Stephen Morgan MP is calling on the government to make a firm commitment to maintaining the ban on asbestos after the Brexit transition period comes to an end on 31 December 2020 and as the UK negotiates trade deals with other countries.
The MP for Portsmouth South is also asking the government to rule out any further cuts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which is responsible for enforcing compliance with asbestos-related health and safety legislation. The agency received around £100 million less from the DWP in 2019-20 than it did in 2009-10 and saw its number of inspectors reduced by 25% between 2010 and 2016.
In October 2019, the HSE, which sits under the Department for Work and Pensions, reported that there are currently over 5,000 asbestos-related disease deaths per year in the UK, although this is expected to decline over the next decade and beyond.
While the government has committed in recent weeks to maintaining a “high level of protection of human health and the environment” post-Brexit, there has been widespread concern among campaign groups that this may change in the future, particularly when the UK comes to negotiate trade deals with other countries including the USA where regulations allow use of products containing asbestos – such as certain car parts like clutches and brakes, building materials like roofing felt, tiles and cement products, heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets and coatings.
It was also reported earlier month that, in 2019 the US Food and Drug Administration confirmed that asbestos had been found in several cosmetic products, including make-up marketed at children, prompting campaigners to warn that a UK trade deal with the US could see the relaxation of stringent laws prohibiting the use of dangerous ingredients in imported cosmetics.
Stephen Morgan MP said:
“The significant damage that asbestos-related diseases can do and the devastation they can cause to individuals and families is all too clear.
We should not be lowering standards once we come to do trade deals with other countries that don’t have the same restrictions on asbestos that we do in the UK.
It is vital that the ban on the manufacture and supply of all asbestos products in the UK is kept in place.”
Margaret Greenwood MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:
“I am concerned that any reduction in standards as a result of trade deals could put more lives at risk from asbestos-related conditions and increase cost to the DWP in social security payments and also through the work of the HSE.
Promises the government has made with regard to asbestos have to be kept firmly in mind when it is negotiating trade deals with countries whose asbestos regulations are not as stringent as the UK’s.
Labour is calling on the government to maintain the ban on asbestos.”