POLITICS

London Fire: Jeremy Corbyn Says Ministers Face Questions On Tory Council Cuts And Safety Review

'Ministers that served must be questioned'

14/06/2017 15:08 BST | Updated 14/06/2017 18:14 BST

Jeremy Corbyn has suggested Tory austerity and council cuts could be partly to blame for the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.

The Labour leader said that while the immediate priority was on the rescue effort, questions had to be asked about spending on safety.

“If you cut local authority expenditure then the price is paid somehow,” he said in a pooled TV clip.

Twelve people are confirmed dead and scores admitted to hospital in a critical condition after the blaze ripped through the tower block in West London in the early hours of Wednesday.

Corbyn said that former ministers - including Theresa May’s new chief of staff Gavin Barwell - who failed to update safety regulations also had questions to answer.

“Obviously, ministers that served and received those reports must be questioned,” he said.

Barwell came under attack after it emerged that he had failed to review building rules for four years - despite being urged to do so by a coroner overseeing another tower block fire tragedy.

Corbyn said pointed out that following the fire in Lakanal House in Camberwell in 2009, former deputy leader and local MP Harriet Harman had linked spending cuts to the six deaths caused. 

“There were very clear lessons to be learned then and the need to install equipment in high rise buildings. There has to be a sprinkler system installed in tower blocks,” he said.

“If you cut local authority expenditure then the price is paid somehow.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Smoke billows from the 24-story Grenfell Tower in Kensington, west London.

With Parliament not formally sitting until the State Opening due later this month, Corbyn asked for ministers to be available for emergency questioning in the Commons grand committee room.

Speaker Bercow expressed MPs’ sadness at the fire, and said that arrangements would be made to quiz ministers.

The Labour leader said that cuts to fire brigade numbers had to be looked at, with 40% reductions in officer numbers in recent years.

“The areas one has to look at are...The number of people available to the fire services.  We have to make sure they are properly resourced,” he said.

“A review took place after the fire in Camberwell and the Government has that review. I believe we need to ask questions about what resources and facilities have been given.”

Corbyn also pointed to a refusal by ministers to enforce the retro-fitting of sprinklers in high rise blocks, after a coroner investigating the 2010 blaze at in Shirley Towers in Southampton suggested the move.

“There has to be very strong fire regulations, which there are, but there has to be a sprinkler system installed particularly in residential tower blocks that don’t have them at the present .time,” he said.

Then-housing minister Brandon Lewis told the Commons in 2014: “We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation.”