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Baby-changing Facilities

Volume 830: debated on Tuesday 6 June 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they plan to oblige cafés, restaurants and other businesses serving food and drink to provide adequate baby-changing facilities.

Although building regulations already require consideration to be given to baby-changing facilities at the design stage of non-dwellings, we need to also consider the impact that further obligations would have. Most hospitality businesses are SMEs, which may not have the resources, or indeed the space, to install suitable facilities.

I much appreciate those remarks from my noble friend. However, as many parents and guardians of infants find it inconvenient, if not embarrassing, when in restaurants and other outlets serving food and drink where adequate baby-changing facilities are not available, will the Government now consider amending Section 20 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to add a requirement for such facilities, wherever practicable, to those already covering the provision and maintenance of toilet facilities?

My Lords, I think we can all agree that the principle of free access to baby-changing facilities in as many different hospitality situations as we can reach is desirable. Under the existing building regulations there is already a requirement for new non- residential properties to consider this, as well as for buildings which are undergoing substantial reconstruction.

My Lords, as most mothers and fathers will tell you, taking an infant out, especially to eating places, is a real chore—you have to pack nappies, a changing mat and wipes, among other things. Having to find a place to change nappies is another chore. They should not be forced to do this in unsuitable places. Most child-friendly restaurants and cafés already have baby-changing facilities. This makes good business sense, contributing to a healthy “bottom” line, as parents will look at these eateries positively. There have been suggestions from many people that cafés, pubs and restaurants should be required to provide baby-changing facilities by law so that parents can have peace of mind. Will the Government look at this again?

I thank the noble Lord for his comments—in all respects. My noble friend made a very good point about how this needs to be practicable. There are a lot of existing hospitality venues where it is not practical to provide additional services, either from a financial point of view or, more importantly, from a space point of view. However, the principle holds good that, whenever the opportunity arises with anything new or anything that is being rebuilt, consideration should be, and indeed is, required under the building regulations improvements.

My Lords, in considering the situation of parents who wish to change babies in hospitality venues, will the Minister also consider parents who need to change children with disabilities, and older people with disabilities, who need more extensive facilities?

My Lords, that is again a very good point. There is a requirement at the moment to separate disabled toilet facilities from baby-changing facilities, and I think that is probably the right thing to do. This morning, I met the chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, and she said that her members take every opportunity to put in baby-changing facilities for precisely the reasons that the noble Lord mentioned earlier: from a marketing point of view, it is absolutely the right thing to do, because you win more customers and more money.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister helpfully makes a point about the separation between baby-changing facilities and accessible toilets. Does he accept that that depends on whether the building itself is accessible to someone like myself, a wheelchair user? Could he write to me to tell me how long he thinks I should have to wait, as a wheelchair user, before I can by law access licensed premises, given that the Government are refusing to use the Licensing Act, as recommended by a committee of this House, to enforce access on licensed premises?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. One of the challenges is that a lot of pubs are in historic buildings and are listed. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to get through the planning laws so that doorways and steps can be taken out to give free access. I say again that every opportunity is taken to provide disabled access.

My Lords, fathers change babies too, and yet baby-changing facilities are often situated in ladies toilets. Does the Minister think that we should have an inclusive place where fathers and mothers can change children—and in a nice environment, rather than some of those that some mothers have to bear up with?

My Lords, again, that is a very good point. The issue is predominantly driven by space and, to some extent, finance and running costs. The Welsh Government did a very interesting study a few years back, in 2019-20, where they estimated that it costs between £2,500 and £5,000 to put in baby-changing facilities. We all know that the majority of small hospitality businesses are SMEs, and that sort of cost, let alone the ongoing cost of maintenance, cleaning, refuse collection and that sort of thing, at times makes it restrictive.

My Lords, one of the joys is that these babies are being born into a free and wonderful country. Some 79 years ago today, 7,500 ships —the bulk of them British—landed the American, Canadian and British armies in Europe, at Normandy. Does the Minister agree that that helped lead to the destruction of the vile Nazi state? It is well worth commemorating that. Would it not be a good idea to have some more ships?

My Lords, I wonder whether the Normandy landings would have been so successful had they all been obliged to have baby-changing facilities on every vessel. This idea of state regulation for baby changing takes the nanny state to a literal level. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that, in the other place, the Government were elected on a manifesto promising minimal regulation, and that providers of services have every incentive to offer their customers the best deal they can afford without needing to be told what to do with the full coercive power of state law?

My Lords, I entirely agree. In fact, my role is about regulation and reducing the amount of it. We should all agree that, by reducing regulation, business becomes easier and more productive, everybody’s salaries improve and there are increased job opportunities.

My Lords, I declare an interest: my wife runs a leased café in Telford. When I am not in your Lordships’ House, I help her out. I totally agree with baby-changing facilities but there should also be a public convenience because, since the severe cuts to public authority budgets in 2010, we have been short of public conveniences up and down the country. I know this for a fact because people come running into my wife’s café looking for a public convenience. There should be one funded by the local authority. I hope that the Minister agrees with me.

My Lords, I do. Most shopping centres now provide not only a full range of toilet facilities but baby-changing facilities too; that is absolutely right and proper. The planning law is operating correctly. On levelling up, £30 million has been set aside for precisely what the noble Lord wants. I am sure that we will continue to move towards a more available service.