HC Deb 23 March 1981 vol 1 cc743-59

`In section 3 of the Building (Scotland) Act 1959, after subsection (3), there shall be inserted the following:— (3A) Without prejudice to the generality of the preceding subsections, the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament before 31st March 1982, regulations requiring that persons providing buildings or premises to which sections (4) to (8A) inclusive of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 apply, shall ensure that such buildings or premises comply, as is appropriate, having regard to the relevant circumstances, with the requirements of the British Standards Institution Code of Practice for Access for the disabled to buildings (BS 5810:1979), or such subsequent Code of Practice as the Secretary of State may direct.".'.—[Mr. Gordon Wilson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.30 pm
Mr. Gordon Wilson

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we shall take the following Government amendments Nos. 37 and 38.

Amendment No. 39, in clause 31, page 12, line 36, at end insert `, together with the terms of the British Standards Institution Code of Practice for Access for the disabled to buildings (BS 5810:1979) or such subsequent Code of Practice as the Secretary of State may direct. These factors shall be material considerations in terms of subsection (1) of this section, and the planning authority may impose conditions to ensure that statutory duties concerning access for the disabled are carried out'. Amendment No. 40, in page 12, line 36, at end insert `and (4B) (a) In determining any application to which subsection (4A) above applies, the planning authority shall consider whether the planning permission should be subject to conditions under section (1) above, to provide access and egress for disabled persons to and from such buildings or premises. (b) In relation to those applications to which subsection (4A) above applies, but where the local planning authority does not deem it appropriate to impose conditions under section (4B)(a) above, other than where the terms of any such conditions have already been met in the original application, it shall state on the notice granting planning permission, the reasons why such conditions have not been imposed.". '

Government amendment No. 47.

Mr. Wilson

The new clause stands in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). I wish to speak to amendment No. 40, which also stands in our names, and to amendment No. 39, in the name of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), whom I should like to thank for all the work he did in Committee on the subject of disablement. It is appropriate that the Bill should be going through the House during the International Year of Disabled People because it gives us the chance to do something practical, for Scotland at least, to help the disabled.

Two years ago and again last year I had the opportunity of going in a wheelchair through the centre of Dundee. When one does that, one becomes conversant with some of the problems that face disabled people—problems that those of us who are ambulant do not expect. For instance, in buildings one can come across slopes quite suddenly; there are narrow corridors, and one has trouble in opening doors. Sometimes one can get trapped in doorways when there in a rush of people coming in and out; and not always do people stop on, say, a busy Saturday morning in order to allow a disabled person to pass.

Again, there are such small things as being in a snack bar and ordering a coffee. The counter may be rather high. And having got the coffee, how does one manage to steer and drive the wheelchair at the same time, for it tends to zigzag—at least it does for those of us without experience?

In shops, counters are often so high that it is difficult for a disabled person in a wheelchair to see what is on display. The same height problem applies to lifts. The sign for the lift is usually in such a position that it is suitable for someone on foot but too high off the ground for a person in a wheelchair to be able to see. Thus, a person in a wheelchair can, in effect, be blind in such circumstances.

These are difficulties of a practical nature that I discovered when I was on those wheelchair visits to the centre of Dundee. They gave me a new and deepened experience of the problems confronting those who do not, unfortunately, have all the physical faculties that the rest of us have. It is against this background that I have brought forward new clause 10. The disabled in Scotland have campaigned for 10 years for recognition of the problems associated with access to buildings. That has been the main theme of representations made to us in Parliament.

Like many other hon. Members, I have received a letter from the Scottish Council for Spastics referring to the Disabled Persons (No. 2) Bill sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley). The letter says: Its provisions, based upon the recommendations of the Silver Jubilee Committee on Access (requiring little, if any, public expenditure or bureaucratic procedures) are unremarkable in the sense that they encompass the self-evident needs of the disabled, not just a collection of desirable frills. It goes on to say that 30 years' experience of tangible aid to the disabled has proved that they want understanding, and it thinks that some of the proposals contained in these provisions for access represent what it requires. The council says that it represents 2,000 victims of cerebral palsy in Scotland and would represent many more thousands had it the funds, and it looks to us for effective support.

I received a letter from the Brittle Bone Society, signed by Mrs. Margaret T. J. Grant, the secretary of the society. She refers to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian and asks for support for the amendment, saying that the reason why she requests me to do this is that both her daughter and she are confined to wheelchairs and her daughter has been barred from Dundee college of commerce because of her condition, osteogenesis imperfecta, and because she is a fire risk. Unless all buildings are made accessible and safe for disabled people then what hope have we of becoming integrated into society and given the chance to mix with our fellows? Those are some of the representations that have been made to us, and I think rightly so, because our aim in this place should be to facilitate the total integration of the disabled into our everyday lives. Nothing can be so critical to this as ensuring that they have access to the buildings and premises to which non-handicapped members of the public can go.

