Lord Greenhalgh debates involving the Home Office during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 24th Feb 2021
Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill
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Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Banks: Forged Customer Signatures

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Monday 16th January 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I do not believe that they are toothless tigers. As I have said a number of times regarding capacity and resources, a great deal is being done. There will be significant improvement to the National Economic Crime Victim Care Unit over the course of this year, and I would be happy to answer more questions on that.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister recognise that it is not the banks that we should be aiming at but the fraudsters themselves. The City of London Police, the Metropolitan Police and the National Crime Agency do a fantastic job. However, in some ways, Action Fraud should be renamed “No Further Action Fraud”, because we need more resources. This crime is getting greater. Let us not turn our fire on the banks but go after the fraudsters.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I completely agree with my noble friend that we should look at the fraudsters. Regarding Action Fraud, we are providing £10 million to the City of London Police this year to support the upgrade in the Action Fraud service. A project is under way to transform the Action Fraud website, where the public can report fraud and cybercrime. That is part of the continuous improvements to the national service, which will be fully upgraded by 2024.

Independent Cultural Review of the London Fire Brigade

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Thursday 8th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for securing this timely debate. It is important that this House considers the implications of this shocking review. I declare that I was not only the Fire Minister until July but the first London Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime. We have had two reviews—the Casey Review and Nazir Afzal’s review—that really give us pause for thought about what we need to do and what action needs to be taken so that the sort of racism and misogyny, to be frank, that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, campaigned against is a thing of the past.

As someone now well into middle age, I was struck by the phrase in Nazir Afzal’s report that 20th-century banter can lead to the vile abuse, racism and misogyny that can lead to loss of life. I grew up in the 1980s and was at university in the 1990s. I think we all experienced that culture of the mob when growing up—there was quite disgraceful behaviour, and you had to choose. The best I can say about myself is that I chose not to participate and stayed silent. I was not brave enough to intervene, but perhaps I was a child. We must recognise that that sort of 20th-century banter has no place in the 21st century.

I was also struck by the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about the need for this to be not a talking point but a turning point. That is why I feel I need to reflect on why this happened and what we need to do about it in the time I have available.

As to why, both the police and the fire and rescue service are essential front-line public services that we need at times. The police keep us safe and the fire and rescue service rescues us; we rely on them in dire times. They go forward and face danger, and of course we love them for doing that, but they also promote from within their organisations. That means that every leader, whether of the union, right to the top of the national executive, or the leadership of the London Fire Brigade, passes through the ranks. It is a “promote from within” organisation.

I support the comments that we must commend the leadership of Andy Roe. He had the courage, with the support of the mayor, to commission this review and has accepted all 23 recommendations, but he has to look at the leadership around him and ask who is fostering that culture that is so unacceptable in the workplace and root them out, starting at the top and working all the way down. That is the only way that we will solve this problem.

I listened very carefully to the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. She talked about how co-operative the London Fire Brigade’s union has been in engaging on this, but I have heard different stories about the national executive of the Fire Brigades Union. I have had conversations with the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross; we need leadership in the union at a national level that is as strong as we see from Andy Roe as the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade. It is one of the world’s largest fire and rescue services, with 6,000 people working there. We have to look at a change in leadership to understand why this happened and what we can do to ensure that it never happens again.

What do we do about it, so that it is no longer a talking point? I spent two years and three months as Fire Minister. I will not say it was an easy—I may be using the wrong word—assignment; in fact, after a 20-year local government career, the two years as a Minister of State across levelling up and the Home Office were probably the hardest and least fulfilling of any element of public service in my political career.

However, we did produce one thing—an idea of the late James Brokenshire, who said to me, “Stephen, that thinking on reforming fire and rescue services needs to be wrapped up in a White Paper”. Nazir Afzal says that this culture spreads well beyond London; it is a national issue that requires a national solution. There is a blueprint for reform. To misquote Sir Robert Walpole, I am certainly no saint, no spartan, but I am a reformer. I ask my noble friend the Minister to think very carefully about how we can move now, based on this review, to deliver this White Paper, which sets out a blueprint for reform around improving the access of people of all types across this great global city to join the service—women, men and women of colour, and all minorities—to reflect the capital they serve. It would increase, drive forward and boost professionalism and strengthen governance.

