Clause 14 - Accessibility Strategies and Plans

Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 29th March 2001.

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Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 3:15 pm, 29th March 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 18, in page 13, line 6, at end insert—

`(c) an analysis of the cost of implementing such plans.'.

We are making good progress. We have had some lively debates on the matter. We should not necessarily wear out the sky if we receive satisfaction on the matter of needs. Reading the debates that took place in the other place, I gained the impression that Ministers were a little coy on that subject. The Minister will know what I mean from previous conversations. I shall not trespass on any confidences. I wish only to reproduce what I said to her. One factor that gave us pause in introducing the full import of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was the potential cost. Clause 14 is about preparing accessibility, strategies and plans. It is a local education authority and a schools clause, and it is welcome. However, it makes the point that there are important consequences for schools' finances if the DDA requirements are to be enacted.

In a sense—this is a precursor to discussions that we may have at a later stage on post-16 education—much of the loading may be post-16 and it would be inappropriate to bring in this measure at this point. It may well be more relevant later on. I am talking not only about further education colleges: universities also have problems. Nevertheless, considering the schools' budget alone, I notice a certain coyness on the part of the Government in coming clean about the cost of the measures.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State and others spoke of the schools access initiative. I certainly welcome any additional funds that can be made available. As the Minister will know, an interesting analysis has been made of the work of the schools access initiative so far, and she may want to say a little about that. It was somewhat uneven. It was good if schools were already on the net and had access, but it was not so good if they had not heard of the system, had not done much with it or had not got round to participating in it. Part of the argument for the planning duty may be that, as all local authorities will have to produce such plans, they will even themselves up in relation to schools access.

I am sure that, were he present, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings would say that in his experience there is a huge disparity of need. Some LEAs have already worked hard at access, whereas others have not left first base. Assuming that plans are made on a reasonably coherent basis, we should know more about what needs to be done. In fairness, that can be done over a prescribed period—to use a word that appears in the clause. Ministers have helpfully suggested that resources would be available for much of that time.

I shall make two points in asking the Minister to be more explicit about what is available. First, let us suppose that LEAs complete their accessibility plans and find that the cost of implementation exceeds the solution figure--even the amount that the Government have put aside--so there is not enough money to go round. That is a likely scenario in terms of capital. Ministers must realise what they have done because they will have to decide how to scale back or re-phase the timing. That may be realistic for physical mobility problems, but Ministers will need to know what to do.

Secondly, there is the question of current spend. As I said to the Committee, in most cases, additional capital expenditure is likely to generate additional revenue costs, however welcome and supported by the schools access initiative and the standards fund. That is partly because of the physical maintenance of the new assets that have been acquired, as even something as simple as a ramp has to be kept shipshape when people have difficulty with mobility. If they are wheelchair users, they cannot have their position compromised.

The same is true of much of the software—I mean the softer items that are needed to achieve access. The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) referred to the importance of signage and lighting. I know from my own work in the disability area that those things are hugely important. However, they do not come for nothing, although that is not a cop-out or an excuse for not providing them. We need to bear in mind the fact that they are likely to have some revenue consequences.

The issues of employees and disabled teachers are not explicitly included in the Bill. People with disabilities such as we have referred to should not be excluded from teaching. Many of them would be good at it.

I am not suggesting that the Minister should not attempt to do the things I have outlined, but she knows what being a Minister is like and she will have regard to resources. Those matters are always complex in the context of schools—I except the post-16 sector for the moment—because they involve LEA resources, central Government resources and initiatives, elements of match funding and how one attracts it and whether it comes from within the public sector or from outside. The private finance initiative is another factor. All those things might go into the pot, especially on the capital side, but there are likely to be revenue implications about which the Government have not been clear. I am not implying that they are being disingenuous. It may simply be that we cannot know what is happening until we have had a chance to consider the matter.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

The hon. Gentleman's amendment raises an important issue. However, to judge from the debate in the other place and the response from the various voluntary organisations and trade unions involved in this work in the schools, there seems to be a reasonable consensus that the Government have made financial commitments that would considerably improve and open out accessibility for people with disabilities. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman may be labouring the point a little, given that debate and the subsequent response from all those who will be directly involved in the work.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 3:30 pm, 29th March 2001