The Silver Jubilee committee report had an appropriate title—"Can disabled people go where you go?" That report was undertaken in 1978, under the chairmanship of Mr. Peter Large, and served as a timely review of the access provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.

It is worth noting in passing that as many as 327 hon. Members have signed early-day motion 150, which calls for legislative action by the Government to implement the recommendations of the Silver Jubilee committee report. It was helpful, therefore, that the Leader of the House indicated a couple of weeks ago, on 5 March 1981, that the government are now willing to facilitate legislation on this subject. The object of our new clause and amendment is to give the Government an opportunity to carry out that pledge.

The main provision of the Silver Jubilee committee report was summarised in para 4 of its recommendations: Legislation should be introduced to make the access sections of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 mandatory. Further, the law should be amended to place on developers the burden of proof that to make a new building accessible would be unreasonable or impractical. Amendment No. 39 moves towards making the provision of facilities for the disabled a matter that could be the subject of planning permission. This would be wholly welcome, in view of the present state of uncertainty amongst Scottish local authorities as to their powers in this regard.

New clause 10 deals with the other aspect of the problem that needs to be tackled if the objectives of the Silver Jubilee committee report are to be achieved, as the Government have indicated that they wish. This is the need not only to provide access to a building, by way of the doorway, a step-less entrance, a broad enough front door and a means for someone in a wheelchair to get from his vehicle to the door—which may rightly be considered as a matter for planning conditions—but for the provisions within the building to be adequate.

The new clause provides that the Secretary Of State shall bring forward building regulations, or standards based on regulations, that would embody the provisions of the British Standards Institution code of practice for access for the disabled to buildings, BS 5810: 1979, a copy of which I have here. The Government have already recognised the relevance of this code of practice since it is the one to which their amendment No. 38 refers. Our new clause, however, goes further than the Government propose, since it does exactly what the Silver Jubilee committee wanted, namely, to make such provisions mandatory wherever possible.

The matters covered by the new clause—that is, the items in the code of practice—include the width of corridors, gradients of ramps, widths of internal doors, toilet facilities for the disabled and size of lifts. The code of practice is a detailed practical working document drawn up by experts with a deep knowledge of the subject. The committee which drew up the code was chaired by Mr. Ronald Fielding, who is an architect, and it included representatives of the RIBA, the DHSS and the Department of the Environment who would, I hope, liaise with the Scottish Office. It also included voluntary organisations such as the Spastics Society and Age Concern, and Mr. Large the chairman of the Silver Jubilee committee.

I understand that the code of practice was deliberately drawn up in a way that allowed it to be translated easily into building regulations. In the Silver Jubilee committee report it is stated that the Department of the Environment in England has committed itself to considering very seriously the idea of incorporating at least part of the new code of practice into building regulations. That has not yet happened. Does the Scottish Office stand by a similar commitment? If so, when will it act upon it? If it is unwilling to give a firm commitment on the matter tonight, I urge the House to take the matter into its own hands and to vote the clause into the Bill. It would be pleasing for Scotland to show the way forward in the International Year of Disabled People.

If the Government say that the clause will cost money to implement, I must tell them that my understanding is that it will cost very little. They were intending in England and Wales to take powers to pass on such charges to developers, which would therefore mean no additional public spending. But if they are not doing that in Scotland—and I should like clarification on that from the Minister—the public expenditure cost would still be minimal given the requirements of the clause.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way and for the opportunity to intervene in a Scottish debate. Does he agree that the building inspectors have to do the work in any case, checking on all the points in a new building? The additional work they would have to do in checking the additional building regulations to which the hon. Gentleman is referring would be minimal. There would be a very small cost for a very great benefit for disabled people.

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention. It is true that very little burden would be placed on public funds by the obligations under the clause because inspectors would be employed anyway, and this would be part of their duties. In the long term, the clause would save public money. It is always cheaper to provide facilities when a building is being designed than to adapt, retro-fit and modify it at a later stage.

Amendment No. 40 is designed to meet another proposal of the Silver Jubilee committee report on access. Paragraph 4 of the recommendations, which I quoted earlier, calls for shifting on to the developers the onus of proof as to whether it is impractical to make a new building accessible. The amendment follows the same lines. First, paragraph (a) would ensure that every planning authority must consider whether to place planning conditions on a development of a building to which sections (4) to (8A) of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 apply. It would be madatory on them to give such consideration. The planning authority may decide that it is impractical to insist on such access provisions, so in paragraph (b) we propose that when it does not insist on access to be provided for the disabled it must state on the planning permission notice why no conditions requiring access for the disabled have been imposed. In other words, we have moved the onus in a way that would require the developers to give the planning authorities good reason for not making access provision for the disabled. The wording would allow the planning authority to act as arbiters in this matter.

