Sir Cyril Smith defends himself on BBC News

Date published: 04 September 2008

Sir Cyril Smith appeared on BBC TV news to defend himself against accusations that he lobbied for what was the world's largest asbestos factory, Rochdale's Turner & Newall, to help keep the dangers of asbestos under wraps.

Sir Cyril, who claimed in 1981 that asbestos posed “no danger to the general public”, said he was simply defending jobs in his constituency and denied the claims that he helped Turner & Newall to cover up the dangers of asbestos.

Jez Parton, commenting on the Rochdale Online message board said: "He didn't come across very well. He basically told the interviewer that the general public was not at risk, and if you worked there you knew the risks. In other words it's your own fault if you get ill as a result of working there, and thousands of jobs are more important than a few lives."

John Butterworth added: "The idea of no risk to general public has been blown away by many health and safety cases in the intervening years. What is the LEVEL of risk is a different question entirely and one that neither I nor Cyril is competent to answer."

The transcript from the programme:

Gordon Burns: Sir Cyril Smith denies claims he helped a local company to cover up the dangers of asbestos

Cyril Smith: Absolute rubbish. How could I cover up the dangers of asbestos?

[Trail sequence]

Ranvir Singh: Now, Sir Cyril Smith the former MP for Rochdale has rejected claims that he helped a local firm cover up the dangers of asbestos. In 1981 Sir Cyril told Parliament asbestos posed “no danger to the general public”.

Gordon Burns: But we now know weeks earlier he asked the world's biggest asbestos manufacturer to let him have the speech they'd like to make.

Today Sir Cyril who is now 80 years old came out fighting claiming he was defending jobs in his constituency. Stuart Flinders reports from Rochdale.

Stuart Flinders: This is Rochdale's Spodden Valley, once home to the firm of T&N the world's largest asbestos factory. In the 1980s the local MP faced a dilemma. More than 2000 people were employed here and yet there was a growing link between asbestos and fatal illnesses. So should the MP be more concerned about jobs or health?

In 1981 weeks before the House of Commons debated banning the sale of asbestos the then MP Cyril Smith wrote to Turner & Newall.

[Letter quote]:

“...could you please, within the next eight weeks, let me have the speech you would like to make (were you able to), in that debate? In particular, points of disagreement, with EEC documentation . Points to urge etc...”

[Rochdale Observer clipping]:

“...A Labour move to have the sale of asbestos products banned throughout the Common Market was debated in the House of Commons on Thursday after a warning by Cyril Smith MP that it could cost hundreds of jobs in Rochdale and thousands throughout the country...”

“...He said 'There is no danger to the public at large from asbestos'...”

Stuart Flinders: Derek Phillips used to live near the factory. He suffers from mesothelioma, a mostly asbestos related cancer.

Derek Phillps: I always used to rate Cyril Smith. He called a spade a spade, but he should have been coming out on the side of the people that were poorly, not jobs. They could have shut the factory and built something else there.

Stuart Flinders: Sir Cyril rejects the idea he only consulted the firm. He knew and spoke to many asbestos workers, he said. Now 80 years old, he stands by his actions.

Cyril Smith: If they are saying that I should have gone for closing the company they are saying I should have gone for 2500 people on the dole...

Stuart Flinders (interrupts): ...not suggesting close the factory. Suggestion maybe that you could have asked some different questions. You said in the House of Commons there is no danger to the public at large from asbestos...

Cyril Smith: No there isn't and there never was.

Stuart Flinders: Really?

Cyril Smith: Well of course. There is no danger of asbestos to the public at large. You were never in danger of it. I was never in danger of it.

Stuart Flinders: There were people near the factory that fear they were in danger of it...

Cyril Smith (interrupts): Well I'm not sure you are correct, actually I think you are overstating the case. There were people that worked there but they knew the dangers with it. But nobody made them work there. They could have left.

Do you have a story for us?

Let us know by emailing
All contact will be treated in confidence.

To contact the Rochdale Online news desk, email or visit our news submission page.

To get the latest news on your desktop or mobile, follow Rochdale Online on Twitter and Facebook.

While you are here...

...we have a small favour to ask; would you support Rochdale Online and join other residents making a contribution, from just £3 per month?

Rochdale Online offers completely independent local journalism with free access. If you enjoy the independent news and other free services we offer (event listings and free community websites for example), please consider supporting us financially and help Rochdale Online to continue to provide local engaging content for years to come. Thank you.

Support Rochdale Online