HL Deb 29 March 1995 vol 562 cc1615-7

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Stedman asked Her Majesty's Government

Whether the building at 2 Marsham Street contains asbestos, and, if so, what precautions will be taken when the building is demolished to secure the safety of the staff and the avoidance of asbestos in the air over Westminster.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, the building at 2 Marsham Street does contain some asbestos. Asbestos was extensively used in buildings of its generation, mainly for thermal insulation and as a fire resisting material. Any asbestos considered to pose a potential health risk to staff or contractors working in the building has already been removed. The remaining material is carefully monitored and will be removed prior to demolition. The asbestos will be stripped out under controlled conditions to ensure that no fibres escape into the atmosphere.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply which is satisfactory so far as concerns the position today. When the buildings are pulled down, I hope that we shall have the assurance that at that time the asbestos is under control. Otherwise there is not much point in moving staff in the Department of Transport from what is supposedly a structurally unsafe building into modern new offices in Horseferry Road where they are dependent on the ventilation system in order to gain air into the building. I am satisfied with what the Minister has said at this stage.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the noble Baroness is kind enough to indicate her satisfaction. Perhaps I may inform the House that asbestos material is removed under fully controlled conditions to prevent the escape of any material into the air. Contractors are required to comply with various asbestos regulations, notify the Health and Safety Executive 28 days in advance of works, and undertake work in accordance with standard government specification on asbestos work.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the spread of asbestosis can be extremely serious? What he has said today gives some satisfaction that the Government are aware of that. However, are local authorities also informed of the concern of the Government to prevent its spread?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, yes, I believe we are now all aware of the serious nature of asbestos. Its removal has to be done in the way I described. The noble Lord asked about local authorities. The material which is removed not only from 2 Marsham Street but any other building is taken away by licensed carriers in sealed skips to licensed tips controlled by the local waste authority—that is, after all, a local authority duty—typically, clay-lined pits in Bedfordshire and Essex.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that they know exactly where asbestos has been placed in 2 Marsham Street? As I understand it, records are missing regarding how ducts were clad with asbestos. We are in a state of uncertainty. Despite the noble Viscount's encouraging answers, will he give an assurance that the Government are fully satisfied that they know exactly where the threat is?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, asbestos material in Marsham Street was used for pipe and duct insulation, wall linings, and some ceilings, and duct covers. Regular inspections of properties are carried out and up-to-date records maintained. I do not appreciate that there is a difficulty. However, I believe that the noble Lord may have some query. If he would like to let me know of any difficulty of which he may be aware, I shall be pleased to follow it up.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I declare an interest, living a hundred yards from Marsham Street, as do many other people. Can my noble friend guarantee that none of the residents will be affected by the asbestos dust?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I indicated what I believe is the current situation. Indeed, when the building is demolished—I know that my noble friend may look forward to that—the same care will be taken to remove the asbestos before the demolition task is undertaken.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that I am grateful for his invitation to supply what information I have? The information comes from the Civil Service unions which claim that vital records of many sites, including Marsham Street, where asbestos was used, have been lost. Indeed, one union spokeswoman said, "We are extremely concerned that vital information has gone missing". I shall provide chapter and verse for the noble Viscount at his request. In the meantime, does he agree that the Government should look into the matter?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I shall be pleased to see any evidence the noble Lord has. It concerns me if that is indeed the case. However, regular inspections, in particular of 2 Marsham Street, are undertaken. As the building was not constructed all that long ago, I believe that the records indicate where the problems exist.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, I believe that 23 years ago, with my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil, I was one of the first people in that building. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, was there shortly afterwards. Does my noble friend consider that the health of the 18 to 20 noble Lords who have spent some time in the building should be monitored?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, perhaps it would be just as well to monitor the 5,000 civil servants who work in the building too.

Earl Grey

My Lords, will the noble Viscount tell me what happens to the waste asbestos? Where does it go? How is it dealt with?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, in a previous answer I indicated that the material is taken in sealed skips to licensed tips and carefully disposed of.