I commend both new clause 10 and amendment No. 40 to the House as positive contributions in the International Year of Disabled People. I urge the House not merely to pay lip service to the disabled but to put on the statute book meaningful legislation which will be of lasting practical benefit to disabled persons throughout Scotland. If we do this, perhaps we can also have the side benefit of encouraging England and Wales to follow suit.

I hope that the Government will realise that in the International Year of Disabled People they have an obligation to go further than they have so far. They have, through the Leader of the House, made a commitment, and I hope that they will take advantage of the opportunity given to them in the debate to go furthur than they have in their own amendment.

11.45 pm
Mr. Bill Walker

We discussed this matter in Committee at some length, and there was fairly general agreement that it was a worthwhile thing to do. I am delighted that the Minister has managed to bring forward, as he said he would, an amendment. I welcome amendment No. 38. Like the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), I have gone solo in a wheelchair. My circumstances may have been a little different from his, but the problems were the same.

It is right that disabled people should receive adequate consideration in this House, particularly in the International Year of Disabled People. But, more importantly, we should always remember that the disabled want to be treated as ordinary people. They do not want to be treated by society like lepers who have to be cared for. They want to do their own thing and to make their own way. That is why it is so important that access should be available in buildings that the disabled want to use.

Mr. Home Robertson

It is nice to be able to agree with the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) for a change, and I almost feel moved to withdraw some of the unflattering remarks that I made about him earlier. However, I shall not succumb to that temptation.

I am grateful also to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and to the Minister for the new clauses and amendments which have been tabled. These are appropriate and useful initiatives in the International Year of Disabled People.

My only complaint concerns the way in which the Government have drafted amendment No. 38. I welcome it as far as it goes. My complaint is that effectively it creates a procedural block which will prevent the House from voting on my amendment No. 39, which was intended to give planning authorities clear and specifically defined powers to impose access conditions when determining planning applications for public buildings. Nevertheless, I urge the Under-Secretary of State to give further consideration to the provision that I have in mind.

The question of access for the disabled is particularly relevant in 1981, the International Year of Disabled People, when attention has been focused on the needs of the disabled, and when at the same time the hopes of disabled people have been raised that something is to be done about their needs in terms of access.

The general issue of access concerns the physical difficulty of moving around when people have to rely on crutches or on a wheelchair. In order to get into your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have had to walk up three steps. That would have been virtually impossible had you suffered from the kind of disability that I have in mind. But I am not talking about the elevated position of Speaker or Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons; I am talking about much more mundane things such as the difficulty that disabled people have in getting into the High Street branch of Woolworth's or Boots. How often people have said "But there is only one step." One step is one too many for someone in a wheelchair. That point cannot be made too often, and it is the sort of point that we are seeking to emphasise at this stage.

Section 4 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 imposes a duty on developers to provide access for the disabled into public buildings. However, there is no provision for enforcing that section. The hon. Member for Dundee, East referred to the recommendations of the Silver Jubilee Committee on access for the disabled. The committee stessed that it was impossible to enforce the provision. As a result of the Act, and after representations had been made, I tabled a new clause which was designed to tighten up the enforcement of that section of the Act.

In Committee the Minister responded by tabling a new clause, which is now clause 31. As far as it goes, it is helpful. It writes a reference to access for the disabled into the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act. However, my complaint is that the final sentence of clause 31 is feeble. It states: the planning authority shall ensure that the applicant is aware of such duty. It is well known that planners, like others, should be aware of such duties. We wish to be able to enforce that duty and to ensure that developers of public buildings carry it out.

In Committee, the Minister said that under their general planning powers planners already had the power to enforce these provisions. He undertook to issue a circular from the Scottish Office confirming that point. So far, so good. Since then, I have had an opportunity to discuss this matter further with planning authorities and with the access committee of the Scottish Council on Disability. Those discussions led to the drafting of amendment No. 39, which stands in my name.

The amendment falls into two parts. There is a reference to "BS 5810: 1979". That deals with access inside public buildings. The Scottish Council on Disability pointed out that, as a result of the amendment accepted in Committee, access would be provided to the main door. However, as soon as the disabled person has entered the building he may be confronted with a flight of steps. Therefore, that in itself would have represented a relatively useless advance. It is important that there should be some provision to cover that, and I am delighted that the Government have taken that on board.

The second part of my amendment sought to stress the need to make the provisions enforceable. It should be possible to make them enforceable. It is not enough to have well-intentioned provisions that amount, in the end, to so much whitewash. Despite what the Minister said in Committee, it has been made clear to me in discussions since then that present legislation is not sufficiently enforceable.

