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Asbestos And Toxic Substances

Volume 80: debated on Wednesday 12 June 1985

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he will take to ensure that local communities, community councils and local councils are consulted prior to the dumping of asbestos or toxic substances in their areas.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. William Waldegrave)

Deposit of such wastes is already subject to licensing by county councils in England and by district councils in Scotland and Wales. All authorities can be expected to take account of local opinion in their decisions. In England, county councils are obliged by law to consult district councils.

Does the Minister consider it reasonable that his Department should have exploited a licence which was granted to deal with the dumping of domestic asbestos in Glenboig so that it will now have to cope with the whole of the Trident project and the vast quantities of asbestos arising from it? Is it fair that mining communities, which have already had more than their fair share of pneumoconiosis and other problems, should now have to put up with such dangers to their health and that of their families?

Whatever is done with asbestos waste, it must be done safely in regard to local communities and any other people in the area. I gather that the PSA's contractor, Shanks and McEwan, was asked on Monday by the sheriff court to have further consultations with the Monklands district council, and it will do so shortly.

Has my hon. Friend had time to consider the implications of and opportunities provided by the new technological process of vitrification of asbestos waste, following the Adjournment debate which I introduced two months ago? Does my hon. Friend appreciate that, if it can be done economically, it will remove the anxieties of hon. Members on each side of the House as well as those of local authorities and communities?

The process is indeed relevant to the problem raised by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and is under study.

Is the Minister aware that there is a great deal of disquiet in my constituency about the burial of asbestos waste? Is he aware that 100 tonnes of asbestos waste have been buried by the Central Electricity Generating Board on the site of Cliff Quay power station? Is he satisfied that the regulations governing the burial of such waste are adequate? Will he not hesitate to come before the House and seek to alter the regulations if he has any doubts in his mind arising from evidence from Ipswich or any other part of the country?

I am sure that any Minister must give that assurance. We have had the recent Doll inquiry into asbestos dangers, and the regulations seem to be satisfactory, but if any serious doubts were brought forward my Department would treat them as a matter or urgency.

Can the Minister tell the House whether there is any truth in the rumours that several hundred thousand tonnes of asbestos waste are to be dumped in Glenboig? Is it not curious that a contract which was let for the disposal of domestic waste is now apparently turning into one for the major disposal of asbestos from the nuclear submarine programme? Is that not a very unsatisfactory state of affairs?

Why does the Secretary of State not call in this proposal to dump large amounts of asbestos in the way proposed, especially bearing in mind what he said when publishing the report of the hazardous waste inspectorate? The Secretary of State then said that the report "shows a disturbing situation. It describes a level of performance in both public and pri/vate secto/rs /which too frequently falls below acceptable standards."—[Official Report, 5 June 1985; Vol. 80, c. 166.].

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not out of order for an hon. Member to make a quotation during Question Time?

Order. The question was rather a long one. It is not in order for the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to read the passage, but he may paraphrase it.

Has not the Secretary of State's own inspectorate reported that the methods currently employed for the disposal of such wastes are very unsatisfactory? Will he now call in the proposal?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the outcome of Monday's hearing. As was shown, the licence is adequate, but the sheriff has asked for further discussion between the contractor and the Monklands district council. My own Department is considering all the options. Understandably, this scale of operations was not envisaged originally, and we must see that the matter is dealt with properly.