The hon. Gentleman speaks from experience and we are not having a contentious debate—nor do I do intend to do so. We are conscious of what was said in the other place, but that does not absolve us from having a debate here. We are conscious, too, of the interests of other providers. The hon. Gentleman may have misinterpreted my remarks as suggesting that a barrier exists, that more resources will not be forthcoming and that, to put it in vulgar terms, it is all a big con on the part of the Government, but I am not arguing that. The Government will make some money available in pursuit of a laudable aim—to reduce disability discrimination, or introduce civil rights for disabled people, throughout the range of education. It is something of a voyage of discovery. We do not know how much it will cost, how far it will have to go or what the overall revenue consequences will be.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak

The hon. Gentleman must surely concede that, as with the Disability Discrimination Act, an awful lot can be done through spending very little money. People can learn about how to behave when their lips are being read, about deciding on decor with disability in mind when repainting the walls, or choosing books with a more accessible font.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not feel embarrassed if I say that I could not agree more. I spend a good part of my time going around the country saying, ``You can do it; find a way'', which is true.

Some of the new 2004 duties under the Act relate to physical access, although not specifically to education. We do not get such provision for nothing. The proposal may be relatively expensive, and it will have revenue consequences. I am not saying that we shall not improve access--that would caricature the Government's position. We believe that the Bill will improve the position, and we welcome that. However, as local authorities and Governments have other priorities, we must have a slightly better sense of how it will all stack up.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Is the hon. Gentleman not worried that the amendment might create a further barrier to improving access in schools? In my experience of working in the voluntary sector and as a school governor, different costs are involved for exactly the same work. Quotes are much more expensive for work for public and statutory organisations than for voluntary organisations, charities or village halls. The hon. Gentleman's proposal might result in an unrealistic demand for resources when, as the hon. Member for High Peak suggests, there might be more imaginative ways around the problems that have been identified.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I do not want to suggest that there is a consensus throughout the Committee when there may not be, but I am sensitive to the hon. Gentleman's points. If he will accept it from me, I assure him that I am not trying to make difficulties for the Government. I am saying that, realistically, if the Government commit themselves to a policy, there is a price tag. It may be one that they fully appreciate, in which case they should say so now. It may be one that they need to work out with others and will need to know about later on. If it turns out to be more than they have anticipated and the policy becomes difficult to deliver, they will have to retime their expenditure, cut it back or take it from other priorities.

Photo of Laura Moffatt Laura Moffatt Labour, Crawley

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that an accessibility plan as proposed in the clause will help local authorities, especially with new build? Goodness knows plenty of opportunities are now available. Authorities will save plenty of money if due regard is given to accessibility when new buildings are developed, rather than having to spend a lot of money later trying to adapt buildings. Does he not consider that a great advantage?

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Again, at the risk of embarrassing the hon. Lady, I could not agree more. It is appropriate to do that when a new build is being considered. Reasonable adjustments and necessary adaptations can be introduced at very low cost. That is fine. I know that the hon. Lady's constituency is a new town, but parts of Crawley contain old buildings. Not so long ago, I visited a sixth form college in Stourbridge, which was founded in 1551. It is very reputable and has some modern buildings, but it has an historical ambience and old buildings that are more difficult to adapt. We need some idea of what can be done, and we need to take a realistic approach. That is not contentious. We want to smoke out the Government's views on the approach to take, and their likely strategy should the cost prove greater than they thought or are prepared to acknowledge.

I agree strongly that the need is for low-cost adjustments, and the hon. Member for High Peak is right to say that there is a danger that people will cop out, saying, ``It'll cost a fortune, guv, and it can't be done''. It usually can be done, and I welcome that. On occasion, my own local authority has been unwilling to provide disability access, even on rebuild within an existing shell, despite my fighting hard for it. It has got out of doing so because of the previous state of the building regulations. I also agree with the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. George) that the voluntary sector contains many examples of perfectly viable solutions at a much lower cost. That differs from the local authority mindset—I am not trying to be derogatory—that requires a Rolls-Royce solution to any problem, regardless of its nature.

