§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The modern caravan may move about, but it has come to stay. More and more people find caravans a lovely way of having holidays, even though caravans clustered together in the wrong places may be anything but lovely. Large numbers of people are living in caravans all the year round. This being a free country, they should be free to do so, although it may well be that most of them are hoping to move out of their caravans into houses of their own one day.
The law relating to caravans leaves a lot to be desired. I doubt whether anyone would challenge that. Certainly not the caravan interests. Certainly not the local authorities. I believe that people generally, knowing that some caravan sites are bad and having read about troubles on some of them, have a common feeling that things are not really as they should be. That is definitely the view of the Government.
The Bill represents a carefully worked out plan to do justice to caravaners, to get caravans on to the right sites and off the wrong ones, to bring attractiveness to caravan sites as well as all modern conveniences, to give freedom to the single travelling caravan, and to stop the caravan slum. The caravan is a comparative newcomer to the Statute Book. For many years, the so-called movable dwelling has had an established place in public health legislation, as has the canal boat.
In the Housing Acts, too, there are some passing references to huts, tents, caravans and other transitory forms of shelter. There are also various provisions about caravans in local Acts, mostly in recent ones. Today, as far as I am aware, is the first occasion in Parliamentary history when the House of Commons has been asked to consider 680 general legislation dealing specifically and in detail with caravans. There is, perhaps, not quite the same novelty about the other topic in this Bill—town and country planning. That is in Part II of the Bill.
Parts I and II are distinct, but, as I think the House will see, they are interrelated. For some time I have felt convinced of the need for caravan legislation, but before introducing it I wanted to make sure that we had the facts right. So, in 1958, I invited Sir Arton Wilson to make an investigation into the nature and the size of the problems which arise from the use of caravans as homes. I want to say, once again, how grateful I am to Sir Arton Wilson for his Report, for the wonderfully informative and well-balanced account that it contains.
The Report made it abundantly clear that early legislation was needed, for one thing to regulate the better establishment of caravan sites, and for another thing to secure an improvement in living conditions on the sites. The Report was published in November last. We had consultations about it immediately with all the main interests concerned, and now here is the Bill, which, of course, covers not only residential caravans, but holiday caravans, too.
Sir Arton Wilson, in his Report, estimates that about 150,000 people are living in caravans—that is, living in them as distinct from taking their holidays in them. Many of the residential caravan sites, he says, are wrongly located. Out of some 60,000 caravans in residential use, about 10,000 are stationed on sites which appear to have been established in contravention of planning control. Many of the sites are lacking in the facilities for decent living conditions. His Report sums it up thus—hon. Members will find this quotation on page 78:A small minority of the residential caravan sites are really well located, attractive, and well-organised; a small minority are unpleasant and insanitary and ill-run; and the rest in varying degrees leave something to be desired as a physical and social environment for people's homes.There is no doubt that the blame for these deficiencies has largely to be laid on the shortcomings in the present statutory powers.
681 There is nothing in the slightest degree disreputable about living in a caravan. The modern caravan, with a high standard of furnishing and equipment, can offer very definite attractions to a good many people, even if it does lack something in living space. The mobility of the caravan is also an advantage to many people—people who have not yet taken root in a particular spot, so to speak, or people whose work requires them to be free to move from one place to another.
The families who live in caravans are a fairly typical cross-section of the British public. The Government agree whole-heartedly with Sir Arton Wilson's finding thatThe average residential caravanner is quite as respectable as the average dweller in bricks and mortar.Our aims must, therefore, be to improve and strengthen the statutory powers, to make sure in everybody's interest that caravan sites are properly located, properly equipped, and properly managed, while always respecting the feelings, the needs and the rights of those who make their homes or, indeed, take their holidays in caravans.
There must be means, and effective means, to prevent caravan sites sprouting up where they would disfigure the countryside or spoil other people's legitimate enjoyment. There must be means of getting sites moved which have already been established in the wrong places; yet alongside this there must, without fail, be constructive action to make sure that the people who, for one reason or another, want to live in caravans, are able to do so in decent conditions. That is what Part I if the Bill seeks to achieve.
Some local authorities, I know, have tended to adopt a negative and wholly restrictive attitude to caravans hitherto. After all, that is not surprising when their powers to prevent things going wrong have been so weak; but with the new powers which the new Bill will give, I hope that all local authorities will feel able now to pursue a more positive and constructive policy towards them henceforward. Unless my knowledge of local authority reactions is wholly at fault, I feel that they will.
The Bill, so far as I am aware, contains nothing which should stir party controversy. Grateful as we are in the 682 Government for the general approval it has won in the Press and elsewhere, we shall welcome practical suggestions from both sides of the House for improving it further.
Part I, which deals with caravan sites, applies to Scotland as well as to England and Wales, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland advises me that the problems are not yet so acute in Scotland as they are in England and Wales. There are two purposes here in Part I—to secure that caravan sites do not become established in the wrong places; and then to make sure that sites, when properly authorised from the planning standpoint, are well laid out and managed and equipped with proper sanitary and other services and facilities. The Bill achieves both these purposes by a licensing system to be operated by the local authorities.
So far as caravans are concerned, this will take the place of the present licensing system for so-called moveable dwellings in the Public Health Act, 1936. Under the Bill, the licensing system is geared to the general existing system of planning control.
Clause 1 puts the obligation to obtain a licence on the occupier of the land, that is to say, on the site operator, as he is called, rather than on the individual caravanners. It is the site operator and not the caravanner who is made liable to penalties under the Bill, whether it is for operating a site without a licence or for failing to comply with the conditions laid down in the licence.
The key to the whole policy in Part I is that a site will not be eligible for a licence unless and until it has planning permission for caravan use. This is in Clause 3 of the Bill. But, once a site has planning permission, unless the permission has less than six months to run, the occupier of the site will be entitled as of right to a licence. And here let me say that if planning permission is given it should be long-term permission, in the normal case. I shall discourage the giving of planning permission for caravans for a short term of years, unless the land is likely to be available only for a short term.
The licence may have conditions attached to it—to limit the number of caravans on a site; to regulate the layout generally; to require the provision of 683 water supplies, sanitary facilities and other necessary equipment and arrangements, and so forth. That provision is contained in Clause 4. Clause 6 provides a right of appeal to the magistrates against unreasonable conditions which a local authority might seek to impose.
Under Clause 4 (6) the Secretary of State for Scotland and I will have power to prescribe model codes of licence provisions. I shall wish to consult caravan interests and local authority associations and to produce a code as soon as possible.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
My local authority is worried lest there should be double standards, one for those who already have caravan sites and another for those who seek to promote new caravan sites under the provisions of the Bill. Can the Minister assure us that there will be one law for both groups?
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Can the Minister say whether he thinks that national standards should be laid down? As I understand, there may be great diversity of opinion among local authorities as to what are proper conditions.
§ Mr. Brooke
That is covered by Clause 4, subsection (6), which says:The Minister may from time to time specify for the purposes of this Section model standards with respect to the layout of, and the provision of facilities, services and equipment for, caravan sites … and in deciding what (if any) conditions to attach to a site licence, a local authority should have regard to any standards so specified.If, therefore, the site operator considers that the local authority has departed unreasonably from that model code, it will be a ground of appeal to the court that the authority has failed to have regard to the standards.
I am not quite sure whether I appreciate the full implication of the intervention by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), but it is certainly my intention that there should be a general uniform standard throughout the country for sites both old and new, although there may be need for local variation. I also make an exception in Clause 16, which deals with conditions that may be attached to a site licence for requiring a run-down in the number of caravans on an existing site, but I do 684 not think that that was the kind of case which the hon. Member had in mind.
§ Dr. King
The intervention of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) obscured my point. I do not want absolute uniformity, but I want to be sure that in one local authority area the same kind of treatment is given to promoters of both new and old caravan sites. The old ones should not have lower standards applied to them than the same local authority insists upon in relation to the new ones.
§ Mr. Brooke
That will be dealt with under the right of appeal to the court. Any site operator, new or old, will have a right of appeal on the ground that the local authority is unreasonably departing from the code prescribed by the Minister. There will be one code only, and not two for old and new caravan sites respectively.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Has the Minister had consultations with the municipal associations in connection with the fact that the planning authority and the licensing authority may differ in many cases? I understand that licensing authorities have expressed to the Minister their fears that, although planning permission may be given for the use of land for a site, the effect of the provisions of the Public Health Act, 1936, in relation to sanitation, fire risks, and so on, may be such that planning authority cannot be given. Will the Minister say what advice he has given to local authorities in that connection?
§ Mr. Brooke
That is an important point, which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will desire to go into in greater detail. I thought that that question would be raised.
My concern is that it should be the planning permission which determines whether there is to be a caravan site. We wish to ensure that it will not be possible for a local authority—for example, a district council—to frustrate planning permission by imposing unreasonable conditions which prevent the site being so used. The planning permission will prevail. Once that has been obtained the caravan site operator will have the right of appeal to the courts 685 if he thinks that the licensing conditions imposed upon him depart unreasonably from the model code.
It is important that there should be some exemptions from the necessity to obtain a licence, and those exemptions are listed in Clause 2. They include sites which are managed for recreational purposes by bodies holding certificates from the Minister; sites for the caravans of farm workers; sites for the caravans of travelling showmen, and sites occupied by one, two or three caravans at most, and that temporarily—this provision being for people travelling with caravans on holiday.
Those are the key purposes of the first ten Clauses, and it is in Clauses 11 to 17 that we come to the difficult problem of existing caravan sites.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
Can the Minister give any guidance to planning authorities about applications in green belts?
§ Mr. Brooke
I do not think that in the Bill we can give specific guidance to planning authorities. The Bill deals with the machinery.
The Minister's policy—which, I hope, is a consistent one—emerges through his decisions on those appeal cases which come up. I am not suggesting that the production of the Bill will make a sudden change in the Minister's policy when appeals come to him. We are now seeking to try to improve the machinery for settling the question whether there shall or shall not be a caravan site. We cannot write into legislation all the considerations that the Minister should take into account when he decides cases on appeal.
However, I am the servant of the House. I am responsible to the House for the decisions that I take on appeal, and I shall have to answer for them, in specific cases or in general, if hon. Members feel that the wrong line is being taken. But the Bill deals only with the machinery.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
It seems to me that there is one big gap in these provisions. Local authorities who run caravan sites do not appear to have to be licensed at present, and the Bill does not appear to contain any provision preventing them from putting themselves in a 686 very favourable position as opposed to other applicants.
I hope that my right hon. Friend recognises that in some parts of the country the interests of the local authority may be diametrically opposed to those of persons wishing to become the owners of caravan sites. Does not my right hon. Friend think that some provision should be inserted in the Bill to make it necessary for local authorities to obtain licences—licences which will be granted not by themselves, but by other planning authorities?
§ Mr. Brooke
I think that that point might be examined in Committee. Perhaps I might pass to Clauses 11 to 17, because I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) was referring to Clause 18, which deals with powers of local authorities to run caravan sites themselves.
Clauses 11 to 17 deal with existing caravan sites, namely, all the sites described in Sir Arton Wilson's Report and the existing holiday caravan sites, also. Clause 12 allows the operators of existing sites two months in which to apply for licences. If they have planning permission for caravans they will be entitled to a licence as of right. All those existing sites which are not covered by planning permission must be reviewed by the local planning authority. Hon. Members will find that that is dealt with in Clause 15.
From the date when a licence is applied for, the planning authority will have six months in which to decide what to do; either to regularise the position by giving planning permission, in which case a licence will follow as of right, or, alternatively, to take steps to require the use of the site to be discontinued. If the planning authority does not take any steps at all within six months the site will be deemed to have planning permission and a licence will follow.
Suppose a planning authority requires a site to be discontinued. It might be asked what will happen to any caravanners who were living permanently on that site. They may be able to look after themselves, they may have somewhere to go, or the local authority may be able to provide for them. The local authority may have a site of its own available. If not, under the provisions of the 1947 Town and Country 687 Planning Act, as amended by Part II of the Bill, it will be possible for the Minister to review all the circumstances and, if need be, to make sure himself that the site is run down by gradual stages without anybody being left homeless.
That can be done by the Minister in the same sort of way that a local authority can do it by Clause 16 under its licensing powers, namely, to run down the numbers over a period by a process of national wastage, by prohibiting the replacement of caravans which are taken away from time to time, or prohibiting the coming of new families to take the place of families who leave the site of their own accord.
If the planning authority thinks that a site which has planning rights for caravans is so offensive to the amenities that it ought to be brought to an end, the authority will have to make a discontinuance order and be prepared to pay compensation in the usual way, as with any other form of development which is ordered to be discontinued.
I now come to Clause 18, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Barry referred. Clause 18 empowers local authorities to provide caravan sites themselves. It empowers them to buy land for this purpose, compulsorily if need be. They could buy an existing caravan site. A compulsory purchase order would have no effect unless it was confirmed by the Minister. The purpose of this power to provide caravan sites is to put a local authority in a position to ensure that a sufficiency of well equipped and well managed sites are available in its area if they are needed.
Until now, local authorities have generally shown themselves most reluctant to establish caravan sites of their own. I shall be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Barry has to say, but, in general, far from having an active willingness to provide caravan sites, most local authorities have shied away from doing so because they know the problems that are involved. I do not think that the Bill will produce many sites run by local authorities, but it is essential that there should be the power.
Let me illustrate that. A council might find it impossible to close down an existing site that was thoroughly unsatisfac- 688 tory unless it could provide an alternative site to which the caravanners could go. We cannot have people with nowhere to go. Compulsory purchase is a long-stop provision, which would come into play only if there was proved to be a real shortage of privately operated sites in some area, or if a private site was so bad and so neglected that in the interests of the caravanners there was nothing for it but for the local authority to take over and manage the site itself.
I doubt whether I need call special attention to any other Clauses in Part I except Clause 25, which is the Scottish application Clause.
Mr. Scholefield Alien (Crewe)
As the Minister is aware, there are some disgraceful sites. It is the irresponsible person who has disgraceful sites. Clause 14 says that the number shall not be increased from the number existing on the site at the beginning of the Act. The caravan season is beginning and it is probable that the undesirable man will rush in and increase the number of caravans on the site before the Act comes into operation. Will the Minister consider altering the date to that on which the Bill was printed, which is the beginning of the caravan season?
§ Mr. Brooke
The Government considered this Clause carefully. The decision to insert in the Bill the words:at the commencement of this Actwas a reasoned decision after considering various possibilities. This is a matter which might be discussed in Committee, but I think that it will be found, on consideration, that "at the commencement of this Act" is the most practicable date.
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that in certain places this Clause will require a kind of census to be taken by the local authority on the date in question, and that that census could hardly be taken retrospectively to the date of publication of the Bill, nor could the local authority have known that it had to take a census, or on what day the Bill was to be produced, but I welcome suggestions from all quarters for improving the Bill and I look forward to matters like this being carefully considered in Committee.
We now come to Part II of the Bill, which applies only to England and Wales.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
The Minister has been most courteous in giving way. Before he leaves Part I of the Bill, will he say what his view is about the extent to which this elaborate licensing system under Part I is an acknowledgement by him and by the Government of the weakness of the enforcement provisions? Public health and matters of that kind can be made the subject of planning permission. If he had complete confidence in his enforcement provisions, would there be any need for all these provisions for licences? What is the Ministers' answer to the criticism that Part I of the Bill is an acknowledgment of the weaknesses in Part II?
§ Mr. Brooke
I must rebut that charge. I have no doubt at all that we need both the planning machinery and the licensing machinery. We are dealing with two different subjects. The planning machinery decides whether a certain area on the map is suitable for caravans or not. Then, thereafter, there will be the continuing questions, whether there are too many caravans on the site, whether there are proper washing facilities, proper sanitary facilities, and whether the place is being looked after and being kept tidy and all those sort of things.
I put to the hon. and learned Gentleman that those matters cannot be covered by conditions laid down in a planning decision. They are much more akin to public health decisions and we must keep them distinct; though, as I have tried to show, we have sought to gear the two together so that there will not be contradictions arising from the use of the two methods of control.
If I may continue to seek to explain Part II—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I would express the hope—I do not want to interrupt these exchanges—that the Minister may be given a chance to get on with his speech. I cannot give a warranty to the hon. Member that he will succeed in catching my eye, but I will do what I can.
§ Mr. Ross
The point is that Scotland is mentioned only in Clause 25. There are modifications in subsection (1) 690 starting with letter (a) and going right through the alphabet to (m), and there are two more subsections. I should like to know exactly how Scotland is affected. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to mention that?
§ Mr. Brooke
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not like me to be the Minister to explain the application of the Bill to Scotland. He may be sure that the whole of Part I applies to Scotland. If, at a later stage in the debate, the hon. Gentleman succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be pleased to answer his questions and explain the provisions relating to Scotland. I had noticed that the Scottish language seems somewhat different from the English language, though I believe that essentially, apart from these diversities of language, the law is very much the same.
§ Mr. Brooke
That is not the case with the town and country planning provisions in Part II of the Bill, which is concerned with the machinery for the enforcement of planning control in reflation not only to caravans but to development in general. As I understand, in Scotland the enforcement provisions under the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act are different, but my right hon. Friend the Secretory of State for Scotland takes the view that they are satisfactory and do not need amendment.
No one. I think, would dare to say that of the position in England and Wales. The difficulties about the present enforcement procedure in Part III of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, are by now fairly notorious. They have been troubling the courts for some time. They have been criticised by lawyers as severely as by the planning authorities. The whole issue has been brought into special prominence by the caravan problem, but it is by no means confined to caravans.
Experience with unauthorised caravan sites has shown how hard it can be to enforce effective control over development which might harm the countryside or injure the legitimate enjoyment of their amenities by other people; and, also, how easy it can be for someone who is so 691 inclined, and who knows his way about the provisions of the 1947 Act, to evade control for literally months on end.
The main change brought about by Part II of the Bill affects the remedies open to a person who is served with an enforcement notice in respect of development which has been carried out without planning permission or, it may be, in breach of the conditions attached to a planning permission. For this purpose a development includes putting up buildings or carrying out works or using land in a different way. At present, a person who is served with an enforcement notice has two distinct remedies under Section 23 of the 1947 Act. He can challenge the merits of the enforcement notice by applying to the planning authority for planning permission for the development. Strange as it may seem, he can do this even if he has already applied and had his application refused.
