Dozens warned of asbestos exposure after incident in UK parliament

LONDON — Dozens of people working in the U.K. parliament may have been exposed to asbestos during an incident last autumn. 

Multiple parliamentary officials said the incident occurred as part of fire safety work being carried out in Speaker’s House, the residence of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. Those affected are currently being notified by House of Commons authorities. 

One person familiar with the maintenance of parliament said it looked like “a huge failure of safety systems.”

A House of Commons spokesperson said: “The House is currently working with our contractors, supply chain and the Health and Safety Executive following an incident of possible asbestos exposure on the estate. A temporary pause in construction projects was implemented to ensure lessons learned from this incident are rapidly implemented.” 

A report on the condition of parliament in 2016 found it was “riddled with asbestos” and “a thorough renovation of the Palace [of Westminster] would allow this asbestos to be removed safely and more cost-effectively.”

That report, which followed a year-long inquiry by MPs and peers, recommended a “full decant” of MPs to another location while the outdated sewage, electrical and heating systems are replaced and asbestos removed. 

However, plans for a wholesale restoration are currently in limbo as the Commons Commission — its managing body — wants to explore the option of MPs remaining on the estate while the work is carried out.

In the meantime, the Commons authorities continue to make ad-hoc repairs and carry out fire prevention measures. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was until recently leader of the House of Commons, has expressed skepticism towards the idea of moving MPs off the estate, saying in an interview last month he is “cautious that some of the propaganda around the scheme may be over-egged.”

He, along with some Conservative MPs elected in 2019, have voiced concern over the potential cost of restoration, which was originally estimated at £4 billion but is likely to exceed that.

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