The governance model in London is right in the sense that it is mayoral oversight, but the resources of the Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience are woefully inadequate, as is the structure elsewhere. Governance to hold people to account must be strengthened at the London level. Democratisation—having an elected leader in the mayor overseeing an important service such as this, with the requisite resources to challenge and support the commissioner to deliver for London—is important. I call on my noble friend to say whether this will happen. Having been in his seat for over two years, I know that it is often down to something called PBL—getting a legislative timeslot—but we need action now to bring about change in our fire and rescue services. We should implement the blueprint now and in full.

Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Bill

Lord Greenhalgh Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 24th February 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I draw the Committee’s attention to my interests as listed in the register: as a member of Kirklees Council and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to which I have added my name, challenge the scope of the Bill in its restriction to public toilets that are stand-alone and not part of a larger public building, such as a library or community centre. I thank the Minister for the opportunity to discuss these amendments and for the letter that he sent explaining the reasons for confining the scope of the Bill to stand-alone public toilets. However, we have to remember that one consequence of the long period of cuts to local government funding has been that many public toilets have been closed permanently. In my local authority, which serves nearly half a million people, there are now no stand-alone public toilets. The Bill is welcome but it is very much like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

These amendments are intended to encourage the Government to appreciate the wider need to increase the availability of public toilets. There is already pressure for some public toilets in public buildings to be closed because of the costs associated with keeping them open, as they are not part of the focused purpose of the building. For example, a public library is having to use scarce funds to keep the public toilets in its building open when there is barely sufficient funding to staff the building. That is the dilemma facing local authorities, certainly in the northern urban areas that I know well.

My noble friend Lord Greaves’s points are well made. Local people regard public toilets within a public building as being the same as stand-alone public toilets. The challenge is explained in the letter that I referred to earlier—the volume of work it would impose on the valuation office—but my noble friend Lord Greaves’s amendment seeks to find a way round this for public toilets that have separate access. I hope that the Minister is able to respond positively to that amendment.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is an expert on these matters. He has said that valuation for rating is not just about facts and figures. One example that he provided was the relief given to charities. The Government would do well to take heed of the arguments that the noble and learned Lord made, and that view has been well supported by my noble friend Lady Randerson. As well as making those arguments and supporting my noble friend Lord Greaves’s view, she argued that improved public toilets are more secure and can be more easily kept clean if they are within a public building, rather than being stand-alone.

The Government have a responsibility to ensure adequate availability of publicly funded public toilets. It is a responsibility that has been accepted since the days of the great Victorian public heath reformers. The Bill demonstrates that the Government continue to accept that they have that responsibility. It is not sufficient, in fulfilling this obligation, to make those public toilets that have survived the cull zero rated. The Government must provide the means for local government to increase availability to meet local need. That is what these amendments seek to do and I wholeheartedly support them.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (Lord Greenhalgh) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for raising the points highlighted by his amendment and for his valuable and knowledgeable contribution to the Second Reading debate, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and, with great knowledge, by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. I point out that the horse has not bolted entirely. There are nearly 4,000 separately assessed public toilets in England and Wales—3,990 as of 31 March 2020—and therefore this is a very important relief for those properties.

The effect of the first amendment would be to extend the scope of the relief to include publicly owned properties, such as libraries, community centres and other local authority properties, where they contain free-to-use public lavatories. In effect, this would mean that the local authority-owned buildings that contained a non-fee-paying public lavatory would be exempted from paying rates.

It is the Government’s firm view that public bodies, like other ratepayers, should pay rates on the properties they own and occupy, and it is therefore right that the legislation should broadly reflect this principle. The Government’s policy aim, and the purpose of Clause 1, is clear in that it provides a targeted relief to support the provision of public lavatories in specific circumstances. In particular, we want to support facilities that exist where there are unlikely to be any other publicly available toilets, such as those along our coastline or in towns, where removing the additional costs of business rates could make a significant difference to the ability of councils or others to keep the facilities open.

