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Disabled Access: Public Premises

Volume 779: debated on Wednesday 15 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to improve accessibility for disabled people to public premises.

My Lords, owners and occupiers of public premises have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people are not put at a substantial disadvantage. This may include changes to improve accessibility to their building. New buildings must meet Building Regulations requirements on access. The Government are conducting research into the effectiveness of the statutory guidance which supports those Building Regulations requirements.

Does the Minister agree that we have lots of legislation and lots of ventures, but reasonable adjustments are not being made on the ground and there is a lack of will to enforce the law? Commons committees have recently heard very sad evidence about failures at, for example, sports grounds, which have not been improved for 20 years. There have also been failures when it comes to people being able to get into pubs and restaurants, no matter how often the law is pointed out and promises are made. Does the Minister not agree that it is time to bring the Building Regulations up to date and that access should be built in from the start, not just in new buildings but whenever buildings are refurbished or repaired, and that local authorities should be allowed to get on with enforcing this through licensing?

My Lords, where I do agree with the noble Baroness is in relation to the importance of ensuring that new buildings are readily accessible and that appropriate changes are made to buildings, which of course is what the law provides for. I do not share her pessimism in relation to enforcement, on which there have been many recent cases. An example is Hosegood v Khalid, concerning a restaurant that did not have an appropriate ramp. Perhaps we need to give these cases a higher profile, but the law that exists is being enforced.

My Lords, neither the industrial strategy nor the national infrastructure plan contain any reference to disability access. Will the Minister tell us why the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has not addressed this public sector equality duty, or is this just another example of cost-cutting, which I referred to in my article in today’s Guardian?

My Lords, I regret that I have not read the article as yet but I will certainly do so. I have a copy of the Guardian on my desk but, because of today’s Question, I have not yet had an opportunity to read it. In relation to the very important points that the noble Baroness makes—I commend her relentless campaigning role in these areas—there is a duty on the public sector to set an example; it is not expressed in those words, but it is certainly happening on a daily basis. As a country, we do very well compared with other countries. However, I appreciate that it is not sufficient and that we need to do more both on a private basis, by encouraging retailer outlets and business to step up to the plate, and through government. I readily accept that. I will take the point that she makes to BEIS—I am not from BEIS—and ensure that she gets a response.

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that I did a quick internet search of the Government Equalities Office yesterday and found three press releases on disabled issues and 10 on transgender and sexual issues? Clearly, transgender people face discrimination, but I point out to my noble friend that 800,000 wheelchair users cannot get into thousands of public buildings—shops, pubs and clubs—including the main post office on Victoria Street. We cannot get into the building, let alone have the luxury of deciding which toilet to use if we could get in there. Will he therefore look at an urgent amendment to the Equality Act 2010? It has been disastrous for disabled people and has put us at the bottom of the heap—I declare a personal bias. Will he look at making a simple amendment so that we can get into buildings over a step which is less than six inches high? It is a simple thing and it should be done.

My Lords, once again, I know that my noble friend has campaigned in this area, and particularly on that issue, with great force and eloquence. On the point about ramps and steps in post offices, there has been a recent case in relation to access to counters, which I think the post office has settled out of court. Therefore, there are cases where practice is changing. I accept that, as my noble friend said, there is certainly more to be done. The Government Equalities Office is looking at the operation of the law and will have heard what my noble friend says, but he said it with great force and it is a point well made.

My Lords, the noble Lord who asked the previous question did not include churches—and with good reason because there have been herculean efforts across the estate involving quite difficult church buildings to make them accessible to people with limited ability to get up steps and so forth. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the local efforts, normally paid for locally, which have transformed the access to historic churches?

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for that contribution. Certainly, in my experience of visiting churches and cathedrals in England, that is very much the case. I am visiting cathedrals in Carlisle, Newcastle and Durham over the next two days, so I will be looking to see that they, too, are following the practice that has been pretty near universal in my experience over the past nine months of visiting them.

My Lords, what we really need is for the Government to develop a proper strategy for making public places more accessible both for the sake of the rapidly ageing population and for younger disabled people such as MDUK’s Trailblazers who regularly report on inaccessible leisure facilities. Perhaps the Government could consider more carrots and a few more sticks to get those authorities and others to take appropriate action.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. Once again, she has campaigned on these issues. I know that the provision in the Equality Act does not simply apply to public sector buildings but to public buildings—buildings that are accessible to the public or a section of the public. It does not only apply to museums, art galleries and concert halls but to shops, retail outlets, pubs and so forth. Just last month, my honourable friend in the other place, Penny Mordaunt, set up a group, as the noble Baroness will know, of 11 sector champions to look at this and who will be challenging inequality. That will work alongside the provision that we have in the Equality Act. Of course, the Government will be looking at how that interface is working.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a significant number of Premier League football clubs will fail to honour the commitment that they gave in 2015 to make all their stadia disabled accessible by August 2017? Will he remind them that Section 20 of the 2010 Act is not an option but is mandatory? Will the Government empower the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to enforce the law and make sure that accessible stadia guidelines are observed?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right and I know that he has raised this issue many times before. Some are of course stepping up to the plate and some are not. Some are partly there. I mention my own club, Leicester City, which I hope will do a bit more but is already part of the way there. I take the point seriously. I will write to him on his second point about enforcement because I am not sure where we are on that, but I agree that we need to keep their feet to the fire to make sure that they are performing.