If he fails with the local authority, he can appeal to the Minister. He can go through the whole thing from beginning to end. As hon. Members know, all this can take up quite a long time. But the 1947 Act also empowers such a person to appeal to the magistrates' court against the terms of the enforcement notice. If he loses his appeal before the magistrates, there is a further right of appeal to quarter sessions. He can choose one or other of those two distinct courses, or, if he wishes, he can adopt both. He can pursue both courses at the same time, the law permits that. In that event, they proceed independently of one another which, as the House will realise, can produce not only delay, but quite a lot of confusion.
They may cancel out one another. For example, while an appeal to the Minister on an application for planning permission is proceeding, the magistrates, or, indeed, quarter sessions, may quash the enforcement notice on the ground that no planning permission is required. Or, alternatively, the court might spend time hearing arguments about the validity of an enforcement notice and the Minister might give planning permission for the development, so that the enforcement notice would no longer be required. After the experience of the past ten years, I doubt whether anyone would defend this dual system as a workmanlike manner of proceeding.
692 The Government have considered carefully how these difficulties can best be relieved and we have taken account of the Franks Report. We have come to the conclusion that the commonsense solution would be to provide for a single remedy which will enable all points of the enforcement notice, whether on the validity of the notice or the planning merits of the case, to be determined at the same time and in one place. Clause 26 of the Bill does this by providing a direct right of appeal to the Minister against an enforcement notice.
Of course, we want also to preserve the right of access to the court on points of law. This is hardly work for petty sessions, so Clause 27 provides a right of appeal to the High Court on any question of law arising out of the decision of the Minister on an appeal. That Clause also enables the Minister, either on his own initiative, or, if he is required to do so by either party, to state a case for the opinion of the High Court.
Naturally, all this, indeed the whole of Part II of the Bill, will apply to enforcement proceedings generally in England and Wales, whatever form of development is concerned. The defects in the present provisions are general though they have been highlighted by the particular case of caravans.
I invite the attention of the House to Clause 29, which makes further provision for securing compliance with enforcement notices relating to buildings or works as distinct from uses of land. As the law stands at present, failure to comply with an enforcement notice which requires a use of land to be discontinued constitutes an offence, but there is no similar provision in the present law regarding enforcement notices which require the removal or alteration of buildings which have been erected, or perhaps works which have been carried out without planning permission. Or it may be in breach of the conditions attaching to a planning permission.
The only method of enforcement now is for the local authority to undertake the job of demolition or alteration itself and recover the cost from the owner of the land. This may not be at all satisfactory. Clause 29 makes failure to comply with an enforcement notice relating to 693 buildings or works an offence for which the owner of the land will be liable to a penally, as is already the law in regard to enforcement notices relating to the use of land.
The other Clauses in Part II of the Bill make comparatively minor Amendments to and clarifications of the law as to enforcement notices. If hon. Members have questions to raise on the detail of these or any other Clauses my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will endeavour to answer them when he winds up the debate. I hope that I have met the wish of the House by focusing my speech on the major purposes and proposals of the Bill, for only if the intended policy is clear will the detail fall into place. A number of hon. Members have residential or holiday caravans in their constituencies. I know that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) has, for I have seen quite a number of caravan sites in that lovely island.
I shall listen with special interest to the views of those hon. Members on the Bill. I hope that they, and also hon. Members who have a close knowledge of the important provisions dealt with in Part II, will support the main ideas of the Bill on Second Reading and then give us the benefit of their experience in Committee. The Government want the Bill to be a protection for the public interest and a caravanners' charter as well.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
The Minister has given us a clear exposition of the Bill and what he hopes it will achieve. I say at once that we shall give the Bill our support, although we have some reservations in relation to detail that we shall make both now and later, during the Committee stage.
I wish to endorse what the Minister said and to pay tribute to Sir Arton Wilson for his admirable Report, "Caravans as Homes". I was greatly impressed by it and by the sympathy and understanding which Sir Arton brought to bear upon his task. I also read with profit another publication, the "Survey of Residential Caravan Life", by P. G. Gray and Elizabeth Parr. The problems which these two Reports bring to light are very great. I wish to mention some of them before I deal with the Bill itself. 694 because, as the Minister said, this is a new and complex social development in Britain for which existing legislation does not cater.
In recent years the number of caravans for holiday and residential purposes has increased tremendously. In 1938, the industry's output of caravans was about 1,000; in 1948, it was 3,600; in 1958, 36,500, with a total retail value estimated at £14,600,000. That is getting on for very big business indeed. Production is continuing to rise year by year. I understand that the estimated total number of caravans of all types in this country at present is over 200,000. The Minister has told us that the number used as permanent homes is 60,000. That was an estimate given in the Report, but probably it is considerably more now. The remainder are used by gipsies, or solely for holiday purposes.
It is worth noting that a large number of the caravans now used by people more or less as permanent homes were originally intended for touring only. They were not constructed for the purpose of being used as caravan homes. The important point to bear in mind, as the Minister said, is that over 150,000, one in 300 of the total population, now live in caravans. These people live on 13,000 sites, 3,000 multiple sites containing about 48,000 caravans and 10,000 individual sites containing 12,000 caravans. This is a large section of our community. It gives some idea of the magnitude of the problem which we face. We must never forget that a very high proportion of the caravan dwellers are young people. The Arton Wilson Report estimated that out of the total caravan population of 150,000 about 20,000 are children under five and 10,000 are school children.
Where are these caravan homes to be found? The Report states that they are sited mainly in two types of area. The first area attracts retired people and the second is the area where industry is expanding—Coventry, Luton, the fringe of the Greater London area, and so on. To get the Bill into right perspective it is necessary for us to understand why so many of our fellow citizens are today living in caravan homes. The Report concluded that on all the evidence available a very large number of these families, nearly half the total, live in caravans because they are unable to obtain permanent homes. That is a fact that 695 we must bear in mind when we are considering housing needs.
Of course, there are people who prefer to live in caravans. They would not choose to live anywhere else. The wishes of those people have to be respected. Generally, they are middle-aged and elderly people who have found their previous homes too expensive, or too big to manage. A caravan provides a small self-contained home which is easy to run and relatively cheap to run after initial outlay. There are about 6,000 of these caravans. Sir Arton Wilson's remarks on this are interesting. He said:The people in this group appear, for the most part, to form a particularly contented section of the caravan community.The evidence shows—and I must stress it to the Minister—that 80 per cent., or 50,000 of the caravans' households, are of people who do not wish to go on living there indefinitely. In other words, if there were the possibility now of obtaining a house, a flat or a bungalow those people would move. The problem, therefore, is closely related to the housing problem and to that extent the Bill is only a partial answer. By stimulating council house building, particularly in areas where caravan homes are most numerous, the Minister could mitigate the difficulties which now confront local authorities.
It is also a point of importance that the caravan dwellers are young, respectable people in good employment. In many cases, they are living with young children in squalid surroundings. It is unlikely that many of those people are on current council house waiting lists. I ask the Minister to consider this aspect of the problem with the very greatest care. It is not right nor desirable for so many young families to continue indefinitely to live in caravans if they are anxious to secure permanent homes. The danger is that we shall create rootless communities when these people desire to become a more permanent part of the societies in which they live.
I would not decry the well-designed, modern caravan and the well-planned site. Some people prefer it and it fulfils an important function. It is a development in our society which we must accept and which local authorities, in particular, must now absorb, but the 696 numbers of caravan homes must not be allowed to increase at the present rate merely because of housing deficiencies. Far too many caravans are overcrowded. I understand that about one-quarter of the total, used as permanent homes, or about 15,000 caravans are overcrowded. On many sites, sanitary arrangements are deplorable. This must constitute a potential danger to public health. I hope that the Bill will have the effect of rapidly improving these conditions.
One matter which has caused concern is the fitness of many caravans for habitation. I refer especially to their structure by comparison with, for example, permanent housing. Before a house can be built, the byelaws must be complied with and high standards observed, but there are no comparable safeguards for caravan homes. About 15,000 to 20,000 caravans are of inferior quality. The Minister referred to Clause 4, which gives local authorities powers in this direction, and I hope that it will make for improvement.
Would it not have been better to set national standards of construction? Will there not tend to be a lack of uniformity as between one district and another? I understand that steps were taken to put this point to the Minister. It has been advocated for some time that if minimum national standards were set the quality of caravans would be better. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will give us his views on this matter, and say why the course in Clause 4 has been decided upon rather than the fixing of national standards.
Although it is supported by the Opposition, the Bill has its shortcomings and weaknesses. We hope that these will be put right before we part with it. For example, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke on Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), in his intervention, was one of substance, although the Minister did not deal with it to my entire satisfaction. One of the chief administrative weaknesses of the Bill is that the dual control by local planning authorities and district councils is retained. The Minister has criticised dual control in dealing with Part II, but dual control is still retained in Clause 4, with resultant overlapping.
The situation, as I see it, is that control over strictly planning, matters, such 697 as amenity, tree planting and layout of sites, is given to district councils. This can lead to great administrative confusion These matters can be the subject of conditions laid down in the planning permission, but under the Bill it is possible for different conditions on precisely the same subjects to be attached to the site licence by the district council. In other words, the planning authority, on the one hand, in granting planning permission, can lay down conditions about planning and the district council, on the other hand, independently of the planning authority, will lay down conditions upon similar matters.
There is the additional anomaly that appeal against conditions on the planning permission lies to the Minister, whilst appeal against similar conditions on the licence is to the magistrates' court. This overlapping could have been avoided. Either the two codes of control should be combined under the planning authority or, if there is overwhelming objection to that, the district council should be required to consult the planning authority before issuing site licences, to ensure that no conditions on the licence are inconsistent with the conditions on the planning permission. That is a substantial criticism of the Bill.
The Minister will be aware of the additional point that many small district councils do not have the qualified and experienced staff competent to deal with planning matters of this nature. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give us his considered views about this before the end of the debate.
The definition of "caravan site" in the Bill may also lead to administrative confusion. Should not the area of land concerned be more precisely denned? For example, if three or four caravans are located in the corner of a 10-acre field, what comprises the caravan site? Surely the site should be capable of being shown clearly on a plan so as to leave no room for doubt or dispute. This aspect has caused difficulty in the past and I should have thought that the Bill would give the Minister an opportunity to lay down a more precise definition of the site.
Site difficulties may also be created by Clause 2 (2, a). This could well lead to the establishment of a site within the curtilage of a dwelling-house. As I read 698 the Bill, there is no restriction whatever on the number of caravans that can be brought in. There could well be great difficulties in enforcement. Here again, the Minister might well consider limiting the number of caravans on such a site to one. That, however, may be a matter for Committee and, possibly, the right hon. Gentleman will consider introducing a suitable Amendment.
Nor am I happy about the definition of "caravan", in Clause 23. Unless it is broadened, the definition may well take thousands of vehicles outside the provisions of the Bill and may well defeat its purposes. The definition of a caravan as a vehiclewhich is capable of being moved from one place to anothersuggests a degree of mobility which many older caravans no longer possess. These are the ones which are in the poorest condition. In some cases, adaptations have been made. During the last few days, I visited a site and saw a number of caravans which an army of workmen would be required to move, such is the nature of the additions. In many cases, the appendage is greater than the caravan. Huts and shacks have been built on to them. What is the position? Are these covered by the definition in Clause 23? Chalets also are to be found mixed up with caravans on caravan sites. Are these chalets, which are fairly easily dismantled and removed, covered by the definition in Clause 23?
I am not sure that the Bill gives local authorities sufficient time to examine existing sites. The time afforded by Clause 15 is six months. If we consider the manifold problems presented by a large multiple site in poor condition, the time might well be extended to twelve months, so that the planning authorities and councils may have ample time to examine existing conditions and formulate their policy as to which sites should be continued and which should be closed.
I shall be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will say whether the proposer of a caravan site who loses his appeal has the right to start all over again at once. Can he turn himself into a kind of vexatious litigant? As soon as the Minister rejects his appeal, a proposer who has a little money may decide to have another go at once, with the result 699 that he continues to create alarm and despondency among the people who live around him. If this is possible, should not the Bill include a time limit within which an appeal cannot be renewed? I have also been asked—I think that I should make this point to the Minister—whether people who are adversely affected by the grant of a site licence should not have the right of appeal as well as the applicant.
The Minister dealt at some length with Clause 18, which enables local authorities to provide caravan sites. I agree with him that this is to be welcomed. Indeed, there is a strong case for allowing local authorities to have their own caravans as well as caravan sites. This provision will enable local authorities to set a high standard of planning and layout, which others may emulate.
There are many private sites which are exemplary. Paragraph 114 of the Arton Wilson Report says:… I have formed the view that a very small minority of the multiple sites are positively charming, a few hundred are fairly good, and the rest in varying degrees leave something to be desired—including perhaps a few hundred which by any standards are quite horrible.That evidence is most disturbing. I hope that the Bill will have the effect of raising site standards, but that, in addition, by allowing local authorities to run their own sites, councils will be given the opportunity to show what can be done with a little care and imagination, and perhaps a little more spending, as well.
This morning I received a circular letter from the National Federation of Caravan Site Operators. The federation is disappointed that the Bill contains no provision for giving security of tenure to existing site owners. One agency—Caravan Services Limited— suggests a term of fifteen years renewable. It says—I think that it is a valid point—that without such security it will be uneconomic for the site operator to spend money on bringing a camp up to an approved standard.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
I sought to deal with that point in my speech by saying that I would set my face against planning permission being given for short terms. The Minister does hold that in his hand, 700 because there is a right of appeal to the Minister against a condition or term being inserted in the planning permission. Unless I was convinced that there was a real local cause for making the planning permission terminable after a short period of years, I would, in general, allow appeals for a longer term of years, if not for permanency.
§ Mr. Hughes
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. To avoid any misunderstanding or delay, or even the necessity for an appeal to him, perhaps he will make this abundantly clear to local authorities, either by circular or in some other way.
I am bound to point out, in passing, that caravan sites are a good business proposition, and that many people have made much money out of them. But many of these people have not given very much away. Because councils will now have stronger powers of control, they will be more inclined to grant long-term planning permission and to encourage the provision of good site facilities. It is to be hoped that local authorities will now adopt a positive and constructive approach to the entire problem and that better relations between the various parties will, therefore, ensue.
In considering the security of the site operator, we should not forget the caravan dweller's security of tenure. It seems to me at present that that is the more important of the two. As the law stands, a caravanner can be turned off a site at a week's notice. That is the extent of his security. From this, two evils appear to stem. First, an unscrupulous operator—unfortunately, there are some of those amongst us— is free to turn people off the sites, thereby creating vacancies for which "key money" can be demanded. The second evil is that an operator can give notice to a whole community of caravanners to quit in a short period of time.
There have been cases of this kind. The eviction of a large number of caravanners from a caravan site inevitably presents the local authority concerned with an enormous problem. I feel that some protection—some measure of security—should be written into the Bill, and that this is something which we shall discuss in Committee.
701 I do not think that the special interest of the travelling showmen of this country should go unmentioned. This is a reputable section of the caravanning community which has enjoyed a degree of protection and consideration for many years. It is a small community of about 4,000 and its livelihood depends upon its freedom to travel around the country and find suitable winter quarters. I am glad to see that travelling showmen are among the exemptions in Clause 2.
I have sought to deal with some basic problems and with certain aspects of the Bill. I have not mentioned the amenities of the countryside. I think that every hon. Member is concerned to protect the beauty of our land. Each week, when I go to my constituency, I travel along one of the most beatutiful coastlines in Britain—the North Wales coast. As many hon. Members know, parts of that coast are hideously defaced by camps which have grown over the years. We often hear of the scars inflicted upon our countryside by industry—"How Green was my Valley"—but we seldom hear of the scars which are inflicted upon our countryside by the tourist industry at its worst. I think that the Bill will improve matters in that direction.
Caravanning for holiday purposes is on the increase, and it deserves proper encouragement. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) knows far more about this aspect of the problem than I do, and he will no doubt deal with it when he winds up the debate from this side of the House.
The rights and needs of those who live in caravans must also be respected. We know that there are bad sites which present local authorities with almost insuperable difficulties. We know that there are site operators who exploit people desperately in need of a home and a house. But there are good sites and there are conscientious site operators.
This is more than a mere planning matter It is a large, human problem and a new social development. Given good will and understanding between local authorities, site operators and caravan dwellers, I believe that the Bill will make a substantial contribution to the solution of the difficulties which now exist. We 702 on this side of the House will do all we can to improve it and to secure its speedy passage through all its stages.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Mr. William Roots (Kensington, South)
It is, perhaps, fortunate, in the light of the mood of the House, that I, too, welcome the Bill, but I hope to take advantage of the invitation of the Minister to make a few suggestions which, I hope, if they lack the wisdom and experience of my predecessor as Member for Parliament for Kensington, South, at least will prove useful. If they do not, I shall have to seek the traditional indulgence of the House and of my right hon. Friend.
No doubt the most newsworthy portion of the Bill, as its name implies, is Part I, which relates to caravans, but I welcome in particular Part II, which has a much wider range. I do not think it is putting it too high to say that existing provisions have practically ground to a standstill because of delay and expense and because they are thoroughly impracticable. They have indeed caught the unfortunate, while many a rascal slipped through the net.
I have only three suggestions to make, and the first two can be put quite shortly. I suggest to the Minister that it is unfortunate that, in an excellent endeavour to achieve one channel of appeal and the settlement of disputes in Part II, he should confine the method by which the High Court can deal with these matters, because there are a number of possible methods by which the court can deal with them, some of which might well be both cheaper and quicker than the remedy laid down in the Bill. I hope that at a later stage the right hon. Gentleman will consider suggestions on these lines, and, similarly, that he will consider widening the scope of some of the Clauses after Clause 26, which appear to be directed primarily, at any rate, at owners who, generally, are not those who will be carrying out any development. It will be the occupiers. Therefore, I hope that perhaps my right hon. Friend may be able to have second thoughts about that.
