Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Thursday 16th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill 2019-21 View all Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text
Simon Clarke Portrait The Minister of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Mr Simon Clarke)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Government recognise the vital role that public lavatories play in our communities and the economy. Ensuring access to public toilets and handwashing facilities is critical in maintaining a high level of public hygiene as the lockdown continues to ease across the country. More generally, our ability to work or to enjoy leisure time often depends on the availability of appropriate toilet facilities. This is especially important for essential workers such as taxi or delivery drivers who do not work in fixed locations and who often rely on public facilities, and it will be important for all of us as more and more people begin making use of our public spaces again as lockdown eases.

Given how vital these facilities are, it is understandable that there has been significant public concern about the potential reduction in available lavatories. Members of this House have also raised valid concerns about the provision of toilet facilities in their own constituencies. At Budget 2018, the Government responded to calls from local councils and the public and committed to introduce a business rates relief for public lavatories. This Bill delivers on that commitment, providing support for those who provide public lavatories, both publicly and privately run, by reducing one of the most significant running costs for toilets and making it easier for them to be kept open.

Today also marks an opportunity to thank colleagues in this House who have campaigned long and hard for the Bill’s introduction, including my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), who is in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden), as well as a number of others. Furthermore, I thank the National Association of Local Councils for providing its support for this Bill. I am pleased to say that, in line with the announcement at Budget 2020 by the Chancellor, this Bill will, subject to Royal Assent, apply retrospectively from April 2020. That will mean that, for eligible properties, the relief will be backdated to the start of this financial year.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)
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I thank my hon. Friend for bringing forward the Bill. Does he share with me the relief felt by key workers across my constituency, such as ambulance drivers and the police, who, in rural areas, often conduct very long shifts and, as a result of the efficiency of putting those workers on the frontline, no longer benefit from physical facilities themselves?

Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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That is a well made point. It is precisely because so many people rely on these facilities that it is important that we do this. Although it is not necessarily the kind of legislation that people will talk about in 100 years’ time, it is of real, practical value.

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Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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As the hon. Lady says, they should—because this legislation does something of lasting benefit. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith), and I also commend the hard work of our emergency services throughout the current crisis.

I am aware that, as we emerge from lockdown restrictions, there has been concern about the reopening of public toilet facilities that may have been closed because of covid-19. Although decisions on reopening public lavatories are rightly for councils, the Government have been clear that we encourage them to open wherever possible. Indeed, I wrote to councils in June to say just this and to refer them to the Government’s advice on measures that can be taken to open toilets safely. I am grateful to councils for their efforts in reopening these facilities and hope that today’s Bill will come as welcome news.

I extend my general gratitude to the local authorities, town and parish councils up and down the country that work hard to provide public lavatories in their areas and to keep them open. I also pay tribute to the councils, associations and businesses that have launched innovative local initiatives to provide further lavatory access to the public—for example, the community toilet scheme devised by the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames that is now used by local authorities across the country. This enables local businesses to work together with councils to widen lavatory access so that the public can use their facilities without making a purchase. I recognise that that may be more challenging in current circumstances, but it is an innovative and helpful approach that I commend, and which will become important as more and more businesses reopen.

I highlight the excellent work of the British Toilet Association and its national campaign—imaginatively called “Use Our Loos”—which encourages businesses to join these community schemes and open their toilets to the public. Participating lavatories are shown on a map called the Great British public toilet map, so that visitors to an area always know the location of available facilities.

For some people, medical or other conditions may mean that they are particularly likely to need access to toilet facilities at short notice, so I very much welcome the introduction of the “Can’t Wait” card, which is now widely accepted by businesses, even when they do not offer public facilities. I am sure that Members across the House will join me in commending such initiatives, which are already making a huge difference to people’s lives.

For people with special access requirements, it is about not just having any facilities available, but having the right facilities. That is why there has been a strong cross-Government drive to provide more Changing Places lavatories to help maintain the dignity of people with special lavatory requirements when they are away from home. The Department for Transport’s inclusive transport strategy includes £2 million to improve the provision of Changing Places toilets in motorway service areas, and the Department of Health and Social Care has made £2 million available to install over 100 Changing Places toilets in NHS hospitals throughout England.

