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Baroness O'Cathain: I thank my noble friend for his reassurance. I am particularly reassured by the fact that he has reminded us of the manufacturing aspect, which I think is particularly worrisome. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed to.

11.30 p.m.

Clause 15 [Duty of providers of services to make adjustments]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 77:

Page 11, line 40, at end insert:
("where it is not reasonable under all the circumstances of the case for a provider to make provision under paragraphs (a), (b) or (c)").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 77, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 78, 79 and 82. I had intended to deal with the amendments separately, but at this hour of the night and for the convenience of the Committee, perhaps it is wiser to deal with them all at once.

Amendment No. 77 is designed to ensure that an alternative means of providing a service is pursued only as a last option. The aim of the legislation must be to ensure that disabled people have similar opportunities to anybody else to take part in ordinary life. There will be occasions when the "separate-but-equal" approach is justified; for example, for a number of reasons parents may opt to educate a disabled child at a special school in preference to a mainstream school, but that should be on the basis of an informed choice, not because it is the only available option.

However, Clause 15 raises the issue in a narrower context; for example, when barriers in the built environment prevent a disabled person from getting into the premises where a service is provided. In such

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circumstances, provision of an alternative service must be a last resort, to be considered only when alterations to the building are unreasonably difficult.

Amendment No. 78 is a probing amendment, trying to find out the Government's intention concerning the application of the right of access created by Part III to historic buildings. Where alterations to premises are required to facilitate access for disabled people, there may in some instances be a degree of conflict with the desire to preserve the fabric of an historic building. An automatic exemption granted to all historic buildings means that many disabled people are unable to visit historic sites. It also deprives them of the use of the many public facilities operated from listed premises, which are now used as hotels, town halls, banks and theatres, for example.

There has been growing recognition in recent years that that is not a tenable position. Recent government planning advice exemplifies an important shift in attitude, stating:

    "It is important in principle that disabled people should have dignified easy access to and within historic buildings. If it is treated as part of an integrated review of access requirements for all visitors or users, and a flexible and pragmatic approach is taken, it should normally be possible to plan suitable access for disabled people without compromising a building's use of spaces and may achieve the desired result without the need for damaging alterations".

The amendment would require regulations to provide guidance on that crucial issue. The value of a framework which included consultation with building users when faced with tough decisions about access cannot be over-emphasised. It enables decision-makers to avoid the passions of the competing interest groups and to emerge with a coherent set of priorities. I suggest that the essential starting point in drawing up such guidance should be an examination of the building's function. The goal should be to achieve the most dignified access consistent with the building's function. Dignified access should be integrated as far as possible and not around the back with the dustbins.

A different approach would be appropriate for historic house museums. In that case the preservation of the building is the key to the function of the site, but the visiting public are an essential strategy for maintaining the building's use.

I could continue on the amendment, but as it is late I will not. However, my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu has asked me to say that he supports the amendment and that English Heritage is in favour of it. I have also had a letter from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, who rightly advises me that at a later stage of the Bill I shall have to include a reference to Section 52(7) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act l972 because at the moment my amendment deals only with England, and historic buildings legislation deals with Scotland too.

The next amendment in the group introduces the concept of transitional or action plans drawn up by service providers themselves, implementing access over a number of years. As in Australia, these plans would be voluntary but could be used in defence of a claim made against the service provider. The Bill includes a duty for businesses to take reasonable steps to remove physical barriers and provide communication and other

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auxiliary aids. As access is one of the most fundamental causes and manifestations of discrimination against disabled people, it is a provision that needs careful planning.

Forward-looking service providers in this country are already familiar with the concept of planned access improvements and many businesses already prepare access strategies. Under the Citizen's Charter all local authorities are required to audit access provision in their buildings open to the public and some are already using these audits as a basis for planned improvement programmes.

The fourth and final amendment in the group is designed to remove the cost cap of access provision. It is a probing amendment only. Clause 15 relates to the duties of service providers to make adjustments so that disabled people have access to their services. That may be done by changing policies and procedures; improving physical access arrangements; and/or providing aids to communication and other auxiliary aids.

Subsections (8) and (9) provide for a prescribed maximum expenditure to be calculated according to the circumstances, length of time, type of service and premises and as yet unspecified criteria. The cost cap may well prove to be irrelevant to forward-looking businesses, many of which are already investing money to make their services more accessible, recognising the competitive advantage of so doing. For less enlightened service providers, the overly complex formulation for the cost cap could provide the ultimate excuse for inaction and an effective deterrent to successful negotiations for disabled people seeking access improvements.

A similar formulation for the removal of physical barriers in buildings to allow access for disabled people without a cost cap is used in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Act 1976, and in Part M of the building regulations. Neither has had a detrimental impact on businesses. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I support Amendment No. 77 and I shall speak also to Amendment No. 78. Amendment No. 77 relates to integration, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, we are trying to avoid a "ghettoisation" of facilities—an apartheid of provision. We seek within the framework of reasonable cost for the provision for disabled people to be integrated and not segregated. Perhaps I may put that at its most basic: if non-disabled people are able to enter a building through one door, we should avoid expecting disabled people to enter through another door, round the back by the dustbins and the lavatories. Their entrance should be both easy and dignified.

It is worth reminding ourselves that often in the process the benefits spill over on to a much wider group of people than those with a physical disability. For example, when one replaces a heavy internal fire door with an automatic door it is not only disabled people who enjoy better mobility within the building but it is valuable for women with children and pushchairs and for the elderly. Similarly, if a main entrance is unsuitable for disabled people we should consider

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whether a different entrance which is fully accessible should become the main entrance for everyone. Again that would help other people.