For England, the cost of this targeted measure is estimated to be around £6 million. The amendment would significantly increase this; for example, extending support to public libraries alone would see a tenfold increase in cost—to around £60 million. Although I recognise where the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is coming from, this is not the aim of the Bill. I do not agree with the premise of this amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I have nothing really to add: the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has set out very clearly and carefully what he seeks to get from his amendment. As we have heard, it is a very good probing amendment that gives the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, the opportunity to set out carefully for the Committee what is meant by “or mainly”. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, this is a good House of Lords way of getting into the detail of the Bill, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. Amendment 7 seeks, of course, to provide a welcome definition of what “mainly” could be construed or interpreted as, giving weight to public use of public lavatories. I will leave it there, and I look forward to the Minister’s explanation.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am beginning to learn how the House works, and I appreciate the education; I am sure I will get used to this way of drawing out important information. These amendments probe the current definition of a public lavatory that would qualify for this relief, and seek to amend this definition to capture some of the facilities that the Bill does not currently cover.

The Government have carefully drafted the scope of the Bill, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to set out for the House the rationale behind this decision. Subject to Royal Assent, the relief within this Bill will apply to all hereditaments that

“consist wholly or mainly of public lavatories”.

Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, probes the meaning of “mainly” in this provision. The phrase “wholly or mainly” can be found across government legislation and, in particular, exists within that legislation which provides for an 80% business rate discount to properties used

“wholly or mainly for charitable purposes”,

as the noble Lord mentioned. Local authorities are responsible for deciding which properties are eligible for business rate relief, and the use of “mainly” provides for some discretion on their part.

However, I will directly respond to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on how this would work in practice. Councils should reflect on all relevant matters, including any relevant case law and guidance, when making these decisions. The use of “mainly” means that an authority may, for example, look at the floor area of a building and see that less than 50% is being used directly as a public lavatory, but it may still feel that it meets the criteria for this relief because the remaining area is used as storage or for other matters of little consequence. That is very similar to the example that the noble Lord gave. The Government consider it right that the Bill provides local authorities with this level of discretion because these are decisions best taken on the ground and on the basis of local knowledge.

The second amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, follows on from the first and would act to define “mainly” within the Bill in reference to the extent to which a property is used as a public lavatory, rather than for other purposes. I appreciate that the intention of this amendment is to provide for the relief to be available to buildings that do not constitute separately assessed public toilets but that serve that purpose to a large extent. As I set out earlier, an expansion of the relief beyond those toilets that are separately assessed and have already been identified and separately rated would bring with it significant administrative burdens and costs.

In the case of this amendment, local authorities would be required to not just identify qualifying facilities but assess the extent to which the public are using them for different functions. The public use test would be particularly cumbersome because it would go beyond an assessment of a property’s physical elements and would require an analysis of the extent to which these elements are used by the public. The results of such a test could change relatively frequently, and local authorities may need to make the required assessment on a regular basis.

As currently designed, the measure in the Bill does not carry implementation costs disproportionate to the benefits to ratepayers, nor any significant implementation difficulties for local government. As such, we are not in favour of any amendment to this relief which would increase the complexity of its implementation, create unnecessary burdens for local authorities, or indeed create administrative costs disproportionate to the total benefit to ratepayers. However, I would be keen to engage with noble Lords on some of the technical reasons for not expanding the scope of the Bill.

I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his amendments, which probe the design of the relief before the Committee. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I do not consider that the potential benefits of the amendments would outweigh their substantial costs and I hope that the noble Lord will not press them.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Pinnock and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for their support in this little group, and I thank the Minister for agreeing that we will have some discussions about it. He said that this would be to explain to us what we did not understand, and that we would then understand it. That is fine; I am totally in favour of understanding things.

