Clause 30

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 18th June 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Application of this Part

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 30, page 22, line 6, leave out paragraph (a).

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 7—Reasonable adjustments for babies and infants—

‘(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision as to a duty on providers of public services, where a physical feature puts a baby or infant aged under 5 at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons of other ages, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage.

(2) A reference in this section to a physical feature is a reference to—

(a) a feature arising from the design or construction of a building;

(b) a feature of an approach to, exit from or access to a building;

(c) a fixture or fitting, or furniture, furnishings, materials, equipment or other chattels, in or on premises or a vehicle;

(d) a feature arising from the design of a vehicle;

(e) a feature of an exit from or access to a vehicle;

(f) any other physical element or quality.

(3) Any reference in this section to chattels is to be read, in relation to Scotland, as a reference to moveable property.’.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

It is always good to start promptly—it has all sorts of advantages. This simple amendment would leave out paragraph (a) and is nothing more than a probing amendment tabled because, having read the section and realised that the part on premises does not apply to the protected characteristics of age and marriage and civil partnership, I could not think of good reasons why we would want to exclude age. I have therefore tabled an amendment to leave out that paragraph simply to provoke a discussion and give the Minister the opportunity to set out the Government’s thinking about why age should be excluded from the section. That is the purpose of the amendment. I look forward to what the Minister has to say.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party, Glasgow East

The purpose of new clause 7 is to require public service providers to make reasonable adjustments to physical features to make their services and facilities accessible to babies and young children. The DDA introduced the concept of reasonable adjustments into UK legislation. The duty to make reasonable adjustments means that providers of services are required to make changes called reasonable adjustments, so that disabled people can use the services more easily. The duty has led to improvements in relation to accessibility for disabled people and others, so it might now be a good time to extend the protection specifically for the benefit of babies and young children.

The new clause suggests reasonable adjustments for under-fives in relation to the physical features of public transport and public premises. For public service providers, that would simply be an extension of the existing duty relating to disability. Older people with accessibility  needs may well qualify as disabled under the DDA and enjoy reasonable adjustment rights under that legislation. Babies and young children, and their families or carers, are clearly not disabled, but they suffer similar limitations on their access to many services.

There is currently a lack of safe and available seating for infants and young children and inadequate space for pushchairs on public transport. Constituents frequently come to me and complain that, because there was already a pram on a bus, a second pram was unable to be taken on. Adults travelling with young children often experience problems getting on and off public transport and feel that they and their child are frequently treated less favourably than others.

A survey found that parents in the UK are put off using public transport by poor access, sometimes inconsiderate staff and a lack of suitable facilities. Some 72 per cent. of the 500 mothers who were surveyed thought that public transport was difficult for mothers and babies to use, 60 per cent. found that bus drivers were unhelpful, and only 12 per cent. had a fully buggy-accessible train or underground station near them.

Research by the then Equal Opportunities Commission, which was conducted in 2006, concluded that the designs of buses

“take insufficient consideration of the difficulties experienced by women who are encumbered by accompanying children.”

I assume that that could relate to men as well. The research recommended that a balance should be sought between providing adequate seating capacity and providing enough space for shopping bags, pushchairs, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. The new clause, for which I am grateful to Young Equals, would allow the Secretary of State, by regulation, to require transport providers to make reasonable adjustments to ensure the safety and comfort of very young passengers.

Moving on to public buildings and spaces, babies and young children experience similar difficulties when trying to access and use public buildings with their parents and carers. Cardiff county council carried out a detailed inquiry into how family friendly its city is. The conclusion was that people experienced

“considerable problems in finding stores or buildings with baby changing facilities...buggy access into and around shops, restaurants and other buildings was also very difficult and in some places impossible.”

The new clause would allow for a reasonable adjustments duty in respect of public buildings to be placed on public service providers to ensure access for families with babies and children under the age of five. I believe that a similar duty exists in some regions of Germany; for example, Baden-WĂ1/4rttemberg requires a barrier-free environment for facilities used by small children, people with disabilities and the elderly.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families)

I strongly support new clause 7. When I was on the London assembly, I was for four years the chairman of transport and for one year the deputy chairman. One of the key issues was the design of buses and their inaccessibility, particularly for mothers with buggies. It is difficult enough to get out the door with a young baby, let alone find oneself at a bus stop when a bus driver drives up and refuses access. I have  seen mothers with a double-buggy or, if there is already a buggy on the bus, with a single buggy refused access. A reasonable adjustment should be made, so I support the new clause.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

Amendment 11 and new clause 7 both raise the issue of age in relation to premises. Let me put on the record, in response to the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, that our reason for excluding premises from the ban on age discrimination is that we want to tackle harmful discrimination only, as I have been saying throughout. During preparation for the Bill and in the consultation, we looked for evidence of discrimination because of age in the field of housing but did not find sufficient evidence to justify applying the provisions on premises to age.