The most important factor to which I should like to draw attention is that the improved procedure for the enforcement notices is likely to be very largely nullified unless it is possible to achieve 703 some expedited hearing by the Minister's inspectors and a decision by his Department. At the present time, no doubt through no fault of the Minister, it takes anything up to four or five months to get a decision, and in many cases I do not doubt that is necessary. I suggest, however, that it cannot be beyond the wit of man to achieve a more expeditious system in what I would call certified cases, where it is clear that a new development has taken place which may well be objectionable. That is not to be confused with the many cases where haste may not be welcomed.
There are cases where a local authority wants to serve an enforcement notice, and is extremely glad, as is the owner of the site, that there may be some delay in having a hearing. There may be a number of reasons for that, but the reason I stress this aspect in my own case, apart from its general importance in the whole country, is that, in my own constituency, and even more so in the area of West London, we are suffering from a major social evil which this Clause, and to some extent Part I, sets out to meet.
I refer to the so-called social clubs, which are appalling drinking dens, which are springing up and which take so long to close that they are in fact a major social factor in racial troubles and vicious practices of every kind. It must be possible that, when the local authority serves an enforcement notice, that sort of case can be heard by the Minister and decided in a matter, if not of days, at any rate of weeks. Nobody has challenged the enormous harm which this sort of development is causing. We should indeed be shedding crocodile tears if, having substantial powers to mitigate, if not stop, that evil, we disregarded it because to deal with it might be administratively difficult. Therefore, I urge as vehemently as I can that a system of expedited hearings of appeals in respect of enforcement notices should be instituted by the Minister as quickly as he possibly can.
I have one final word to address to the House on the caravan aspect, and here I take up a point made by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes). I would press upon the Minister the need for controlling caravans sited in some of the more beautiful parts of our coun- 704 try, and would point out to him that, from a caravan site owner's point of view, there could be no more delectable pot of honey than an area of great natural beauty or scenic value, or, indeed, a National Park. That is a joy beyond all other joys, for a variety of reasons, but particularly the financial one.
I should be glad if the Minister could make some statement, as strong as his statement about the green belts round London and the major towns, that only overwhelming circumstances will induce him to permit an area of great natural beauty to be used for caravans and other objects.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on- rent, Central)
I am sure that everyone in the House, and certainly myself, enjoyed very much the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots). I should like to congratulate him, as I am sure we all do, on the speech to which we have just listened. I do so very sincerely as his constituent, and I look forward, as I am sure everyone else does, to hearing him on frequent occasions. His modesty compelled him tentatively to suggest that this was perhaps the first time he had addressed the House, though no one would have dreamed for a single moment that he was anything but the accomplished orator which he has shown himself to be. If I was unable to assist or oppose him on the occasion when he was elected, it was due to the fact that I had an engagement in another place.
This Bill is to be greatly welcomed for a number of reasons. I have listed them, but they are apparent and obvious now that the Minister himself has spoken to us. We are faced by an increase in the numbers of caravans, and that is the first point.
Secondly, we know that there has been, and still is, conflict between the local authorities and caravan dwellers. I think The Times was very flattering, and in this case rightly so, about the Bill, when it used these words in the heading to a recent article:Caravan Sites Bill seeks to end causes of conflict.That is a very good thing for legislation to attempt to do. In fact, that word 705 "conflict" exists in order that we should legislate to bring it to an end, and reach a settlement in the best interests of all those involved.
Thirdly, we know that there are obvious deficiencies in the existing law, and one point made so strongly by the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South, which must be borne in mind, is that we cannot allow delay in the machinery for appeal if the Bill is to be properly effective.
Fourthly, and certainly not of least importance, is the growing threat which we have noticed to amenity throughout the countryside, and the need to preserve the green belts wherever possible. Lastly, the Bill gives fair warning to delinquent people that they cannot exploit their fellow citizens who buy land from them —and I will quote an instance in a moment—only to find that they have no rights in that land at all and have to quit.
The fact that there is an annual increase of 11,000 or 12,000 in the number of people who buy caravans to live in—quite apart from those who buy them for holiday purposes—is a very serious matter. We all know that, not only here but in many countries in the West where the standard of living is high, caravans have come to stay for people who like to use them for pleasure, but that, equally, caravans have come to stay for use as residential homes by certain groups of people.
The transferred worker may find it most difficult to get proper accommodation, except in a caravan. There are workers who move round all their lives from job to job. They find that they are often best helped by living in a caravan. My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) mentioned retired elderly people who, their income being small, find it attractive to buy a caravan, either new or second-hand, because it frees them from the load of overhead charges that attach to keeping a permanent home going. We all have every sympathy with those people.
A small group of people will always be enthusiasts, and will want to live half in and half out of the open air—in a caravan. No one in this House, I am sure, will deny them the right so to live. All that we can, and should, do—and that is the purpose of this legislation— 706 is to make things better for them, to see that they are not exploited, and that the sites on which they live are as good as possible.
The last, and most important, group for whom we are catering consists of the young married couples who are tired of waiting for a house; who cannot afford to buy one, or for whom there is not one available; who find furnished rooms unsuitable—and very expensive—and who, strangely enough will not live with the in-laws.
Human beings are rather like the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. The birds of the air have their own nests —they do not share a nest with their fathers and mothers. So it is with all warm-blooded animals. Psychologically, human beings are well advised to set up a home of their own as soon as they are married. There can be no argument about that, and it is particularly true if they want children.
These young married people, who comprise 25 per cent. of the 60,000 people mentioned in the excellent Report by Sir Arton Wilson are both compelled and attracted by the caravan. I have mentioned the compulsion—they cannot get a proper permanent home in any other way—and the attraction is quite apparent. There are no mortgages to pay off, no legal costs, and no furniture to buy. They can have occupation at once. They are very much in love, having married recently—and if they are not in love then they will not easily be in love afterwards. They get privacy, and an attractive small home. It is desirable that the local authorities, which are to be the agents in this matter, should cater for them in particular.
I had a letter this morning from one of the dealers in caravans in my constituency. There is not a single site run by the local authority, and the local authority does not allow a site anywhere within its area. I must admit that within the confines of the great City of Stoke-on-Trent one would not normally want to live in a caravan if one could get a more permanent home.
What is interesting in the letter sent to me, is that the writer states that some 65 per cent. of his business is for residential caravans and, as there are no licenced sites, those who require accommodation have to go to unauthorised 707 sites. We know very well that the law is being broken by many people. The truth is that the present law is a bad one—at any rate, it needs improving— and that the Bill makes a real attempt to improve it is an additional reason for my welcoming it.
The Report makes very clear a number of points about the conflict between local authorities and caravan dwellers There must, in the past, have been some association in the minds of local authorities and their citizens suggesting that people who do not live in a house made with bricks and mortar must be some kind of gipsy, or must be like tinkers, and that they should, therefore, be frowned on: "They are not a regular part of the population. They do not integrate well". That type of thinking has led local authorities to feel that they do not want caravan dwellers.
Local authorities ask, "Why should we have them? Fifty per cent. of all caravans are overcrowded, according to any standards. Fire risks are serious, and we have not been able to do very much about it". Medical officers of health ask, "What about risks of infectious disease? Such diseases can spread through an encampment like wildfire". That is what some say, but no real evidence has been brought forward to prove that it is so. As a medical man, I sometimes wonder whether the type of life lived by caravanners does not make them very much more immune from the average infectious disease than are we who live in cities and towns.
There is, of course, serious risk of one or two diseases, such as polio, if proper sanitary conveniences are not available, if there is not an adequate supply of suitable drinking water, and so on. By and large, however, let us not make too much of this risk of infectious disease among these people, because, as I say, we have not the evidence.
The local authorities are well within their rights when they say that the caravan is probably not the best place to have a baby or to rear a young family. I think that it is accepted that, when the children come, the average young couple do their very best to get a more permanent dwelling built of bricks and mortar. Part of that, of course, is our essential responsibility. It is up to the com- 708 munity to see that houses are available at reasonable prices.
I am told that about one-third of all the caravanners in Surrey are living in contravention of the Town and Country Planning Acts. That, again, is evidence of the need for legislation to regularise the position. Local authorities are sometimes blamed because, in the past, they have not used the enforcement procedure, but councillors and aldermen say, "The procedure is slow, difficult and expensive, and when we are successful we are accused of being cruel."
For that reason I welcome the fact that, by this legislation, alternative sites will automatically be made available, and that the run-down of existing unsatisfactory sites—for whatever reason they may be unsatisfactory—will be under control, and that people cannot and will not be rendered homeless. The rehousing of caravanners has brought great difficulties to local authorities in the past. They have been criticised by their own citizens, who may have been waiting for years to get houses and then find that, because of the desperate urgency to rehouse caravanners, they are put aside in favour of those who, to them, are strangers, and people not long resident in the area.
All in all, therefore, we can appreciate that there have been plenty of reasons for tension, and the time is ripe, and more than ripe, for action to be taken. The Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey, and the hon. Member for Kensington, South have all made it quite clear that some alteration in the law is needed, and we find that alteration in Part II of the Bill. I believe the truth to be that powers as they exist today were framed to deal with dwellings that were not caravans, and with caravans that were not dwellings.
There are weaknesses in the Public Health Acts and in the Town and Country Planning Acts. We have heard from the Minister how, between the two procedures under those Acts, time can be wasted. Up to now, when a notice has been served it has been possible for the owner of the site to go from magistrate to Minister, or to petty sessions, and back again to make a new application— and so it goes on.
As I have said, the Town and Country Planning Acts were never designed for 709 this purpose. I am not a lawyer, and therefore I am not sure, but I shall listen with great care in the Standing Committee, if I am so fortunate as to serve on it, to the way the lawyers in the Committee will tackle Part II of the Bill to see whether they are content with it or whether it needs strengthening. I am quite sure that the Committee will want to make the Bill as good as possible.
While the Minister was speaking I interrupted him to ask a question. It was based on the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson) had asked me to raise the matter because he could not be in his place this afternoon: he is in a Select Committee. The Town Clerk of Chesterfield wrote to my hon. Friend and ended his letter with the following sentence:I hope that you will feel that you can support the contention that the granting of planning permission to establish a caravan site should not necessarily mean that the District Council must issue the licence for such a site under the Public Health Act.The letter made reference to conversations with the Minister's advisers, who made it clear to the Association of Municipal Corporations that local planning authorities must—I emphasise the word "must"—consult the licensing authorities, that is, the district councils, before giving planning permission for caravan sites.
It is not for me, of course, to do the Parliamentary Secretary's work—I am not well-equipped to do it—but it seems to me that the Town Clerk of Chesterfield may have overlooked paragraph 180 on page 45 of the Report. The beginning of paragraph 180 states:But local authorities have found that their power to refuse or attach conditions to such licences—subject to appeal to the justices—is in practice quite circumscribedIt then goes on to describe what the local authorities cannot do or take into account under the 1936 Act. I think it is Section 268, and similar Sections. The Report says that the field in which the local authorities can act is pretty narrow.
If that be the case, then it seems to me that the local authorities, in consultation always with the planning authorities—that is to say, the licensing authorities and the planning authorities—will be much better off in the matter than they have been hitherto.
710 I have said how much I welcome Part II of the Bill which strengthens enforcement powers. I now wish to say a word about amenities. The threat to amenity was mentioned by the Minister. He said how essential it was to bring attractiveness to caravan sites. We had a moving description from the hon. Member for Anglesey of how the loveliest coastline in Britain and certainly in Wales is being spoiled by carelessness and selfishness.
It seems to me that inevitably there is a conflict between preserving the green belts policy and the fact that caravanners —and this has been mentioned already— desire to settle in areas which are beautiful. But they also wish to settle in areas which are economically expanding. People want to go to Coventry or to Birmingham in order to earn higher wages. These cities are surrounded by tentative green belts. The caravanners cannot settle in the middle of the cities because the police would move them on; so they settle outside, and where they settle happens to be in the green belts.
Inevitably, therefore, we get conflicts. It is high time that the local authorities should be given the powers which are now proposed, and perhaps even stronger powers, to assist in the proper settlement of these people who come in to earn a living and help the country's economy.
We must be tremendously careful as far as coastal scenery and the countryside are concerned, but I am sure that much can be done to ameliorate the present position. I thought—and I say this with respect—that the Bill seemed weak on this aspect. Under Clause 4 (2, d), site proprietors will be expected to improve the appearance of the site. One of the conditions attached is that site proprietors shall do certain things in connection with amenity, such as the planting of shrubs and trees and the laying out of gardens.
The proprietors may well declare that they cannot do that. They might say, "We get a regular wind blowing in from the sea. Nothing will grow, and there is the salt spray, and so on." I hope that in Committee we shall have an interesting argument about this subject. I hope, too, that among the other conditions which the local authorities will be able to force upon the site owner will be the condition that if the local authority really feels that there should be an 711 improvement in amenity by the planting of trees and shrubs and the laying out of gardens and proper paths, and if the site owner does not do it, then the local authority shall do it and charge for it. I leave that point because it is essentially one for the Committee.
Lastly, there is the question of protecting from exploitation the public who use caravans. The Bill gives a warning to would-be exploiters and delinquent people. In the Architects' Journal of 25th February this year there is a most interesting description of what happened recently when the Minister had to intervene. It is entitled, "Not Quite Funny". I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will have had it drawn to his attention.
In brief, a firm declared that it owned some land. Actually it did not own the land when it advertised it for sale. It only bought the land a month after it had sold the plots. The firm pointed out in the advertisement what fun it would be to have these freehold plots. It said that it had eighty-eight acres of land about thirty miles from London in the Dorking and Horley Rural District Council area. I think that it is two miles from Ockley.
The firm bought these eighty-eight acres of land, which, I believe, were of no use for agricultural purposes, but which were quite beautiful. It divided up the land and advertised it, telling people what great fun they could haveusing the land outside the scope of the planning act—picnicking, cooking over a camp fire, pitching a tent, creating a garden or a tennis court …About a thousand people applied to buy the plots and a month ago all but, I believe, twelve of the plots had been bought at prices ranging from about £140 to £180 an acre. The article suggests that the land was bought for about £25 an acre. Therefore, it will be seen that there was a quick turnover with a profit of 600 per cent.
There were some normal citizens living in the area—not many, I think— and they appealed to the right hon. Gentleman. As a result of that appeal a notice has been put up which reads:WARNING. Planning permission has not been given for the placing of caravans on the land on either side of this road. A Direction has been approved by the Minister of Housing and Local Government requiring 712 such planning permission to be obtained before any caravan is placed on the land even for one day or any part of a day.So people have lost their right to use the land. They have paid expensively for something which is no longer attractive to them. They cannot stay there. The article tells us that there are two people who could not move away because they have nowhere else to go. I am sure that they will not be driven off, because the whole purpose of the Bill we are now discussing is not to drive homeless people away from where they are.
The firm which has done that has made it clear that it intends to do the same at Poole in Dorset at another beauty spot. It is just as well that this afternoon we are giving that firm due warning that it will not be very successful and, if those concerned attempt it. they may well burn their fingers and lose their money.
There is a great deal in the Bill which is good and I welcome it most warmly. There are plenty of details which in Committee we may be able to improve, and I am sure that we shall all enjoy ourselves in trying to do so.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
I add my congratulations to those of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) in thanking my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots) for his most informative and well delivered maiden speech. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing him again on many occasions.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government on bringing forward the Bill so swiftly after the receipt of Sir Arton Wilson's Report. I shall concentrate on Part I of it, which deals with caravan sites. Incidentally, I should say that for two weeks I have been away from the House in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. In Caracas, there is an immense housing problem, the problem presented by 300,000 people who have arrived in that city and who are now living in shack dwellings. My right hon. Friend is very fortunate that he is not Minister of Housing in Venezuela today.
I wish to declare my interest here. I am a vice-president of the Rural District 713 Councils' Association. The association has written to me to say that it welcomes the Bill as a much needed piece of legislation. I am in close contact, also, with many of the organisations which are responsible for the caravan industry. I know that I can say that the Bill is given a universal welcome throughout the industry. I am glad, however, that my right hon. Friend has made it clear that he looks upon the Bill as a constructive Measure, one from which will flow constructive and positive action. Those were his words. I hope that by positive action he means that he envisages expansion in the caravan industry.
I wish to deal with certain aspects of caravanning which are rather different from those already touched upon. I shall discuss the present position and endeavour to forecast future trends, because I believe that future trends are what we must concentrate upon when framing our legislation. This Bill, no doubt, will be operative for some years to come.
During the last few months, I have had the opportunity of personal consultation with almost all those who are interested in caravans, with the associations which represent caravanners, with the site operators and. with the local authorities. All were agreed that legislation was necessary. Sir Arton Wilson is quite categorical in many respects, but about one thing he is absolutely definite. He says that caravans have come to stay.
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) gave us some of the figures, and from those figures I do not at all dissent. I would go on from the global total of 200,000 caravans at present, 60,000 being residential caravans, and say that, in my opinion, half of the residential caravans are definitely substandard. But, whereas a short time ago, I was of the opinion that the residential sector of caravanning was relatively static, I have now changed my mind. I am reinforced in my present view by paragraph 331 (d) of Sir Arton Wilson's Report, where he says:demand shows no sign of slackening.He quite definitely envisages in the residential sector an increasing demand for caravans.
714 It is as well sometimes to look across the Atlantic, at developing trends in the United States of America. It is significant that 40 per cent. of the caravans being sold in the United States today are being sold to retired people. We cannot ignore what is going on in the United States. I fully realise that the climate in this country is, in various ways, different from that in the United States, but there is no doubt that demand is springing up among retired people for residential caravans.
Our population is increasing at the rate of 225,000 persons per annum. If one takes into account that increase and estimates that 10 per cent. of those who will retire will wish to live in caravans, and if one estimates further that there will be two such elderly occupants per caravan, the cumulative increasing demand for caravans will be of the order of 10,000 per annum.
The hon. Member for Anglesey said that younger people, in the main, occupied caravans. The bulge is going through the secondary schools now and will be reflected in a marriage bulge in the years 1968 to 1978. If we say that the marriage bulge will create a housing demand for 30,000 extra dwellings a year and we accept, again, that 10 per cent. of young married couples will want to live in caravans, that gives, for those young married couples, a supra-demand for 3,000 caravan homes per annum, giving a total additional demand of 13,000 caravans per annum.
The hon. Member for Anglesey gave the figures for 1958. I can tell him that the production of caravans in 1959 was 40,000. If we take into account the supra-demand to which I have just drawn attention, we see readily that the demand for caravans is rising all the time and will continue to rise.