I hope that the Government understand that some of us, at least, are trying to help them with this, to produce a slightly better Bill. We are not trying to wreck it and certainly not trying to place lots of extra administrative burdens on local authorities. We are looking for ways in which common-sense solutions can be found to problems which are going to occur. Inevitably, a town council will say, “Why are we paying rates on this and not that?” They are not experts, and it will cause all sorts of grumpiness. Also, it will not do, in some instances, what the Government are trying to do, which is relieve the burden on councils, particularly town and parish councils which are increasingly taking on public conveniences. So I hope the discussion we have will be two-way

The Minister said two things. First, he said that, in deciding what “mainly” means, councils should reflect on all the “relevant case law”. He then said that he did not want to put administrative and other burdens on councils. It sounds to me as if the Government are already admitting that there are going to be problems. If you have got to go to all the relevant case law and goodness knows what, it inevitably results in the creation of new case law, because it will get to the courts.

The second thing the Minister said was that the rationale was similar to that for charitable 80% relief, and that that is for “wholly or mainly” charitable use. The word “use” is crucial there, because the Bill does not say “use”, but

“consists wholly or mainly of public lavatories.”

One of my amendments talks about use. Can we look at that, and give the rating authorities a steer that it is the use which is important, rather than the other things, as the legislation does for charitable relief? That might just be a way forward.

I hope that the Government will not be stubborn and say that they are not going to change this under any circumstances, if there are ways through some of these problems. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw at this stage and look forward to discussions with the Minister.

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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
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My Lords, there are important and relevant issues to explore in Amendments 3 and 10, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Greaves, respectively. When a financial benefit is to be gained, as there is in this Bill, it inevitably becomes an issue of dispute at some time in the future when some realise that they are not getting rate relief on their provision of public toilets while others are. That is why it is important to explore what the Government are proposing here.

As we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Kennedy, there is a considerable range of public toilet facilities. Some are open only during the day and some not at the weekend; some require payment, and some do not. We need to understand the implications of this variety of provision for the purposes of the Bill. Is it acceptable to make a small charge for a public toilet facility and get the rate relief proposed in this Bill? What will happen if that small charge becomes ever larger? Is it still right, then, that that facility is zero-rated? These two amendments indicate that what may appear to be simple, straightforward changes can have inconsistent consequences once the detail of the implementation is exposed, as it has been so expertly this afternoon. I look forward to hearing the reply from the Minister.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, wanted to know the evidence that this would cause a burden disproportionate to the level of relief provided. The reality is that, under these proposals, we are not asking local authorities or the Valuation Office Agency to do anything in addition to what they already do. But where we are widening the scope, we are asking local authorities to do something they do not currently do, so by definition that will increase burdens on them and, in some cases, on the Valuation Office Agency.

The effect of the amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Greaves, would be to apply a set of conditions that would need to be satisfied before the relief could be granted. I will expand on the reasons why I do not believe these are helpful in the operation of the relief. As a principle, I do not agree we should be moving away from the clear and simple aims of the policy by limiting this much-needed support.

The effect of Amendment 3 would be to exclude those who own and run facilities where a small fee is charged from receiving this relief. The Government’s policy aim and purpose in Clause 1 is 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 any other publicly available toilets, where removing the additional costs of business rates could make a real difference to the ability of councils or others to keep the facilities open. I understand the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about free-to-use public toilets. Nevertheless, the purpose of this Bill is to provide targeted support to separately assessed public lavatories, recognising the particular circumstances they face, not to draw a distinction between those that charge and those that do not. Such a distinction would add complexity, uncertainty and an unnecessary administrative burden for local authorities and would increase the pressure on those facilities that are not able to access this support. I do not agree that those ratepayers that operate a public lavatory and charge a minimal fee for the first service should be excluded from this vital support.

I understand the practice of charging a fee is reducing, but those that charge do so on the basis of a commercial decision. In some cases, that fee may be charged to meet the ongoing costs of maintenance and cleaning, which is entirely reasonable. Nevertheless, I recognise the importance of knowing which facilities charge and what services they provide, so I welcome the work of the British Toilet Association, which provides an online service called the Great British Public Toilet Map, which has been referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. This provides visitors with critical information about toilets in a specific area, including whether they are free to use, whether they are accessible and whether they have baby-changing facilities. Users can then make a decision in good knowledge and plan appropriately. I also commend the community toilet scheme, which was first devised by the London borough of Richmond upon Thames and is now used by local authorities across the country. This enables local businesses to work with councils to widen lavatory access so the public can use their facilities without making a purchase.

