Health and Safety Executive investigating asbestos release in Parliament
The Health and Safety Executive is investigating an asbestos release in Parliament which could have affected as many as 117 members of staff. At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) considering the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster, Dr John Benger, the clerk of the Commons, confirmed the Executive was investigating the release, which occurred between 23 and 27 October in Speaker’s House but was not noticed until 19 November.
Meg Hillier, the committee chair, accused House authorities and contractors of “dancing on a pin head” instead of taking responsibility for the release.
The release took place in the bedrooms of the Speaker’s residential accommodation, which is currently not inhabited by Sir Lindsay Hoyle while ongoing fire safety work takes place. The site was closed immediately upon discovery of the asbestos, and Dr Benger says he was first told about an incident release potentially affecting three staff on 10 December. However, the Executive was not formally notified until 10 February, and all 81 contractor staff and 36 House staff who may have been exposed were not told until 17 February.
Dr Benger said: “There are definitely lessons to be learned… I’m not for a minute saying that this is a defensible position… This shouldn’t have happened.”
The revelation comes as the Restoration and Renewal Programme faces questions over its future. Benger told the PAC that the House of Commons Chamber would need to be decanted for a significant period for necessary work to take place.