I come now to the use of caravans for holidays. Sir Arton Wilson dealt very adequately with the residential section, but, in my view, the use of caravans for holidays will expand very much more rapidly. Of recent years, only about 40 per cent. of the people of Britain have had a holiday away from home. The trend is quite definitely towards a higher proportion of people taking holidays away from home and having longer holidays. How will they take those holidays? In my estimation, 715 there are but three ways—in a hotel or boarding house, in an organised holiday camp, or in a caravan.
Without doubt, for the family man the caravan provides the cheapest way of having a family holiday. Moreover, though this may seem a comparatively small matter, most families have a family pet, a cat or a dog, perhaps. The family cannot take the pet to a hotel or boarding house. I do not think that pets are very welcome in holiday camps. On the other hand, if the family take their holiday in a caravan, they can take their pet with them and, indeed, the pet can enjoy the holiday, too. I do not make that as a very big point, but I believe that it has significance for many people. Of one thing I am absolutely certain. The workers will in increasing numbers take their holidays in caravans.
I come now to the central problem to which hon. Members have referred already. Where are the caravans to be situated? If a liberal attitude is not adopted towards this siting of caravans in or near our beauty spots, what will happen? People who propose to take caravan holidays will be driven across the English Channel and either to hire or take their own caravan to the North coast of France. Already, that coastline is littered with caravans, but can we afford to lose a tremendous amount of foreign exchange by forcing people to go outside Britain for holidays whereas, by a more liberal approach from the planning authorities, they could take their holidays in Britain? The loss of foreign exchange, if sufficient caravan sites are not situated in Britain, is a serious consideration.
I now turn to the trend of output of caravans. I have said that, in 1959, 40,000 caravans were constructed. My estimate, based on trade estimates, is that at least 50,000 will be constructed in 1960. The Financial Times this week stated that at the recent convention of the National Caravan Council, at Folkestone, an economist said that in 1975, if the present trend continued, the national output of caravans would be 200,000 per annum. In other words, by 1975 we shall have as many caravans produced per annum as there are in Britain today. I do not say that that forecast will come 716 true, but I do say that the increase in the number of caravans will be very substantial.
If I have carried hon. Members with me as far as this, the one conclusion must be that this increase in caravanning will create an immense demand for land. Key money has been mentioned, because of the shortage of sites. The only way of relieving the pressure at present is a considerable immediate release of land. I estimate the figure required at about 3,000 to 5,000 acres. In addition, if my figures about the output of caravans are accepted and those caravans are to be sited in Britain, there will be a cumulative demand for land of 3,000 acres per annum. I arrive at that figure simply by taking the average density of 20 caravans to the acre and an output of 60,000. This is a very considerable demand for land.
Sir Arton Wilson has said that caravans are here to stay. I accept that. I believe that holiday caravanning will increase in future. Indeed, I will go further and say that it might well be a very good thing for the remote parts of Britain, not forgetting the special importance of this matter to Wales. I am happy that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Welsh Affairs is on the Front Bench.
During the Christmas Recess, I had the privilege of being entertained by the local secretary of the National Caravan Council, in Gwynedd, in North Wales. He showed me large and small sites in national parks and along the coastline of Caernarvonshire. The thing that impressed me was the value of a "good crop of caravans" for land owners and workers. Anyone who knows that part will realise that farming is marginal. Caravanning could well be a great help to the economic situation of those remote parts.
Let me give a concrete example. Some people may say that holiday caravanning gives employment only during the holiday season. On a large site for nearly 400 caravans which I saw, 14 persons were employed the whole year round. They were employed not only on the maintenance of the site, but on the maintenance of the caravans, of the boats and on work concerning the various ancillary industries which go with a large caravan site. If we want to keep employment in some of the remote parts, the caravan industry is the right vehicle to 717 bring that economic prosperity. It ha been estimated that, in Devonshire, each caravanner leaves approximately £9 a week in the area in which he stays. Therefore, each visitor who goes to the remote parts not only pays for his caravan, but leaves a great deal of cash behind in the local stores, and helps other local industries.
I do not think that it should be supposed that, necessarily, caravans need be situated on good agricultural land. They can be situated on land which is unsuitable for permanent dwellings and relatively unsuitable for farming. Stretches of the countryside could be used for caravans which otherwise would be of very little economic value to the community in general.
Another aspect which was pointed out to me by the local secretary of the National Caravan Council was that often there are old country mansions, with delightful trees in the grounds surrounding them and among which caravans could be situated. Again, with a liberal outlook on the part of planning authorities a greater number of caravans could be brought to certain parts.
I now turn to certain central features of the Bill. I welcome the fact that the site licence will be the controlling factor. I equally welcome Clause 4, which states thata site licence shall not be issued for a limited period only".That is exactly the provision which the industry requires. It will give security of tenure and will enable site operators to attain vastly improved standards.
There is a small side issue on which I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to comment. Under Clause 2 (2, b) it appears that local authorities do not require a site licence, but, later, the Bill lays down that everyone else who has a site operator's licence must display it on the site. I think it reasonable and sensible that local authorities should be put in the same position. There are good local authorities and it may be that there are authorities which are not so good, but surely it is reasonable to expect that every site operator, whether a local authority or a private individual, should display the licence in a prominent place.
Clause 2 (2, f) particularly refers to the position of touring caravanners. 718 Here, on first reading the Bill, my marginal note was not very polite. I noted that this provision was unenforceable and unworkable. As vice-president of the Rural District Councils' Association, I had a letter recommending that this provision should be omitted. I have had a communication from the National Caravan Council and Mr. Whiteman, editor of the Caravan, lodging protests against this provision.
Subsection (2, f) provides a limitation to three caravans staying in any one place for 28 days. I do not think that anyone would object to that as far as it goes, but it goes further and lays down that caravans can be situated only in a rural district. Few people, when touring Britain, know when they are moving out of a rural district into an urban district or even into a county borough. For instance, the County Borough of Sheffield stretches right up on to the moors. Unless we have signs on every road to indicate when we leave an urban district and go into a rural district and even every field marked, this provision will be entirely unenforceable. My views are supported by the Rural District Councils' Association. I feel that a better way must be found to cope with the itinerant caravanner.
In Clause 4 the local authorities, I believe, have been given all the control which they require, and it gives them a very firm base on which to work. They can control the number of caravans and they can control a mixed site of tents, caravans and trailer tents. I know that in a mixed site of tents and caravans the local authorities can control the tents, but they are given no power to control a tented site.
Last December, I visited the Camping and Outdoor Exhibition and saw the enormous increase in the popularity of frame tents. A frame tent is a tent which can virtualy be made into a portable room. It is supported on a tubular frame. It is almost a light caravan. I am surprised that my right hon. Friend did not include in the Bill a provision for the control of sites which are entirely given up to framed or other tents. In the Bill, the tents on a mixed site of tents and caravans can be controlled.
Clause 4 also deals with landscaping, which is immensely important. It can mean the difference between the success 719 and failure of a caravan site in a rural surrounding. The Clause also deals with fire precaution. I have seen a number of caravan sites at which I am surprised that we have not had conflagrations in the past. The Clause also deals with sanitary facilities, and I hope that it will cope with the problem of the dirty ditches which exist at present and into which the washing water from the caravans is tipped.
Clause 4 (2, b) gives the local authority power to control the size of caravans —and the material used in construction. Frankly, I do not regard this as at all satisfactory. I should consider it satisfactory if my right hon. Friend retained the power to make an Order governing the size and the material used in the construction of caravans, but if we allow local authorities to have control over these factors it will lead to different standards in different parts of the country. A manufacturer will manufacture a caravan for certain standards upon which a local authority insists in, say, Devonshire. The caravan is supposed to be an itinerant van. Admittedly, not many caravans are itinerant vans, but they are supposed to be itinerant vans. If that caravan is moved to the district of a local authority in North Wales, it may be found that the local authority there insists on entirely different standards of size and materials.
§ Dr. Stross
Does the hon. Member agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), who said that if the Minister offered us a national standard, as he does for different types of housing, we should welcome it?
§ Mr. Temple
Yes. I listened to both the hon. Member for Anglesey and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central with great attention, and I thought that they were slightly confused on this point. I thought that the hon. Member for Anglesey referred to national site standards—in other words, standards for site layout.
§ Mr. C. Hughes indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Temple
In that case, I go all the way with what the hon. Member said and reinforce it. In my view, we should have national standards for the constructional material used in caravans. It is 720 unreasonable to allow that restriction to be operated by local authorities in a different manner in different parts of the country. Nation-wide standards are highly desirable, because there is a considerable export trade in caravans.
I am aware that I have spoken for perhaps an unreasonably long time. I know that a number of my hon. Friends wish to take part in this important debate. I should like to sum up by drawing attention to the words of Sir Arton Wilson, whose Report states, in paragraph 340:Local authorities in general disapprove of caravan-living in principle.That statement is repeated throughout the Report. In other words, there is an in-built prejudice on the part of local authorities against caravans. I very much hope—and I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares my hope—that as a result of the emphasis in the Bill being laid upon restriction and control the local authorities will feel that they have a firm base from which to operate.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
Some of these authorities are opposed to caravan sites because after a year or so on the site the caravan dwellers want to be placed on the council's housing list, which is already swollen. That is one objection.
§ Mr. Temple
I accept that. I also accept, as, I hope, my right hon. Friend does, that this new caravan legislation is overdue. It is my hope that as a result of this new legislation local authorities will have all the control they desire to satisfy themselves as to the standards to be observed. Having achieved that control, it is my hope that they will adopt a liberal attitude towards planning permission, because I am sure that the caravan industry in Britain can and must expand.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. George Deer (Newark)
I agree with a good deal of what was said by the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) about standards. I welcome the Bill for, perhaps, another reason. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), who described the people who live in caravans as, generally, gipsies or tinkers. He did not got as far 721 as to say that they were vagabonds. Perhaps I am the only hon. Member to have taken part in the debate who has a caravan.
§ Dr. Stross
I cannot allow my hon. Friend's comment to pass. I said nothing of the kind. I said that there had been a tradition among citizens in the old days to confuse the people who dwelt in these unconventional homes with tinkers and gipsies.
§ Mr. Deer
I cheerfully accept the correction.
We badly need legislation of this sort. Having acquired a caravan, I then had to find somewhere to put it. I was immediately faced with a number of factors for which I had not calculated. In one case it was said, "Unless you buy the caravan from us you cannot put it on our site." The question of key money, which has been delicately mentioned, arose in another instance. Finally, when I went on to a first-class site, which is very well managed, which is picturesque and at the foot of the Sussex Downs, I found that we had all the amenities we needed. I was very glad to find that I had arrived in a community which had all the amenities which my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) wants to see.
I use the caravan only as a temporary retreat, for I have still to live in London to be in contact with the House. But I make no apology for saying that when my constituency obligations will allow and when Parliamentary time permits, I drive off to this rural retreat and get away from the telephone for as long as I can. That is one advantage of living in a caravan. I have electricity and Calor gas, but, thank goodness, I have no telephone.
I welcome what the Minister said about more security of tenure being given to these people, who are doing a good job. We cannot expect them to lay out quite a lot of money on all sorts of amenities and sanitary necessities and on the provision of roads, trees and shrubs if there is a possibility that within a year or so they will receive notice that their licence has been terminated or that they have to quit. In the very nature of things, we must give security of tenure to these people.
We cannot describe caravanners as all of one type. My caravan is on a mixed 722 site, half of which is residential and the other half devoted to holiday-makers. The half which is residential is occupied probably to half its extent by old-age pensioners. The old-age pensioner finds it the easiest and cheapest way of escaping from the ravages of the Rent Act. He lives in his own caravan where there is no staircase and where his wife finds the housework is comparatively easy. Where there are amenities of the kind I have mentioned, it is an advantage to old people to settle down there.
Incidentally, one finds a community spirit on these sites which is often absent in a friendless place like London where one can live ten years and never know one's neighbour. Even romance comes into it. To my knowledge, one lonely old man and a lonely old woman, instead of occupying two, are now sharing one caravan in domestic bliss. That is all to the good. The younger people still have to use these sites when their jobs are such that they cannot find immediately housing near to their work.
This is the picture that I see of the good site which needs all the protection that the Ministry and the local authority can give it. But I have seen sites which are simply ghastly. I have seen many so-called caravans that look like superannuated horse boxes on wheels with a couple of bunks. These are described as homes for people to live in. I have known disused buses being used as caravans which by no stretch of the imagination could be assumed to be fit for people to live in.
On the other hand, I am pretty sure that we must cater for the decent caravan site. We must see that local authorities have power to extend them where necessary. If we do that, we shall be able to tackle much more freely—it may be from the point of view of the health Department, or on the basis of overcrowding— the eyesores that are called caravan sites but which are merely slum dwellings on wheels.
Another point, and one which the Minister mentioned, is the question of exemption from the provisions of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that travelling showmen would be exempt, but my friends in the showmen's world inform me that they want a much better Clause to maintain those freedoms which they already enjoy because of the 723 peculiarity of their business. The bulk of travelling showmen today live in high-class, expensive types of caravans and they travel from town to town. Under the existing law they are exempt from a number of restrictions which normally one might expect to apply under present Acts and Regulations, but it is when they come to winter quarters that they will be in difficulties in future.
The showmen have specifically raised the point with me that when the showman has finished his trips to the fairgrounds he wants to find somewhere where he can not only place his caravan but a great deal of his material so that he can refurbish and renovate it for the coming season. I cannot find anything in the Bill that would allow him to do that kind of job which he has traditionally done.
I am pretty sure that we can find a form of words to help these people. They are estimable citizens. I do not know of any section of the community that has done more for charity than the Showmen's Guild. I remember that when I was mayor of a city I had the privilege of having handed over to me a hospital bed endowed by the Showmen's Guild. The guild does this kind of thing with great regularity. I hope, therefore, that this legislation will not leave these decent, dependable people high and dry—all right for their tour in the summer but out in the cold when it comes to finding winter quarters. I am sure that we can find words to insert in the Bill to give them the additional help which they want.
I am very pleased that we have had the opportunity today of reviewing these questions which arise out of the excellent Arton Wilson Report on the subject. The Bill goes a long way towards securing control, and, by control, placing all these matters on a proper basis. I welcome the Bill.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
There can certainly be very little party content in the Bill, because I have agreed with all the speeches that I have heard from the other side of the House and particularly with the speeches of the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross). The 724 hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer) declared his special interest. I do not know whether he is still a Whip, but I can understand his anxiety in his caravan to get away from the party line.
I also welcome the Bill. I have a particular interest in it because in my constituency there is a greater concentration of residential caravans than in any other area, except the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) who, I believe, is at the moment in Africa. This has been a great problem and there is no doubt that bad feeling has developed between caravan residents, caravan site operators and local authorities. The Bill is overdue because it is a bad thing for this ill-feeling to develop and govern relations between various elements of the population.
Sir Arton Wilson performed a signal service in clarifying the attitude of hostility which has existed in some quarters towards people who live in caravans, and we should try to get away from that. If people want to live in a caravan for preference, we should try to make it possible inside our planning law for them to do so. If people find themselves driven to occupying caravans because although they want to live in a house they cannot, again as far as possible we should enable them to do so.
I see this problem as basically one of town and country planning. Certainly that is what it is in my area. It is a very difficult problem. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) spoke about holiday caravans. Other parts of the country have their own special problems, but in my area, and, I have no doubt, in Chertsey, the problem is basically one of town and country planning.
As a matter of national policy we have decided to set up the green belt and to restrict development in all its aspects. industrial and residential, so that the green belt shall remain round the Metropolitan area. As I said in a debate a few months ago on the general subject of town and country planning, this poses great problems. First of all, we have industry wanting to expand in these areas. We try to check that expansion and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been pressing the Government to check it as emphatically as they 725 can by the refusal of industrial development certificates and by attracting industry to other parts of the country.
Then we have also the kind of development in the caravan sites involving people who live on land which is green belt and who say, "Now that we have found jobs in the area, what is going to happen to us?" It is a real problem. The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) interjected just now with another very difficult aspect of the matter. A young couple may go to live in a caravan because they have nowhere else to go. Then a family arrives and they soon become a top priority case for rehousing because there are already two babies and a third is coming. It is impossible that young couple plus three babies should continue to live in a caravan, so they have to be given priority over the people on the housing list. I have often had these cases myself.
My right hon. Friend is tackling this problem in the only possible way, and that is by the procedure under Clause 16. I see no other solution of the problem. I think that this procedure will solve it, but I must utter one word of warning. There is no doubt that in many of these cases the interests of the site operators and of the caravan residents are opposed to each other, though they do not realise it at the moment.
I have found considerable difficulty in getting them to realise this. The tapering policy under Clause 16 will impose no practical hardship on the caravan resident, but, in the end, it will put the site operator out of business. This is a serious matter for him. Where there are caravans in the green belt we must either say, "We will abandon that piece of green belt and more houses can be built on it in which to put these people" or, "We will operate Clause 16 policy". In other words, we will not put anyone off, but as each individual caravan site becomes vacant it must not be replenished. From the point of view of the caravan resident that is a humane method of operating because it waits until he goes, but, of course, with a natural wastage of 10 per cent. per annum it will not meet with an enthusiastic reception from the site operator. However, I think that that is the right policy.
726 I was a little puzzled when the Minister, in replying to an interjection, said that the site licence conditions under Clause 4 would deal with such matters as the number of caravans. As I understand the Bill, there is a division between the planning considerations which will be dealt with by the planning authority, which is essentially the county council, and what used to be the public health considerations, which will be dealt with by what the Bill calls the local authority, which means rural district councils, and so on.
Density has always been a planning consideration. If my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will look at Clause 4 (2), paragraphs (a) to (f), he will see that the number of caravans is nowhere mentioned. Although I appreciate that those are listed without prejudice to the generality of the conditions which may be imposed, I would have thought that the natural construction of the Clause is that numbers are not an apt matter for the site licence. Indeed, I hope that they are not, because density is purely planning and it is not really a suitable matter on which to appeal to the magistrates under Clause 6. In my submission, it is important that planning matters should be left on one side, to go through the channel up to the Minister, and that the licence should be confined to the public health matters.