Amendment 10, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would limit the relief on the condition that the facilities should be open at set times and days as reasonably necessary. As I have outlined, our aim is to increase the support for the provision of public toilets, not to reduce the level of assistance for facilities that are most in need of support. I would not support the creation of a further burden on authorities to assess and police the opening and closing times of a toilet before awarding relief. The establishment of such a regime would be disproportionate to the value of the relief and would not represent good value for money to the taxpayer. As I have set out, the relief applies only to occupied facilities and is awarded only in these circumstances. While I understand the intention of the amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Greaves, in practice, they may, at best, be unhelpful and, at worst, unnecessarily increase pressure on toilets to close.

I hope that I have helped clarify the Government’s intention about how the measure would apply. With these assurances, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, can agree to withdraw this amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. We are identifying issues the Government should reflect on before this Bill comes back on Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, has not sought to challenge my general point from my earlier remarks, that the position of the Government, in resisting any amendment here today, is that we are creating burdens on local authorities that far outweigh the benefits. Yet, as I have said, I have looked and cannot find any organisation from local government—the LGA, the Welsh LGA, the District Councils’ Network, London Councils, the National Association of Local Councils—or, in fact, any local council or local authority in England or Wales that would support the Government’s position. If they actually asked them, I suspect there would be a lot of support from local authorities for increasing the benefits of support for their network of public toilets. I will leave that point there, and at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, Amendments 4 and 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, enable us to debate important issues. He seeks to ensure that lavatories that operate in accordance with national standards benefit from this relief.

The trade union Unison has campaigned on the issue of disability and the barriers that disabled people face when using a standard toilet. Many disabilities are hidden. The sign that we often see indicating disabled facilities is a person in a wheelchair, but fewer than 10% of people who meet the Equality Act definition of disability use a wheelchair. Signs that say “Some disabilities are invisible” have become more prevalent given the requirements of the pandemic restrictions. Crohn’s disease and colitis are two examples of conditions that may mean that a person has to use a disabled toilet facility while having no outward signs of disability.

As we move forward we need a greater understanding and respect for difference, and we must ensure that people are protected. These are not easy issues; if they were we would not be debating them today. What we also need is many more Changing Places toilets, which are a very important to cater for. We will get on to this later.

The comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, reminded me that all the toilets by the reception at Southwark Council are gender-neutral, individual toilets. They are there for public use. So things are certainly changing, but we must at all times have respect for difference and for people. As we move forward on these issues we must ensure we keep those thoughts to the forefront and provide the facilities that people need.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his amendments, which would provide the Government with the power to limit this relief to only those toilets that meet prescribed criteria of their choosing. The underpinning nature of the amendments is the desire to see toilets for all, and I am very supportive of the need to have toilets for those who need disabled access, gender-neutral toilets and gender-specific toilets. As I set out to the House earlier, the Government do not intend to limit the measure within the Bill to only those toilets that meet certain criteria. Subject to Royal Assent, the Bill will support the provision of separately assessed toilets across the country. I therefore do not agree that it would be right to make any amendments which could limit the benefits of this measure.

Furthermore, limiting the relief to only those public lavatories that fit a prescribed description would place a significant burden on local authorities, which will be responsible for administering the relief. Well-intentioned though the amendment is, it would weaken the effectiveness of the legislation were we to require its provisions to be subject to a new, locally administered system of controls.

While I appreciate the arguments that my noble friend Lord Lucas made in support of the Government having the power to make this relief more specific, any benefits must be weighed against the consequential impact on local authorities of using such a power. Although I do not think that the Bill would be improved by these amendments, I appreciate the points that my noble friend makes about the standards of our public toilets.

The Government are interested not just in the total number of public toilets in this country but in ensuring that everyone in our communities feels confident and comfortable using them. This means maintaining hygiene standards and ensuring fair provision of accessible and gender-neutral toilets.

