HC Deb 10 July 1981 vol 8 cc745-52

Lords amendment: No. 5 in page 3, line 19, leave out "section" and insert "sections".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 12.

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

I say at the outset that I have certain reservations about some of the implications of the amendments. The most pertinent of the group of amendments that is before us is No. 12, which brings into the Bill a separate reference to the design note No. 18, which deals with access far the physically disabled to educational buildings. Other buildings were covered in the original measure by the British Standard code of practice 5810: 1979.

I have certain reservations because I feel that the design note has many commendable features. It cannot be considered as an alternative to BS 5810: 1979 either in status or as it stands in content. The BS code of practice sets out the basic requirements that are applicable to all buildings that the disabled may use as members of the general public as visitors or for the purpose of employment. Although the prime users of educational buildings are those using them for education, there are visitors and there are disabled people working in them. Specifically included within the scope of the design note are educational, cultural and scientific buildings.

The code of practice does not intend to give all the design guidance required for every type of building. Other guidance exists both in general form and for particular types of building—for example, guidance provided for disabled visitors by the English Tourist Board and the Welsh Tourist Board.

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Design note 18, which concerns access for the physically handicapped to educational buildings, should be seen as supplementary information for those designing or adapting schools. BS 5810 was prepared following a lengthy consultative process involving all interested organisations, including those representing disabled people, building designers, building owners and Government Departments. BS 5810 was expressly designed so that its basic requirements could be incorporated into regulation and made enforceable. Compared to that, design note 18 was prepared by the Department of Education and Science with comparatively little input from external organisations. It is a document produced by a Government Department rather than by an established independent standards organisation outside the realms of Government.

It is recognised in the introduction that design note 18 is particularly directed towards schools, although it is intended to cover—and is used in the Bill to cover— all educational buildings. However, there must be doubts as to the relevance of any of its recommendations beyond those within the range of BS 5810 in respect of non-school buildings. For example, its sensible recommendation on parking would be eminently acceptable for most primary and junior schools, but would be totally inadequate for colleges or universities. It appears that that has been overlooked in the way in which the design note is meant to totally replace BS 5810.

Design note 18 recognises that consideration should be given to the needs of disabled non-pupils who may need to use the buildings, whether as visitors or staff. However, there are a number of omissions. While it may be current policy that seriously disabled teachers are not employed in primary schools, it does not excuse the omission of any reference to disabled staff in that sector.

In its foreword BS 5810 recognises that for certain publicly funded buildings, other more stringent criteria should be followed. That seems to be the justification for using design note 18 rather than BS 5810. However, not all educational buildings come within the provision of the DES. For example, there are private institutions. A person setting up a private esablishment for adult students, such as a language school or a domestic science college, could argue that design note 18 was irrelevant, but would be more likely to take note of BS 5810. It has also been noted that as it stands the requirements of design note 18 are, in certain important respects, less stringent than those of BS 5810.

I shall make particular reference to the latter sections of BS 5810. Provisions were mentioned in the debate on disablement last week—the introduction of induction loops for the hard of hearing. That sort of facility is not included in the design note. That could lead to problems for some of the disabled people who would be covered by BS 5810 but not by the design note.

Design note 18 as its current title implies, is solely concerned with people with locomotor handicaps, and not even all of those. That is in the context of those who are deaf and who have other handicaps covered by BS 5810. It is interesting to note that in Scotland, BS 5810 will cover educational buildings. Despite my having serious reservations about putting only the design note before the House and not, as I would have preferred, having the design note to supplement BS 5810, so that we would have the benefit of both, I am willing to recommend acceptance of the Lords Amendment to the House because of the statement by Baroness Young on 16 June, that design note 18 is to be revised. I hope that revised version design note 18 takes in all the points which are pertinent and relevant to educational buildings of all sorts and which at present exist in BS 5810.

I should have thought that the sensible way would be to have both BS 5810 and design note 18. I shall be interested to know what assurances the Minister can give on the revision of the design note in a way which meets the points which I have outlined in introducing the amendment.

Mr. Rossi

As the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) said, this group of amendments seeks to substitute design note 18, "Access for the Physically Disabled to Educational Buildings" for BS 5810 in relation to educational establishments. Design note 18 is directly relevant to the access needs of physically disabled students. It takes account, for example, of the different ages and the different statures of students, compared with adults, in different types of educational buildings and of the different circulation patterns that exist in schools and colleges.

It is interesting to note that the BSI code of practice acknowledges that in certain instances standards recommended in design note 18 are more stringent than those in the code. More important, the code recommends that for maintained educational establishments, advice about access that needs to be considered in parallel with emergency escapes should be sought from the Department of Education and Science. The BSI is telling people to go back to the Department for advice on matters relating to educational establishments. Design note 18 has that purpose. The BSI document refers people back to design note 18 for such advice.

I accept that people have reservations and are apprehensive about design note 18. The hon. Gentleman has given voice to some of those doubts. The design note was written in the context of existing legislation and as a relevant guide, covering both new and existing buildings. I hope that we shall shortly agree the Bill's final stages. We look forward to legislation being placed on the statute book. In the light of that legislation, we acknowledge the need to revise the document in order to establish mandatory requirements for new buildings.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

Does my hon. Friend agree that apart from the value of reviewing the design note, local authorities should bear in mind, in addition to the specifically technical aspects of the recommendations, the value of consulting the disabled and their organisations?

