HC Deb 19 December 1989 vol 164 cc179-80
1. Mr. Livsey

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on his policy to ensure that safety in schools is maintained.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

My right hon. Friend's policy is to assist local education authorities and governing bodies in meeting their legal responsibilities for reasonably ensuring safety in schools by providing advice and guidance and maintaining oversight of matters of particular interest and importance.

Mr. Livsey

On my birthday, 2 May, the Under-Secretary of State promised my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that further action would be taken about the risks in schools for the safety of children, especially the general state of disrepair into which many schools have fallen and the fire risk. Last year, there were 25 school fires costing £250,000 each. What has the Minister done to provide further resources and what plans does she have to provide for the greater safety of our school children?

Mrs. Rumbold

First, all local authorities and governing bodies have a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 and the fire safety regulations to ensure that school buildings are safe. The hon. Gentleman will know from the Autumn Statement that annual capital guidelines of £485 million of expenditure have been announced, together with a percentage of capital receipts which will be available to local authorities for expenditure on repairs, maintenance and desirable improvements of schools. That is additional money and rather better than the figure of £352 million for capital expenditure in this current year.

Dr. Glyn

Is my hon. Friend aware of the excellent work done by St. John Ambulance which teaches first aid in schools? Will she ensure that a first aid course is compulsory in all schools?

Mrs. Rumbold

I thank my hon. Friend for that remark. I am well aware of the importance of the work of the St. John Ambulance brigade. We are looking at the guidance on first aid issued to schools and hope that it will be sufficient. If necessary, we shall strengthen it.

Ms. Armstrong

How can the Minister be content with the safety of staff and children in schools when she and her hon. Friends are presiding over a backlog of £3 billion worth of repairs?

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Lady should be careful how she uses figures. The £3 billion to which she referred was for desirable repairs, £1 billion of which were postulated in a buildings report three years ago. Inevitably, some of those repairs must have been made as local authorities have had £1.6 billion available to spend over the past three years.