David Cameron should appear before the Grenfell Tower inquiry after making comments that were “ridiculing” health and safety in the years before the fire, a lawyer has said.
The former prime minister made speeches regarding red tape and regulation that had effectively relegated citizens to “a bonfire”, said a barrister representing some of the bereaved and survivors.
Michael Mansfield QC told the public inquiry into the 2017 blaze, which claimed 72 lives, that Mr Cameron should appear at a hearing to explain what he meant by his words.
In 2010, Mr Cameron had said he wanted to “scrap health and safety rules that put people off”, Mr Mansfield said, and followed this the year after by saying “the shadow” of health and safety was holding people back, adding that this was not “how a great nation was built” and that “Britannia didn’t rule the waves with arm bands on”.
Mr Mansfield said such speeches were “ridiculing, humiliating health and safety, and relegating citizens, as it were, to effectively a bonfire”.
He quoted Mr Cameron as having referred to the “health and safety monster” in 2012.
Mr Mansfield said: “We say he needs to be here to answer what he meant. Because if it’s going to be sent through his proteges, through his ministers, whatever, that he didn’t mean what he said, well let him come and say that.
“But this is what he did say, ‘to kill off the health and safety culture for good’.”
Mr Mansfield, still quoting Mr Cameron, added: “I want 2012 to go down in history not as just the Olympics year or Diamond Jubilee year, but the year we banished a lot of pointless time-wasting from the economy and British life once and for all.
“It has become an albatross around the neck of businesses, costing them billions of pounds a year, a feared health and safety monster to be slain, so that businesses feel they can get on, they can plan, they can invest, they can grow, without feeling they’re going to be strangled by red tape and health and safety regulation.”
Mr Mansfield told the inquiry it was important to “recall” and “relive” the atmosphere of that time “because it could happen again unless it is banished as an approach”.
Module six of the inquiry’s second phase is taking a close look at building regulations and the published guidance on fire safety, including detailed consideration of government policy on relevant aspects.
As Monday’s hearing opened, inquiry counsel Richard Millett QC urged organisations involved in the inquiry and witnesses to it to “fully embrace their obligations of candour and openness and face up to the stark realities that they reveal”.
He said: “Their written submissions tend to suggest that they have been drafted with fingers crossed. We would urge the witnesses to come in this module to approach their evidence in the full spirit of cooperation and make concessions unhesitatingly where justified on the material.”
In a statement to the PA news agency, a spokesperson for Mr Cameron said: “As prime minister, David Cameron advocated a sensible new approach to health and safety regulations to ensure that they protected people and were applied where needed rather than unnecessarily overwhelm businesses with red tape.”
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