We are approaching the matter with a degree of flexibility, and we want the legislation to work. We should pause a little to establish the Government's estimate of the cost, and whether they want to aggregate it on hearing of the local authorities' accessibility plans. We also want to know about their resourcing contingency plan. Were we to create a monster that we could not resource, and to undertake commitments that we could not fulfil, we would be failing to serve the interests of a process in which we are all engaged.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about this issue. He mentioned that the previous Government shelved such a measure because they were afraid of the cost implications—particularly in respect of higher education. However, I should remind him that the National Union of Teachers and SCOPE, in association with Coopers Lybrand—given that accountancy firms change their names frequently, it may no longer be called by that name—initiated a study some five years ago. They have produced some excellent work and given good advice to local authorities and schools. Their most recent report ``Within Reach'' was launched only a few weeks ago at the Institute of Directors. Given the venue, I found it difficult to attend but I managed to steel myself. That work shows the considerable preparation that has gone into the Bill, and enabled the Government to introduce it confident that a real difference can be made.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

I have little difficulty with what the hon. Gentleman says: a tremendous amount has been done, and I welcome that. I have no ideological difficulty with attending the Institute of Directors or one or two other places that I could mention; nor do I have a problem with getting support for the provision. In fact, the hon. Gentleman performed a further service to the Committee by making the important point—which was embedded in other contributions—that it is vital to secure the understanding of the sector. I agree entirely that one needs the teachers at the front line, with the governors, LEAs, pupils and parents also engaged in taking matters forward.

A great deal of good work has been done, but we do not have the menu--in either euros or pounds--so it may be more expensive than we think. We must face up to the resource implications, which have to be managed. I hope that at the end of the process we can reach the Government's objectives on disability discrimination. However, I am anxious that we do not nod through a measure that we have not costed. There must be no recriminations because we have had to pay three times as much as we expected, or have had to commit to other priorities at the time. I hope that does not happen.

It is important that Ministers not only will the end—however good it may be—but the means to provide it. In a moment, the Minister will tell us that she is doing a great deal, which I accept and do not want to argue about. Nevertheless, do we know what is needed? Do we know how much the plans cost and can we ultimately sustain them?

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I want to respond to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Daventry. I must say that there is probably a consensus in the Committee on the issue that he has raised. However, I am uncertain whether establishing that principle through the amendment as worded would help to improve access to schools.

I shall further elucidate the point that I made during my intervention on the hon. Gentleman. For many years, I have been concerned about the way in which LEAs tender for capital works in schools. From my experience working in the charitable sector, I know that it is possible to build small village halls or playgroup centres for £40,000 to £45,000, which includes bringing services on to a greenfield site. New single classrooms that are bolted on to existing sites cost a minimum of £100,000 to £110,000. I must therefore question whether we have a system that can obtain adequate value for money. I have deep concerns about the way in which local government operates given my experience of both sides of the equation in the charitable sector and local government,

I would be worried if LEAs—there are good LEAs and not so good LEAs—were given the task of establishing plans to calculate the cost of improving accessibility to schools in the local authority area. If that were the case, we could end up with frightening and unrealistic figures that would put LEAs off, and would lead to doubts about whether it would be right and appropriate to go ahead with the policy. Indeed, the timetables that we hope LEAs will meet would be called into question, and LEAs could appeal to the Government to phase the accessibility requirements that we want schools to establish over a longer period.

For those reasons, I have misgivings about the practicalities of inserting the amendment. I agree that a cautious approach and an understanding of the ball park figures in local authority areas is the correct way forward, but it would be wrong to include the amendment.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:45 pm, 29th March 2001

I have some experience of when accessibility was introduced into the retail sector. No one disputes that disabled people should have a right to equal accessibility, and that was implemented in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. However, no one bales out private companies, and they had to consider carefully how to implement the provisions. Better off companies could bring in builders to provide a Rolls-Royce version, but great ingenuity was applied and disability groups and interested parties were helpful. I know from experience that getting disability groups to discuss how to improve accessibility was very successful. It was also good business since, if a shop is more accessible, it is available to more customers.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

If there are 8.5 million disabled people in this country and we allow for a reasonable multiplier to account for their carers and family, 20 million people may be involved, which is between 30 and 40 per cent. of the population. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want to lose between 30 and 40 per cent. of his customers.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not follow down that road.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

I agree, Mr. O'Brien.

The point I am trying to make is that budgets in the private sector are limited, but much has been achieved under the 1995 Act. However, I am concerned about the LEA system and I have some experience of it. As the hon. Member for St. Ives said, when it is known that a contract emanates from an LEA, tenders do not always reflect the true market value. We all know what happens with public sector tenders, and there is often less flexibility.

