Amendment 4

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 24th February 2021.

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Lord Lucas:

Moved by Lord Lucas

4: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, after “lavatories” insert “of a prescribed description”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment ensures the Government has power to require that the lavatories are provided and operated in accordance with national standards, making proper provision for the various needs of their potential clientele including the disabled, parents with children, women and trans people.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I urge the Government to take the opportunity to give the Bill some wording that expands its ambit, and to take advantage of the leverage that it gives them—as the noble Lord has noted, it is a generous disbursement of funds—to achieve other policy objectives. The policy objective that I, personally, would like the Bill to support is whatever the outcome is of the Government’s current review of toilet provision in general.

It has been a joke all my life, let alone my noble friend’s life, how there is always a queue at the ladies and none at the gents. We have not had equal provision in relation to demand. We now need to recognise that there are people—particularly those who are committed transgender—who are not easily able to take advantage of toilets that are just for men or just for women. Having toilets that are universally unisex, such as those in the Old Vic and the Department for Education visitor accommodation, is extremely difficult for many women and some men, including me, to put up with.

There are, therefore, matters of policy relating to the provision of toilets that we can reasonably anticipate will come to the fore over the next couple of years. It would be good to give the Government, in this Bill, the ability to lever the rates relief that they are giving in order to achieve their policies. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed out, we may find that over time there will be opportunities to expand the Bill’s ambit to other worthwhile premises in ways which, as my noble friend insisted, go along with the modus operandi of the valuation office. That is fine, but we are missing a chance if we leave the Bill as it is and do not give the Government additional power along the lines that I have suggested. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, it is not clear to me why the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, believes that it is necessary to—I quote—prescribe a definition of public lavatories. It is not clear what policy objective would be achieved by his amendments. Without wishing to cause offence, that clarity has not been expanded during the noble Lord’s introduction of the amendment.

As we have already heard, there is currently a huge variety of provision: some are in old-style toilet blocks, some include Changing Places and some include baby changing facilities. Some modern provision consists of a single facility into which only one person at a time can enter. Some public toilets are unisex, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, explained. That is increasingly the case in modern office blocks. I have never heard anyone being particularly concerned about that provision. Public toilets are simply a facility for members of the public. I do not on earth see what is gained by prescribing a definition.

The best thing we can do, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, explain his amendments, is agree to disagree with him. I, for one, cannot support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing) 2:45 pm, 24th February 2021

My Lords, Amendments 4 and 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, enable us to debate important issues. He seeks to ensure that lavatories that operate in accordance with national standards benefit from this relief.

The trade union Unison has campaigned on the issue of disability and the barriers that disabled people face when using a standard toilet. Many disabilities are hidden. The sign that we often see indicating disabled facilities is a person in a wheelchair, but fewer than 10% of people who meet the Equality Act definition of disability use a wheelchair. Signs that say “Some disabilities are invisible” have become more prevalent given the requirements of the pandemic restrictions. Crohn’s disease and colitis are two examples of conditions that may mean that a person has to use a disabled toilet facility while having no outward signs of disability.

As we move forward we need a greater understanding and respect for difference, and we must ensure that people are protected. These are not easy issues; if they were we would not be debating them today. What we also need is many more Changing Places toilets, which are a very important to cater for. We will get on to this later.

The comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, reminded me that all the toilets by the reception at Southwark Council are gender-neutral, individual toilets. They are there for public use. So things are certainly changing, but we must at all times have respect for difference and for people. As we move forward on these issues we must ensure we keep those thoughts to the forefront and provide the facilities that people need.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his amendments, which would provide the Government with the power to limit this relief to only those toilets that meet prescribed criteria of their choosing. The underpinning nature of the amendments is the desire to see toilets for all, and I am very supportive of the need to have toilets for those who need disabled access, gender-neutral toilets and gender-specific toilets. As I set out to the House earlier, the Government do not intend to limit the measure within the Bill to only those toilets that meet certain criteria. Subject to Royal Assent, the Bill will support the provision of separately assessed toilets across the country. I therefore do not agree that it would be right to make any amendments which could limit the benefits of this measure.

Furthermore, limiting the relief to only those public lavatories that fit a prescribed description would place a significant burden on local authorities, which will be responsible for administering the relief. Well-intentioned though the amendment is, it would weaken the effectiveness of the legislation were we to require its provisions to be subject to a new, locally administered system of controls.

While I appreciate the arguments that my noble friend Lord Lucas made in support of the Government having the power to make this relief more specific, any benefits must be weighed against the consequential impact on local authorities of using such a power. Although I do not think that the Bill would be improved by these amendments, I appreciate the points that my noble friend makes about the standards of our public toilets.

The Government are interested not just in the total number of public toilets in this country but in ensuring that everyone in our communities feels confident and comfortable using them. This means maintaining hygiene standards and ensuring fair provision of accessible and gender-neutral toilets.

Noble Lords may therefore wish to note that the technical review of toilets launched by the Government will consider the ratio of female toilets needed versus the number for men and take into account the needs of all members of the community, to ensure fair provision of accessible and gender-neutral toilets. The call for evidence, which closes on Friday, has received over 15,000 responses; a government response will be published in due course. As part of this review, the merits of any best practice guidance on the provision of gender-neutral toilets will be considered, alongside any guidance on the necessary provision of access to disabled toilets. These considerations also include provisions for older people and parents with very young children who need changing facilities.

I hope this reassures my noble friend that the Government are supportive of not just the total number of public toilets but the vital importance of ensuring that appropriate facilities are available to all. On this basis—and the basis that the potential administrative burden resulting from these amendments would outweigh the benefits—I hope that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his obiter dicta on the Government’s general intentions in this area, which I applaud. I can see that he has clearly understood the intent of my amendment and disagrees with it. I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 5. Anyone wishing to press this or the other amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.