HC Deb 20 March 1970 vol 798 cc841-50

Local planning authorities, when considering planning applications under the Town and Country Planning Acts 1962 to 1968 for the erection of buildings to be used for the accommodation, refreshment or entertainment of the public, shall, in the event of planning permission being granted make such grants subject to a condition that the applicant so far as practicable makes provisions for suitable access, sanitary and parking facilities and accommodation for disabled persons unless the circumstances make it impracticable or unreasonable for such provision to be made.—[Mr. Weitzman.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that with this new Clause we discuss new Clause 17—"Access to, and facilities, at, premises open to the public"—and the following Amendments: No. 16, in page 3, line 35, leave out Clause 6.

No. 17, in line 37, leave out from '1936' to end of line 41 and insert: 'shall have the duty, in considering the design of those premises, and in particular the parking facilities to be available, the sanitary facilities to be provided and the means of access both to and within the premises to make provision, so far as practicable, for the needs of disabled persons visiting those premises'. No. 18, in line 42, leave out Clause 7.

No. 20, in page 4, line 5, leave out Clause 8.

All of these Amendments deal with the same topic in a variety of ways.

Mr. Weitzman

I beg to move, that Local planning authorities, when considering planning applications under the Town and Country Planning Acts 1962 to 1968"—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman would move that the Clause in his name be read a Second time. He need not read the whole of the new Clause. We all have a copy of it before us.

Mr. Weitzman

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I was reading the terms of the Clause to explain exactly what it provides. In my view, Mr. Speaker, it is essential that I do this. The Clause deals with the requirement for the erection of buildings to be used for the accommodation, refreshment or entertain- ment of the public, shall, in the event of planning permission being granted make such grants subject to a condition that the applicant so far as practicable makes provisions for suitable access, sanitary and parking facilities and accommodation for disabled persons under the circumstances make it impracticable or unreasonable for such provision to be made. Everyone will recognise that in places and buildings provided for the public, particularly for refreshment and entertainment, libraries, museums and art galleries, it is a great handicap for the disabled where there is no suitable access or where there are no sanitary or parking facilities. It is time that something more was done about providing such facilities.

The Clause would impose upon local planning authorities the duty of giving real consideration to this point and ensuring that the conditions where practicable, were met. I am glad to say that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has recognised the force of this demand; and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has readily responded by tabling new Clause 17. I shall take a certain course about that: it is an excellent Clause, which goes even beyond the requirements of my Clause. I take it that some discussion will take place on this Clause to show how very necessary a provision of this kind is.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Reginald Freeson)

Mr. Speaker, will you guide me as to the procedure?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman can speak fully about new Clause 17, which we are discussing with new Clause 9. The same issues arise on both Clauses. There are differences which the hon. Gentleman will no doubt point out.

Mr. Freeson

I am not certain at what point I move new Clause 17 formally.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman will move new Clause 17 formally at its proper place on the Order Paper.

Mr. Freeson

Perhaps I can now proceed with what I was about to say.

I will repeat briefly what I said in Committee about the planning Clause. Without going into a great deal of detail, I indicated in Committee that there were difficulties in seeking to make planning law applicable to special classes of the community and that there were also difficulties in that planning law did not concern itself, except in a general sense in relation to the control of the design of buildings, with the detailed layout of the interior of buildings but more with matters of land use, siting, density, and relationship to other buildings—in other words, the general external relationships of buildings as well as their use.

It will, therefore, be difficult and almost ultra vires to build into planning law these proposals, whatever the objective of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman). I will not go into further detail now, because my views on this were set on the record when we discussed this question in Committee.

However, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, I did not object to the proposal in so far as its intention goes, and I do not do so now. In Committee I undertook to look further at this point, as well as at other matters which were raised in Committee and which were related to it. It was for this reason that I was able to table new Clause 17. Had there been a lengthier period open to me in the Department prior to the presentation of the Bill and its going to Standing Committee, it is likely that something like new Clause 17 would have been produced earlier. I am merely recapitulating the circumstances, not being in any way critical. I am enthusiastically in support of the general intentions of the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) appreciates.

As a result of the situation, one dealt with a number of factors as they emerged and sought to introduce effective new Clauses in Committee. On further consideration of the point relating to planning aspects in the design of the building and the coverage we were seeking to make, however, I have found in the Department that it is easier, more comprehensive, more specific, and more effective, to have one Clause dealing with all these matters—that is, the question of access to and within buildings for the disabled; the proper provision of sanitary conveniences within buildings and accessability to them; the provision of parking facilities; and the duties being imposed on all persons in the community, whether they be local authorities, statutory bodies, or private persons, in relation to facilities they are providing which are available to the public. I decided that all these matters could be covered more effectively by this much more Comprehensive Clause. It is tabled with the intention of making it clearer and more effective to achieve the objectives that we are seeking.