Schools and LEAs may consider different ways of implementing provisions, and some schools, bearing in mind the pressure they are under, may try to say that it is for the LEA to fund the work while the LEA may say that it is for the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry made a valid point. There is consensus, and we do not want to impede the provisions, but we must have some idea of how they will be implemented.

There will also be local differences, and some areas will have many schools that are difficult to adapt. In the London borough of Hillingdon, some further education sites and listed buildings are being closed--although the provision will be continued--and sold to the private sector because the cost of converting them for accessibility is too high for the local authority. Local authorities must make difficult decisions.

The hon. Member for High Peak referred to lifts, which must be considered but which include a maintenance cost. Again, I know from experience of an old shop that the cost of installing and maintaining a lift is substantial and companies must budget for it. I do have concerns, and the problem must be considered. It is easy to say what we want when in Opposition, but it is up to the Government to fund it. We are suggesting an audit, so to speak, of what would be needed, so that the costs would be recognisable. I must point out a problem to my hon. Friend, however. I do not know what approach one would use in examining the costs. It would depend; tenders might be expected. We want to flag up our concern about the possibility of greater overall costs—or just to find out the implications of what is proposed.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak

Given the inadequacies of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 it has been a pleasure this afternoon to hear the fervour of converts from the Opposition Benches. I am against the amendment, partly for the reasons explained by the hon. Member for St. Ives and partly for the reason just given by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. The first thing that an adaptability strategy needs is assessment of need. Need is independent of the availability of money. After assessing need, one must assess priorities and look for the easy-win parts of the strategy—those that can be implemented quickly, easily and cheaply. At that point one considers a time scale for implementing the rest. Those elements add up to an accessibility strategy, which is not initially dependent on cost.

It was right to table the amendment, and for us to debate the issue. For four years, before I came to the House, I advised local authorities on making services and information accessible to people with disabilities. I am only sorry that I shall not have the opportunity, in a few weeks' time, to return to that profession, which I enjoyed. If I learned one lesson, it was that the cost of getting things wrong is much greater than the cost of getting them right. It is very important that the right provision is set up, the right advice is taken and needs are tackled in the right way.

I would, although it would involve a cost, include in the access strategy an element of awareness training: disability awareness, deaf awareness and visual awareness training for staff. To pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley, I commend anyone who is building an infants school to visit Chapel-en-le-Frith infants school in my constituency. In my maiden speech, I condemned that school—well, I think that it had been condemned already—for its wholly inadequate buildings. On one side of the road was a rotting Victorian building and on the other were leaking 40-year-old huts.

Within six weeks of my coming here, the Department for Education and Employment wrote to me saying, ``Here is £1.75 million. Go and build a new school.'' It is an enhanced resource school, with a very big special needs department. There are children with disabilities in the school, and it was built with them in mind from the word go. Even the window sills are only about 2 ft from the floor, which means that the children can look out the window. That is almost unique in an infant school. The design is excellent because the requirements of the children—and in particular of special needs children—were kept in mind throughout.

My final point on accessibility strategies is that it is not only the children and further education students who benefit. In a few weeks' time, many schools will be used as polling stations in one election or another, and people who vote will benefit.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about polling stations. In 1997 I was an election agent and discovered that quite a few polling stations in schools were not accessible. Also, five or six years ago, a local authority put up a nice structure on a sports ground, accessible for disabled people, with suitable toilets and so on. The only point at which those responsible forgot what they were about was when they put in a step. It is necessary to keep a careful eye on planning throughout, or there will be what can only be described as a cock-up.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak

The hon. Gentleman is right. Scope reported after the previous two general elections on the non-accessibility of polling stations—often in schools. High Peak has always emerged well from those assessments. I was about to sit down, but I shall take another intervention.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

It would be useful to record that at least three members of the Committee—the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), the hon. Member for St. Ives, and I—participated yesterday at lunch time, just across the road, in launching the Polls Apart campaign on the accessibility of polling stations. It is an important campaign, and whatever action we can take may improve access to schools.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not follow that trail.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities)

That useful exchange follows a lengthy debate on those matters when the clause was considered in another place, and those matters concern the disability rights task force a great deal. Sadly, the hon. Member for Uxbridge has left his seat, so I shall address my remarks to the hon. Member for St. Ives. We do not suggest that all schools should be accessible immediately. Everyone recognises that increased accessibility needs to be planned, which is why the Bill imposes those planning duties on LEAs. However, it must clearly be done within resources.

