advisers. The people have been badly let down. Of course there is deep mistrust of authority within the community. Of course they have no faith in the state and the establishment. If the Government lose sight of who the inquiry is for, it ceases to be an inquiry. It becomes a talking shop and an exercise in spin. It is up to the inquiry to ask tough questions and interrogate the authorities on behalf of the Grenfell families. That is why it is so important that survivors and families, and their representatives and lawyers, are able to ask uncomfortable truths of those who give evidence to the inquiry.
Why does trust matter? Because trust in the inquiry is a precondition of justice. If there is no trust, there will be no justice. A lack of trust will affect participation. If those affected do not fully participate, we cannot and will not get to the truth. If we do not get to the truth, we will not get justice. If we do not get justice, we will get injustice—more injustice.
Representation, which is at the heart of this debate, matters. Look at the Grenfell survivors; look at them clearly. Look at the families of the bereaved and the community of north Kensington protesting outside Parliament today, and sat in the public gallery during the preliminary hearings. Then look at the Cabinet—not just this Cabinet, but Cabinets under the Government that I was part of. We do not have representation. We do not have the experience of living in a tower block estate.
Let recent history serve as a reminder of what happens when we do not have that representation. We get residents associations being ignored time and time again when they raise fire safety concerns with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. We get a local authority that cares more about saving money than the lives of people living in social housing. We get a council leader in a local authority in London—a city with 700 tower blocks of 11 floors or more—who had never even set foot in a tower block before she became leader. We get a local authority that cares much more about how the tower block looks in appearance to the rich folk who live around it than the lives of those inside it. We get two thirds of Grenfell households still living in hotel rooms and temporary accommodation.
When the voices of people living in social housing were ignored and marginalised, what did we get? We got a towering inferno, burning into the sky as a reminder of what happens when the state does not listen to those it purports to serve. We got the senseless and avoidable death of people who burned to death in their homes.
The voices of Grenfell Tower have not been heard yet. Their voices were not heard before the fire, and before the Prime Minister did the U-turn that brings us to this point today. This is a test for the leadership of the Prime Minister. Can the Government regain the trust of the Grenfell family? Theresa May talks about burning injustices, and this injustice burned. If the inquiry fails to gain the trust and confidence of the survivors and the families of those who lost their lives, we will not get justice. I remind the Government of what Neville Lawrence said in 2012, almost 20 years after the loss of his son Stephen:
“The loss itself, together with the lack of justice, have meant that I have not been able to rest all this time.”
That point must hang in the air. How do we regain that trust? How do we demonstrate that we really get what representation means? How do we honour those lives? How do we recognise that it is the state that has failed, and how do we ensure that we are not too establishment to put the state and those who assisted it—the private contractors and others—on trial?