Thompsons Solicitors has joined Unite the union in its calls for the government to provide ‘cast iron guarantees’ that asbestos regulations will not be weakened.

It follows the revelation by Unite that new Brexit minister Steve Baker has previously lobbied the government to water down laws on asbestos.

European Union legislation governs most of the current legislation, which bans asbestos use and tightly controls its removal. Inhaling asbestos can cause mesothelioma, an incurable and fatal cancer of the lungs’ linings that, according to Health and Safety Executive figures, killed 2,515 people in 2014 alone.

Thompsons Solicitors, whose specialist asbestos disease lawyers have helped hundreds of thousands of people access compensation and support for asbestos-related illnesses, echo Unite the Union’s concerns and called upon Mr Baker not to use his position to weaken laws on asbestos when the ‘Great Reform Bill’ becomes law, sidestepping effective parliamentary scrutiny.

Ian McFall, head of asbestos litigation at Thompsons Solicitors, says: “We support Unite’s stance. Existing regulations are designed to protect people from well-known risks of harm. If legislation is weakened, even more lives risk being lost to asbestos disease. You only need to look at Grenfell Tower to see what can happen if health and safety regulations are inadequate or ignored.”

In a series of parliamentary questions about asbestos in October 2010, Mr Baker reportedly asked the secretary of state for work and pensions “If he will bring forward proposals to amend the provisions of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002, to distinguish the white form of asbestos and the blue and brown forms of that substance.”

He also is alleged to have asked, “if he will commission an inquiry into the appropriateness of the health and safety precautions in force in respect of asbestos cement”, and “if he will bring forward proposals to amend existing regulations governing the safe use of asbestos cement, in line with the evidence cited in the Health and Safety Commission Paper HSC/06/055.”

According to a press release issued by Unite, Mr Baker also features in a 2015 report by the Conservative Rural Affairs Group (CRAG), having contacted Lord de Mauley, the parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), “about asbestos issues on farms”. The group has been campaigning for some time for a relaxation of the law “to allow the re-use of end of life asbestos cement sheets on farms”, rather than having the substance professionally removed, as currently happens.

The policies of the CRAG and the new Brexit minister’s questions appear in line with arguments by a well-funded pro-asbestos lobby, supported by several right-wing politicians in the Conservative Party and UKIP, which claims white asbestos is safe, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: “It is alarming that an MP who holds such extreme views on asbestos has been given such a sensitive position. It demonstrates the Prime Minister is more interested in appeasing hardline Brexiters, rather than the welfare of workers.

She added: “Following these revelations it is essential that very senior government ministers give a cast-iron guarantee that the existing asbestos regulations will not be weakened or modified and the safety of workers will remain the priority.

“With thousands of people dying every year, directly as a result of being exposed to asbestos, the priority must be to ensure that the existing safety laws are adhered to and employers who ignore this life-saving legislation are prosecuted and convicted.”