Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, while I am grateful for my noble friend's reply, as I was for my noble friend Lady Blackstone's response to my amendments on inclusive education in Grand Committee, I should like others interested in the amendment to have an opportunity to consider what my noble friend has said and to reflect on the remaining opportunities still open to them to press their case further. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 90:

("( ) In preparing their accessibility strategy, each local education authority must include the estimated costs, at current prices, of the implementation of such improvements, and must if the cost cannot be found locally forward to the Secretary of State these estimated costs with a request for capital grant to cover those costs for the years in question.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 93, 96, 147, 148 and 149.

In Committee, we grouped together a large number of amendments for which the central theme was that measures taken in the implementation of the requirements of the Bill need to be costed. Those costs have to be met before implementation can be effected. That still seems to me an eminently sensible approach to the Bill but one which the Government Front Bench dismiss as being totally unnecessary. I hope that the Ministers have reread our deliberations in Committee, as I have, and will now conclude that those amendments contain the key to the effectiveness of the whole Bill and cannot be so lightly brushed aside.

The specific requirements of the Bill must be properly costed. That is all the amendments ask for: transparency and some realism so that everyone knows what the challenge is. Having been costed, if they are to be materially developed, they must be properly funded. In practice, the Bill will take us no further forward in helping children and young persons with disability or learning difficulties. It will merely lie on the statute book, no more than aspirational.

Much has already been done as a result of previous legislation. I know that those actively concerned for these young people welcome the progress made since the early 1980s. Clearly those people will expect that

20 Feb 2001 : Column 769

progress will be maintained. Their hopes will have been raised by the introduction of this Bill and their hopes will be dashed if nothing practical comes from it.

The first group of the amendments seek to amend the provisions whereby local education authorities, maintained schools and independent schools must in future lay down and publish plans as to measures they will take to improve still further access to and provision within these schools and institutions for pupils with learning difficulties and/or disability. Such plans have to be forward plans and updated each year.

Amendment No. 90 says:

    "In preparing their accessibility strategy, each local education authority must include the estimated costs, at current prices, of the implementation of such improvements, and must if the cost cannot be found locally"--

I stress those words--

    "forward to the Secretary of State these estimated costs with a request for capital grant to cover those costs for the years in question".

Other amendments relevant to schools were similarly phrased, except that in the Bill the plans are called accessibility strategies when done by an LEA and accessibility plans when done by a school.

I have also suggested that the provision that the costings for the plan or strategy for maintained schools should be covered by a request for grant from the Secretary of State should also apply to independent schools, except that seeking a grant from the Secretary of State would be optional. In either case, the LEAs and the schools would be exempt from implementing the plans if they had no funds to do so.

At one point in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, seemed to think that we were asking for money merely to prepare the plans. He is right that the preparation of the plans--the surveys, the architect's fees and so on--will be costly, but that will be as nothing compared with the cost of implementing them. We have sought to focus on the implementation of the plans.

It is pointless for a local authority to go to the expense every year of preparing detailed plans of what needs to be done in all its schools and institutions if the much greater expense of putting those plans into effect is not likely to be forthcoming in the near future. Similarly, the legal obligation on independent schools to prepare annual plans--it is not just an option in the Bill--will be costly. Again, it would be a pointless exercise unless the schools had access to the finance needed to implement them.

Although Ministers will refer to the vast sums already made available to LEAs and schools, the financial appraisal in the Bill is still unrealistic. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, tossed in the figure of 220 million available to schools in England through the schools access initiative, but even that is over three years, so it amounts to about 70 million per year, spread over 25,000 schools. It looks slightly different in that light.

20 Feb 2001 : Column 770

We also need to bear in mind that local authorities are already saying that they do not have enough money even to implement the recent teachers' pay award. They certainly have no spare cash waiting to be spent on the Bill.

We have tabled further amendments to provide that all proposed capital works, extra staffing or extra facilities need to be properly costed and funded.

Clause 40, which is entitled, "Expenses of the Secretary of State", says:

    "There shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament any increase attributable to this Act in the sums so payable under any other enactment".