Noble Lords may therefore wish to note that the technical review of toilets launched by the Government will consider the ratio of female toilets needed versus the number for men and take into account the needs of all members of the community, to ensure fair provision of accessible and gender-neutral toilets. The call for evidence, which closes on Friday, has received over 15,000 responses; a government response will be published in due course. As part of this review, the merits of any best practice guidance on the provision of gender-neutral toilets will be considered, alongside any guidance on the necessary provision of access to disabled toilets. These considerations also include provisions for older people and parents with very young children who need changing facilities.

I hope this reassures my noble friend that the Government are supportive of not just the total number of public toilets but the vital importance of ensuring that appropriate facilities are available to all. On this basis—and the basis that the potential administrative burden resulting from these amendments would outweigh the benefits—I hope that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his obiter dicta on the Government’s general intentions in this area, which I applaud. I can see that he has clearly understood the intent of my amendment and disagrees with it. I therefore beg leave to withdraw it.

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Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD) [V]
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My Lords, these amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, explore the opportunities for public toilets within a public building that are not separately rated, so that they may benefit from the purposes of the Bill. In particular, Amendment 6 seeks to achieve the benefits of the Bill for those facilities providing changing places. These are inevitably included within public buildings, where there is the large amount of space available to provide changing places.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has shared his expertise on these matters. He provides alternative thinking about derating hereditaments that provide public toilet facilities. The principle is sound; we all seek today to find ways of supporting public toilets through the financial benefit provided by the Bill, and not just those which are stand-alone. I hope that the Minister will, with his department, think carefully about the solution that the noble and learned Lord is pointing to. I certainly hope that we will be able to explore it on Report.

I for one support any means for exempting non-domestic rates where there is a public benefit. This debate has revealed the total incoherence of non-domestic rating. For example, in my own town of Cleckheaton the public toilets we have as part of our small market hall are separately rated and cost the council £15,000 a year in rates. These are no grand-affair public toilets; they are just two toilets, one for men and one for women. The cost of the rates is by far the largest element of expenditure on the upkeep of these toilets, yet they provide a free public benefit. The rate charged on this humble public toilet block is far in excess, in ratio terms, of that charged on an out-of-town warehouse providing storage for online shopping. This is all out of kilter.

Fundamental reform is essential and the Government have for too long avoided taking these difficult decisions. I hope that the Minister will consider all the helpful suggestions made this afternoon and be willing to think again about the contents of the Bill. I look forward to his reply today, and to further discussions and further debate on Report.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I appreciate the backing that the Committee has given to the measures in the Bill and recognise the arguments made in support of extending the relief further still. The first amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would provide for relief to be given to properties which contain public toilets that are not separately assessed, and for that relief to be determined according to the proportion of that property occupied by the public toilet. The second would have the same effect, but separately for properties which contain Changing Places facilities.

In designing the scope of the Bill, the Government have given due consideration to the benefits to our communities of extending the relief to those toilets that are not currently separately assessed. However, these benefits must be weighed against the significant practical and financial implications of implementing such a relief. I hope that my colleagues present today have received a copy of the letter of 2 February setting out these implications in detail—actually, I think most noble Lords today have referred to it. For the benefit of the Committee, I will set them out again now.

The Government have taken the deliberate approach of targeting the measure within the Bill at supporting those toilets that appear separately on business rates lists. This means that this support will be available to those facilities for which the cost of business rates has the largest bearing on their ability to remain open. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would require the separate assessment of the rateable value of public toilets that sit within larger properties, and for the awarding of a business rates discount relative to the proportion of the property that the toilet occupies.

A valuation exercise to provide an apportioned relief would be extensive and require the Valuation Office Agency to first identify where the facilities are, and then to assess the specific rateable value of each toilet relative to the property of which it forms a part. This exercise would carry significant financial and temporal costs, as pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. It would require business rates valuers to carry out assessments and, where needed, to make site visits up and down the country. As such, it would divert critical VOA resources from the priority of delivering the 2023 revaluation and could potentially delay the implementation of the core measure of the Bill before the Committee today.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, mentioned a formula-based approach to derating. This would also result in considerable burdens, for example by requiring the VOA to identify the location of the public toilets. Obviously, the scale of the intervention is different from that for mines in the 1928 Act, but I am happy to discuss that technical approach with my officials between now and Report.

