Asbestos Spectre Haunts Parliament
Having won the general election, you would think there was little blighting the future for Tory Ministers and MPs now free to impose their cuts, push forward the agenda of their financial backers and continue their back-room deals with vested interests.
Over recent days, there have been revelations which indicate that the politicians are not quite as far removed from the plight of ordinary citizens as they might like to think. It seems that the conditions in which they work at the Palace of Westminster are no different to those experienced by school teachers, hospital personnel and custodial staff employed in other asbestos-riddled premises.1 In the country with the worlds highest incidence of asbestos cancer, there is every reason to be concerned about the impact these exposures could have even on Tory politicians.
The fact that the walls of the Palace of Westminster are packed with asbestos is no secret.2 Despite Parliaments Asbestos Management Plan, dangerous incidents occur with an alarming frequency. It was reported in The Sunday Times this week that the latest occurred in mid-May 2015 when asbestos fibers contaminated the House of Commons chamber via an air ventilation system.3 Whilst crisis talks over the asbestos emergency took place amongst senior officials and parliamentary officials, the majority of MPs, staff members and civil servants were left in the dark. In a move not contemplated since World War II, plans were being considered to evict peers in order to accommodate MPs in an asbestos-free chamber.
On June 3, Scunthorpe MP Nic Dakin tried to clarify the situation by submitting written question 1031 to the House of Commons Commission.4 The answer provided by Sir Paul Beresford on June 9 downplayed the risks and reassured Commons users that there is no reason to stop using the Chamber, or the adjacent offices and spaces. There are plans, Beresford wrote, to eradicate the asbestos in the trunking by the end of 2015 The carefully worded response given by Beresford may reassure some but others, including union officials representing members employed in the Commons, are being consulted about the possibility of instigating further enquiries. Whatever the true level of risk posed by the latest incident, the reality is that the health of those people who have worked or visited the seat of the British government over recent decades has been endangered by asbestos deposits present within the Palace of Westminster.
Having absorbed the latest news, let us pause for a few moments to consider the effects that periodic asbestos exposures might have had on someone who has been in and out of the Palace of Westminster for 24 years someone like David Cameron, perhaps? Whilst there is no way to know how many fibers he has inhaled during that time, there is no such thing as safe exposure to asbestos. Given the debilitating and fatal nature of the types of cancers associated with asbestos exposure, Cameron and the Westminster cohort might now wish to reconsider the Tory Governments low priority for research on mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases lives on the line may be their own.
June 10, 2015
1 Jewell D. The Westminster Parliament and the Asbestos Tragedy. Spring 2014.
2 Parliament is falling down. So what can be done about it? March 3, 2015.
Also see: Restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster: pre-feasibility study and preliminary strategic business case. October 2012. http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-information-office/2013/restoration-and-renewal-study.pdf
3 Lyons J, Shipman T. Asbestos scare may force out MPs. June 7, 2015.
4 Parliament: Asbestos: Written question 1032. June 3, 2015. http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2015-06-03/1032/