Indeed, that point was drawn to my attention by Dr. Margaret Taylor, vice-chairman of the Scottish Paraplegic (Spinal Injury) Association. She may be known to the Secretary of State as she is one of his constituents. She drew my attention to the difficulties that the former Ayr borough council encountered as regards providing access to a public swimming baths. Apparently, it took six years to persuade the local authority to provide a ramp so that disabled persons could enter the building.

Dr. Taylor gave me a copy of a letter from the assistant chief constable of Strathclyde police. It is dated 29 July 1975. It states: I have been informed by the Architect that the question of access for disabled persons was raised at the planning stage and as you rightly said in your letter of 9 July the argument was used that it was not a public building". The letter refers to the new Ayr police station. It illustrates the difficulty that the disabled face. If it is argued that the police station is not a public building, our legislation must be full of loopholes and unenforceable.

I have also had discussions with my local authority, the Borders regional council. The master of works, Mr. McKenzie, who has recently been designated as the access officer for that council, wrote to me in the following vein: While the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and Amendment Act 1976 lays a duty on developers to provide access and other facilities, there would appear to be no enforcement procedures and I see my role, therefore, as that of an adviser. He explains how he will seek to give advice to applicants for planning permission on how to make new public buildings accessible to the disabled but makes it clear that there is no way that can be enforced.

I have also had a letter from the director of social work for the Highland regional council—the other end of the country—and he makes the same point.

Since the Committee stage I have had discussions with Mr. Graham Duncan, director of physical planning for the East Lothian district council. He referred in detail to what the Minister said in Committee. I should like to quote some of the technical points that he makes in his letter: While I accept the Minister's assertion that there is wide scope for a Planning Authority to impose conditions on a planning consent I have always had regard in making my own recommendations to the Planning and Development Committee of East Lothian District Council to whether recommended conditions are sustainable in an appeal situation. If in my view a condition were not sustainable it might be regarded as frivolous by either the Secretary of State or indeed by the Ombudsman. He goes on to cite cases where conditions have been overruled where other legislation designed to secure the same objective already exists. Clearly, there are technical problems. Mr. Duncan refers to the circular that the Minister said he would issue, but he warns that circulars are advisory rather than mandatory and there is substantial evidence of the Secretary of State and/or his Reporter and indeed in the last resort the Courts taking decisions contrary to advice contained within Government Planning Circulars. Mr. Duncan concludes: The question is really whether disabled access and facilities in premises to which the public have access is a 'material consideration' under Section 26 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972. That was the point that I was anxious to insert and on which we should have an opportunity to vote.

It is clear from the matters that I have cited that the Government's proposal is not watertight. There is a need for specific powers to enforce these provisions. That need is of paramount importance if we are to persuade the disabled that this is not another whitewashing exercise. Otherwise, clause 31 will be seen as another bromide for the disabled. I deplore the fact that it will not be possible to vote on my amendment. However, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dundee, East for having introduced new clause 10 and amendment No. 40, because to some extent they cover much the same ground.

Mr. Russell Johnston

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) for the initiative that he took in Committee and the work that he did on the better treatment of the disabled and the improvement of the statutory provisions about access. On behalf of the Liberal Party, I signed his amendment No. 39. Likewise, I am happy to support new clause 10, moved by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson).

Reference has been made to the representations that hon. Members have received from a variety of bodies representing the disabled and from local authorities. I should like to register the support expressed to me by letter by the Highland regional council, to which the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian also referred. I think that that council would likewise give such support to the new clause.

As the hon. Members for Dundee, East and for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) have already clearly set out the basic arguments for going further than the Government go in amendment No. 38, and in view of the lateness of the hour, I shall not delay the House, but I hope very much that the Government will respond to what is clearly a general view of those bodies which are engaged in the welfare of the disabled, namely, that there is a need to go further than the Government go in amendment No. 38, that what the Government are proposing falls short of what is necessary, and that, as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian said, experience demonstrates, sadly, that enforcement requires some tightening.

It is not for me to say whether votes will be taken at the end of this debate. I hope that votes will not be taken, and I hope very much that it will be possible to reach agreement on the matter and that the Government, through the Secretary of State, will respond to an argument which has been put from both sides in a very reasonable way.

12 midnight

Mr. Wigley

I intervene very briefly. I realise that this is a Scottish debate, but the issue of facilities for the disabled, particularly access for the disabled, is one that goes well beyond the bounds of Scotland or of Wales.

During this year, in my capacity as the vice-president in Wales of the International Year of Disabled People, I have written to all United Nations countries that have embassies in London, and it has been fascinating to see the replies and learn of the provisions that they make for disabled people. It is only when we read of what goes on in countries such as Sweden and many other enlightened countries that we realise how far we in Britain have to go in making adequate provision.