Mr. Rossi

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. When guidance is given to local authorities and when they have to consider access by the disabled to buildings, they should seek as much information as possible if they do not have the relevant knowledge. I am sure that local authorities will seek guidance and advice from as many quarters as possible.

The hon. Member for Caernarvon mentioned a fusion or an amalgamation of design note 18 with BSI 5810. I am informed that the BSI considered incorporating design note 18 into its document, but found that that was inappropriate. Therefore, its advice is that people should go to the Department of Education and Science if they want guidance.

Mr. Wigley

When I referred to fusion I did not mean in a blanket sense. I want BSI 5810 and the design note to apply to educational buildings. I recognise that BSI 5810 is a much broader regulation. As a result, it might not be appropriate for it to be involved in detail, unlike the design note. I wish to ensure that the best of both worlds can be obtained for educational buildings by making both applicable. If the design note is revised, it should take on board the other points covered in BSI 5810.

Mr. Rossi

As my noble Friend advised another place, all the suggestions made regarding the content of design note 18 will be seriously taken into account. I hope that many of the matters to which the hon. Gentleman has referred will be dealt with in the revised design note. I hope that he will not be unduly unhappy with the ultimate result after the consultation process has taken place.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that design note 18 relates only to schools and not to other educational establishments. I presume that he had university buildings in mind. The Department of Education and Science has no direct responsibility for university buildings and the design note had the needs of the maintained sector primarily in mind, because they were the responsibility of the DES.

However, the University Grants Committee was represented on the working party that drew up design note 18 and as we consider the amendments that will have to be made to it we shall ensure that it is framed so that it will be at least as suitable for universities as is the BSI code of practice. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman. The criticisms are being taken seriously by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. He will bear them in mind when dealing with the revisions that have to be made to design note 18.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 6, in page 3, line 23, after "premises" insert to which section 4 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 applies buildings or premises

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The amendment brings in a cross-reference between the provisions of clause 3, relating to the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. The buildings with which we are concerned are those covered by section 4 of the 1970 Act. The amendment is helpful in clarifying the buildings about which we are concerned.

Mr. Rossi

This is a technical amendment. As clause 3 is drafted, paragraph (1)(a) of the new section 29A that we are inserting into the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 would have overlapped with paragraphs (1)(b) and (1)(c). That would have been undesirable and the amendment will make it clear that paragraph (1)(a) applies only to premises to which section (4) of the 1970 Act applies.

Although the amendment is technical, it raises the question of the relationship between planning controls and the provisions of the 1970 Act—matters which are frequently discussed. Responsibility for planning legislation rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and it may be helpful if I comment on that aspect, which is partly covered by the amendment.

The access provisions of the 1970 Act are a code of legislation to ensure that new buildings for use by the public contain facilities that will make them suitable for use by disabled people.

The 1971 Act, however, is concerned with the acceptability of a particular development in a particular location from the point of view of its effect on the surrounding area. These are two quite separate and distinct functions.

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Because planning controls are concerned with the effect of a proposal on the locality, planning authorities are not involved in the internal layout and design of buildings. The provision of some facilities inside buildings, whether for disabled people or for anybody else, is not a matter that can or should be controlled through the planning system. Where it has been found necessary to legislate in relation to internal design—for example, for fire precautions—this has been done through other legislation such as the building regulations, legislation which is a separate body of law from planning control.

There may, however, be occasions where the scope of planning controls and the needs of disabled people overlap. In particular, the arrangements for access to a development can be a planning matter and the suitability of the arrangements for access to a building by members of the public, including disabled members of the public, can raise issues of public amenity, which a local planning authority could take into account in determining a planning application.

In planning. each case has to be looked at on its individual merits. However, where a planning authority comes to the conclusion that access to the building by disabled people raises planning issues, it can use its planning powers as appropriate.

I do not think it would be right, however, to overestimate the extent to which planning powers can ensure the provision of the full range of facilities that disabled people need in the buildings. The planning legislation exists for quite separate purposes and cannot double as an enforcement mechanism for the provisions of the 1970 Act, as is sometimes asked for, giving rise to disappointment when it is found that it cannot be done by some interested parties outside. Because planning legislation cannot do those things we have the access provisions of the 1970 Act, and for that reason clause 6 is brought in to strengthen them.

We have announced our intention of issuing a circular to explain the provisions of this Bill. It is our intention to include in that circular advice to planning authorities on their powers to require access to buildings for disabled people.

I thought that it would be helpful if I spelt out the role of the planning laws and why they are inappropriate to deal with the facilities to be made available for the disabled using public buildings.

Mr. Wigley

The Minister has expanded on the technical amendment to discuss some of the more general consequences of the application of the Town and Country Planning Act to access for the disabled. I have one or two relevant points that I intended to bring into the later debate but they are probably better covered on this amendment now that the Minister has expanded the discussion.