Clause 6 places a duty on any persons providing premises covered by Section 89 of the Public Health Act, 1936—that is, inns, restaurants and so on—to have regard, so far as is practicable, to the needs of disabled persons when providing sanitary conveniences in those buildings.

Clause 7 places a similar duty on public bodies when erecting buildings to which the public will have access. Clause 8 places a wider duty on local authorities; in considering the design of any of their buildings to which the public is to be admitted they must take account of the needs of the disabled in relation not only to sanitary facilities but also to means of access to and within the building and parking facilities.

As I undertook to do in Committee, we considered the possibility of strengthening and extending these provisions by introducing a positive obligation to make provision for the needs of the disabled in place of the duty which I suggested originally in my Clauses, merely to have regard to such needs, and also by applying car parking and access requirements to all buildings visited by the public, whether provided by local authorities or other persons.

The new Clause seeks to deal with the considerations which we discussed in Committee and with which I was in sympathy. Since no distinction is to be made as to the sort of facilities which would be provided, it is unnecessary to have separate Clauses dealing with different types of providers of buildings. In the private sector it would be illogical to single out restaurants and licensed premises as opposed to other buildings regularly visited by the public; such as shops, supermarkets and so on. Hence, the new Clause is drafted to apply to anyone undertaking the provision of a building or premises to which the public will have access. This would apply to both new construction and to the conversion of existing buildings.

Another undertaking I gave in Committee—I repeated it on several occasions—was in relation to advice on the design of buildings. In Committee I referred to the fact that the Ministry had already given advice in a circular issued in cooperation with the Department of Health and Social Security. That circular, issued in 1965, drew the attention of local authorities to a pamphlet outlining the practice already adopted by the Ministry of Public Building and Works in the design of new Government buildings.

The circular is still extant and suggests that authorities should where appropriate, ensure that the needs set out in the pamphlet are taken into account in the planning of their public buildings. At the same time local authorities were requested to bring the pamphlet to the notice of private developers in appropriate cases; where, for example, they approached local authorities about their requirements under the building byelaws or regulations. Another circular, 33/68, deals in detail with the design of public conveniences with facilities for the disabled. Both circulars have been useful in these matters.

As I indicated in Committee, we have had the fullest co-operation of the statutory bodies in recent years, and I instanced some examples of the work done in this context at new railway stations and airports in line with the advice we have given in the circulars.

It is fair to say that, in view of the advent of the Bill and in the light of my new Clause, which has a more comprehensive approach to these matters, we should review the form which our advice has taken and consider whether we can circulate information more effectively to local authorities and within the Government to ensure that the principles we are seeking to achieve in the Bill to assist the disabled will be introduced wherever it is practicable and reasonable to do so.

I hope that the House will accept that my approach in the new Clause is more effective than the approaches put on the Order Paper in other forms.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind hon. Members who have recently entered the Chamber of what I said at the beginning of our proceedings today; namely, that we have a lot of work to get through and that I hope that speeches will be brief.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

New Clause No. 17 contains the phrase Any person undertaking the provision of… The Minister said that that meant new construction or conversions. That is not clear from a reading of the proposal and I fear that, to the layman, this provision will seem ambiguous.

It will be right to emphasise in the circular, which I gather is to be sent out, that shops and other places to which the public is admitted should have provision made for the disabled. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, particularly in respect of sanitary conveniences, while those providing hotel and catering facilities may rightly be more stringently required to provide these facilities than, say, a small shopkeeper, some people may become nervous about the meaning of the new Clause, perhaps thinking that these sort of facilities must be provided in a small shop.

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)

I welcome the new Clause and one can hardly conceive of a matter more important to disabled persons than this, as hon. Members are aware from the representations made to them by their constituents.

What is the effective sanction in new Clause 17? Is it to be just a homily on the Statute Book or will there be some way to enforce it? The advantage of the new Clause standing in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) is that it would contain a built-in enforcement procedure by tying the provision to planning law.

Does the Minister mean that if a planning authority sought to impose a planning condition so as to give effect to new Clause 17, that condition would be ultra vires, unenforceable? In consideraing the best way to achieve enforcement, we are not asking for penal sanctions but an administrative procedure to ensure that the provision works.

When the hon. Gentleman said that his new Clause would apply to conversions and the construction of new premises, I take it that he was referring only to conversions where a premises which is not at present open to the public is converted to a different user, so that the public is admitted. However, if a building is already open to the public—for example, a shop—and a conversion of the building is made, will that be covered by the Clause?

Mr. John Astor (Newbury)

I, too, welcome new Clause 17, which is designed to replace several new Clauses to which I had tabled Amendments. I am grateful to the Minister for explaining his proposal so clearly and I agree that it is a comprehensive new Clause which covers all the objectives I had in mind in my Amendments.

