The inspection initiatives highlighted a number of common issues. Some schools were found to have no written asbestos management plan, or had documentation

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that had been allowed to go out of date. Other common faults were a lack of asbestos training for in-house staff likely to disturb asbestos, and poor communication with contractors and other visitors about where asbestos was located.

To tackle those issues, our review proposes new measures to increase the transparency of asbestos management and the scrutiny of those responsible for it. We are now consulting on the best way to collect information from schools on how they manage their asbestos. We propose to ask those responsible for asbestos management in schools to confirm that their schools have an up-to-date management plan. We also plan to ask them if they are carrying out regular management activities, such as implementing procedures to prevent the disturbance of asbestos and communicating with staff and visitors about the presence of asbestos in a school. Once the Department holds this information, it will be able to take appropriate action to ensure that cases of inadequate management are addressed. This will be a significant step towards improving awareness and compliance, and ensuring that the proper management of asbestos is a priority in all schools that contain it.

I underline that this is ongoing work and we will be consulting. Inevitably, that consultation will run into the period of the next Government. The next Government will therefore also have to take some key decisions, which is why momentum is very important. In response to the specific question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole, I underline that our expectations will be on all duty holders, whether local authorities, individuals schools or chains, to ensure that they are doing that job properly, and we will want to be satisfied that that is the case.

Thirdly, we want to improve the evidence base on the risks posed by asbestos in schools. The review highlights the lack of contemporary evidence about the levels of asbestos fibres present in schools. This is due partly to the limitations of existing techniques for sampling asbestos fibres in the air, but if we can design a reliable study it would be a significant step forward in our understanding of the risks and therefore how best to minimise them. We are working actively with the Health and Safety Executive to establish the feasibility and optimal design of a major new study into the background level of asbestos fibres in schools, and we expect the study to begin by 2016.

Finally, we will continue to invest in the school estate in a way that ensures asbestos can be dealt with adequately, so that over time and where appropriate we see a reduction in the number of school buildings with asbestos-containing materials. In the course of this Parliament, the Government are spending a total of nearly £18 billion on school buildings and new school places. On top of that, in February 2015 we announced a further £6.2 billion of funding to maintain and improve the condition of the school estate going into the next Parliament. Our extensive capital investment programme is targeted at those schools in the worst condition. Where appropriate, we reflect the risks posed by asbestos when making funding decisions. We give local decision makers the funding they need to prioritise asbestos-related works. By improving the condition of the school buildings in the worst condition, our capital programmes will reduce the presence of asbestos in the estate and the risks posed by the remaining asbestos.

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The first phase of our Priority School Building programme is rebuilding or addressing the condition need of 261 schools in the worst state of repair. The vast majority of these schools are being rebuilt and so will have any asbestos removed when the existing buildings are demolished. The second phase of the Priority School Building programme, which we announced recently, will address condition need in a further 277 schools. We primarily used information from the property data survey to assess the scale and severity of condition need. However, we also gave applicants the opportunity to identify significant issues that would not have been identified through the property data survey, for example where the costs of safely managing asbestos are excessive and are of such significance as to affect the integrity of the building. All applications that stated that their school has a significant asbestos-related issue and provided relevant supporting documentation, were assessed by independent technical advisers. We took this assessment into account when prioritising the blocks to be included in the programme. All successful blocks within Priority School Building programme 2 will have asbestos issues dealt with appropriately, whether they were raised as a specific concern in the application process or not, because we might discover some of these issues when we go on-site.

We also directly fund the maintenance and improvement of academies and sixth-form colleges through the academies

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capital maintenance fund and the building condition improvement fund for sixth-form colleges, which are now being combined into the new condition improvement fund. A number of these schemes involve the removal of asbestos—for example, where an academy is replacing its boilers and pipework—and we also allow academies and sixth-form colleges to bid to this fund where they have significant asbestos that is proving difficult to manage.

Asbestos can be managed effectively—and is being managed effectively in the vast majority of schools. The review we published last week is just the latest step in these ongoing efforts. Working together, we can ensure that asbestos is managed effectively in all schools and over time in a safe and an evidence-based way. As the school estate is modernised and replaced, asbestos will be removed from school buildings.

I welcome today’s debate and the contributions from all hon. Members who have participated. Through our school building programme and the measures announced in the review, I hope that we will ensure that the schools estate is a safe environment for all pupils and teachers.

Question put and agreed to.

6.50 pm

House adjourned.