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Disabled People: Toilets

Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase the number of Changing Places toilets available for use by profoundly and multiply disabled people in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, as well as the Changing Places campaign being highlighted in last year’s Improving Public Access to Better Quality Toilets—A Strategic Guide, and this year’s revision of British Standard BS8300, which includes for the first time guidance for such toilet facilities, a review of Part M of the building regulations on access to and use of buildings will begin this year, and will consider the possible inclusion of Changing Places facilities.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is it not possible to amend Part M of the building regulations to ensure that toilets for people with profound and multiple disabilities are fully in operation in the next year or two, rather than waiting for a further review?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on the leading part that he has played in the powerful campaign around Changing Places. There is a process for changing the building regulations, which generally occurs when looking at a range of issues that might need to be taken into account. There is a process around consultation and research before that can be fully implemented. Currently, it is expected that the review of Part M of the building regulations will not be completed until 2013.

My Lords, what have Ministers done, and what will they be doing, to persuade commercial companies to adhere to the revised British Standard?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to flag up the revised British Standard, BS 8300, on the design of buildings and the needs of disabled people that was published in March of this year. For the first time, this document contains guidance on the design and installation of Changing Places toilets.

The standard helps companies to make good judgments on how they can meet their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act and demonstrate alternative means of complying with the requirements of the building regulations. While the standard is not mandatory, it is widely used by commercial companies and public bodies. We would expect the revised guidance to continue to play an important role, but we will watch its impact closely.

My Lords, I welcome that government policy promotes the idea of community participation and active citizenship. The lack of Changing Places toilets means that thousands of disabled and older people do not have the freedom to use community facilities. How will the Government work with large supermarkets and train stations to help them to provide these facilities?

My Lords, we have to engage fully. For noble Lords who have not been particularly focused on this issue, the availability of suitable toilet accommodation determines very much the pattern of the lives of people with profound physical and learning difficulties, their families and carers, and is extremely limiting for them.

Last year, we set out our strategy for improving the provision of public toilets. Local authorities have a key role to play. The particular campaign in Changing Places is focused on large public buildings. We need to continue to engage with it in whatever way we can. I think that so far 85 facilities are open up and down the country, which is far too few to meet the needs, but another 11 are currently being planned.

My Lords, I declare an interest. In Exeter, the local branch of Mencap, of which my wife is patron, has managed to secure a grant of £42,000 to fund the equipment needed in three Changing Places but has difficulty in finding partners to make this provision a reality. At the same time, we have churches willing to provide sites but current planning, listed building and conservation area legislation often inhibits the installations of the facilities required. Particularly given the response to an earlier question, do the Government have any plans to review whether, as regards listed buildings, the balance between the needs of disabled people and the concerns of the conservation and amenity societies is in fact about right?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raised a very important point. I am not aware of any current review looking specifically at that issue. It is certainly a matter that I will take away. In a number of circumstances, listed building status does not necessarily inhibit a particular provision. However, it can make it more difficult, and more expensive, to install that.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the disability equality duty enjoins all public bodies to give equality of opportunity. In the light of that, what steps will the Government take to ensure that local authorities live up to these requirements, especially with regard to providing proper toilet facilities, as mentioned in Changing Places, for those with severe disabilities?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, it is primarily a matter for local authorities because they have the power under the Public Health Act 1936 to provide facilities. Obviously, they have to be compliant with the DDA and other equality provisions. The strategic plan that we published last year set out how local authorities can best go about their duties, and the amount of variability and flexibility they have, partly in relation to charging. This is the best route to make progress on this matter.

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned public buildings, and of course this is an important public building. While it is not directly within his responsibility, will he use his good offices to urge that we become on a par with the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, which have Changing Places facilities? As he clearly understands that the Question is about profoundly and multiply disabled people who have particular needs, can he tell the House what work the Government are doing to collect data in order to understand what are probably the large numbers of people with such needs?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness identified, the first point is fundamentally a matter for the House authorities. I made inquiries on what provision there was within our buildings. I think that there are no Changing Places facilities; perhaps there are more routine disabled toilet facilities, but probably not enough. So far as data collection is concerned, the discussions that took place last year in relation to the strategy indicated the complexity around all that and the provision that there is generally. Part of it is provided by local authorities and part within commercial facilities, whether supermarkets or pubs. We are not sure that imposing some duty on local authorities in particular to drive the collection of data is the best use of resources and time.