Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blatch: Unless I have read the Bill wrongly, I regard this as one of the most important provisions in terms of property and alterations to buildings.

6 Feb 2001 : Column 268

In Clause 30 the Bill is entering dangerous waters and I invite the Government to leave it out altogether. A college of further or higher education is most likely to comprise many different and separate buildings. The college may own the freehold to some of them and some of the land, but, especially in the case of some colleges in inner cities, it is also likely that some of the premises used will be leasehold, rented in some form or another from the owner.

Where the college is the tenant in some form of leasehold for some or all of the premises that it uses, Clause 30 gives the college rights over the landlord in pursuit of compliance with the provisions of the Bill. In other words, it allows the college to make physical alterations to the premises in order to improve accessibility for the disabled student and to do so in spite of opposition or even objection to the changes from the landlord.

Clause 30 permits the landlord to impose some conditions. However, overall this is a dangerous precedent. It should not be within the purposes of the Bill to impose alterations to the terms of leasehold or tenancy. It should be left to the college to negotiate with the landlord within the existing legislation on tenancy and leasehold on both existing leases and proposed new leases. In such negotiations the college will need to secure the agreement of landlords that any physical additions or alterations to the premises that may become necessary in order to conform with the Bill's provisions on accessibility can be carried out. No doubt the landlord would insist that any such work is done at the expense of the college rather than that of the landlord. He might also insist that any additions and improvements are ultimately the property of the landlord. The terms of the lease need to be voluntarily entered into between college and landlord and should not be imposed by the Bill.

I hope that I have read the Bill wrongly and that the Minister is in a position to say that this will not happen. However, if I was the owner of such land and for years a college had leased it from me, then suddenly, on the basis of negotiation, but without my consent, alterations could be carried out to my land and buildings in order to comply with the law, I would consider that draconian and extreme. This would require much further consideration. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: Clause 30 amends the DDA by inserting a new Section 28W and a new Part III to Schedule 4. Without the clause, many educational institutions occupying leased premises may be unable to comply with the duty under new Section 28T to make reasonable adjustments to physical features that place a disabled student at a substantial disadvantage. These provisions mirror those in Sections 16 and 27 of the DDA which apply to employers, trade organisations and providers of services who occupy premises under lease. They are not in that sense new or different from what is already enshrined in the Act.

The effect of this clause as a whole is that, where the lease of a property occupied by a further and higher education institution forbids an occupier from making

6 Feb 2001 : Column 269

the alterations needed to comply with new Section 28T or puts conditions on those alterations, the occupier can none the less make the alterations required under the Bill if--and this is an important condition and I hope that it helps the noble Baroness--he has the written consent of the owner/lessor; but he must apply to the landlord in writing if he wants to make the alteration. If the occupier does apply in writing, the landlord cannot refuse consent unreasonably, although he can attach reasonable conditions to the consent.

I hope that that answers the noble Baroness's question. I feel sure that she would not want to prevent institutions occupying premises under a lease from making the alterations needed to comply with new Section 28. Of course, the institutions have to seek consent of the owner in writing.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the Committee will accept that Clause 30 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch: No, I do not accept it. Owners of the land may not wish their property to be altered--perhaps permanently because some of the alterations are not reversible. Consent should be secured from the owner. If it is not, and given that the person is only renting the property, the college or institution should look round for premises which are suitable and an owner who is receptive to the notion of having alterations made.

When was ownership usurped in this way? I find it extraordinary. If I am the owner of a building I am happy for someone to rent it on my terms for particular purposes. Why should I be compelled under the law to have alterations made--floors taken out, stairs put in or holes put through floors? I do not want them and they may affect seriously the value of the property. Who is compensated for that? Is the owner compensated for alteration to a building which makes it less saleable when the lease runs out or the renting arrangements come to an end? It is a draconian provision and I do not accept what the noble Baroness has said.

Baroness Blackstone: I do not have much to add to what I have already said. I do not think the clause is draconian, because the landlord is able to make reasonable conditions on any alterations that should be made. That provision appears in legislation passed by previous Government and it does not seem to have led to serious difficulties in the DDA.

I stand by what I have already said. It would be wholly undesirable if a disabled student in a wheelchair who happened to be doing a course in a leased building were unable to continue that course because a landlord unreasonably withheld consent for a ramp to be put in.

Baroness Blatch: If we were talking just about a ramp, this would not be an issue, but there is no limit on the extent to which the building may be altered. As I understand it, the Minister is saying that if the owner

6 Feb 2001 : Column 270

refuses to give his consent because the proposed alterations are so great as to destroy the character of the building and no conditions that could be put on the changes would make them acceptable to him, the Bill provides the power for the tenant to press ahead irrespective of what the owner feels.

Baroness Blackstone: I have already made it clear that it would not be irrespective of what the owner may have to say, because the owner can impose reasonable conditions. One of those might be that the changes should not destroy the character of a building. However, that does not seem very likely.

The noble Baroness also suggested that the value of a building might be greatly diminished as a result of alterations if the landlord wanted to sell it when the lease was up. In fact, making a building more user-friendly for a person in a wheelchair might add to its value. Any employer now has to make similar changes under the DDA where it is reasonable that they should do so. I emphasise also that educational institutions are asked only to make reasonable adjustments. Nothing unreasonable would be required.

Baroness Blatch: It would be helpful to know the limitations on alterations. I shall come back to the issue on Report, when it would also be helpful to know what rights the owner of a property has if he believes that he is going to be seriously disadvantaged either financially or in the way in which that building can be used in future. Ramps are a relatively straightforward access issue. Any building designated for public use has to have ramps. Not even the owner of a public building can escape that requirement. However, all the other alterations that might be needed could destroy the character of a building. If the Minister is saying that the fact that an alteration might destroy the character of a building constitutes a defence against it, I would like to consider that. I am not satisfied with the answer, but we shall return to the issue on Report.

Clause 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [Validity and revision of agreements]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 179:

    Page 29, line 44, leave out from ("substitution") to end of line 1 on page 30 and insert (", for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2), of "under section 28V".").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 31, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 32 [Interpretation]:

[Amendment No. 180 not moved.]

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 181:

    Page 30, line 14, after ("employed") insert ("in respect of that research").

The noble Baroness said: I need not take long on this amendment, which is a question of definition. Under Clause 32, a student is defined as a person who receives education at an educational institution. In particular, it includes a person who carries out research under the supervision of a member of staff and is not employed by that institution.

6 Feb 2001 : Column 271

Many research students in universities are now employed. Some of them are employed as full-time research assistants, and in those cases they are employees of the institution. But many others do the odd hour of teaching; sometimes they work in the bar and things like that. The question is whether, in those circumstances, it is fair that they should not benefit from the terms that we agreed here as a disabled student and receive the benefits of being regarded as a disabled student. Where they are employed, I take it that the normal terms of the DDA hold in relation to employees. In this regard, where does an employee start and where does a student stop? We look for clarification from the Minister.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page