On the other hand, there are many examples of housing provision exclusively for people in a particular age range, which we would probably regard as desirable and would want to preserve. Age limits may be imposed to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups or to cater for the preferences of individuals who simply wish to live exclusively with people of a similar age. If we included age in the ban, those age limits would have to be objectively justified. Since we did not find evidence of harm from the exclusion, we did not think that that was necessary. We simply do not want to interfere unnecessarily with the private arrangements that people make. In a nutshell, that is why we have not included that strand in the clause.

If that is satisfactory, I shall turn to new clause 7, which is about making premises and public transport accessible and safe for babies and young children by means of a reasonable adjustment, which is a concept that was introduced in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to ensure that disabled people get increased access to services, among other things. It necessarily entails a measure of positive discrimination for that protected group. It is not permissible in relation to the other protected groups because it is unjustifiable and unduly burdensome, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure that disabled people have access to all that they are entitled to.

I recognise that parents are keen that buildings and transport should be child-friendly, but we are probably stretching equality legislation beyond what is appropriate. Instead, such things should be approached in a more targeted way. A substantial disadvantage test does not really fit babies and children. Obviously, they are disadvantaged by their size and the fact that they are babies, but, by and large, they will be with parents or carers. Comparing them with persons of other ages does not work and would not achieve the aim underlying the new clause.

In addition, by way of reassurance, legislation already exists to deal with some of the issues that the new clause seeks to address: for example, part M of schedule 1 of the Building Regulations 2000 ensures that people, regardless of age, sex or disability, should be able to gain access to and within buildings, and use their facilities. The approved guidance document to the regulations sets out considerations such as ensuring entrances are wide enough to allow unrestricted access to parents with pushchairs; incorporating separate facilities for baby changing, or including changing tables in toilets; and providing lower handrails on stairs and lower urinals for children in male washrooms.

On public transport, in particular buses and trains, an extensive regulatory framework currently addresses comfort, safety and access for disabled passengers. Many of the adjustments made for them—for example, ramp access and widening of doorways—will also benefit passengers who have young children in prams.

On rail services where wheelchair-accessible toilets are fitted, baby-changing facilities are also required and EU regulations protect the rights of people with reduced mobility. That would include pregnant women and people travelling by air with children and babies. Similarly, EC proposals, although that is all they are at the moment, about travelling by sea and on buses and coaches have been published. There is also, yet to come, a public sector equality duty, which encourages public bodies to take account of the particular needs of people of different ages when planning, designing and delivering services. The needs of women in relation to pregnancy and maternity are particularly covered, as is breastfeeding. Therefore, parents will also see improvements as a consequence of the Bill.

On reasonable adjustments, we think that it is not an appropriate means of tackling this problem. It is being tackled in a number of specific ways and it is far better to do it in that targeted fashion than incorporate it into discrimination law. We therefore respectfully ask the hon. Member for Glasgow, East not to press new clause 7, and I hope that I have answered the points that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean raised in tabling his amendment.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The amendment was probing the Government’s thinking about why the age provisions had been excluded. The Minister outlined that very well and reiterated that there was no harm being done that needed to be fixed. Indeed, there were lots of positive things about premises, to do with age, that we would want to protect. In view of her assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families)

I beg to move amendment 163, in clause 30, page 22, line 7, leave out paragraph (b).

This amendment extends protection against discrimination because someone is married or in a civil partnership as it relates to premises.

This is another probing amendment. It seeks to extend protection against discrimination because someone is married, or in a civil partnership as it relates to premises. The Minister will recognise that we have been here before, but I would like to probe her because premises is one of those areas where I might have expected some evidence of discrimination against, for example, someone in a civil partnership. I would be interested to hear from her whether there is any evidence of that. If there is, I do not think that they should be excluded, because people can be prejudiced. I await her comments.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

Put simply, there just is not any evidence.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families)

That is hard to believe, but I am encouraged to hear that there is not any evidence. If there is not any discrimination, the Government, rightly,  do not need those protected characteristics in the Bill. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 31 to 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.