Amendment No. 40, in the name of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) deals with two of the aspects of this matter. I sat through the Committee stage on this Bill. It was apparent there that we had not got to grips with the problem, and that the solution that may be found in the Scottish context would be totally applicable in the context of England and Wales also. Section 26 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972 is identical in this regard to section 29 of the 1971 town and country planning legislation for England and Wales. Unless there are to be totally different interpretations of identical wording, obviously the one is relevant to the other.

We have two or three separate problems here. In the debate in Committee, the Minister responded by saying "Ah yes, we have already, within the legislative framework of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, a form of words that allows local authorities to make planning conditions on developments of buildings to which the public might have access. They can put down a condition to ensure access"—I think that he also used the term "egress"—"for disabled people." We have incorporated that term in one of the amendments.

In checking with authorities in Scotland, I, too, have spoken to Margaret Taylor and one or two other people in Scotland on this matter. It appears that there has been very little use of this facility. Most authorities in Scotland do not appear to be aware of the provisions, as, indeed, authorities in Wales are not aware of them. Montgomery district council has told me that the Council cannot legitimately refuse planning permission because suitable access facilities for the disabled were not provided in a building, and that also we could not impose a condition requiring such an access. That was the interpretation of identical words, in the England and Wales context, to these words for Scotland. We have a problem in that, whatever was in the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972, many local authorities did not realise that they had these powere.

The question may then arise whether a circular is adequate, as opposed to the legislative amendments proposed by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). But even if a circular were adequate, and even if the powers exist, that does not deal with the whole spectrum of problems that disabled people face in going in and out of buildings to which the public have a right of access, and those points covered by sections (4) to (8A) inclusive of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. That Act deals with far more than just going in and out through the door of a building, because there is not much point in doing that unless the person can get around within the building, and unless the facilities that are available for the public within the building are available to those who are, sadly, disabled.

For instance, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act deals explicitly with sanitary provision—toilets. But that is hardly something that can be dealt with under the Town and Country Planning Acts. We have been told time and again by the various Departments—the Department of the Environment, the Scottish Office, and the Welsh Office—that town and country planning legislation is not suitable for dealing with those details within a building. That is why we need the provision of building regulations.

I quote an answer received on 29 January by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) from the Department of the Environment. The hon. Gentleman is a leading campaigner on the issue. The reply was: I am considering whether the code of practice in BS 5810 should form the basis of a building regulation, but, in the meantime, it is published and available for use by architects and designers".—[Official Report, 29 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 625] In Scotland, in England and in Wales also we need a definitive answer. The planning legislation deals with getting in and out of a building, but we want a definitive answer on what happens inside the building.

The form of words in the new clause may not be appropriate, but I urge the Government, if they cannot accept the clause now, to table an amendment in another place to clear up the matter once and for all. We have had the report of the Silver Jubilee committee. If we are to solve the problem, let us do it in the International Year of Disabled People.

We are looking for a solution. I urge the Scottish Office to give a lead that England and Wales can follow by responding sympathetically to the clause. If the Government cannot take it on board in its entirety, I hope that they will deal with the matter in another place so that we get appropriate legislation on the statute book this year.

Mr. Younger

I am very grateful to every hon. Member who has contributed to the debate and to those who have tabled amendments on the most important aspects. I respond at once to what the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) said. He is extremely welcome to join in the debate in every way. We want to take the opportunity of the International Year of Disabled People to forward these matters in whatever way we can. If he has further thoughts or ideas that he wishes to raise at a later stage in another place, I assure him that my noble Friend will consider them with me to see whether there are further ways in which we can help.

I shall respond as positively as I can to all that has been said. I shall move as far as I can in the direction that hon. Gentlemen have asked, both in Committee and in the House.

Most logically, I shall begin with amendment No. 39 tabled by the hon. Member for Berwich and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). As he said, his amendment falls into two parts. The first would require planning authorities to ensure that applicants were aware not only of the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act but of the British Standards Institution's code of practice on the access for the disabled to buildings. I accept the aim of that part of the amendment. I cannot accept the precise wording, although I know that he intended the amendment to be correct, but for technical reasons it is not suitable. He will have noticed that our amendment has different wording.

I assure the hon. Member that the Government amendments Nos. 37 and 38 are designed to achieve the same result as the first half of his amendment. In no sense do I criticise the first part of the amendment. We now have the proper wording but in the same form.

The second part of the amendment provides that These factors shall be material considerations in terms of subsection (1) of this section, and the planning authority may impose conditions to ensure that statutory duties concerning access for the disabled are carried out. I accept the object that the hon. Gentleman tries to achieve. I repeat that planning authorities already have the `powers to impose conditions concerning access for disabled people to buildings when this can be justified on planning grounds. My hon. Friend gave an example in Committee of the planning authority that had made use of conditions in this way. It is not the only example. My hon. Friend also mentioned that he would give serious consideration to the question of a circular to local authorities on this subject. I am glad tonight to give an undertaking that I shall be issuing such a circular at the earliest convenient opportunity. It will set out to clarify the position on the attachment of conditions dealing with access to buildings by disabled people.