That will apply also in another sense under Clause 16. I find that Clause anomalous, in that it deals with the tapering policy by saying that the site licence may contain conditions against vacancies being filled. Surely that, again, should go in the planning permission and not be a matter for an appeal to the magistrates, because an appeal against Clause 16 will, by virtue of Clause 6, go to the magistrates, not to the Minister of Town and Country Planning.
What also will be the position where, as is frequently the case, an existing planning permission is based upon the principle of natural wastage? It is a planning permission for a certain number of caravans getting less by 10 per cent. each year. What kind of site licence will be given? Frankly, I find that puzzling.
To some extent these are matters which can be dealt with during the Committee 727 stage, but they are of a rather general character and affect the structure of the Bill, so I hope that we may be given some guidance upon them today. More generally, I am very glad to see the enforcement provisions. It has been a great game in the past, and I think that the Minister in his introductory speech under-stated the opportunities for delay allowed by the planning law. However, my right hon. Friend probably wanted to be moderate.
I am particularly delighted to see— and I say this with the utmost respect for them—that our petty and quarter sessions go out of the planning appeal procedure. I have always thought them extremely inappropriate courts for this highly complex and almost entirely civil litigation. Sometimes one can get an excellent tribunal, but at other times one can be very unlucky in a matter of planning law.
I see that Section 33 of the Town and Country Planning Act is mentioned in Part II of the Bill in an inferential way. That is the Section which allows the planning authority to object to the state in which a piece of open land is being kept, and to require it to be cleared. At the moment there is considerable doubt whether that allows a planning authority to stop an existing use of land, for which no planning permission is needed, without paying compensation. I should have thought that this Bill provided the opportunity for clarifying that and making sure that this anomaly did not persist.
In general, I regard the Bill as a most valuable step forward in planning law generally and in respect of the caravan community. I represent a large number of caravan dwellers. In fact, in the southern part of my constituency one person in eighteen lives in a caravan. It is an unhappy state of affairs when bad feeling exists between the local authorities and the operators and the people on the sites. It is not a nice atmosphere to live in. I am anxious to see it go and be replaced by a state of certainty in which everybody knows where he is. It may not be exactly where he wanted to be, but at least the law will be clarified and certain.
I share the belief expressed by many hon. Members that strengthening the 728 hands of the local authorities in this way is the best method of removing their distrust and, if there has been any, their hostility, and opening the way for a better development of the caravan situation. I nevertheless hope that in everything that takes place under this Bill when it becomes an Act, the underlying policy of the green belt will not be destroyed. That is basic for all the areas around London. We want to be fair to our fellow countrymen and give them freedoms and liberties in which people in a free country should engage, but if they want to five in South-East England, as most of us do—[Interruption.] Members who come from further afield nevertheless have to have a pied-à-terre in South-East England, so that all of us, in one sense, have to live in the area.
It is an artificial operation. We cannot do it in a completely libertarian, laisser faire way. It is too crowded and we must accept discipline in that part of the country which would be quite unreasonable in sparser areas. As one Member representing a bit of green belt —the piece which is perhaps under the greatest pressure of all—I add that note of warning.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Mor Davies (Gower)
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) making it quite clear that Wales was an important part of Britain—as a Welsh Member I am proud that it is so. I join with every other Member who has spoken so far in welcoming the Bill. As the Minister said, it seeks to protect the public interest and, indeed, is a caravan charter. That may be a bold claim for the Bill at this stage, but I hope that after we have been through Committee with it we shall be able to make it so.
I also join my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) in paying a compliment to those concerned with the preparation of the social survey in connection with residential caravan sites. They have earned the thanks accorded to them on page 3 of the Arton Wilson Report. There was a time when the word "caravan" signified only holidays and leisure, but today it also means a permanent home to many people. The Minister also recognised that in his remarks.
729 When I think of caravans and leisure I recall the words of the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies, who was better known as the "tramp poet." He said:What is this life, if, full of care,We have no time to stand and stare.He ends his poem with the words:A poor life this if, full of care,We have no time to stand and stare.I am not sure whether he wrote that poem in a caravan, but I am sure that by today there are millions of people throughout the country who will say with emphasis that it will be a poor life if, full of care, they cannot enjoy life in a caravan, either as a home or on holiday.
The Bill is realistic in so far as it recognises a very great social problem in our midst. But caravanning is not only a social problem; it is now big business. That is not my description, for the Arton Wilson Report, on page 5, makes it quite clear and uses that term. This is why the Bill is very important. The figures highlight the importance of this claim. In 1938, the output of all kinds of caravans was 1,000. Ten years later the figure was 3,600. In 1958, the year to which the Arton Wilson Report refers, the figure is quoted as 36,500, with 3,500 for export. The total retail value amounted to approximately £14,600,000. We have also heard in the debate that by 1975 it is estimated that the output of all kinds of caravans will reach 200,000.
It is also estimated that in 1958 the number of caravans of all kinds in use in this country was approximately 180,000. It is very interesting to see that these figures, when split up, showed that 60,000 caravans were for residence, 30,000 were for touring and other purposes like exhibitions, and that the remarkable figure of 90,000 caravans were used for static holidays and weekend accommodation.
Dealing with residential caravans, the Social Survey, Table 32, reveals that only 1 per cent. are found in Wales, but we are, nevertheless, very much concerned in Wales, because it is a land of great natural beauty. Caravans are used there for holiday and week-end purposes. I must confess at once that, in the words of that well-known song,… my caravan has rested …730 amidst the beauty of my own constituency. The Arton Wilson Report claims that in 1958 more than 3 million people spent their holidays in caravans. With this growth in caravan holidays another major problem has appeared, and that is the challenge to the preservation of green belts and areas of natural beauty.
Within my constituency there is the Gower Peninsula, which was the first area in the country to be designated as an area of outstanding beauty following the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949. The caravan problem is causing grave concern and discussion in the area at present. I therefore particularly welcome Clause 18. which gives local authorities new powers in this matter. I have heard hon. Members say in this debate that local authorities in general disapprove of caravans as dwellings. I would emphasise, however, another phrase which we find in the Arton Wilson Report, on page 82:But they believe it to be essential, in any event, that their powers of control and enforcement both in the public health and the planning field should be strengthened very considerably—and in such a way as to help to deal effectively with holiday caravans also.I hope that these powers, wisely used, will help to reconcile the demand for caravan holidays with the protection and preservation of green belts and areas of natural beauty.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil de Ferranti (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I cannot produce a Lancashire poet to compete with the admirable quotation produced by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. I. Davies). Nor can I claim the particular interest of the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer), who is himself the owner of a caravan. But like my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), I can claim a considerable constituency interest.
My first introduction to my constituency was a long and impassioned statement by a very prominent constituent of mine about the iniquities of an hon. Member who had built a caravan site next door to his own property on the shores of Lake Windermere. I cannot express strongly enough the extraordinary bad feeling which has been caused in my constituency, and in many other constituencies, I am sure, by the 731 most unsatisfactory present state of the law.
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend stated that in his opinion the caravan is here to stay. I must join with every hon. Member in congratulating my right hon. Friend on bringing in this very much needed Bill, which, we will all agree, is somewhat overdue. My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on bringing it forward so soon after the admirable Report of Sir Arton Wilson.
My constituency is typical of several others in that it has a residential as well as a holiday caravan problem. Some of us were rather concerned when the terms of reference of Sir Arton Wilson's Committee were first announced, for we thought that ensuing legislation would not deal with the holiday caravan problem. My constituents believe that to be a vital part of the whole problem. In some ways, it is a pity that the Bill does not deal with the problem of tented sites, except where Part II of the Bill or the Public Health Acts are applicable. I should not like to add any further burdens to those of my right hon. Friend, but that is a problem, particularly in the Lake District, and it can give rise to unfortunate situations from the health and amenity points of view.
The Bill will be particularly helpful in places like the Lake District, where there are many existing use sites. Those sites, which were established before the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, have defied control up to now and we have heard from several hon. Members the sort of antics which people can get up to in an effort to avoid control. What is so unfortunate is that so many of those sites are in the very beautiful parts of the country mentioned in the admirable maiden speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots). My hon. and learned Friend said that in his view it was essential that the number of sites in beautiful parts of the country should be limited as far as possible. However, I think that the other side of the case ought, in fairness, to be put.
We want people to spend their holidays in the Lake District and to spend their money there. Undoubtedly, if sites are established under proper control, they do not impair the beauty of the country- 732 side. We want to see as many of these sites as possible, provided that they are properly controlled and laid out. As a result of the Bill, that should be possible.
It should be possible at least to strike a fair compromise and for it to be seen that a fair compromise has been struck —which is so important—between cara-vanners, on the one hand, and residents and visitors, on the other, who are concerned with what has been called the preservation of the visual amenities of the area. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not think it impertinent of me to say that the Ministry seems to have a tendency to use phrases such as "preservation of visual amenities". I ask him to find a literary expert to produce a more elegant phrase. That sort of phrase makes one think that anyone who could so misuse English as to adopt the phrase "visual amenity" could not possibly have the slightest idea of what a beautiful part of the countryside was.
May I put in a plea that the point of view of the parish council should be considered? I do not think that it is possible to legislate for that, but I hope that the point of view of parish councils will be carefully considered by local authorities when licences are being issued. Even the position of one caravan in one small field in one small village—like Sawtry, where Beatrix Potter came from—can be of immense importance to the 100 or so residents of the area. Often, when the unfortunate Member of Parliament goes there, he can find himself in the middle of a Clochemerle type of battle over the site of one caravan.
I ask the Minister, when he is considering the standard conditions—and I hope that they will be standard—to remember two factors. One has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple)—the difficulty which manufacturers will have if there is a considerable variation in the sort of conditions laid down. I am myself a manufacturer and I know that I can produce goods with much more efficiency if there is a measure of standardisation, and I know what appalling trouble is caused by what we call the "one offs". It would be very unfortunate if, as a result of the conditions laid down, there were a series of "one offs" by local authorities with peculiar ideas.
733 The other may seem a small matter, although it is not—the question of the colour of caravans. Particularly in the Lake District, a sudden splash of mauve, for instance, could create a most discordant note in a part of the country, which, as everybody knows, is very attractive. I imagine that it would be possible for recommendations about colour to be made to ensure that the problem does not arise too often. I believe that a considerable amount of thought has been put into the best pattern of colour on a caravan site and that the proposals which resulted were that rather than have a uniform colour, which could be quite unpleasant as well, one should try to achieve a series of blending colours among the different caravans on the site, but to try to avoid having two mauve caravans next door to each other, if one has to have mauve.
All hon. Members on this side of the House will have thought very seriously about the compulsory powers provided in Clause 18. The purpose of those compulsory powers is clear and it is clear to me that they are very necessary, but I should not like them to be taken as a general blessing for local authorities to go into the caravan site operating business, which, as we have heard from hon. Members opposite, can be very profitable.
Despite what my right hon. Friend has said about the reluctance shown by local authorities to use their compulsory powers to go into the business, I am afraid that one or two—and one or two would be one or two too many—local authorities might decide to go into that business, which is something very much better left to private enterprise. There should be no controversy between the two sides of the House this week, because, although the caravan site business is important, it cannot exactly be described as one of the "commanding heights" of the economy. I think that hon. Members opposite will prefer the much more effective and flexible type of operation which one gets from private enterprise to the rather difficult and clumsy operation which one is inclined to get with municipal trading.
One of the objects of municipal trading by those municipalities which now have caravan sites has been simply to bring some measure of control into the chaotic situation which has existed 734 and which this admirable Bill will put right. I think that it can be left to private enterprise to do the job as best it can.
There seem to be one or two small points which are not covered by the Bill. One is the case of the unsightly parking of caravans in the forecourt of the caravan owner's house, or in front of the caravanner's house, in front of the building line. One sees a number of instances of that and I am sure that it spoils the appearance of many streets which have been attractively laid out on some of the magnificent council estates which have been built in various parts of the country.
I think that this situation arises because of the definition in the Bill of a caravan site as it appears in Clause 1 (4):… 'caravan site' means land on which a caravan is stationed for the purpose of human habitation …If a caravan is simply parked in front of someone's house, one cannot say that it is there for the purpose of human habitation, and, therefore, such a case is not covered by the Bill. It may be possible in Committee to give some consideration to finding a way around this problem.
Earlier in the debate, there was much comment about the effect of Clause 3 and the question of a site licence being issued as a right if planning permission had already been obtained. My own local authority is rather concerned that it may be forced to give a site licence for a site which had planning permission, but which, in its view, did not fulfil health requirements. This matter has been covered by various speakers, but it would be desirable if the wording of Clause 3 could be altered in such a way as to make this clearer to people when they first look through the Bill.
I conclude by saying to the Minister that I hope that his satisfaction with the Bill—and I think that he has every cause for satisfaction—will not deter him from the basic problem of building the necessary diversified houses which are required to solve the hard core of the residential problem. Let us have some of the specialised types of houses particularly suited to people who tend to use the specialised facilities which a caravan can offer. Let us see whether 735 the 5,000 acres of land mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester can be reduced as far as possible by building houses in suitable circumstances instead of using the land for an unnecessarily largely increased number of caravans.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I agree very largely with the broad approach of the hon. Member for More-cambe and Lonsdale (Mr. de Ferranti) to the problems referred to in the Bill. I endorse his delicately expressed recommendation to the Department about the language to be used. The only doubt that I felt was the inconsistency between his criticism of the Department's use of language and his readiness to trust its determination on matters affecting colour schemes for caravans.
I think that both sides of the House will agree that it is absolutely necessary for an effective town and country planning system that there should be a reliable and sensible enforcement procedure available. It must be efficient in its character, it must act fairly and not arbitrarily, and, at the same time as it acts fairly, it must act firmly. There can be very little doubt that the enforcement procedure provided by Sections 23 and 24 of the 1947 Act has revealed a great many defects and faults.
For a long time many hon. Members have desired an improvement in the enforcement procedure, and I have been told from time to time that it was the intention of the Government to deal with it. I myself wanted to take it up, but I was advised from many quarters, including the Ministry, that the matter was too complex to be appropriate for treatment in a Private Member's Bill. Now that an endeavour is being made to put right, once and for all, the defects which exist in the enforcement provisions of the law, one looks to see what is proposed with a good deal of anxiety, because one recognises the importance of it.
I get the impression that Part II of the Bill clears a good many of the difficulties out of the way, but not, I think, all of them. In a desire to be helpful in this matter, I would draw attention to the following points. First, the appeal to the Minister under Clause 26 (1, a) on 736 the question of whether permission ought to be granted, may occur very soon after the Minister has, in another context, already determined just that question. The House will consider what may occur. We may have somebody who proposes to develop land applying for permission to do so and being refused permission by the local planning authority. He then appeals to the Minister. If the Minister upholds the refusal of the local planning authority to permit the development and the party applying continues none the less with the development or continues with the contravening use, an enforcement notice may be very quickly served. Then, as I understand it, under the provisions of this Bill there may be an appeal to the Minister upon the issue whether permission ought to have been granted.
This is not a far-fetched case but one which may easily occur. That will be an issue on which the Minister will already have come to a decision and considered the evidence a very short time before. That seems a rather inexpert method of dealing with the matter, and one which I should have thought deserved consideration. If the view is taken that the service of an enforcement notice should revive the initial question whether a particular development should be permitted or not, should not the matter be referred to some other tribunal that the Minister who has recently dealt with it—the Lands Tribunal, perhaps, or some other appropriate determining authority?
The second point to which I wish to draw attention is this. In moving the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the desirability of getting rid of the confusion and difficulty attending the dual processes that can be going on at the same time under the 1947 Act. As he will readily appreciate, not all of those difficulties are cleared away by this Bill. For example, the question of what points can be referred to by the defence in proceedings taken under Section 24 of the 1947 Act may continue to cause difficulty.
The names of Perrins v. Perrins, Mead and the Chelmsford R.D.C., Francis v. Yiewsley come to mind. One has almost an affection for their very sound, but they have represented a great deal of difficulty and complexity in this branch of the law. They deal with difficulties 737 which I do not think are entirely cleared away. I can well see, after this Bill has become law, the question arising all over again of whether or not it will be open, in certain cases and in certain circumstances, for the defence in proceedings under Section 24 to call in aid points which could have been taken before the Minister and dealt with by him on appeal against the enforcement notice. I draw attention to that as something with which this part of the Bill does not appear to deal. On first reading the Bill I hoped that the proviso to Clause 26 (8) dealt with it, but, on further inquiry—I hope it was correct inquiry—I find that that is not so.
Thirdly, a most promising loophole for evasion is offered by the grant of permission for certain uses of land for a period of 28 days in the year under the General Development Order. That type of evasion is peculiarly available to a caravan, or any similar mobile place of residence. A right to use land as a caravan site can, so to speak, be kept alive by putting the caravan on a piece of land for any 28 days in the year, no matter how widely separated from each other those 28 days may be. The planning authority can be rendered powerless.
It may well be that that matter is best dealt with administratively, as can be done by the right hon. Gentleman either under the existing General Development Order or by an amendment to the Order. It is worth noting that the Bill does nothing about that. Dealing as it does with caravans, which, as I say, can most easily take advantage of this loophole in the existing law, no specific mention of that problem is made, and it might be thought that that omission should be corrected.
On the wider issue, I intervened during the right hon. Gentleman's speech to ask him whether the House could be satisfied that the provisions of Part I did not reflect the anxieties which he felt about the effectiveness of Part II and of the enforcement provisions generally. He gave me a firm assurance in that respect, as to his own view, and I entirely accept that. But I would not be so persuaded if I were in his shoes. I cannot but feel that all these public health questions concerning density, cleanliness, tidiness of the site, sanitation and the rest are matters which can properly and most 738 reasonably be made the subject of conditions attached to planning permission In practice, they could readily be made almost in standard form.
That being so, if the Government are absolutely content with their enforcement provisions I cannot see why it should be necessary to impose this elaborate licensing system. Nobody wants licensing for its own sake. It involves considerable administrative encumbrance; it involves expense, and it is restrictive in character. If it could be displaced or avoided by an effective enforcement mechanism I should have thought that that would be the better solution.
