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Asbestos

Volume 76: debated on Wednesday 3 April 1985

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12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what information he has as to the costs incurred by local authorities in removing asbestos from their buildings.

The joint central and local government working party on asbestos, set up by my Department last year, is at present seeking and collating information from the local authority associations on the scale of use of asbestos materials in buildings. This includes some information relating to the costs of removal of asbestos, but no national picture or overall estimate of costs is available.

Will the hon. Gentleman condemn Wandsworth council for taking legal action against two of my constituents, resulting in their incurring costs plus damages of nearly £9,000, when all they did was use legal action to delay for six days the demolition of Latchmere baths in my constituency because they feared that asbestos in that building would be a danger to local residents? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such public-spirited action by my constituents — one of whom is now a local councillor—should be rewarded, rather than penalised by the threat of bankruptcy?

I would be very ill-advised to do what the hon. Gentleman invites me to do. The case was taken to court. The hon. Gentleman's constituents lost and Wandsworth won, and Wandsworth was awarded costs. It is not for Ministers to comment on that decision.

As a curtain-raiser to an important Adjournment debate tomorrow, will my hon. Friend use his good offices to encourage local authorities to adopt the recently invented process of the vitrification of asbestos waste which, apart from removing the toxicity of the waste completely and therefore preventing health hazards, has the financial merit of being able to be undertaken in some cases at half the conventional cost of bagging and dumping the waste?

I am sorry to say that I shall not be participating in the Adjournment debate tomorrow. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State — the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave)—whose happy task that will be has heard my hon. Friend's remarks, and I know that his remarks will embrace the response to those proposals.