Clause 14 - Accessibility Strategies and Plans

Part of Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 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) 3:30 pm, 29th March 2001

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.