I can be persuaded fairly easily that in certain parts of the country where there is a special caravan problem, such as round London and on the coast, it may be desirable to have this licensing system, but I should have thought that consideration could usefully be given to the question whether it is desirable to impose this system universally. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) drew attention to the fact that the problem in the neighbourhood of London is much more difficult and intense than it is in more sparsely populated parts of the country. Rather than impose a universal licensing system, I should have thought that there was much to be said for having a system which, perhaps by Order of the Minister, could be extended from time to time, but which, in the first place, was confined to those parts of the country where the problem is most intense.
When a licensing system of this kind is introduced one is tempted to ask why caravans should be singled out. Why not tents? Why not have a licensing system to control the use of land for car parks, or for the display of motor cars? I should have thought that the imposition of a universal licensing system for the present purpose was taking too long a stride too quickly.
An example of the extent to which a licensing system may involve an undesirable encroachment upon liberty is provided by the case of the showmen, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes). Hon. Members on both sides of the House have a great regard for their long tradition of maintaining orderliness and good conditions in their caravan sites, but it 739 is clear that their exemption from licensing requirements, by Clause 2 (2, e), does not give them anything like the amount of protection that I would expect hon. Members generally to consider advisable. The protection provided by the Bill applies only where they are travelling for the purpose of their business.
These people have traditionally used caravan sites for their winter quarters, where they stay between seasons for fairly long periods. The use of a caravan site in that fashion would not seem to come within the terms of the exemption. I agree that that point can be considered in Committee, but it has a certain merit of its own—a more important merit, for my present purposes. It illustrates the way in which the imposition of a universal licensing system can, quite unexpectedly, in adventitious and unforeseen circumstances, encroach upon people's liberties. The House may well want to consider that aspect.
This strikes me as a Bill for which a strong case can be made in many respects and which, in its enforcement provisions, does something to clear up the muddle existing under the present law. It is also, however, a Bill which, in certain respects, may take effect oppressively, and perhaps extends its provisions over too wide a field. In other words, it is a Bill in which one can hope for important improvements in Committee.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
The hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) devoted a large part of his speech to an interesting exposition of Part II of the Bill. So much has been said about caravans that we might tend to forget Part II. The hon. and learned Gentleman raised an interesting argument about Part I relative to licences. He conceded that in and around Greater London there might be what was called a caravan problem, and it is because I represent a constituency with such a problem that I have intervened in the debate.
The Arton Wilson Report says that the Royal County of Berkshire, part of which I represent, has 3,900 caravans, and that 8.3 per 1,000 of the population of Berkshire live in those caravans. That 740 is the highest figure quoted in the Report. I shall try to show later that the proposals contained in the Bill will be of immense help to counties such as mine.
Sincere tributes have been paid to Sir Arton Wilson for his Report. I should like to express my regret—and I suspect that I am speaking on behalf of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House—at the absence because of public business of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), in whose constituency a serious problem also arises and who has been closely associated with this legislation.
It was interesting to discover how hard Sir Arton Wilson found it to pinpoint with any accuracy the size of the problem. He quoted the 1951 census figure of 30,000. He quoted the National Carvan Council's figure, given in 1958, of 90,000 and eventually came to a figure roughly half-way between the two; and, as has been said, the problem is much more extensive than the country appreciates. I have mentioned my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey and it is worth recording that in the Chertsey Urban District Council area the number of people living in caravans is 41 per 1,000 of the population, which is a very high figure.
One hon. Gentleman opposite reminded us that when we talk about caravan dwellers we are not dealing with a group of disreputable people. Also, that we are not dealing with the poorest section of the population. It is a popular misconception that people live in caravans only because they can afford nothing else. That does not correspond with the facts. Some people do live in caravans for purely financial reasons, but to regard the entire caravan population as being just above the breadline is wholly to misunderstand the problem.
Sir Arton Wilson reminds us that a quarter of the caravans are occupied by young married couples who set up their first home in a caravan. I was fascinated by the reminiscences of the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer) about what went on on a caravan site. I have never been a caravanner. That is partly because I think that a wife is an essential prerequisite for successful caravanning, because one does not get meals in caravans. I have now learnt how one old man 741 found an old woman, and I must look again at the attractions of caravanning.
The figures show that one quarter of our young marrieds, one-fifth of young marrieds with a family, and another one-fifth of transferred workers live in caravans because of the problem of housing. Transferred workers are the people who must live in caravans because they are ineligible to be put on a local housing list. The elderly make up about one-tenth of the caravan population, and Sir Arton Wilson concluded that about 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. of the caravan population is made up of people who live in caravans because they like it and for no other reason.
I have had that figure questioned. I that that my right hon. Friend the Minister may know of a large beautifully laid out site at Warfield Park, in my constituency. The proprietor of that site assures me that 95 per cent. of his tenants live there because they like living in caravans. He tells me that a number of people on his site at one time lived in houses costing £5,000 to £6,000. They are elderly people whose families have grown up, and they welcome the chance of living in a small and permanent place without having to do too much housework. Nevertheless, taking the country as a whole, about 80 per cent. of the caravanners are, as it were, in transit. They are not permanent dwellers.
As hon. Members know, I am a newcomer to this House but if all the Reports that we were called on to read were as readable and as attractively produced as this Report, life would be very much easier.
The first questions I asked myself were whether the problem was transitory and whether we were being wise to legislate for what might well be a passing phase. I do not believe that that is the case, certainly not in areas such as the constituency which I represent, on the fringe of South-West London. I believe that for as far ahead as we can see the lure of the Metropolis will be with us. In spite of efforts by local and national authorities, it seems extraordinarily difficult to cut down the size of London. I know that it is being done slowly, but there is pressure from people who want to work and live near London. I know that we must not range too wide in this debate, but one of the aspects of land 742 use that bothers me is the continued influx, as soon as we make room on the fringes of London, of people from Southern Ireland. I know the difficulties of the Minister, and I will not pursue that any further.
We have been wise to recognise that the caravan is unpopular with a large section of the community. As a form of dwelling it is thoroughly disliked by those who live round it. I am not saying that that is the right attitude to adopt, but I believe that to be a fact. House owners who find a caravan or caravans stationed round their houses fervently believe that the value of their property is reduced by the presence of caravans, and they frequently petition hon. Members on the subject.
I think that the proof of the pudding can be shown from paragraph 255 of the Report, where Sir Arton Wilson draws attention to the fact thatLess than one-sixth of all the specific permissions at present in force are unlimited as to time, and of the other five-sixths the great majority are limited to five years or lessThat illustrates fairly clearly the attitude of mind of local authorities.
The attitude is, "Caravans are an unpleasant necessity, and, we hope, a manifestation of a temporary state of mind." It is remarkable that my own county council found it necessary, when going into this problem carefully and when prodding the authorities for legislation very much on the lines of the Bill, to state categorically that its policy was not to exclude all caravans from the county—as though they had been coming under some pressure—and went on to claim that the figures of various sites showed that recent statements to that effect were entirely without foundation. Nevertheless, I think that my point is valid. There is pressure by existing house owners to restrict the spread of caravans. There we have the conflict, the continual pressure in areas such as I represent against the resistant pressure of the persons living there. That is what produced this Bill.
I suggest that constituents of mine, and of other right hon. and hon. Members, will surely have many of their doubts set at rest by the licensing provisions in the Bill. It is just because there have not been the powers so far to have some form of control over the sites, or, at 743 any rate, effective control; it is just because the caravan site has a thoroughly bad name that it has become so very unpopular. Now that the country knows that effective control over the sanitary, health, water and other features can be ensured I think that, gradually, public opinion will come round in favour of the caravan site. The Bill, in essence, is completing the process of Parliament over a period of time to make an "honest woman" of the caravan.
Dealing specifically with the interesting criticisms of the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill it seems to me that there is some analogy—I realise that there is a wide gap—between this Bill and the provisions of Section 32 the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, dealing with advertisements. I am informed by my county council that the provision in that Act, which makes it a criminal offence to display advertisements in certain circumstances, and the threat of proceedings under the Act have been extremely efficacious, in the view of my county council, in dealing with advertisements.
Here we are also making it a criminal offence to have a caravan site without a licence and I should expect, on past performance, that a similar threat might be more efficacious than a threat of town planning proceedings. I respectfully suggest that to the hon. and learned Member as a justification for the procedure which we are now considering.
But what is the justification for explicity excluding local authorities from the provision regarding licences? Is the argument that they are less likely to fall below the standard we expect of them? If so, I think that all hon. Members could quote examples where a local authority site has fallen very far below the standard we would expect. I must confess that there are parts of the country where I look forward to further enforcement proceedings. So far, we seem to have talked as though the only beautiful country was in Wales, and that there is no beautiful country anywhere else.
One of the place where I look forward to seeing some improvement is in the lovely country west of Sidmouth Bay, where it is possible to go for one of the most beautiful walks one can take; but when one breasts the hill to Ladrum 744 Bay—which must be one of the most beautiful natural views in the country— one is faced with a brash vulgar rash of caravans protruding right out on to the cliff head. A little planning would have resulted in siting those caravans out of the way of the many thousands of people who come to enjoy the natural beauty of that area.
A point has been made about security of tenure, not for site operators but for the tenants of caravans. I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist pressure to bring in what I might call security of tenure for the individual tenant of a caravan. But it might be worth considering—I do not know whether it is possible —whether he could extend to caravans the same provision which exists for the tenants of privately rented properties and council properties, namely, that an effective notice to quit cannot be for a less period than one month. I have no idea whether such a provision is possible, but it would be on the lines of Parliamentary action in respect of other types of property.
I wish to ask some questions of the Minister which, I hope, that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary may be able to answer. First, does he envisage that the licensing provisions, about which local authorities will doubtless receive guidance from the Ministry, will deal with overcrowding? I do not mean overcrowding in the form of numbers of caravans on a site, but the number of persons in an individual caravan. If that has not been envisaged, may I respectfully draw his attention, once again, to what is said by Sir Arton Wilson in paragraph 76 of his Report, which concludes with these words:But my impression is that most caravan-ners, and the more responsible site-operators, nevertheless feel that where there are more than two small children in a family a caravan is not a suitable home at all.The proprietor of Warfield Park site, whom I have mentioned and who has given me permission to say this, himself imposes conditions about overcrowding. Prospective entrants to his site—which, I may say, is an exceptionally well-managed site—have to satisfy him that there will be no overcrowding. If they have what he regards as too large a family to be accommodated in one caravan he will not permit them on the site. I should like to know whether 745 the Minister envisages that similar conditions may apply in the case of licensed sites.
Secondly, does my right hon. Friend envisage that the question of approach roads to the site will be dealt with? I know that the relevant Clause is introduced by words which have a wide meaning and I appreciate that the words which follow in no way limit the generality of the introduction, but I do not see there—it may be entirely my fault-any thing which appears to cover the condition of site roads between caravans and roads leading on to sites. We know —I could give one example from my own constituency—of the deplorable conditions of access roads off the highway and I should have thought that a right and proper thing to be included in the provisions in this Bill.
May I warmly welcome something which has not been more than touched on, but which, in my view, is an exceptionally useful provision in the Bill? Clause 4 (3) requires the licence to be displayed. A matter which has bothered me up to now is that so often it is the young married couples who are "taken for a ride" by an unscrupulous operator, a person who has not bothered to obtain any form of permission. He invites people on to his site and then, later, they have to be cleared off. It is all right for the operator, who is generally financially secure. The unfortunate people are the young couples who have invested all their money in a caravan.
I hope that the caravan associations— I do not doubt that they will follow what is said in this debate—will make it their duty to let it be known among their members that they should look for the site licence before renting or buying a caravan. If the licence is not available for inspection there is something wrong.
I wish to conclude on a note of criticism. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. de Ferranti)—unfortunately, he is not now in the Chamber—said that he was quite satisfied that compulsory powers were necessary. I am not. This may be a Committee point. As I have the Front Bench listening to me closely, I may not be put on to the Committee, but if I am I should personally want to hear the case for compulsory purchase argued much more fully than it has been argued. 746 I dislike it intensely and I should require it to be justified up to the hilt before being happy about seeing it in an Act of Parliament.
Why is it necessary to give local authorities the right to run sites? The Minister has given two reasons so far. The first was that it would be necessary where there was not a sufficiency of sites at present. I respectfully say to him that I feel anxious about that reason. If there is not a sufficiency of sites it may very well be that there is a lack of demand. If, on the other hand, it is because there is not a willing vendor, I feel unhappy about making that unwilling vendor into one who is forced into selling. The second reason the Minister gave, which I realise is a strong one, is that if we are to have the tapering procedure we must ensure somewhere for these people to go, but do we need compulsory powers to do that?
One of my local councils, Wokingham Rural District Council—which is an extremely well run council—has come to an agreement with all the site owners in the district and is operating a scheme by which they voluntarily undertake to work with the council on the question of who will be housed on their caravan sites. That is designed to assist in the housing problem in the rural district council area. I have no doubt whatever that in that rural district council ares compulsory powers will not be necessary because the matter can be dealt with by agreement. It has already been done without the powers of the Bill.
I serve notice, as it were, that I hope the Parliamentary Secretary, in winding up the debate, will argue far more fully than has so far been argued that it is necessary to put into the hands of councils a power which, I believe, is far better operated by private enterprise, with all the stimulus of competition, and why this objectionable provision of power compulsorily to acquire land should be put in for a purpose which not everyone would agree is absolutely necessary.
Having made that caveat of criticism, I join in the note sounded by all hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating my right hon. Friend on the skill with which he has prepared the ground which has resulted in a Bill being produced in an atmosphere of good will on all sides, particularly within 747 the industry. I very much hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
First I should like to apologise to the Minister because I was not present when he made his opening speech. I do not very much like the practice of hon. Members who have not listened to the earlier part of the debate coming into the Chamber and joining in, but I was inadvertently absent. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept that it was not a discourtesy to him on my part. I have gone to some trouble to find out what he said, and I am very glad that he quoted from the Arton Wilson Report, which deals with the squalid situation in which so many caravan dwellers are living.
I join in the general support for this Bill and the congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman and those who have been responsible both for the Report and for the drafting of the Bill. Heaven help me, I cannot understand why I am praising the right hon. Gentleman who has done such untold harm in my constituency in other ways. This is a reluctant but nevertheless a real tribute to him.
The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) referred to the fact that most of us live in South-East London. This aroused the ire of one of my hon. Friends. If I may alter what Dr. Johnson said, "The man who is tired of London is tired of life". It is a perfectly understandable and natural ambition of most people to want to live in South-East London. That is the view of most of my constituents. One thing they want in particular is the preservation of the green belt.
Unlike hon. Members who represent rural constituencies, I represent an overcrowded London dormitory borough in which there are very few open spaces and opportunities for recreation. That is being attended to by London County Council, however, and I hope that some more open spaces will be provided. To these people the green belt around London is a vital and important part of their lives. It gives them an opportunity to get away from terraced houses and comparatively mean streets into the country. I make the plea that at all times the serenity of the green belt shall be preserved, not in the interests of the 748 people who live in the rather more salubrious parts of the county, in the southwest, but in the London boroughs, for whom it is essential that the green belt should be preserved.
I want to see the day come when we shall get rid of caravans as homes altogether, finally and completely. I agree that we have to keep them for holiday purposes. We have also to permit the continuance of some caravans for older people, to whom reference has been made, who find that living in a caravan makes a lot of housework unnecessary. I agree with the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South about the clashing colours of caravans. I cannot see anything aesthetically pleasant in the modern caravan. Those which the gipsies use are multi-coloured with all sorts of timber and ornament. Such a caravan is a gay thing, but the modern caravan is not a pleasant thing and it is not very attractive.
The substitute for that is the provision of decent houses at rents which people can afford, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes). If we want to drive the unsightly caravan out of our towns and villages we must house people decently in contrast to the horrible conditions which have been described in the Report.
I want to place some emphasis on the point raised about the licensing system. In this respect I am speaking not only for the Borough of Deptford, but also for the Borough of Burnley—my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones) has been called away—and another Lancashire borough, Staly-bridge, which are also worried about this matter. My authority is very worried about planning permission being given by the planning authority. That would put the local authority in a position in which it would not have the power to refuse licences. It points out with great force that Clause 3 of the Bill provides that if an application is made to the local authority for planning permission of caravans—that in London would be from the county council—the local authority must issue the licence. The planning authority is not concerned with the question of water, sanitation or drainage. Those are considerations for the local authority.
749 I should think it right and proper to look at this matter when we reach the Committee stage, not only from the planning point of view, but from the point of view of public health. I should not like to try to make a balance on which is the more important, but if I did I think I should come down on the side of public health. It is important that a local authority should at least have some authority in the matter of the services and not be over-ridden by a planning authority which is not necessarily concerned about them.
There is nothing new in the idea that an application for permission to develop has to be made to two authorities—to one for planning permission and to the other for byelaw consent. There has been some confusion, indeed some alarm, caused by what is regarded as the statement by the Ministry that local planning authorities must consult the licensing authority before giving planning permission for caravan sites while, at the same time, the Ministry has said that it would be undesirable for a person who has been given planning authority then to be denied a licence by the local authority for the reasons I have described, or for any other good reason.
I hope that the Minister, who by the Bill has gone a long way in clearing up a bad situation, will give earnest consideration to my two points concerning the preservation of the green belt and, secondly, the power of the local authority to be able to make its representations to the planning authority on the vital questions of water, drainage and the rest before a licence is granted.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Bourne-Arton (Darlington)
In craving the indulgence of the House, I realise the inadequacy with which I fill the place of my predecessor, Sir Fergus Graham, who first came into this House about thirty years ago and who was, I expect, as well loved here as he certainly was in Darlington.
I should like to add to the chorus of praise for the Bill a word of thanks on behalf of those who, like myself, have for many years had to struggle on planning committees and, latterly National Park committees with the intricacy of the caravan problem.
750 I had not intended to try to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, until I received a letter from my town clerk this morning asking me to raise a point which has been raised already in the debate. The Borough of Darlington has no major problem concerning caravans. We have two caravan sites. Thanks to the inhabitants of the caravans, the site operators and the borough council, they are well conducted and present no great problem. The aspect of the Bill to which I should like to make a further reference is the question of dual control, which was raised first by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross). My right hon. Friend the Minister has said something about it already and the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) has come back to it.