Mr. Home Robertson

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the conditions he and I have in mind would stand up if challenged either at an official inquiry or in a court of law? If it emerged that the provisions were not watertight, is he prepared to consider further amendment?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the point. Access for the disabled is certainly a material consideration. My hon. Friend has stated that the Government are prepared to make it clear to planning authorities that this is so. The circular will set out to try and do that.

I accept that a circular does not have the force of law. However, it sets out the legal position as seen at the time by the Secretary of State. Although every appeal has to be considered on its merits, there must be a general presumption that the principles set out in a Government circular that were relevant to a decision would carry considerable weight. I shall be glad to look at further points if the hon. Gentleman so wishes. On the whole, I think I have gone a long way towards meeting his aim.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Is the Secretary of State basically saying that what the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) seeks in the second part of his amendment is unnecessary because these powers already exist even if they have not been applied and that they could be applied by a planning authority?

Mr. Younger

Yes, I am saying that. It is fair, however, to say to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) that it does not go quite as far as the proposal in the second part of his amendment. However, it goes a long way. With the addition of the circular, which will be fairly strongly worded, that I propose to issue to local authorities, it will give the necessary lead to authorities and indicate that the Government expect a response that amounts to more than passive lip service. We expect it to be taken aboard positively.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The right hon. Gentleman said that it does not go quite as far. In what way does it fall short?

Mr. Younger

The second part of the amendment of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian states: These factors shall be material considerations in terms of subsection (1) of this section, and the planning authority may impose conditions to ensure that statutory duties concerning access for the disabled are carried out. That is all right so far as it goes. I understood from the remarks of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian that he was trying to ensure that these material considerations had to be imposed in all cases. I could not go so far as that. We are going almost all the way with the hon. Gentleman. It is the case that a planning authority may impose conditions. That will be strengthened by a circular telling them that they jolly well ought to impose conditions. But the Government will not make this mandatory. Even if the hon. Gentleman wants that, I would not be prepared to go that far.

12.15 am
Mr. Maclennan

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, particularly as I did not have an opportunity earlier of taking part in this important discussion. Do I understand aright that the current position in law is that the local authority may impose conditions where planning considerations justify that? If so, will the right hon. Gentleman's circular spell out what planning considerations would justify the imposition of conditions? It seems that that is central to removing the objections to the present law.

Mr. Younger

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but there are two separate matters here. The circular will spell out much more clearly and in harder terms what is expected of a local authority in imposing such conditions. The other half, which I have not yet come to, is the question of the building regulations and our review of them. It is in that review and any new regulations that come out of it that the details of what the conditions should include should be spelt out in technical terms.

Mr. Wigley

I am sorry to keep intervening in a Scottish debate, but is the Secretary of State aware that there have been appeals on the use of the England and Wales Act, with identical wording, and the inspector has come down against using section 29 of the Town and Country Planning Act for such purposes? Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that from now on, given that it is reasonable and practicable, the attitude of the Scottish Office will be not to go against local authorities that want to use the powers in this way?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The wording may be identical—I have not checked on that—but the hearing would come under Scottish law, and it does not always follow that what would be decided, even with identical wording, under English law would necessarily be the same under Scottish law. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland will agree. If the hon. Gentleman writes to let me know what the cases are, I shall look into them to see whether we can give him any opinion as to what the parallel position in Scotland might be.

It may be some consolation to hon. Members to know that, although it is difficult to detail everything that is happening, we have information that both Aberdeen and Glasgow, two important authorities, impose such conditions in appropriate cases as a matter of policy. I think that other local authorities also do that.

I come to the amendment of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), amendment No. 40, which covers some of the same ground. The point in his amendment that is substantially different is the second half, which would introduce a new provision into planning law—that planning authorities should have to explain on the grant of planning permission why they had not attached certain conditions. I see the attraction of that. It is a way of pinning an authority down as to why it has not done something, but I cannot accept the amendment as it stands.

There are a whole string of material considerations that authorities must take into account. If we once provided that an authority had to say why it had not taken a particular category of consideration into account, all sorts of consequential possibilities would arise. It would make a difficult nonsense of the planning procedure if there had to be a whole set of appendices at the end of every planning decision, saying why the authority had not considered this, that and the other.