The Minister has made an important statement, which was intimated already for Scotland by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, that the interpretation of the Town and Country Planning Act in England and Wales and the 1972 Act in Scotland allows local authorities to withhold planning permission in relevant cases if access for disabled people is not facilitated in a development. That has not been appreciated by those who have had to live with planning legislation for the past decade. In the debate last Friday I gave two examples that were given to me by planning authorities showing that to use section 29 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 in that way would be ultra vires. By issuing a circular, the Government will clarify the position as it relates to the 1971 Act, and I welcome that.

I accept that toilets and the width of corridors are not town and country planning matters. However, whether a person can enter a building is a town and country planning matter. The Minister accepts, as has the Department of the Environment in letters to me, that the interpretation that the Government now put on section 29 of the 1971 Act is such that in relevant cases involving access to a new supermarket, a new library or other public building, access should be provided for disabled people through planning legislation. That can pertinently be raised and dealt with at the planning stage.

If such facilities are provided at planning stage, it is so much cheaper and so much more effective than trying to adapt a building later. Local authorities have the significant power to withhold planning permission, or at least to request a change in the proposal. I hope that local authorities will use that power sensibly and sensitively, where appropriate, to ensure that only after a building is built is it discovered that steps prevent disabled people and people in wheelchairs from entering it. I welcome the Minister's statement. It is an important statement and I hope that local authorities will take note of it.

Mr. Rossi

I shall respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley). Of course I agree 100 per cent. with him that it is relatively inexpensive to make a new building accessible to disabled people if these matters are thought of properly and conscientiously at the design stage. If that happens an unnecessary step will not create an unnecessary barrier to a disabled person or person in a wheelchair. Lifts will not be built just a few centimeters too tight for a wheelchair to go in, and once in, they will not be built so that once in, the person in that wheelchair is unable to reach the buttons. These are design matters which, unhappily, are overlooked from time to time, not through malice but through lack of initial thought.

Amending the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 will place a new duty on local planning authorities. In future, when granting planning permission for premises to which the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act applies, local planning authorities will be required to draw the attention of the developer to his duty to provide facilities for disabled people. They will also be required to draw his attention to the British Standards Institution's code of practice for access for the disabled to buildings—the BSI 5810, to which we have already made reference this morning. That will be the subject of the circular to which I have already referred and which the hon. Member welcomed a few moments ago.

Mr. Wigley

Will the circular refer to section 29 of the 1971 Act?

Mr. Rossi

Yes. It will express the view of my Department and the Department of the Environment about the way in which we should like local authorities to exercise their powers in relation to access for disabled people to buildings. Developers, conversely will have a duty which we are imposing upon them by another amendment. But I shall not anticipate it, as I have no doubt that the hon. Member will wish to refer to it.

It has become fashionable to denigrate the achievements of the 1970 Act in ensuring the provision of access for disabled people. Some people are claiming that Act is being widely flouted by developers. That is less than fair. A survey commissioned by the Department of the Environment from the National Building Agency, an independent body, showed that the 1970 Act was being widely adhered to. However, lapses have occurred, but not usually in the more important areas such as entry to the building or movement within it. Lapses occur mainly in areas such as that of signposting facilities, and the provisions are being strengthened by clause 5.

In our discussions of these matters we must remember that the 1970 Act was not retrospective and many buildings were in existence before it came into effect. In many cases that legacy is causing the problems that unhappily exist for disabled persons. It is only now that buildings which have been designed since 1970 are beginning to come into use, because of the length of time that it takes to go through all the stages of getting a building off the drawing board and into bricks and mortar and concrete and steel. We know the time that it takes from the conception of an idea, to the arranging of finance, getting planning permission, going to a public inquiry and resisting all the local amenity objectors. There are many hazards.

There has been a great move forward in thinking on these matters, which has been assisted by the public interest in the International Year of Disabled People. One hopes that as time progresses these problems for the disabled will gradually disappear, so that they will be able to participate fully in everyday social life.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 7 and 8 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 9, in page 4, line 19, leave out "section" and insert sections 7 and

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

This amendment is purely technical and is consequential on other amendments.

Mr. Rossi

The amendment is a little more than technical. It is of some importance and relevance to what we have just been saying. The clause will extend the provisions of section 7 of the 1970 Act so that signs must be provided indicating that provision is made for the disabled in buildings where there is provision and which come within the scope of sections 8 and 8A of the 1970 Act. The amendment will ensure that the attention of developers is drawn to this requirement when they receive planning permission for such buildings. To that extent, it goes beyond a mere technicality. It is very much an improvement on the existing law. For that reason, I, too, commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 10, in page 4, line 21, leave out , subject to subsections (3) and (4) of this section,

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Lords amendment No. 11.

Mr. Wigley

The amendments allow for the definitions used in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 to be applied to the Bill. That seems to be eminently sensible, in that the provisions of that Act and the provisions of the Bill are working at one. The amendments should make the understanding of the legislation that much simpler for those who have to live with it.

Mr. Rossi

The amendments enable the definition of the code of practice on access for the disabled to be amended by order. It is done by some very technical provisions, but that is the overall effect, and for that reason I, too, commend the amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 11 and 12 agreed to.

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