I can tell the hon. Member for Daventry that we are far from being coy. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak on the work that he has done on behalf of disabled people and his commitment to them as a Member of Parliament. The duties will start for schools in 2002; recognising the greater complexity in the post-16 sector, the basic duties will start in September 2002; the duties of auxiliary aids will start in 2003; and the changes to physical features for the post-16 sector will start in 2005. That is part of the sensible planning in which we are engaged.

The amendment is unnecessary because those planning to increase accessibility schools, including post-16 institutions, would need to bear in mind the resources available. With as many as 24,000 schools, and a huge range of post-16 institutions, and with no work having been done yet, it is difficult accurately to estimate the cost of securing total accessibility.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

The Minister is, of course, right in saying that schools would have to have regard to the resources available. Indeed, that might be a reasonable defence. Is it not implicit in some of the financial material embodied in the explanatory notes, that the Secretary of State should take an increasingly well-informed view on the overall cost to the sector, not least because from time to time he will have to speak with the Chancellor to obtain the necessary resources?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities)

Our Secretary of State has been incredibly successful in securing resources for that and for other aspects. We are proud to have £220 million to spend during the coming three years on school access. I do not wish to bring politics into the arena, but we shall be spending 10 times as much on accessibility to school buildings as was spent in the last year of the previous Government. I can tell the hon. Member for Daventry that we could help future Secretaries of State in their negotiations with the Treasury. In guidance, we could underpin the duty to plan with a note that the plan should include the planning body's analysis of the costs. That might support the negotiations that would need to take place with the Treasury.

I can tell the several members of the Committee who have raised the subject that the recently published ``Within Reach'' report has given us a helpful steer. It will assist our continuing evaluation of the schools access initiative.

It might help if hon. Members understood some distinctions. Within the context of reasonable adjustments that restrict or inform schools' duties, schools will not be required to make adjustments for physical features when they deal with individual children who want to exercise their rights under disability discrimination legislation. The physical adjustments will come through the planning duty on LEAs. That is part of the increasing accessibility over time that is tied in with our plans.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak referred to the sort of measures that schools will have to take. They will include adjusting timetabling of disabled students' lessons, ensuring that those who use wheelchairs have their lessons on the ground floor and do not have to go to the top floor if there is no lift, and ensuring that library books are brought to them if the library is inaccessible.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 4:00 pm, 29th March 2001

Will the Minister elucidate a little more on the responsibilities of the LEAs? I am concerned that certain LEAs may want to resist pushing forward with accessibility plans, because they have other priorities or simply cannot be bothered. To do so, they might deliberately inflate the costs of accessibility. What methods will be used to ensure that the estimated costs of accessibility plans for specific schools are realistic, and are not inflated to suppress development?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Employment) (Employment and Equal Opportunities)

The Secretary of State will have the power or duty—I am not sure which—to assess those plans. That will give us one mechanism. Another is Ofsted, which will be involved in assessing accessibility to school buildings as a result of an amendment agreed in another place.

We have never suggested that no costs are related to the duties, or that we have a clear view of how far they extend. However, we are clear about wanting to increase accessibility. We have made extra resources available and will have to review them over time. Some of the costs are explained in the regulatory impact assessment and the explanatory notes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley raised the important point that the planning process was a way in which sensible decisions could be made, so we did not need the amendment to inform or restrict the process. That process will ensure that we will proceed with the augmentation of accessibility to school buildings at appropriate times when resources are available.

Before I move on, I want to deal with some issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend, who made a massive contribution when he had responsibility for educational issues as a Welsh Minister before devolution. It is worth mentioning the great advances in accessibility that have been made in Wales, although, interestingly, it has not had a separate schools access initiative. LEAs in Wales have been able to draw on significant additional resources from the Assembly's new deal moneys and the additional capital funding for schools programme. Also, the additional £85 million allocated from 2001-02 to 2003-04 for school building has provided £300 million for schools in Wales for those three years.