I do not suggest that the amendment is a bad idea, but I do not think that in its present form it would be practicable to operate, without causing considerable chaos in the planning system.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East may have other ideas and he may care to pursue them in another way. He may agree that his amendment would not be workable as it stands.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he does not wish the Bill to include a mandatory procedure and that he would prefer to rely upon a circular and advisory guidance, for reasons that he has stipulated. Some of his objections to the mandatory procedure are taken care of in the amendment, which allows for exceptions. It provides for certain circumstances where access arrangements for the disabled could not be provided in a practicable fashion. That would allow a get-out for developers and local authorities. The right hon. Gentleman's fears about the problems attaching to reasons and exceptions are rather exaggerated.

Mr. Younger

I am not certain whether we are talking about the same thing. I do not dispute the desirability of finding ways of tying down authorities and making them obliged in every instance to include the considerations that we are discussing in their thinking. I am on a narrower point. I do not think that it would be practicable in every planning application, for developments of a certain size to require the onus of proof to be on the authority. That is going too far. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that when a planning authority is considering a planning application it should take into account all the considerations affecting access and egress for the disabled, I agree with him. All that is between us is the closely defined mandatory approach of the placing of a duty on authorities, which they have, to take these matters into account with the powers to impose conditions, which they have, backed by a strongly worded circular to remind them, and a strengthening of the building regulations.

If the last three factors are taken together, we surely have a considerable advance on the position hitherto. I was delighted to note that the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Caernarvon, the Disabled Persons (No. 2) Bill, took its first tentative step on Friday. Clause 31 with Government amendments Nos. 37, 28 and 47 achieve virtually the same effect as the proposals in the hon. Gentleman's Bill. I do not know whether he will fully agree with me. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's Bill and the Bill before us will appear on the statute book before very long.

I turn to the new clause, which I have not yet referred to specifically. I do not think that we would get the best results by putting a duty on the Secretary of State to make new regulations. There is a case for extending the building standards regulations to cover the needs of the disabled. That is a complex matter that we are already working upon. We have been considering whether the British Standards code of access to buildings for the disabled should, in effect, be given the force of law by endorsement in the building standards regulations. There would be many implications if we were to take that course. We are considering whether such a step would be practicable. We are not yet able to say whether it would be practicable or whether it would achieve the best results.

Hon. Members have shown a great interest in this issue and I hope that they will feel that we are moving positively and as fast as we can to try to harden the existing provisions. It is a source of frustration to all hon. Members, and certainly those who have been here for 10 years or more, that progress has been frustratingly slow since the principal Act. The vast majority of public buildings built since 1970 have provision for the disabled, though perhaps not always as good as we should like.

Mr. Home Robertson

What about Ayr police station?

Mr. Younger

Ayr police station is another matter—and Ayr swimming baths, where the greatest problem was not access for the disabled. The baths could not be completed for many years because they kept leaking.

I hope that I have indicated to hon. Members who have rightly shown a great interest in the International Year of Disabled People that I share their desire to get things moving. In the amendments, parts of which have come about through contributions from hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, we have moved a considerable distance in the right direction. I hope, therefore, that they will accept our amendments and not press theirs.

Mr. O'Neill

When the Secretary of State rose we had some expectation that a concession would be made, because the right hon. Gentleman usually appears when a sugared pill is to be administered. He has gone some way towards meeting our points, not least those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who deserves considerable credit. Early in Committee he brought the matter to the attention of the House. I believe that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) will accept that he has been more responsible than anyone for focusing attention of the problem. It is unfortunate that the Minister is not prepared to go all the way.

Since the disabled persons legislation was passed 10 or more years ago, we have had an unfortunate saga of good attempts that have failed to measure up to the requirements of the disabled. We are grateful to the Minister for the frankness with which he explains his position. Perhaps because of his frankness we are able to say that he has not gone far enough.

Amendment No. 39 effectively blocks amendment No. 38. It removes the teeth in my hon. Friend's amendment. We should like to be assured that we will see a copy of the circular before the Bill completes its journey through the other place, albeit in draft form. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Thomas) has misgivings because of experience in other parts of the United Kingdom. If, with all-party support, the provision was amended in another place, we should be pleased.

We are disappointed that the Secretary of State has missed the opportunity to support an articulate and effective lobby, of which my hon. Friends are mouthpieces in the House. The external pressure groups will not be satisfied with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, although he has gone some way towards meeting the requirements.

Mr. Younger

It should be possible to produce a draft circular before the Bill has passed through the other place. I undertake to do my best to that end.

Mr. O'Neill

I am grateful to the Minister. I accept his undertaking not as a concession but as an act of conciliation. However, it still does not go far enough, so I ask my colleagues to support new clause 10 in the Lobby. We should make clear our commitment to the International Year of Disabled People.

While we accept that the Minister may be acting for the best of reasons, we hope that he will think again, and that when the Government have the opportunity to reconsider the matter elsewhere they will give us more than he has been prepared to concede today. We can only say that once again, an opportunity has been missed, and it seems that perhaps it is not the legislators but the bureaucrats who are behind the opposition to the new clause.