Unless I am much mistaken, it seems to me that there is here a rather new principle. There is a widening of the factors which a planning authority can, and should, take into account before granting planning approval. Previously, as I have always understood, the Ministry has insisted that planning permissions must relate to planning considerations only and that they must not be used as a kind of universal longstop. In a borough, the planning authority and the public health authority are the same body, but they are different people in the counties, such as in my neighbouring county. If the two applications still have to come in, but the public health authority has no option but to grant a licence, surely the planning authority, before it grants planning permission, must take into account considerations of public health. That is something new.
It may be a good thing to extend the powers of planning authorities, but if that is to be so in this case, there could well be other cases. There could be the case of somebody applying for planning permission to put up a building which, on planning grounds, was not objectionable, but which did not conform to the building regulations. In that case, the planning approval is given, but if the building does not conform with the building regulations it is somebody else's job to shoot it down.
I will not labour the point, because I am sure that it has been ventilated sufficiently, but since I have been fortunate enough to be called, I should like to refer to Clause 18 (5) and the 751 question of compulsory purchase. I realise that I must be careful, because there are aspects of this matter which tend to be controversial. Many people, certainly outside this House, take the view that compulsory purchase is an unmitigated modern evil. I am precluded tonight from saying whether I consider it evil, but it is certainly not modern. It has always seemed to me that what worries the victim is not the compulsion, but the compensation. In the long history of compulsory purchase procedure, there are certain leading cases and it seems to me that what we should always bear in mind is that we should follow the best procedure.
If I might remind the House of a leading case which I have always thought one of the more helpful, it was an early one, the case of Ahab v. Naboth in the matter of the vineyard. I have always thought that posterity has done rather less than justice to the reputation of King Ahab, because, although that affair had an unsatisfactory ending, up to the time when Ahab committed the criminal folly of allowing his wife to meddle in politics, his conduct of the negotiations was quite impeccable and could well serve as a model for us today.
Students of the First Book of Kings will recall the circumstances. There was to be a redevelopment plan for the palace area. I do not know whether the king was under pressure from the members of his council who were complaining about the inadequacy of the accommodation provided for them in the royal palace. Be that as it may, in the plan was included a suggestion for a herb garden within the curtilege. Unfortunately, the only site which the planners considered possible was already occupied by the vineyard.
It is important to remember that Ahab did not act in any arbitrary manner. He did not serve a demolition order. He did not even send a planning officer. Believing in personal contact and negotiation, he went himself. While we do not have verbatim minutes of the meeting, we know roughly what took place. It was something like this. Ahab must have explained about the development plan and the necessity for a herb garden. He would have pointed out, no doubt, that in an affluent society with an increasing standard of living, such a thing had become almost a necessity.
752 If we consider that there were to be not only culinary, but medicinal, herbs, the garden could, perhaps, have been claimed to be essential in the interests of public health. However, he discovered not what Naboth felt about the rising standard of living—we do not know about that. For my part, I am sometimes a little affrighted when people talk about doubling the standard of living, because I often find it extremely difficult to afford my present standard.
What we know is that Naboth was an unwilling seller. He said that the place had been in his family for generations and that he did not want to part with it. The offer that was made was absolutely clear. What Ahab said was, "If you will give me your vineyard, I will give you a better vineyard or the worth of it in money." Thereafter, the story becomes less satisfactory and the "framing" of Naboth in the courts and his subsequent liquidation is, obviously, something which nobody nowadays would consider satisfactory, at least on this side of the Iron Curtain.
I hope most sincerely that wherever in future, as in the past—it will often happen—Governments, central or local, find it necessary to invade and restrict the freedom of the individual to secure the freedom and justifiable aspirations of the many, in such cases where the individual, for sentimental or other good reason, is unwilling to sell, the Ahab rule shall apply and the individual shall be offered a better vineyard, be it ever so little better, or the worth of it in money.
I am most grateful to the House for its indulgence.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
In about twenty-one years in the House it has been my pleasure and privilege to congratulate a maiden speaker on more than one occasion; but never has it fallen to my lot to congratulate a maiden speaker who has spoken immediately preceding me from my own side of the House. For me, therefore, this evening is a memorable one, as indeed it has been for all of us in the House who have been privileged to listen to the maiden speech —I was going to say "extempore maiden speech "; I think that I am almost right in calling it "extempore"—of my hon. 753 Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton). If it was not extempore, at any rate it was exemplary.
Not only did it show in a modest way that my hon. Friend had a complete command of the subject and a very considerable personal experience of planning in the local sphere, but it revealed also, which some of us knew before, that my hon. Friend is a brilliant speaker and an even more brilliant wit. We enjoyed his speech immensely, we congratulate him upon it, and we hope very much that we shall very soon hear him speaking again in the House.
I, like the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer), am a caravanner, but unlike the hon. Gentleman I am what I think is called a mobile caravanner, as opposed to the hon. Gentleman, who described the delights of the Sussex Downs as viewed from the interior of a static van. As a mobile caravanner, I must confess an interest. I confess it as a member of an organisation which has certain privileges under the present legislation, namely, the Caravan Club, of which I am a member of council and of which I was a member of the executive committee for many years.
I confess this interest because, along with 21,000 other full members of the Caravan Club, I am by the Bill, if it goes through in its present form, being deprived of rights which I have enjoyed for upwards of ten years. I am being deprived of those rights, as I think, unjustifiably and without good and sufficient reason.
The rights derive from the General Development Order, 1950, under the First Schedule of which, in Class V, members of an organisation which has a certificate of exemption granted by the Minister of Health under Section 269 of the Public Health Act, 1936, are allowed to make use of land for purposes of recreation or instruction without having to have a licence. We have that right by virtue of these provisions as members of Class V of the First Schedule of the General Development Order, 1950, because we are members of an approved organisation.
Clause 2 (2, c) exempts land occupied by approved organisations, but individual members will in future be denied the right that they have hitherto had, and which they have possessed for about 754 ten years, except in the circumstances set out in Clause 2 (2, f). That is a very narrow one indeed, because it applies only to exemptions in the case of sites of not more than five acres which stand within the area of a rural district council and upon which not more than three caravans are allowed to be sited at any one time. This rules out altogether for the mobile caravanner, who has had these rights for the last ten years, the possibility of halting for the night on small sites in urban district council areas. It is a very drastic curtailment of the present freedom of genuine mobile caravanners.
What happens at present? Class IV(2) of the General Development Order says, in effect, that any land may be used for caravanners for not more than twenty-eight days. One of the contributory reasons why the Bill is presented to the House today is that that twenty-eight day provision has been grossly abused.
I must say in passing that as a matter of historic interest it was the Caravan Club which first proposed to limit the permission to a specific number, and it proposed that five caravans was about right for that permission.
I wonder whether we have not gone too far. The first objective of those of us who go on tour in our caravans is to get as far away from our starting place as we can on the first day. When we have travelled for most of the day we begin to look around for somewhere where we can halt for the night. When we caravan in the Highlands, the one thing we always look out for is a cow, because if we can see a cow it means a milk supply and, if there is a milk supply, we usually find a croft or a farm where we obtain permission to pull up for the night and enjoy a night's rest before moving on. That is in a rural district.
If, as is the case very often, there are small sites used by mobile caravanners in urban districts or within the area of an urban district council, as may often be the case, they are out. The unfortunate caravanner whose family is becoming more and more hungry and whose wife says, "We must pull up soon, otherwise we will never have the evening meal", has to look out first to see what local authority area he is passing 755 through. He will have to inquire whether it is the area of an urban district council or the area of a rural district council. When he has found that out, he will have to look round for a site and will have to find out if it is of five acres or less. If it is, he will have to make sure that that area does not include the buildings erected upon it. He will have to go through this procedure in order to conform with the rather strange provisions of Clause 2 (2, f).
I would ask my right hon. Friend if subsection (2, f) would be seriously weakened if the reference to a rural district council area and to five or more acres were to be deleted. For my part, I do not think it would make any real difference to the Clause, and it would certainly be a great advantage to us if the deletion could be made.
To return to the withdrawal of the right which 21,000 full members of the Caravan Club and I have enjoyed for the last ten years, I could understand it if we had abused that right, but no one has claimed that we have abused it in any kind of way. I asked the secretary of the Caravan Club yesterday morning if he would come to see me and enlighten me upon this point. I asked him if, during the nine years in which he has been secretary of the Club, covering almost exactly the time between the publication of the General Development Order and the present day, he could remember any cases where this right of exemption accorded to members of exempted bodies had been abused.
He thought for a few minutes, and then said, "Yes, I can remember four cases. There was a case in Bexhill, there was one in Anglesey and one on the Norfolk Coast. Every one of these was dealt with satisfactorily by the Club, and we have correspondence from the local authorities to say so. The fourth case was one in the East Riding of Yorkshire, which has already elicited very friendly letters from the county council thanking the Club for its help. That was a case in what was generally recognised to be a particularly difficult area for this kind of thing."
When Class V of the First Schedule to the General Development Order was being considered ten years ago, the Caravan Club could offer only good will 756 and good faith. Today, it can add to those a sound record. The exemptions have not been abused, and the Caravan Club has worked in the closest co-operation with local authorities throughout the country. Its system of new site signs, the signs themselves being approved by the Council of Industrial Design, and the whole scheme being blessed by the County Councils Association, has just been put into operation, and there is every indication that it will work very well indeed and set a definitely high standard of caravan sites throughout the country. Finally, it has a record of very successful co-operation with the National Trust, and, in places like Borrowdale, with the National Parks Commission.
I want to make one practical suggestion. It might be possible by a slight amendment of Clause 2 to give a limited exemption to members of an exempted organisation. Let me try to explain what I mean. The Caravan Club publishes yearly a handbook, in which it lists certain sites which take Caravan Club members only. These sites are marked in a special way, and they are most carefully selected. They satisfy all the requirements of a good site for caravanning from the public health and planning points of view. I suggest that sites of this kind, accommodating not more than, shall we say, five caravans at a time, might be exempted in Clause 2. The effect, as I see it, would be that if a local authority informed the Caravan Club that in any case that exemption was being abused on a particular site, that site would at once be deleted from the handbook, and members would be warned not to use it. Such sites could then be dealt with as provided for in the Act, and, of course, Clause 2 (3) provides for certificates being withdrawn as well as granted.
Now may I turn to a different point altogether concerning landlords' consent? I have sat all through the debate this evening, and I think that this is a point which has not been made hitherto. Applicants for licences to use land as caravan sites, if they are not themselves the owners of the land, in my view ought to be required to satisfy the local authority that the landlord has himself given his consent, either specifically or by virtue of the applicant's occupation.
757 Clause 3 (2) enables the Minister to require applicants to supply such particulars as may be prescribed when they are making their applications for licences. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make it a condition or a requirement in the form of application that the occupier should state that he has the landlord's consent. I say that because I think it is important that occupiers of agricultural land, indeed, tenants of non-agricultural land, and in Scotland in particular crofters, ought not to be entitled to a licence unless they can establish the fact that they have their landlord's permission to operate a caravan site on that land.
I mention crofters because there is a particular point here. The Crofters Commission, the tourist associations and other bodies have been doing a lot of urging lately that crofters should help the tourist industry in Scotland. They are being encouraged, by grants in some cases, to install electricity and water and even to build chalets on their land, or rather on the crofts which they rent, for tourist purposes and to encourage tourism in the Highlands and the crofting counties. That is a good thing, but the position of landlord and tenant in the crofting counties is that the landlord, on outgo, has to pay compensation for all these improvements. It is highly important that, if the crofter has spent money in turning what was originally an agricultural croft into something like a caravan site, he should not be required to claim at outgoing the cost of these improvements from the landlord, unless he had had permission to make that alteration in the land before he received his licence.
I wish now to mention another point which I think was mentioned by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) in opening the debate from the other side of the House. I think there ought to be some procedure in the Bill for a landlord or neighbouring owner, whose amenities may perhaps be affected or who may have other objections, to object to the local authority granting a licence, I think there should be a right of appeal on behalf of the land owner if that licence is granted without his consent.
§ Mr. Ross
Would the hon. Gentleman apply something of the same nature in respect of those sites which he mentioned at the start of his speech, where no 758 licence will be required at all? Have neighbouring persons with these interests no right to object at all, or could they possibly have a right to object? If the hon. Gentleman's suggestion were accepted, would not these people require to have a licence?
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
No, these are sites that could be operated under the Bill by exempted bodies; small sites, where caravanners can halt for the night, having not more than three caravans on them, or something like that. There should be the ordinary legal right for anyone to object to anything that could constitute a nuisance. Otherwise, I do not think that any special provision should be made for small sites like that —although that could be looked at.
I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. de Ferranti) about an occupier wanting to establish a site requiring a licence from the local authority and planning permission from the local planning authority. That is all to the good but, as has been pointed out, Clause 3 provides that the local authority must issue a licence if the occupier concerned has obtained planning permission. If my interpretation of that part of the Clause is correct, I think that that provision is wrong.
The planning people are concerned with broad questions of amenity—the siting of caravan sites, availability of public services, and so on. The local authority—for instance, the district council—is concerned with more detailed matters, such as water supply, sanitation, disposal of waste, spacing of caravans on the site, and other matters affecting public health in some way.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) has drawn my attention to the fact that in Cornwall the public health officers have got together, and have drawn up standard conditions for general application throughout the county. Those conditions have now been passed by the county council, and ensure that the sites for which licences are granted have all the requisite services, and will be properly conducted. Local authorities should have the last word in deciding whether or not to grant a licence, and should not 759 be compelled to grant it simply because the planning authority has given planning permission.
I agree also with my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, who asked why tented sites have not been included in the Bill. Goodness knows, they require planning control, and control, in the public interest, just as much as caravan sites do—perhaps even more so. I am sorry that they are not included.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Talbot (Brierley Hill)
I represent an area that contains a place of great beauty known as Kinder Edge, and there is naturally a likelihood that a large number of people—among them some of my own constituents—from the industrial areas in the Black Country Will want to visit it and enjoy the natural amenities of that very beautiful site.
There is, invariably, a great conflict of interest between those who wish to take the opportunity to pay a visit and the permanent residents. Many of the permanent residents have built houses at considerable cost, and they feel a certain element of resentment against what is sometimes described as an invasion of caravans from industrial areas. I welcome the Bill, as it enables a fair and just balance to be struck by the local authorities between those two conflicting interests.
Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I do not shy from compulsory purchase provisions, because I can conceive of cases where that is the only feasible means of achieving a regular and ordered development of a site. Powers of compulsory purchase ought to be granted only after very careful thought, and local authorities should not in any way be encouraged in that course in regard to a caravan site merely because of the financial profits that may accrue to them. A compulsory purchase order is sometimes not a matter of asking for five acres or ten acres, or, even more, from one landowner. It may be needed for the tidying up of a number of small freehold sites that have become unsightly and against public interest and for the maintenance of this balance of interests.
I wish to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. de Ferranti) 760 about the necessity of ensuring standards of construction of caravans at a national and not a local level. I hope that it will be possible for my right hon. Friend suitably to amend the Bill to this end, as I think that this should be done by agreement between the representatives of local authorities, of those who construct caravans and of those who use them. The matter should be dealt with by Ministerial regulation rather than by allowing every council to set its own standards and thus create a local rule that may cause the difficulties referred to by my hon. Friend in relation to the standardisation that is so important in modern manufacture.
The Bill contains two very different parts. Part II deals with management and general planning law. I am sorry that the Minister has seen fit to remove appeals from the magistrates' courts to himself. As far as possible, matters of a judicial nature ought to be decided by the ordinary courts. At the same time, I entirely agree with him in his action in taking the appeal away from magistrates' courts, because they are not suitably constituted to deal with such matters.
Clause 26 seems to contain an amalgamation of two very different ideas. First of all, it imports a decision on whether planning permission ought to be granted. That is purely an administrative matter; no court of law can adjudicate on it, and it is adequately dealt with by the existing powers of appeal to the Minister. Therefore, subsection (1, a) is not, in my view, a matter proper for judicial determination. All the remaining paragraphs are, because they are purely matters of fact.
Where matters of fact are concerned, there is only one satisfactory way of dealing with them, and that is that each party shall state his case to an impartial judge who then and there gives judgment on the disputed questions of fact. Up to now that has happened in the magistrates' courts. There is a hearing, which is impartial, and both sides have their chance to give evidence. Then there is a decision.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that instead of taking these appeals to his own Department, they should be sent to the county court. There is plenty of precedent for appeal on matters of local government to county court judges. I 761 remind hon. Members that under the Housing Acts a demolition order is subject to appeal to the county court. Under the Landlord and Tenant Act county court judges have to act as arbitrators on shop rents. It is a simple procedure and works well. Each side has a valuer, and the judge decides on the evidence before him what the rent is to be, assessing it on the relevant value.
On questions of fact, under paragraphs (b) to (g) of Clause 26 (1) the best method of dealing with disputes of this kind is to allow them to be taken to the county court. Under Clause 21 (1, a), is it not better to allow enforcement notices to take their course as such? In many cases they arise because someone has asked for planning permission and has had it refused, and he has then defied the authorities and proceeded with what he was doing. In such a case, the man who has had planning permission refused has the right of appeal to the Minister, and he ought to exercise it at that stage. This procedure gives him a second chance to appeal. These are, therefore, two aspects: questions of administrative convenience and administrative right and questions of a judicial hearing on matters of fact.
We all know what happens at a public inquiry. A report is made to the Minister. I am perfectly certain that in dealing with that report the Minister endeavours to sort our from the conflicting evidence what is the true and correct position. In that respect he acts in the same way as any judge would act. But we must not forget that the Minister is not a judge; he is an executive officer of the Crown, he is a politician. We call him a politician when he does what we do not want him to do and we call him a statesman when he does what we want him to do.
The Minister is entitled to take into account not merely the question of abstract justice on the facts but also questions whether, in the public interest and from the point of policy, it is right to do what the appellant asks. It is quite right that he should take those matters into consideration. I say to him, with great respect, however, that matters arising under paragraphs (b) to (g) of subsection (1) are not matters of administrative convenience but solely matters of 762 truth and fact. A person aggrieved under those paragraphs need not be deprived of his appeal to the courts.
