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Public Conveniences

Volume 797: debated on Thursday 11 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to encourage local authorities to improve the provision of public conveniences to address health issues faced by taxi drivers as a result of their closure.

My Lords, the Government recognise the importance of public lavatories as valuable community amenities. At Budget 2018, the Chancellor announced 100% business rate relief for public lavatories in England. This will cut the cost of running these important facilities and help to keep them open.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response to an important Question. London’s provision of public loos is lamentable in terms of both availability and cleanliness. This impacts on our tourists, the young, the elderly and the disabled, but also on London cabbies, a disproportionate number of whom suffer from kidney problems and UTIs. Many London hotels have now stopped allowing taxi drivers to use their facilities, although I commend Pret A Manger for its policy of allowing cabbies to access its loos. What further measures will the Government take to encourage councils and perhaps also businesses to restore and maintain decent public loos?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for a genuinely important Question. I will pick up two points. First, Changing Places helps with the provision of disabled lavatory facilities. That is important nationwide—we have about 11,000 of them. Secondly, I, too, give a shout out for Pret A Manger, which is helping by making its lavatories available. That is part of community schemes that we are promoting up and down the country. These started in Richmond upon Thames in 2004, where, in addition to public lavatories, local businesses make their lavatories available. That is advertised locally and on apps in the area.

My Lords, I come from a family of London cab drivers and very much welcome the Question. Does the Minister join me in welcoming the British Toilet Association’s Use Our Loos campaign, where pubs, cafés and other places allow people other than customers to use their toilets? Does he also welcome the trend at some mainline stations, such as London Bridge, Charing Cross and St Pancras, where the toilets are now free? I am waiting for Euston and Waterloo to follow suit.

My Lords, on the cabbies’ business, the noble Lord told me how his brother drove past him in his cab the other day—I could well understand his point of view. The noble Lord mentioned the important Use Our Loos campaign, which the British Toilet Association is supportive of—I was going to say “behind”. Unfortunately, it is advertised on its website as an “open doors” campaign—the inverted commas are useful. Seriously, it is a very worthwhile campaign. I have good news on Waterloo. All the mainline stations in London now have free toilet entrance, which is a good thing. The Department for Transport is encouraging other train operators to do similarly.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned Changing Places. The disabled community and disabled taxi drivers are very grateful for the £2 million that the Department for Transport was given for Changing Places at service stations. However, provision is still woeful—only 18 out of 100 service stations have Changing Places facilities. Will the Government provide specific grants to local authorities for Changing Places toilets? With public conveniences being closed down everywhere, disabled people, particularly disabled children, need proper places for changing. There is a woeful lack of them in town centres.

My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness campaigns vigorously and correctly on these issues and she is absolutely right about their importance. She will be pleased to know that the NHS has also been the recipient of £2 million to spend on Changing Places, but she is right that more needs to be done. We are looking at how we can make progress on this.

One of my sons has Crohn’s, a disease that many noble Lords will know results all too often in sufferers being caught drastically short in public. A particular charity issues them with a “Can’t Wait” card, which explains in simple terms why the holder has an urgent need for a toilet. It generally gains them speedy access to WCs in stores, restaurants and so forth—such is the kindness of strangers. Is there not room for a broadly similar scheme to be devised for taxi drivers by their association, at least in the medium and short term, to meet the ever increasing want of public conveniences?

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that personalised example of the challenges that we face. I am interested to know about the “Can’t Wait” card, which I had not previously heard about. He is right that one of the big issues is not the availability of public lavatories—although it is true that their numbers have declined—but, often, the inability to park nearby because of yellow and double yellow lines, which is a particular concern for taxi drivers. If I may, I will take that issue back to see if there is any way for us to use the “Can’t Wait” card in relation to public lavatories.

My Lords, tourists worldwide judge places by the toilet facilities. Vast numbers of tourists come to this country. I have just come back from Australia and I have been all round Europe in the past few weeks; the quality of the toilet facilities in cities there is vastly higher than in ours. Taking account of nearly 50 tours here per day, where people with children need to go to a toilet, this seems extremely important. Will the Minister consider the fact that we need to build more toilets and that they must be impeccably clean, as they are elsewhere?

My Lords, my noble friend makes some interesting points. To be honest, quality overseas is variable, but there are certainly some good examples of the provision of public lavatories. In the 72 hours since I inherited this Question, I have been looking at this issue to see what is happening. It is a very interesting area and a genuinely important one.

I sense the House getting a little frivolous on the last day of term. I will take back the noble Lord’s points about the provision of an adequate number of facilities. Locally, along with car parking charges, this issue concerns people. We all know in local government that the things that exercise people are car parking charges and public lavatories. They are important.