As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, kindly said in Committee:

    "The Bill currently makes no provision for expenditure".--[Official Report, 6/2/01; col. CWH 213.]

That puts the issue in a nutshell. Without provision for expenditure in the Bill, what are we to believe? I do not mind how the Government choose to put teeth into Clause 40, but teeth it must have. Amendments Nos. 147, 148 and 149 would alter Clause 40 to read:

    "There shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament the increases in expenditure"--

not just any increases--

    "attributable to this Act".

Deleting the final words of the clause, which provide that the money, if any, will come out of provisions made under Acts of Parliament, will ensure that Parliament will have to provide money for the costs of this particular Act. Leaving the money to be squeezed out of other existing allocations will result in no money at all. If there is nothing left, nothing can be squeezed out.

The Act will have to be funded, if it is funded at all, by both direct capital and revenue grants specifically designated for the implementation of the provisions of the Act. The Secretary of State cannot do that until he knows how much it will all cost and until each school and local authority costs its forward plans, both capital and revenue expenditure, and forwards the costs to the Secretary of State. All of this depends at the very start on a clear and specific commitment from the Government that the Bill can, and will be, specifically funded.

I say that because the day-to-day core funding of education authorities and cascading down into schools, does not at present allow flexibility for substantial extra spending on a new Bill which is about to become a legal obligation for both LEAs and their schools. Therefore, it is a question of injecting some realism.

I am sure that whoever responds to this amendment will find it difficult to respond to the financial side of my request for putting these matters on the face of the Bill. I have some sympathy with any response which is made in that regard. However, I believe it is important to at least meet the requirement for costing and to have some understanding of where and how those resources will be met so that local authorities and schools are enabled to make the Bill a reality. I beg to move.

20 Feb 2001 : Column 771

1.45 a.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I fear that the effect of these amendments would be to erect barriers to increasing the accessibility of schools to pupils with disabilities. As I said before in Committee, these amendments are unnecessary and potentially burdensome. In preparing their strategies and plans LEAs and schools must take into account the anticipated resources which will be available to them over the planning period. The duty is to plan within the resources available to the responsible body. That is implicit in the Bill. It does not require spelling out, but I am happy to confirm that that is the case.

The proposal that responsible bodies should forward their estimates to the Secretary of State creates another burden. It seeks to take away the initiative from LEAs and schools to plan locally from the resources available to them and to make their planning decisions dependent on the central government's decisions. We fear that it might give some of them the excuse for doing very little.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, suggested in Committee that we are raising the hopes of people only to dash them. We are doing nothing of the sort. We are creating a new duty and applying it in a commonsense way which reflects the reality of the schools. That will reassure people that we are creating a sustainable duty which will continue over time to increase the accessibility of schools to disabled people.

As the noble Baroness indicated, we are making substantial additional resources available to the Schools Access Initiative. I know that she derided it as an insignificant amount. Next year it will be five times the amount available in 1996, so the Government are serious about ensuring that schools receive additional resources. Support for capital over the next three years is increasing substantially. Those are some of the resources that are available to the LEAs and schools.

These are not just aspirational plans, but plans which the schools and the LEAs must implement. We have properly considered the questions of cost. The duty of the local authorities and the schools is to plan to increase accessibility over time. None of us expects vast improvements to be achieved overnight or even in one year. We require that responsible bodies should have plans consistent with the available resources.

The noble Baroness raised again the question of the ability of independent schools to make plans and to implement them without new resources. We of course maintain that disabled pupils should benefit from the planning duty in whatever school they are educated. There can be no exceptions. Our proposals are reasonable in terms of resource implications for all schools.

In preparing their plans, independent schools will need to take into account anticipated resources that will be available to them. We do not assume, as the noble Baroness suggested in Committee, that independent schools will have a pot of gold to spend on improvements to improve access, but we think it fair to require them to plan within the resources available to them.

20 Feb 2001 : Column 772

The Government maintain that the planning requirements are obligatory on all educational institutions. We recognise that planning over a period is involved, but we have given a clear earnest of our intent about how to develop the Bill's policies.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page