12.30 pm
Mr. Gordon Wilson

Frankly, I am disappointed with the Secretary of State's reaction. I had hoped that he would be able to advance the case of the disabled further. Yet, after all the words and the promise of a draft circular, which is what it boils down to, we are no further advanced than we were at the start of the debate.

Government amendment No. 38 is useful. It is better than nothing but not much. We are still relying upon circulars and advisory provisions, although the Silver Jubilee report said that the building regulations, and so forth, should be mandatory.

With regard to new clause 10, various Governments have now been studying proposals for improvements for the disabled for three years. I draw the Minister's attention to one point in relation to the new clause. He has been given a year, in any event, until 31 March 1982, in which to provide the regulations incorporating the British Standards Institution code of practice, and so on. I believe that that gives him and his Department adequate time on top of the three years that he or his predecessors have already had for the production of the regulations.

I see no reason whatever why the Minister cannot accept new clause 10. I certainly hope that the House will take the matter into its own hands and put the new clause into law.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 64, Noes 118.

Division No.117] [12.32 am
Alton, David Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Beith, A.J. Lambie, David
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Lamond, James
Bray, Dr Jeremy McCartney, Hugh
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) McKelvey, William
Campbell, Ian MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Campbell-Savours, Dale Maclennan, Robert
Canavan, Dennis McTaggart, Robert
Carmichael, Neil McWilliam, John
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Marshall, D(G'gowS'ton)
Cook, Robin F. Maxton, John
Craigen, J. M. Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cryer, Bob Morton, George
Dalyell, Tam O'Neill, Martin
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dempsey, James Prescott, John
Dewar, Donald Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Dixon, Donald Rowlands, Ted
Dormand, Jack Sever, John
Douglas, Dick Skinner, Dennis
Dubs, Alfred Snape, Peter
Eadie, Alex Spearing, Nigel
Eastham, Ken Steel, Rt Hon David
Foster, Derek Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Foulkes, George Strang, Gavin
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Tinn, James
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Welsh, Michael
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Whitehead, Phillip
Haynes, Frank
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire) Tellers for the Ayes:
HomeRobertson, John Mr. Gordon Wilson and
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Mr. Dafydd Wigley.
Alexander, Richard Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Ancram, Michael Garel-Jones, Tristan
Atkins, Robert (Preston N) Goodlad, Alastair
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Gorst, John
Benyon, Thomas (A 'don) Gray, Hamish
Berry, Hon Anthony Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Best, Keith Hawkins, Paul
Bevan, David Gilroy Hawksley, Warren
Biggs-Davison, John Henderson, Barry
Blackburn, John Hurd, HonDouglas
Boscawen, Hon Robert Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Braine, Sir Bernard King, Rt Hon Tom
Bright, Graham Knight, MrsJill
Brinton, Tim Lang, Ian
Brooke, Hon Peter LeMarchant, Spencer
Budgen, Nick Lester Jim (Beeston)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Lyell, Nicholas
Chapman, Sydney Macfarlane, Neil
Clark, Hon A, (Plym'th, S'n) MacGregor, John
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) MacKay, John (Argyll)
Cockeram, Eric McNair-Wison, M. (N'bury)
Colvin, Michael McQuarrie, Albert
Cope, John Madel, David
Corrie, John Major, John
Cranborne, Viscount Marlow, Tony
Crouch, David Marten, Neil (Banbury)
Dover, Denshore Mather, Carol
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Dykes, Hugh Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fairbairn, Nicholas Meyer, Sir Anthony
Fairgrieve, Russell Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Fletcher, A, (Ed'nb'gh N) Moate, Roger
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Monro, Hector
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Stanbrook, Ivor
Murphy, Christopher Stevens, Martin
Myles, David Stewart,A. (E Renfrewshire)
Needham, Richard Stradling Thomas,J.
Nelson, Anthony Taylor, Teddy (S' end E)
Neubert, Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
Newton, Tony Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Normanton, Tom Thompson, Donald
Page, Rt Hon Sir G, (Crosby) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Pattie, Geoffrey Trippier, David
Pollock, Alexander Waddington, David
Proctor, K, Harvey Wakeham, John
Raison, Timothy Walker, B. (Perth)
Rathbone, Tim Waller, Gary
Renton, Tim Ward, John
Rhodes James, Robert Watson, John
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wells, Bowen
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Wheeler, John
Rifkind, Malcolm Wolfson, Mark
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rost, Peter Younger, Rt Hon George
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Speller, Tony Tellers for the Noes:
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset) Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) and
Sproat, Iain Mr. John Selwyn Gummer.
Squire, Robin

Question accordingly negatived.

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