The Assembly has also significantly increased, in absolute and percentage terms, the money available for special educational needs priorities under its GEST programme—grants for education, support and training. So there is much to celebrate about the way that these issues have been progressed in Wales, and I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend for his role in that.

We must take a commonsense approach to the issue. Schools will have to plan according to the resources available to them. They will be under a duty to implement their plans, so they will have to make sure that they plan only for what they can deliver. It would be wrong for us to be prescriptive in telling schools how to go about the planning process. They will need to prioritise and allocate resources according to those priorities.

I have already referred to the schools access initiative and the £220 million that we have made available. I add, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Daventry, that, year on year, we are increasing the revenue moneys available not only for education, but as a direct allocation to schools to enable them to meet their priorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak said that accessibility was not just about physical access to high buildings, but about access to the curriculum. That is a key part of ensuring that the rights of disabled children in schools are upheld. That is why I am proud of the extra money that we have been able to put into the standards fund. We have a record expenditure level of £26 million this year, much of which goes on training and development for teachers to ensure that they are sensitive to the needs of disabled children. This year's expenditure is greater than last year's, and next year, expenditure will increase to £30 million from the overall special educational needs standards fund of £84 million. That will be spent on SEN training, so that LEAs will be free to spend more. We also should never forget that, nowadays, every governing body has greater freedom to choose how to allocate its budget share.

I am conscious that the Committee has worked hard this afternoon, but I want to mention another issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak. Accessibility, both to the school and to the curriculum, is often about much more than resources. I refer to it endlessly when I speak about disability issues, in the House and elsewhere. It is crucial that we change attitudes and culture. Even in discussions with teachers and head teachers, it is clear that we have a long way to go to change attitudes and cultures. People need to think about their attitudes and misconceptions. A little change in attitude, without any money at all, can make all the difference to an individual child's ability to develop his or her full potential and have equality of opportunity in the system. The ``Within Reach'' report made some important findings about attitudes towards including pupils, especially those with physical and sensory impairments. We are conscious of the improvements that have been made, but we equally conscious that there is a long way to go—and probably a long way to go among Members of Parliament to understand how unthinkingly we often discriminate against disabled people or impede their full participation in society simply by what we do or how we behave. Inclusion and accessibility do not demand resources but we must work on them.

In conclusion, the amendment is unnecessary and I ask the hon. Member for Daventry to withdraw it. I am grateful to the Committee for the informed debate that we have had this afternoon.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

May I start on a note of consensus by saying that I could not agree more with what the Minr said in her conclusion about attitudes to disability issues. If she wants to form a road show to go round the country to say such things in tune, we shall join her. I often say that the most important adjustments are not physical but mental or psychological—people becoming alert to the needs of disabled people who, let us remember, are people first and have a disability second. It is a question of how to deal with them, to meet their commercial needs, as the exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge suggested, and to treat them as fully participating members of society. All that need not cost any money to start with, but there is a fall-out from it.

Like the Minister, I welcome the tone of the debate; realistically, we will not have a precise figure at any one moment. As she says, when an LEA is planning an individual institution or an accessibility strategy, it must have regard to the level of resources available and may spread the process over time. There are real merits in integration, and I was especially pleased that the Minister mentioned that individual plans could have costs attached; that is realistic. However, there is also an important undertow—from my experience in my constituency of building works funded by schools' capital, people see one coming. If there is a local authority flavour to a tender, up it goes. I shall not go on about that, but it is terribly important that we get as much done in the most economical way that we can; the debate has been helpful for that.

I am conscious of a slight error of omission, which may have occurred because the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) is not in Committee this afternoon. Having talked about the Polls Apart initiative, in which three of us participated, it was quite wrong of me not to mention that the hon. Lady came to give a Scottish flavour to the proceedings—not that a general election is anything other than a United Kingdom election. We all joined in, as we should.

Although resources are always the subject of political contention, trying to find the most sensible way forward for disability access to the services in the widest sense that schools provide is what we are all about. We have had a good rehearsal of the matter; we have had some new insights; we have some helpful responses from the Minister. Things may not be as easy as she hopes; there will be thrills, spills, and even shortages of cash ahead, but we are all pointed in the same direction. Having explained our general attitude to the disability provisions of the Bill earlier, I will not spoil things by pressing for a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 and 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Betts.]

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes past Four o'clock till Tuesday 3 April at half half-past Ten o'clock.