Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:18 pm on 21st March 2007.

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Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP 3:18 pm, 21st March 2007

By the law of averages, I have no right to be standing here, because I worked in the shipyards. In 1947—60 years ago now—I worked in the city of Johannesburg as a young apprentice marine engineer. I worked in an area roughly the size of the chamber with scaffolding up either side of the inside of the ship's hull. Young apprentice laggers who put on the asbestos would make snowballs out of it and have snowball fights back and forward. Asbestos fell like snow on everyone in the hull of the ship. How they did not all die more or less instantly is beyond my comprehension. I used to go home at night and my boiler suit was white with asbestos. Many women have died because they came into contact with the deadly asbestos through washing their son's or husband's overalls.

The bill is tremendous. Thanks are due to Des McNulty and others who have pushed the issue. The bill has gone through in a consensual way, which is how the Parliament should work. As was said, there is far more to politics than yah-boo debates and First Minister's question time.

I had a good friend, Alex Forbes, who died, it was said, of lung cancer. With hindsight, his death was obviously due to asbestos poisoning. He drilled and countersunk holes in huge slabs of asbestos on a daily basis. That was about 30 years ago—there is no chance of compensation for him or any of his family. Thinking back to the conditions under which people worked, there was ignorance of the fact that asbestos was a dangerous substance to use. It took a long while for that to be realised.

When I see people with their masks on to lift little layers of asbestos out of buildings, I shake my head and think, "My goodness, I didn't realise the danger I was in." At the same time, I was on 40 to 60 cigarettes a day. I stopped smoking on 4 July last year, thanks to the legislation that was passed in this building. People cannot get a smoke nowadays. I am into my 10th month without a cigarette, cigar or pipe, and that is due to this place. We are doing some good. The Rights of Relatives to Damages (Mesothelioma) (Scotland) Bill is excellent, and I thank the Executive for steering it through.