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Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

Volume 811: debated on Tuesday 20 April 2021

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, in moving this Motion, I express my thanks to noble Lords from across this House for their helpful insight and support throughout proceedings. In particular, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock, Lady Thomas, Lady Andrews, Lady Randerson and Lady Greengross, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Greaves, my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.

I also thank the National Association of Local Councils, the Local Government Association and the Valuation Office Agency for their engagement during the passage of the Bill. I am especially grateful to the British Toilet Association for its support of the Bill and for taking the time to meet me and noble Lords last month.

Finally, I thank my department’s Bill team: Rhys Tomlinson, Nick Pellegrini, Luke Turner, Alan Millward, Nick Cooper, Lee Davies and Tom Adams, as well as Sam Loxton from my own private office, for their support throughout the passage of the Bill. I beg to move.

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his engagement in this small but important Bill. I am pleased that it is finally now going to pass; this is the second time I have worked on this Bill—because it was lost before the general election—so it is something I am very well aware of. I thank the noble Lord; he has been very helpful, as always. I join him in thanking all the organisations he mentioned—the LGA, the National Association of Local Councils, the British Toilet Association and others—for their helpful advice, guidance and support. I also thank Ben Wood from the Labour group office for his help and support on the Bill.

I thank all noble Lords who engaged in the Bill, particularly Lord Greaves, whose last speech in this House was on this Bill, as noble Lords may remember, some weeks ago, before he sadly passed away. Although Tony was in a different party from me, he was well respected in the House and was a very good man. He worked as a local councillor and as a Member of this House and he will be missed by us all. I am delighted that the Bill is going to pass.

My Lords, I point to my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of Kirklees Council. Liberal Democrats support the measures in this Bill, and during the debate we have sought to improve accessibility and to extend the reach of the Bill to include other public buildings. I thank the Minister for his positive responses during the passage of the Bill, and for the meetings he held to enable an exchange of ideas. I also extend my thanks to those associations that have helped in the progress of the Bill, so that we all understood exactly what we were trying to achieve.

The Bill was the last time my noble friend Lord Greaves spoke in the House before his sudden and untimely death. It was typical Tony: promoting the value of parish and town councils, making a strong case for the very basic and essential public services provided for communities by local government, and exploring the meaning of the word “mainly”, used throughout the Bill. Tony will be greatly missed on these Benches for his humanity and commitment to communities. I rest my case there and thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his help in getting this Bill passed.

My Lords, it is my pleasant task, on behalf of these Benches, to thank the Minister for the gracious way in which he has conducted this Bill. We have had no Divisions. The Bill has survived unamended, but it has certainly not been without interest, and the Minister has been faced with some powerful contributions during our debates that he has had to answer. We are grateful to him and the Bill team for the care that has been taken in examining the various points that have been raised.

It will not have escaped the Minister’s attention that two of us participating from these Benches had a professional interest in the subject. One was a valuer, with an interest in the valuation aspects, and I am a lawyer, interested in the legal aspects. For both of us, the question was how one could accommodate the undoubted need for public lavatories, in the places where people need them, within the valuation and ratings system. Standalone premises, which this Bill is about, present no problems of that kind, but increasingly, the provision of publicly accessible lavatories within other premises, such as public libraries, is a different matter. The two of us were very much in sympathy with others who were asking the Minister to be more imaginative and generous in searching for a solution to the problem, but we found it as hard as he did to see how this could be done within the boundaries of the existing law and practice of how buildings are valued for rating purposes. In short, the narrow focus of the Bill has been the problem.

Everyone recognises that this is a significant public health issue and an environmental issue. Everyone—young and old, healthy or infirm—needs access to decent lavatory accommodations. There is genuine regret on these Benches and throughout the House that the Bill was unable to go further than it has in finding other ways to meet this need. I hope that the Government will take away from these debates a better understanding of ways in which this could be done by the ideas that have been put forward by various amendments from all around the House. If so, the time that we have spent developing these ideas in debate will have been time well spent. I hope and expect that we have not heard the last word on the subject of public lavatories.

My Lords, we have seen the very best of this House. I really appreciated the professional expertise on the Cross Benches, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. It was incredibly helpful. This is a very complicated area of public policy and it is great to have that expertise to hand.

I add my personal tribute to Lord Greaves. I did not know him particularly well, but he welcomed me as a fellow traveller from local government, where our political paths were very similar. He was almost schooling me on the nature of a probing amendment. I do not think that I have ever had such a lengthy discussion about the word “mainly”. He will be sadly missed.

Bill passed.

Sitting suspended.