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MP wants Sir Cyril to be stripped of knighthood

Dave Appleton
15/11/2008

A LABOUR MP has taken steps to try and strip Sir Cyril Smith of his knighthood.

An early day motion (EDM) has been tabled in the House of Commons by Stephen Hepburn, MP for Jarrow, but had only been co-signed by three other MPs as we went to press and is unlikely to be debated.

Mr Hepburn, chairman of the all-party shipbuilding and ship repair group, submitted his EDM on Tuesday.

It says: "That this House notes that for decades the asbestos industry covered up the fatal health threat posed by the carcinogenic mineral; further notes that some 4,000 people a year die from incurable asbestos-related diseases; expresses disquiet over letters revealing that on 5 August 1981 the then member for Rochdale, Sir Cyril Smith, asked Turner and Newall, a major asbestos corporation, to supply a speech to make in the Chamber of the House in a debate on asbestos controls ... believes such action was dishonourable and not in the interests of the public, nor in the finest tradition of this House; and expresses its support for those now demanding that the former hon member for Rochdale be stripped of his knighthood."

He said on Thursday: "Cyril Smith was a very experienced MP, who must have known all about these issues and I think it was, at the very least, naive in the extreme for him to make such a speech supplied by a major asbestos company like Turner and Newall.

"Even if Cyril Smith is not stripped of his knighthood as a result of my EDM, it will have highlighted the importance of the asbestos issue."

However, Sir Cyril said he thought the EDM was ‘stupid’ and he didn’t see the point of it at all.

He continued: "This MP is from the North East, so what does he know about Rochdale? Obviously he is being briefed by someone from Rochdale.

"In my days it was regarded as very discourteous for someone to table an EDM to which people don’t have the right of a reply.

"Really, I’m not concerned about this at all."

In an earlier interview with the Observer Sir Cyril said he did invite Turner and Newall to write a speech, but that he didn’t use all of it.

He said he had made his own mind up and visited the plant at Spotland to see what it was like for himself.

Current Rochdale MP Paul Rowen said Sir Cyril was being victimised by the Labour party and he found their actions ‘totally deplorable’.

"To call for Sir Cyril’s knighthood to be removed is nothing short of preposterous. This is a man who has given a lifetime of service to Rochdale and still continues to do so."

Mr Rowen added that the Labour party should be concentrating on fighting the issues of asbestos today, not of 25 years ago.

Rochdale Council leader, Councillor Alan Taylor, said Mr Hepburn’s EDM was a ‘pathetic attempt by a backbench, obscure MP at chasing headlines’. "Sir Cyril has done so much for us and this attempt by not even half a per cent of the parliamentary Labour party should be condemned."