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Building Regulations: Sanitary Provision

Volume 817: debated on Wednesday 5 January 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their review of the Building Regulations Part M on access to and use of buildings, what assessment they have made of the commissioned research into design issues regarding sanitary provision, including for those with hidden disabilities; and when they expect to update statutory guidance regarding the provision of sanitary bins in toilets for men.

As part of our review of Part M of the building regulations, we have commissioned research on the experience of disabled people, which will inform future policy and potential upgrades to the statutory guidance for fixed items and spaces in buildings, including sanitary provision for disabled people.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, but on Report on the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Act in March 2021 the Minister informed the House that there were 6,087 public toilets in the UK in 2000 and that number had reduced to 4,383 by 2016. What further action will the Government be taking to ensure provision of suitable public toilets, which includes sanitary bins and disability access? How will they ensure that there is no further decline in the number of public toilets in the UK?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that there has been a long-standing decline in public toilet provision. In fact, I got the department to produce up-to-date statistics that chart that decline, which went from 6,916 to 6,391 between 1994 and 2000, and fell further, to 4,486, in 2018, according to the most recent statistics. I will share the statistics in writing with the noble Baroness. Clearly, the Act she refers to is one way of improving the situation, through providing rates relief, and she will be well aware of the changing places programme, through which my department has provided £30 million for local authorities to encourage the building of further provision.

Further to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, during debates on the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill, to which she referred, Ministers agreed that steps should be taken to encourage making new public toilets accessible for people with disabilities. Have the Government estimated how many new public toilets have opened since the passing of the Act, and what proportion of these toilets are considered to be accessible?

My Lords, to respond to that very sensible question, it is not in the gift of central government to control the number of toilets, but what we can do is provide funds to encourage further provision, as we have done with the changing places fund, and provide tax relief, as we did with the Act that was mentioned. Indeed, a lot of other legislation—I could go through a list—places a duty on workplaces to provide accessible toilets. I am happy to write to the noble Baroness if we have those statistics to hand, because it would be useful to see whether this has had an impact.

I have brought up this subject in the past. By the summer we are going to have very large numbers of people coming to this country from abroad, including those with young children, and elderly people coming in their thousands to celebrate the Queen’s upcoming Jubilee, among other things. In practice, and as we have seen in the past, there is a huge shortage of toilets in this country. People will be tired, it will be hot and they will not be allowed to go into restaurants—no restaurant is going to let 50 people through. The provision of toilets is absolutely lacking. The number of people who will be travelling here, we hope, during the next year or so will be huge, and we need vastly more decent toilet facilities in this country.

My Lords, there is no doubt that the pandemic has reduced the number of visitors in the last couple of years, as we know from the contraction of our airline industry, but we are looking forward to a deluge of people coming to his great country. Of course, we want them to have a wonderful experience and access to toilets—both accessible and ordinary toilets—and I am sure we will work hard to meet that.

My Lords, joking aside, at the heart of the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, is the fact that people with disabilities, often unseen disabilities, are overlooked. We recognise that work and research has been undertaken, so I ask the Minister to reflect on bringing together disability NGOs and others with expertise in this field so that we can reassure people with disabilities that their needs will be provided for.

My Lords, as part of my ministerial duties, I am the Building Regulations Minister, and we are reviewing, in response to the Hackitt review, all our building regulations, including Part M. We commissioned an interesting bit of research that has not yet been fully published, which provides further insight. This is something that needs to happen cross-government, and the noble Lord makes a very useful suggestion.

My Lords, it is many years, alas, since I have had a holiday in France, but I seem to remember that if one is, as it were, caught short there —it may not be the position now but it certainly was then—one can go to any café, pay a small sum of money and it is fully acceptable for one to use the loo. Could we not introduce a similar practice here?

I personally try to avoid paying, but I think it is a very good policy. Most people want custom, as long as you do not abuse it; I know that McDonald’s in Cannes makes you buy a burger before you can go to the loo, but most places want to be open and helpful. As long as you do not abuse those facilities, I think most will be prepared to do that. It is a great suggestion which should be looked at, but obviously it is for local business owners to decide.

My Lords, considering the gravity of this issue and the need to address the sanitary requirements of those who are disabled, will the Minister consider having discussions with Ministers in the devolved Administrations—and the appropriate local government associations where local government has a responsibility for toilet provision —to ensure that best practice can be implemented so that the best-quality provision can be provided for all, particularly those who are disabled?

My Lords, as we review Part M and think about increasing accessible toilet provision, it is important that we bring along all the devolved Administrations. I take the point on board and we will look for the appropriate opportunity to do so.

My Lords, my noble friend has mentioned cafés and restaurants. Public houses are also a partial solution. Should there not be some more effort to encourage public houses, by financing them, to make themselves more available for people?

We move from cafés to pubs. Public houses are the bedrock of local communities; they not only provide toilets but most outlets often provide safe havens for people who need safety. This is an opportunity to see them as places that provide not only a commercial service but a community one as well.

My Lords, if he is not already planning to, can I suggest that the Minister pick up on the excellent suggestion of the noble Lord to work with not only NGOs but perhaps search engines, to increase the visibility of facilities for those who need them most?

I have been listening very actively and am happy to take that point on board. I thank my noble friend for it.