I am proud to be here today championing a measure that will be of great value to our communities. While I recognise the importance of all publicly accessible toilets, the cost of extending this relief according to the amendment would be significant—far greater than the financial benefit to operators of such facilities. I hope that the Committee will agree that a relief with implementation costs disproportionate to its financial benefits would not represent good value for money for taxpayers.

Although extending relief to toilets that form part of larger properties would undoubtedly bring about significant and disproportionate costs and practical difficulties, I appreciate that the second amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, concerns Changing Places toilets in particular. I therefore hope that the Committee will allow me to set out the steps that the Government have already taken to support these vital facilities.

I am proud to belong to a Government who are delivering on their commitment to provide more Changing Places toilets. At the last Budget, the Chancellor announced a £30 million fund to further extend the provision of these vital facilities and my department will shortly set out the allocation of this funding. I would be happy to provide my colleagues in the House with further details on this funding once they are available.

The funding comes on top of the £2 million announced by the Department for Transport to provide Changing Places toilets at motorway services and the £2 million made available by the Department of Health and Social Care to install these facilities in NHS hospitals across England. I hope that that reassures the Committee that where a Changing Places toilet is separately assessed, the measures in the Bill, subject to Royal Assent, act to reduce the business rates liability of these facilities to nil. While there are significant practical reasons why the Bill does not cover toilets—Changing Places or otherwise—within larger buildings, the Government are delivering on their commitment to supporting Changing Places toilets directly through grant funding.

I hope that with those assurances, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I was particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his explanation of what would appear to be a far simpler method of achieving what I am seeking to do. I might have a look at that before Report as it seems to be a simpler method.

I thank the Minister for his response. Obviously, I am pleased to learn of the additional government expenditure on Changing Places facilities. It is good to hear but we need to do more and go further. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raises an important point and I hope that the Minister will able to provide some clarity on it. The amendment, on the face of it, highlights what would be an incentive to keep a public lavatory open. I look forward to the Minister’s response because, from what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, it would be perverse if, by closing a public lavatory, one would be eligible for rate relief. I am sure that that is not the Bill’s intention but it is important to get clarity from the Government on the issue that the noble Lord rightly raised.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, I am happy to give that clarification. I understand the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in his amendment and support what he is trying to achieve. However, let me set out why it is unnecessary. His aim is to ensure that the relief cannot be applied in circumstances where a public toilet is permanently closed and out of use. I can assure the noble Lord that this is the Government’s intention. The Bill is therefore structured to reflect that aim. The Bill will amend only Section 43 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, which relates only to occupied hereditaments. The Bill would therefore ensure that the relief would apply only to eligible occupied hereditaments, not to unoccupied public lavatories. As usual, local authorities will be responsible for determining the award of relief, having regard to the legislation, as they do with other relief schemes.

I hope that that clarification on how the measure would apply will help the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves (LD)
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My Lords, I will read carefully the Minister’s reply—and go one more step towards being able to pass my GCSE in business rating. I accept his assurance that what he said will be the case. As on all these occasions, if it happens not to be the case, we will come back and harass him in the House. However, his reply was acceptable; I will read it carefully and attempt to understand it.

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I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that all the amendments in this group are important and deserve to form part of a single amendment on Report, if the Minister is unable to concede to these requests at this stage. I look forward to hearing his response and hope that he is able to have discussions prior to Report, because it is in all our interests to make best use of the Bill, to make sure that the financial benefit it offers is available to others who offer public toilets and that we raise the standards of public toilets throughout the country.

Lord Greenhalgh Portrait Lord Greenhalgh (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments would require the Government to carry out an assessment of the impact of the relief on the provision of public toilets. The first, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would require an assessment to be made within a year of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, while the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, would require an assessment of the impact to be published on a recurring, annual basis. The amendment tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Pinnock, would require an assessment to be made with particular reference to accessible toilets and Changing Places facilities. The fourth amendment, which has been tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Pinnock, would require such an assessment to review the impact of the relief on the cleanliness and maintenance of public toilets and the provision of baby changing facilities, in addition to the impact on the overall provision of public lavatories.

