I appreciate and share your concern about this very serious issue and I agree that we need to do more to ensure that our schools, workplaces and buildings are safe and free from asbestos.
As you know, this is a long-standing problem with many schools that were built and subsequently refurbished in the decades following the Second World War. In February 2017, the National Audit Office reported that asbestos remains a significant and potentially dangerous issue in most schools.
I sympathise profoundly with anyone whose life has been blighted and shortened by asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma and it is concerning that Britain currently has the highest mesothelioma incidence in the world. The Committee on Carcinogenicity, which assesses and gives advice on carcinogenic risk, has said that exposure of children to asbestos is likely to make them more vulnerable to developing mesothelioma than exposure of adults to an equivalent asbestos dose.
In 2017, the Government reported on asbestos management data collected in 2016 from around a quarter of schools. Of these, 83% reported that asbestos was present on their school estate. The research also found that around 20% of schools were not fully compliant with legislation and guidance, in that they did not have fully documented plans, processes and procedures in place at the time of the data collection; or did not know if asbestos was present.
The Government has stated that while asbestos will be removed over time from the school estate as part of any rebuilding or refurbishment programme, it has not committed to the phased removal of all asbestos by a specific date.
It is vital that funding is provided to ensure our schools are safe and asbestos is cleared. Indeed, at the last general election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to invest in new school buildings, including the phased removal of asbestos from existing schools. Above all, parents want their children to be safe.
I will continue to support efforts to hold the Government to account on this important issue.