As regards the planning of domestic housing, if instead of only some houses being built to mobility standard, all were so built, such homes could become lifetime homes, whatever people's circumstances. Building houses to mobility standard is infinitely cheaper than subsequently adjusting and widening doorways, adding extra insulation and all the other things that are needed for disability sufferers. Amendment No. 77 has our strong support.

I wish to speak briefly to Amendment No. 78. It relates to a difficult topic but I believe that the difficulties recently described in the press were greatly exaggerated. I speak as a former English Heritage Commissioner and someone who has been actively involved in conservation in my own city. We all accept that when dealing with listed buildings the principles of conservation must be paramount. Planning consent for any alterations will and must be required. Listed buildings are crucial to our sense of place and to our city streetscapes. Disabled people as much as others are entitled not to have their listed buildings disfigured.

I believe that most disabled people agree that when someone in a wheelchair goes out in the countryside they do not expect to have tarmac paths because the roughness of the path is part of being in the countryside. However, the principle of conservation as found, which is the principle of modern conservation, means that one does not strip a building back to its original date of use but one accepts and reads the accretions to that building which have come as a result of adaptations and changes as society has changed. In other words, the history of a building as well as its aesthetics is part of the conservation principles that we are examining. There is no reason to believe that access is not part of the adaptation of buildings, with the fabric continually renewing itself.

It is also worth emphasising that far more can be done to make listed buildings accessible to disabled people than is often believed. The fabric of listed buildings need not be untouchable. In my city, for example, we have attached a short-rise lift to our medieval public hall, which is a Grade I listed building. Bad adaptations disfigure a building but good adaptations do not need to. Winchester Cathedral, for example, has installed a platform lift in its north transept so that wheelchair users can have access to the choir, can enjoy the ceilings and so forth. It has received the full support of English Heritage.

I could give many more examples of which I am aware where adaptations have worked within the fabric of a Grade I or Grade II listed building. As the Norwich Disability Access Officer said, there is usually a way. Too often, private owners of listed buildings believe that they will not be given planning consent for alterations when, with discussion with the conservation architects and disability access officers, they could find a way of access.

Often Tudor houses serve as museums. By definition, there is limited internal physical access. The answer may not be to try to make the physical fabric move but to make the displays move so that on a rotating basis the upstairs displays are brought downstairs, amplified

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with videos and the like. Everyone may then enjoy all the artefacts and objects held by the museum, even though they cannot gain full access to the fabric because it is a sensitive building.

Equally, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, was entirely right to say that, where a listed building houses a function for which public access is vitally important—for example, a housing benefit service or a post office—and that building cannot be made accessible, then that function should be transferred to another building. That is what we should seek to do in those situations.

But, of course, the sad truth is that most public listed buildings are held by local authorities as owners of the last resort and seeking a function of last resort. Again, my city owns—so to speak—something like 30 mediaeval churches, not all of which have adequate access. We have found uses for almost all of them, ranging from tea shops to scout clubs to brass rubbing centres and martial arts clubs. It is no kindness to anyone to say that because, for example, 5 per cent. of the population cannot gain access to those buildings, the other 95 per cent. should not and that the building should remain unused, fall into disrepair and possibly be vandalised.

I take a great deal of interest in these matters and I regretted very much the exaggerated response of a member of the Georgian Group in his article about this Bill published in British Archaeology. He said that it was a time bomb and gave such examples as Hadrian's Wall having to have lifts and tarmac surfaces and said he thought that the damage which would result to monuments would be devastating. That was an absurdly exaggerated response, if only for the practical reason that it is beyond reasonable cost.

The author of that article insisted that disabled access officers were too often extraordinarily doctrinaire and that the fabric of a listed building or monument would have to give way to doctrinaire access officers. I remember once visiting some early eighteenth century weavers' cottages to hand over a cheque on behalf of English Heritage. When I came to the little room which was the kitchen, in that eighteenth century weaver's cottage was a 1950s black plastic and chromium bath. I said merrily, "Well, now, with this cheque, you will be able to get rid of the bath, won't you, and use the kitchen as a tea room?" "Oh no", they said, "We're not allowed to. We have been told by the conservationists that this 1950s chromium bath is an essential part of the history and palimpsest of this building, so this 1950s chromium bath must remain in this early 18th century weaver's cottage". That was absurd, doctrinaire and equally unreasonable.

I hope and expect that both English Heritage and the Department of the Environment would issue appropriate design guidance. We want a commitment to the integrated use and enjoyment of cultural, civic and historic buildings and monuments for all people. A way usually can be found if people are sensible, respect the

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buildings but think imaginatively about ways in which to overcome the problems of access and internal usage. I support the amendment.

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Stedman: I support these amendments. At this hour, I shall not repeat what has been said so competently by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baroness. However, there are a few questions as regards cost capping at which we should ask the Minister to look.

How is a business's ability to pay going to be calculated? Rateable value would not take into account the differing financial positions of a large superstore or a small village shop. Service providers are to be able to stagger their service improvements over a number of years. How will the cost cap take that into account? Will the cost cap apply only to the alteration to buildings or to every aspect of the service provision such as, for example, the production of information in an accessible format, staff training and time taken in formulating company policy? No other equal opportunities legislation—either in relation to race or gender—is subject to a cost cap. The low ceiling of a cost cap may encourage service providers to do a bit of window dressing rather than tackling what are the priority access improvements. Therefore, how will the Government ensure that the improvements will be made and how will the cost cap work?

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