All hon. Members are anxious that provision for accessibility should be extended as widely as possible to all public buildings, not only so that disabled people may visit them as customers but that some of them may seek employment in them. I therefore welcome the breadth of the new Clause and thank the Minister for having given further consideration to substituting the words "make provision for" for the original phrase "having regard to". This strengthens the provision.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

While appreciating the Minister's argument in favour of new Clause 17, as against new Clause 9, I think that the House would be failing in its duty if it did not make it clear that we should regard new Clause 17 as defective if it did not constitute a planning requirement. There are obviously severe limitations on what can be done in converting existing buildings to make them ideally suitable for access for disabled persons. These limitations obviously do not exist in the case of new buildings being designed and planned. These are the buildings which are open to examination by local authorities and by welfare authorities and which particularly have the needs of disabled persons in mind. It seems to me that if we call any structure which does not have suitable means of access for disabled persons a public building, that is tantamount to saying that a disabled person is not a member of the public, and that should be an intolerable proposition for the House to consider.

Mr. Alfred Morris

New Clause 17, which my hon. Friend intends to move formally, represents the view of all of us who considered the Bill in Committee and is a major step forward for disabled persons in this country. It is an attempt to normalise the lives of those who are disabled. I hope that the House will accept that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of State has been of enormous help to the sponsors of the Bill in matters of drafting. I know that it was his intention to make this Clause as effective as it can possibly be in terms of opening the doors for disabled people. As the same time, I know that he will have taken carefully into account all that has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth).

Dame Irene Ward

We warmly congratulate the Minister on the efforts which he has made to get a comprehensive and satisfactory Clause. I want to put on record that I fel that this is just the beginning and that there will be imposed upon the Minister—who presumably will take the lead, as it is his Department which will instruct the local authorities who will have to try to implement the new Clause—a tremendous amount of work. We are very grateful to him for having undertaken this. But an enormous burden is imposed if we are to achieve what is desired by the new Clause.

I should have liked to see much more detail in the new Clause, but it is a beginning. But I should like to put on record that it is only a beginning and that it will have to be pursued in many directions before it becomes a satisfactory basis for dealing with what the Committee wants to achieve for the benefit of the disabled. That does not mean to say that I am in any way critical of the Clause, because I think that the Minister has done very well to produce a Clause. But one must think of the difficulties of the disabled at airports, for example, where the toilet facilities are often situated a long way and involve a great amount of walking even by people who are in possession of their limbs. The same applies to railways. I congratulate the Minister but I hope that he is aware that he will have to fill in a great deal of detail before the Clause can operate satisfactorily.

Mr. Freeson

If I may have leave, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make some observations on the points which have been put to me. The first point raised was the anxiety that the new Clause, being so comprehensive and more wide ranging in its applicability to providers of buildings, might produce difficulties for small shopkeepers, restaurant owners and café owners. That point was discussed in Committee and I appreciate it. While we are seeking to have a much more effective practice introduced to help the disabled, we do not want to create a situation in which there is unfairness for the small shopkeeper, restaurateur and the like. The new Clause uses the term in so far as it is in the circumstances both practicable and reasonable". This is one of the reasons why that phrase was used, and the element of reasonableness refers, among other matters, to elements of cost. It would be a matter to be sorted out between the local authority and the person concerned if there were difficulty on that score.

Another aspect is that if, for example, a shop or a café were next door to some public facilities which could equally well be used, it would be unreasonable in many circumstances to enforce the introduction of facilities because the cost would he unreasonable. That is the kind of example which we had in mind and that is why I put that phrase in the new Clause.

I was asked about the meaning of "conversion". "Conversion" means not just an alteration from one type of use to another. That is covered by the phrase "change of use". "Conversion" also includes turning a small café into a big café or a small shop into a large supermarket by taking over several premises. "Conversion" means conversion of all kinds and not just "change of use".

A point was made—and it is important—about enforcement. First, the Clause goes beyond the planning requirements and seeks to cover all requirements. As I indicated earlier, the first and main difficulty is that planning law does not distinguish persons; it distinguishes only in respect of different kinds of use of buildings and special classes of buildings. The other difficulty to which I referred was the distinction between planning control which is broadly applicable to the land use and external planning and design of buildings as distinct from the detailed internal arrangements. There has always been some difficulty legally in interpreting this in a theoretical sense but in practice it would be open—as I understand it—to a local authority to take matters of this kind into account when it had applications before it.

I undertake in looking at the Circular and the advice which we will need to consider, following the introduction of the Bill, personally to ensure that we look carefully at the aspect of the advice and not just the design aspect so that there will be some kind of sensible administration by local authorities and so that we do not get departmentalisation, with planning applications being dealt with separately and other procedures for other purposes. In this way we can meet the kind of difficulties and anxieties about which concern has been expressed.

Mr. Weitzman

May I join in saying how grateful we all are to the Parliamentary Secretary for putting down what is a good and effective Amendment. I recognise the criticism which has been made. I am glad to have the assurance that it will be looked into. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to