HC Deb 12 March 2003 vol 401 cc263-4W
Mr. Drew

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the implications of the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 on village halls with specific reference to the legal requirement placed by the Act upon trustees, cases in which halls may have to close because of non-compliance with the Act, what funding available to meet the requirements of the Act; and the mechanism for access to funds to help meet the Act's requirements. [102436]

Alun Michael

I have been engaging in discussion with representatives of the Village Halls Association, other stakeholders, and national and local funding bodies, about a range of issues concerning the financing of village halls and other rural community meeting-places, including the implications of the Disability Discrimination Act and of the Licensing Bill currently before Parliament.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, those service providers who provide services to the public have since 1999 been required to make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people to access their services. From 1 October 2004 they will also be required to make reasonable adjustments to the physical features of their premises that would otherwise make access impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled customers.

Those managing village halls or running activities there are subject to the Act in the same way as other service providers; but the test of reasonableness takes account of the provider's financial resources, and there should be no question of village halls being forced to close. However, it is very much in the public interest that activities taking place in village halls should be accessible to disabled people living in rural communities.

Lead responsibility for funding renovation of village halls lies with the local community, with help from local authorities, national funding agencies, and charitable sources. No earmarked funds are available to help meet any costs resulting from the Disability Discrimination Act. However, very substantial public funds are available to help village halls: around £17 million last year from the Community Fund, and a similar amount in total from other sources.

A draft Government position paper on the funding and regulation of village halls was produced by my Department for a meeting last week of the stakeholder group I mentioned above: once this has been revised I will place a copy in the Library.