I appreciate the interest that noble Lords have in the efficacy of the measure within the Bill and assure the House that the Government keep all business rate reliefs under review. I also want to meet with interested noble Lords and the British Toilet Association before Report to see how we can review implementation of this relief. That is an important step and, I hope, will be an opportunity to discuss some of the issues that have been raised.

Before I turn to the detail of the amendments, I will respond to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that I failed to answer earlier. I can confirm that the relief for all separately assessed toilets applies irrespective of ownership. I want to be clear on that point.

On the provision of public lavatories, the Committee may be interested in the data that is already published annually, to which I have already referred. There are some 3,990 separately assessed public toilets in England and Wales, and this figure is constantly updated and monitored. We do not want to see reductions, and it is clear that by significantly reducing the operating costs of these facilities, the measures in the Bill will help to keep public toilets open up and down the country.

While these measures constitute a significant element of support for these facilities, a number of other factors determine whether a toilet is able to remain open. Ultimately, the decisions on whether to maintain or close a facility must be made by the operator of the facility, often the local council. These decisions will usually be based on wider funding pressures, as well as the number of toilets elsewhere in the local area.

The Government strongly support the continued operation of our public toilets. As I set out earlier, we are providing £30 million of grant funding to directly support the provision of Changing Places toilets in particular. I also set out at Second Reading some of the good work that councils have undertaken through community toilet schemes to maintain and increase provision in their local areas. However, it is clear that there are a number of factors that determine whether a toilet is able to stay open, and it would not be possible to attribute any future changes in the overall provision of public lavatories, or facilities of any specific type, solely to the measures in this Bill. Equally, I do not envisage any direct link between business rates relief and the maintenance and cleanliness of existing public toilets. For this reason, and because the number of separately assessed public toilets is already published on an annual basis, I hope that noble Lords will agree that any assessment of the kind proposed would be unnecessary and an ineffective use of government resources.

However, I welcome the fact that the Bill has shone a light on the interest from across the Committee in our public toilets, and I recognise the passion with which my colleagues have spoken of the need for adequate provision of accessible toilets in particular. I hope that the Committee will therefore allow me to conclude by reiterating the support of the Government for these vital facilities.

A number of noble Lords spoke about the importance of accessible toilets. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, again raised the issue of Changing Places toilets and the disbursement of the £30 million of funds. I am happy to give further details on the progress of that, I hope before Report. It is important to many people in the country that we ensure that the absence of accessible toilets is reduced, because lack of accessible toilets reduces the ability of people with a disability to make use of our public spaces with confidence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised the important question of design and doors opening inwards, thereby reducing space. That is a good point, and everyone here nodded in agreement with that sentiment. So I am pleased to let the Committee know that a technical review is looking at the ergonomics and features of toilets and will I hope take some of these points on board. We hope to see an improvement in design in the future.

While the Bill is important, the provision of public toilets is rooted in a number of factors, and in the particular case of accessible toilets, the Government are providing direct grant funding. On this basis, and as the number of separately assessed public toilets is already published on an annual basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I agree with the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Greaves, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas of Winchester and Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lady Andrews. The decline in the provision of public lavatories is a matter of great concern. The adequate provision of toilets is a public health matter, as my noble friend Lady Andrews said in this debate.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that many accessible toilets are poorly designed, despite considerable sums of money having been spent on them. I also agree with her that the need to provide more toilets for women and for men, and more gender-neutral toilets, as well as accessible and Changing Places toilets, is of paramount importance. As I have said, it is about understanding needs, the lack of provision of toilets for women, and ensuring respect for difference, along with the provision of facilities that are clean, safe and secure, and which people feel are safe to use.

The Bill does not address these issues because of its narrow scope, but I am sure we all agree that those are important matters. They are relevant issues that need to be addressed. I was very pleased by the offer of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, to meet interested Peers between now and Report, along with representatives of the British Toilet Association, and I look forward to taking part. However, at this stage I am happy to withdraw the amendment.