In May 2019, we launched a consultation on proposals for the increased provision of Changing Places toilets in new and refurbished buildings. Following that consultation, the Government have committed to change building regulations guidance to mandate the provision of Changing Places toilets in new public buildings. At Budget 2020, the Chancellor confirmed that the Government will launch a £30 million Changing Places fund. This will allow the Government to work with the Changing Places Consortium and others to identify the sectors where we most need to accelerate the provision of such facilities in existing buildings.

Although the focus of today’s Bill and this debate is public toilets, I recognise that this Bill comes at a time of unprecedented challenges for business, when business rates may be at the forefront of concerns for those who occupy non-domestic properties. That is why the Government are taking unprecedented steps to help businesses that are most affected. As a result of the Government’s expanded retail, hospitality and leisure relief, eligible businesses are expected to receive almost £10 billion in business rates relief as part of the Government’s wider support for the economy during the pandemic. Combined with existing measures, this means that a total of 1.1 million ratepayers—over half of all ratepayers—will pay no business rates at all in 2020-21. Our economic response is one of the most generous globally, and the Government are working urgently to deliver vital schemes such as the expanded retail discount as quickly as possible. I would like to use today’s debate to pay tribute to local authorities for working hard to implement these measures right across the country.

The Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill is only a short, four-clause Bill, but one that is important to reduce running costs and help keep these vital public facilities open. The Government have been listening to and addressing issues surrounding the provision of public toilets for some time. A measure to enable local authorities to give business rates relief to public toilets through the discretionary relief system was included as part of the Local Government Finance Bill in 2017, and concerns were raised that a discretionary relief not fully funded by central Government would not be widely used. The Government have listened. This Bill will provide 100% mandatory relief. Specifically, the Bill provides 100% mandatory business rates relief to properties in England and Wales that are used wholly or mainly as public lavatories. Local authorities will be responsible for implementing the relief and will be fully compensated by central Government for any loss of local income resulting from the measure. Subject to the safe passage of the Bill, it will have retrospective effect from 1 April just gone, in line with the Chancellor’s commitment at Budget.

The Welsh Government have worked with the UK Government to ensure that public lavatories in Wales will also benefit from this measure. That will help the Welsh Government to deliver their commitment to provide access to public toilets for public use under part 8 of the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017.

A business rates relief for public toilets has been called for by councils and health and disability charities for some time and has wide-ranging public support. The Government have responded. This small but important Bill will make a real difference to many people’s lives, including essential workers, as lockdown eases. The savings will assist councils. Removing the additional costs of business rates could make the difference in helping to keep these vital facilities open, while supporting high standards of public hygiene as we emerge from the virus. I hope that Members across the House will agree that this is a positive step and support the Bill’s passage. I commend it to the House.

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Luke Hall Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Luke Hall)
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May I start by thanking the Opposition Front-Bench team for the constructive tone with which they approached this important debate? This is a vital Bill and we have heard excellent contributions from Members from across the House about the importance of this issue. I completely agree with those who said that we should be talking about this issue more and not be afraid of talking about the importance of public toilets to people in our community. The Bill recognises that importance, and when the Minister of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), opened this debate he made the point that when we emerge from the lockdown it is going to be more crucial than ever that people have access to appropriate toilet and hand washing facilities. Members from across the House will know from discussions with their own constituents that the provision of appropriate facilities is vital and can make a huge difference to people’s ability to leave their home to go out to see friends and family and to do shopping. That makes a huge difference to people’s quality of life and their mental health, which is a huge part of why this Bill is so important. We have been hugely grateful for the contributions today.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) for his tireless work in championing this change. He talked powerfully about the fact that he has been campaigning for it for eight years since he was made the cabinet member at Cornwall Council and that he has taken this to Secretaries of State and Prime Ministers to secure agreement. It has taken his drive, and that of other hon. Members, to push this forward. I also thank him for the points he made about the importance of public toilets to rural and coastal communities, and the tourism industry—he is right to highlight that. Let me also take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to the town and parish councils in Cornwall that he mentioned, because of course we recognise the point he made about the significant costs placed on such councils. He also made an interesting and important point about what more we can do to make sure that money is reaching the right places in town and parish councils. That is exactly why my hon. Friend the Minister of State has made it clear in his communications that money should be being passed down to those councils to manage these important facilities. We are happy to keep speaking to my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay as this Bill progresses to see what more can be done to make sure that money is getting to the right places. We have stressed the importance of that time and again, but he is right to raise it in the House again today.

The hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), a west of England neighbour of mine, rightly gave a passionate speech about this issue. I have lived in Bristol, and I know we are both aware of the issues associated with the occasional lack of availability, so she is right to address them in the way she has. She made important points about the additional cleaning and covid pressures that can come with running these sorts of public facilities. She asked a number of questions which I hope to address throughout my remarks. She asked whether there was something we could do during the passage of this Bill to check her calculations and work with her to make sure we are bringing forward appropriate information to inform the debate. My colleagues will be happy to work with her to make that happen and look at that throughout the Bill’s passage. We are happy to work with her on that issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan) rightly and powerfully talked about the importance of toilets and public facilities needing to be available for all. A number of Members talked about the importance of making sure that toilets are available for all, including those with special access requirements. It is important to note that the Bill will help with that. The 100% relief applies equally to all facilities, including accessible facilities. But of course we want to go further to support increased provision, in particular Changing Places toilets that are fully accessible for those with the most significant needs who may need assistance to use the toilet. Following our consultation last year, we have committed to change building regulations guidance to mandate the provision of Changing Places toilets in new public buildings. We expect that this provision will come into effect in early 2021.

Additionally, at Budget this year, we confirmed that we would be launching a £30 million Changing Places fund, and would be working closely with the Changing Places Consortium, stakeholders and Members of this House to help to accelerate the provision of accessible facilities in existing buildings. My ministerial colleague mentioned the important £2 million investment from the Department for Transport in its inclusive transport strategy and the £2 million made available by the Department of Health and Social Care in order to install over 100 Changing Places toilets in NHS hospitals throughout England. These measures will make a real difference in maintaining the dignity of people with special access requirements when they are away from home.

We also heard points made about the safe reopening of toilets as we come out of lockdown. That is of the utmost importance as we ensure that access to public toilets can happen in a safe way. It is for councils to decide to reopen their facilities as we come out of lockdown, but we have been strongly encouraging them to open public lavatories wherever possible, as has been noted a number of times in the debate. We wrote to local authorities to encourage them to do that. We thank them for their work in making sure that public lavatories can now open in a safe and timely way. We are sincerely grateful for all their work to help to make that happen.

The Opposition asked what extra support is going to be available for public lavatories during covid. I would put on record the extra £3.7 billion that we have supported councils with over the past few months as they deal with a very difficult set of circumstances—reduced income and increasing costs—throughout the course of this pandemic. That was on top of a good local government finance settlement this year, with a 4.4% real-terms rise in core spending power—another £2.9 billion.

The Opposition also highlighted a concern about toilets in other public buildings. They are right to raise that issue. We want to be clear that the relief will apply to properties that are wholly or mainly used as public toilets. In general, it will not apply to toilets within shopping centres, for instance, as was highlighted, or public libraries. We have wanted to target the relief to best support the provision of public lavatories. In particular, we want to support facilities that exist where there are unlikely to be other publicly available toilets or where removing the additional costs of business rates could make a real difference to their ability to stay open. Of course, we are happy to work with the Opposition throughout the course of the Bill’s passage.

This Bill will benefit the public and reduce costs for councils and others that are seeking to ensure facilities can stay open. It has wide-ranging support in this House, and we look forward to working with colleagues as it progresses. I want to put on record my thanks to the businesses, charities and local authorities who have been so important in the management of these facilities. The Bill will support the provision of facilities for those individuals for whom access to toilets is particularly important, whether for health reasons or because of the nature of their work. It complements our wider efforts around the provision of more Changing Places toilets. We are very grateful for all the thoughtful contributions from Members across the House as we look to deliver this vital change for our local authorities. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Non-domestic rating (Public Lavatories) Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill:


(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

(2) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.

(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.

(4) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to other proceedings up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(5) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(David T. C. Davies.)

Question agreed to.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I suspend the House for two minutes.