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Asbestos Health Hazards

Volume 376: debated on Friday 29 October 1976

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11.16 a.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to what extent they have participated in the research conducted at the London School of Hygiene into the health of former workers at a former asbestos factory in East London and whether they accept the conclusion that between 7 and 10 per cent. of the men and between 9 and 12 per cent. of the women may die of mesothelioma.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have not been involved in this work but the Employment Medical Advisory Service has been following published reports and I am advised that, subject to the qualifications made by the authors themselves, the Service does not dissent from the study's findings.

My Lords, do not these somewhat alarming figures add to the importance of the admirable work that is now being done by the Health and Safety Executive, and is it not a fact that they are now monitoring industrial cases over the whole area?

My Lords, am I right in thinking that it is not only it East London where the problem of the health hazards of the manufacture of asbestos has arisen? Is research still continuing, or is the Minister satisfied that all necessary safeguards are now being taken?

My Lords, I should emphasise that the population which were the subject of this particular research had exposure to asbestos long before the 1969 Regulations. They were all before 1964 and most were before 1951. As for the 1969 Regulations, in the words of the report:

"… the conditions responsible are not those which should be achieved today".
That is not to say we feel that we have reached finality. Research is continuing and I believe that in future there will be further improvements in hygiene standards.

My Lords, as we have been told on occasions when we have had debates on diseases and injuries in factories that the Inspectorate was not sufficient to cope with the problem, may I ask my noble friend whether he is satisfied that in respect of asbestosis the Inspectorate is sufficient?

My Lords, I am afraid I did not hear the last part of my noble friend's supplementary question.

My Lords, is my noble friend satisfied that the Inspectorate has been increased by a number sufficient to cope with the problem of asbestosis?

That is a matter of opinion, my Lords. We should very much like to see the Inspectorate increased, especially those of us who have a strong feeling for the people who are open to this hazard, but we must act within our means. I believe that we shall find it necessary to increase the Inspectorate in the future.