The tribunals to which I would advise that such appeals be allowed—the county courts—are local. They are rapid, and a man will get a decision in half the time that the Ministry at present takes to give it. County courts have the reputation that where a county court judge gives a decision, in 999 cases out of 1,000 such a decision is accepted as fair by Che parties concerned. A Ministerial decision is a dip into the lucky bag of chance.
§ Mr. Talbot
One never knows how it will come out. I know that authorities sometimes make representations to my right hon. Friend to the effect that he is too lenient in allowing planning appeals, and I have no doubt that a dissatisfied applicant feels that he is too severe in not allowing the appeal. My right hon. Friend disagrees with me, but there is an element of chance in Ministerial decisions which does not apply to a fully judicial hearing.
I know that my right hon. Friend disagrees with what I say, but I ask him to give the matter one final examination to see whether it is not possible to preserve the subject's right of appeal to the courts in as many cases as possible.I beseech you".said Cromwell,in the bowels of Christ think it possible you may be mistaken.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I had hoped that we were to be given some enlightenment from a Scottish Minister on how the Bill will affect Scotland. I have waited long and not unwearily, but no information has been forthcoming. Yet although certain aspects of the problem do not arise in Scotland, we have the problem where caravans near some large towns have become an alternative to a long wait on the housing list for people who want council houses. People in those circumstances have had to resort to caravans. This is the subject of not only present importance in Scotland, but of increasing importance.
We have had reference to the efforts of the Tourist Board and the Crofters' 763 Commission to interest people in the glories of the Highlands, but there is no doubt that even if we solved our road problems in those areas we should still be left with the great problem of adequately catering for visitors who want hotel accommodation. At present, many people who wish to see and enjoy that part of Scotland do so by using mobile caravans, and that will increasingly be the case as the years pass.
From the Scottish point of view, therefore, it is desirable that we should look carefully at the Bill to see how it will assist us in respect of the present concern about the caravan problem in Scotland. We must consider the future possibility of adequately catering for those who venture on our Scottish roads, not only in the Highlands but in many other areas, with the encumbrance of a caravan behind them.
I do not know whether the Joint Under-Secretary of State realises it, but in many parts of Scotland there has been much conflict about some of the existing caravan sites. There have been questions about the power of local authorities, planning permission and other things. Such a Bill as this, and certainly Part I of it, will be generally welcomed in Scotland. I do not doubt that. I can recollect the Ayr County Council being very concerned about what was happening in connection with a development of caravan sites at Maidens.
Many caravan sites have grown up throughout Scotland about which many people know nothing, because they have been discreetly sheltered by being placed in areas which are not easy of access. In many ways, they may be the better type of place for a caravan site, but, as they are out-of-the-way sites, it may well be that the conditions are unsatisfactory for the people who are living there. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) that we must protect caravanners from exploitation and from the disappointment which they have when they find that what was held out to be a wonderful caravan site is, in fact, quite dreadful. I have been told about this by people who have had this unpleasant experience.
764 But the question which I should really like to ask is: exactly why do we have the Bill in this form? The Bill will leave the House and go to a Committee either of the whole House or upstairs, and the Committee will proceed to amend it. But before a Scotsman can even understand the Bill he has to start by amending it. One reads over Clauses 1 to 24 and finds that Scotland is not mentioned. There is no connection with Scotland. If it had not been for the fact that the name of the Secretary of State for Scotland had been printed on the Bill as one of its supporters, we might have neglected the Bill in our concern for legislation, but Clause 25 says:This Part of this Act shall apply to Scotland with the following modifications …"Modifications" sounds nice.
Then we have a list of modifications— (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i), and (j). I think that those responsible then got tired and visualised my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) and myself rising on Second Reading and asking whether it was quite necessary to go through the whole alphabet to get all the modifications that the Government wanted in respect of Scotland, because thereafter they added paragraphs (2) and (3) to deal with further modifications.
It means that before a Scotsman can properly appreciate what legally is happening—and this will apply to Scottish lawyers who try to understand the Bill— he must go through Clauses 1 to 24 and make these modifications. I protest that it is not fair and right that we should be put into this position of being handed something which is not understandable until one has spent a long time making alterations. Then one has to start asking why this or that is left out or included in relation to Scotland, by which time one finds oneself getting away from the broad principles which we should be debating on Second Reading.
I sometimes wonder whether the Scottish Office knew anything at all about the Bill. I have more than a fear that it was drawn up by English lawyers and draftsmen and that it was thrown to the Scottish Office and somebody said, "Oh, you have caravans in Scotland, too. Would you like to put in some modifications?"
765 We have been dealing in the Scottish Standing Committee with the Mental Health (Scotland) Bill, one aspect of which is concerned with having a particular place licensed. That licence has to be shown in a conspicuous place. If it is not, there is a fine. I have not a copy of the Bill with me, but I think that the fine is about £5, and that is in relation to something terribly important and in connection with places where we are anxious to provide proper care and treatment in private hospitals for the mentally defective and the mentally ill.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I hope that the hon. Member will not stray too far from the Bill, which deals not with mentally defective people, but with caravans and caravan sites.
§ Mr. Ross
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I was drawing attention to a case where a licence has to be displayed in a prominent place and if it is not so displayed there is a fine of £5. Under this Bill, where a caravan site has to be licensed and the licence must be displayed in a prominent place on that site the fine is not £5 for failure to do that, but £100. Where is the logic of that? I think that the Scottish Office never saw this until it was done by English colleagues and then it was thrown to the Scottish Office.
I congratulate the Minister of Housing and Local Government on having learned from experience. As I have said, the first 24 Clauses make no reference to Scotland and then Clause 25 applies to Scotland, but there are many Clauses thereafter and Part II of the Bill deals with general control and development. This is a very important amendment of town and country planning legislation. The Minister, however, said that there had been no trouble about this in Scotland and so it was decided to make no alterations.
I wonder whether that is true. Does the right hon. Gentleman remember what happened the last time he incorporated changes in Scottish town and country planning law at the same time as he changed the law in England? Does he remember that on every single Clause we had to have a Scottish application until no one knew quite what we were talking about in relation to town and country planning legislation and when there were 766 such complaints from the legal profession in Edinburgh that the Government, after the Bill was passed, were forced to print a new Bill in Scottish style? The right hon. Gentleman probably remembers even now the kind of time we had in Committee when he found that two Scotsmen could be very persistent in asking for information about what changes were being made in Scottish legislation. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not desire to repeat that experience.
Is it because of convenience to himself or convenience to Scottish Ministers that it may well be that necessary amendments to town and country planning legislation are being denied to Scotland? Is it because the right hon. Gentleman does not want to go through the same process again, by virtue of the form of the Bill or, alternatively, does not want to do what he ought to have done, give us a separate Scottish Bill, in which case we could have reasonably dealt with it in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading on the basis of Scottish law?
On the last occasion when we had this change in town and country planning as applied to Scotland the Minister started by saying that no one in Scotland wanted it, that it was purely academic in relation to Scotland. Purely academic! The Bill extends the power of compulsory purchase. The previous town and country Measure was devoted to compulsory purchase, and I remember the Minister saying that he would not extend the compulsory powers of purchase of any local authority. He has gone back on that.
What was the result of the Bill which was "purely academic" for Scotland? The result was the same as in England, that the cost of land bought under compulsory purchase went up considerably. Indeed, the land which is to be bought by a local authority for caravan sites, under compulsory purchase if necessary, will cost more as a result of that piece of legislation.
My main purpose in rising is to make my protest, once again, about the way in which Scottish business has been handled. It is not right that it should be done in this way. In view of what has happened in the past. I am not convinced that we are not being denied the benefits of modernised attitudes and 767 outlooks as applied to town planning in Part II of the Bill purely for the legislative convenience of the Minister of Housing and Local Government or of the Ministers at the Scottish Office.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I know that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will forgive me if I do not follow him in what he has been saying about Scotland, although I shall end my remarks by mentioning somewhere only just south of the Border. Like most other speakers, I welcome the Bill. I apologise to the House for not having been in my place as long as I normally like to be before taking part in a debate, though I heard my right hon. Friend's opening speech and about half the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), and I have been in my place for most of the last one-and-a-half hours.
I support what was said about compulsory purchase orders by my hon. Friends the Members for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton). If I may say so, the hon. Member for Darlington made a magnificent speech. I am sorry to see Clause 18 in the Bill, although I realise it may be necessary in the case of some local authorities. I only hope they will use their powers sparingly because, like many other hon. Members, I do not like to see an extension of compulsory purchase orders unless such an extension is absolutely necessary.
I am glad to see from Clause 18 (7) that a local authority shall not have power to provide caravans. I am not so happy to see from subsection (8) of that Clause that the expression "local authority"—…includes the council of a county and a joint planning board constituted under section four of the Act of 1947.This brings me to my second point. I am sorry that the Bill apparently leaves in being a situation whereby at present a planning authority may over-rule the decisions taken by a local district council which may have refused permission for a site, and in doing so may be speaking mostly for the ratepayers it represents.
Last Friday, in a debate on the Adjournment, my hon. Friend the Mem- 768 ber for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) mentioned an instance where this had happened in his constituency. I supported my hon. Friend and I quoted an instance which had happened in Northumberland at a place which may be known to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short). There a site has been approved by the local planning authority, which is the planning committee of the Northumberland County Council, which has overruled the decision of the local parish council and the Belford Rural District Council, both of which passed, by very large majorities, resolutions refusing planning consent.
I am sorry to see that the Bill does not make that process more difficult. At least it should be essential that, when a local planning authority does this kind of thing, it should do so meeting in public, not in private. This planning authority has powers delegated to it by the Northumberland County Council. It meets in private, and in taking the decision to over-rule two lower local authorities, it did so without the Press being present. Nobody knows exactly on what grounds this decision was reached.
I know there is another Bill before this House which may set that matter right in time, but that is not the point. I am sorry that the Bill does not make such a decision impossible, because it is not democratic that an area planning authority, on which there may be members from parts of the country totally different from those affected by such a decision, should be able to take such a decision when meeting in private. I have a certain amount of interest in this, because I have a small house in Seahouses. It does not worry me so much, as I am not there as often as I should like to be and, therefore, I am not so affected as are many other residents.
One of my hon. Friends mentioned that people think—whether rightly or wrongly, he did not express an opinion —that the value of property decreases when a caravan site is established nearby. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will express an opinion about this. If the value of property is depreciated by the establishment of a caravan site nearby, that is important from the point of view of the owners of the property.
769 I regret that the conflict of interest over an area planning authority, particularly one with delegated powers which meets in private, over-ruling a local authority like a parish council or a local district council, has not been resolved and will continue to operate under the provisions of the Bill.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)
I was extremely interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) said about the possible conflict between the local authorities, planning authorities and true local authorities such as parish councils. I am glad to see in the Bill that in England and Wales the rural councils are local authorities for the purpose of licensing caravan sites. I wish to elaborate this point, particularly in dealing with Scotland.
I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has gone out, because he said at some length that he did not understand the Bill. If he had taken a little more trouble to sit through this debate he would have learnt a great deal more about it. I have sat in the Chamber since 2.30, with a short interval for refreshment, and have learnt a great deal. I commend to the hon. Member that it would be a good thing before interfering in a debate of this sort that he should sit through it and learn what has been said previously.
I have taken the trouble to find out what the application of this Bill is to Scotland, and to discuss it with my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State. I have made certain suggestions to him and will not repeat them now. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) at the beginning of this debate spoke about the possibility of differences of opinion between the planning authority and the local authority, but suggested—and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) repeated it—the possibility of consultation between these two authorities. After a very long period as clerk to a local authority which was not a planning authority, I can say that that presents no difficulty at all. These consultations take place every day and very satisfactory results are arrived at.
In England and Wales the local authority aspect of this Bill is brought right down to rural and urban councils. 770 In Scotland it is resolved under the county councils for the landward areas and under town councils for the small burghs. That is a pity, because in Scotland there are a number of other authorities called district councils which are different from the district councils in England—the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) understands what I mean. It is a pity that in its application to Scotland the Bill does not make district councils the local authorities. I ask my hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland to consider that and to see whether, when the Bill reaches Committee, small local authorities could not be included.
Mention has been made of the possibility of a division of opinion between the real local authority and the local planning authority. Whatever may be the position in England and Wales, the possibility of such division of opinion is greater in Scotland where there are vast county areas divided into districts. Members of the district council, the local people, know exactly what they want and how to look after local amenities and the interests of their own districts, but it is possible in Scotland, in my constituency, for example, for a holiday resort to be at the mercy of a county council whose headquarters are 60 miles away and the majority of whose members are not interested in the area where the caravan park is to be sited.
It is highly desirable, especially in the North of Scotland, that district councils should be the local authorities concerned. We have heard from various hon. Members about the Bill's importance to holiday caravan sites and in respect of itinerant caravans, parking for one night in remote places. Most of the references to remote places have been concerned with Wales, but there are other remote parts of the country, especially in my constituency. The hon. Member for Anglesey spoke about his constituency having the most beautiful coastline in Great Britain. Not having any coastline to speak of in my constituency, I am not prepared to argue about that, but if he had said the most beautiful valley, I would have quarrelled with him.
We all realise the importance of caravan sites, but in Scotland we are not, 771 so far, affected by the caravan as a permanent home, although we have a very lively appreciation of the value of a caravan in a holiday resort. In Scotland, the district council is the authority to deal with that. From my informal conversations with my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary I have appreciated that there may be difficulties in that in Scotland a district council is not a health authority. Those objections have some validity, but my hon. Friend should reconsider the matter because, in cases like this, the district council does tremendously important work for the tourist trade.
In my constituency there is Braemar, which is a small village and members of the district council, acting in a slightly different capacity, are responsible for the promotion of the Braemar Gathering, which is known to the ends of the earth. That is a tremendous organisation and to say that the members of an authority who are capable of organising that gathering are not capable of organising a caravan site is complete nonsense.
A few miles away there is Aboyne, which is not a burgh and, almost of the same size, there is Ballater, which is a burgh. Ballater has caravan sites which it looks after very well, but Aboyne is under the jurisdiction of the county council at Aberdeen, 40 miles away. That is quite wrong and the district council is the appropriate local authority in a case of that sort. The district council in Aboyne runs the Aboyne Games which are known to the ends of the earth and involve much more organisation than any caravan site.
My English friends may laugh at that, but I repeat that in Scotland, as the Minister has said, we have not yet got to the stage of being troubled with caravan sites as a permanent institution. We are concerned with the caravan site as an adjunct of the tourist industry and thus tremendously important for the North of Scotland.
Even if my hon. Friend is right and there is a difficulty because district councils are not health authorities, there is a very strong case for making district councils the local authorities mentioned in Clause 18 which proposes to enable local authorities to own and administer 772 caravan sites. As has been said, caravan sites can be a very useful source of revenue to a small local authority.
A great deal of difficulty has been encountered by district councils in Scotland in the tourist areas in not being able to advertise their tourist attractions. I suggest—it may be a little out of order but I crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—that those owning and administering caravan sites might provide a fund which would be available for advertising these attractions to tourists. That is a very desirable thing. Braemar and Aboyne, in my constituency, and many other places in the Highland counties cannot advertise themselves, but other places like Ballater can spend money in advertising, and this leads to a certain amount of unfairness.
I do not expect the Minister to answer these points tonight, because probably they are Committee points, but I suggest that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland should think about them very seriously, and that Amendments should be made in Committee to put into effect the suggestions I have made.
One point which I feel may weigh with the Government is that not all district councils are suitable local authorities for this purpose, because in Lanarkshire and places in the South there are district councils where conditions are completely different, but it might meet the case if district councils were to be certified by the Secretary of State as suitable for this purpose.
I appreciate very much the invitation which the Minister, in opening the debate, gave to hon. Members on both sides of the House to make suggestions which they thought might improve the Bill. I have tried to make constructive and helpful suggestions, which I recommend for the consideration of the Joint Undersecretary when the Bill is considered in Committee.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Short(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) and the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots) on their maiden speeches. Both spoke with great fluency, great ability and great knowledge of the subject. Both appeared to be quite relaxed and not at all nervous, although I can quite understand how they 773 feel because, although I have sat on the Front Bench for five years, this is my debut from the Dispatch Box.
I am very glad that on this occasion it is such a genial topic. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Deer), I am an enthusiastic caravanner, although I think that I am mobile and he is not. I agree that many other people are not nearly so enthusiastic about caravans as we are. Indeed, many people throughout the country see red the moment the word "caravan" is mentioned. The hon. Member for Woking-ham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said that caravan sites had a bad name and that the object of the Bill was to make the caravan an "honest lady".
I think that the public attitude to the caravan was summed up a little more aptly by a gentleman whom I regard as Britain's No. I caravanner, Mr. White-man, the editor of the magazine Caravan. In a paper which he presented to the Royal Society of Arts in 1957, called "The Social Aspect of the Caravan", he put forward a very interesting theory that the caravan evokes almost a racial memory not only in the people who participate in caravanning but in the people who oppose it—a racial memory which stems from the fear of danger and barbarism and which has come to be associated from time immemorial with the nomad.
When the hon. Member for Newark or I suddenly appear on the village green from over the hills and far away with our mobile homes, we immediately attract to ourselves all the prejudice which was traditionally attracted to the nomad who appeared on the village green in generations past. A good deal of the trouble arises from the fact that that prejudice against the nomadic way of life has been projected to caravans in general. In all the controversies that are always bubbling up about caravans a great deal of prejudice and emotion is generated without there being very much reason behind it. Having said that, I nevertheless agree that there is a considerable caravan problem in Britain. This problem is created by a rapidly growing preference for this mobile dwelling in a very small and over-populated country.
Hon. Members on this side of the House welcome the Bill in so far as it 774 tackles that problem. As my hon. Friends have said, we believe that the Bill has many minor defects, and some omissions. From what the Minister said, we have great hopes that these will be remedied in Committee.
This has been a very harmonious debate; indeed, it is probably the most harmonious that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has taken part in for some years. No suggestion of a party point has been made by anybody. I do not want to introduce an inharmonious note into the debate, but I want to make a general observation on the Bill. It deals only with half the caravan problem. Anybody who understands this problem will agree that it has two aspects.
There is the negative aspect—the need for increased control, with which I fully agree—and the positive aspect, which finds expression in a positive public policy on caravanning—a policy arising out of the recognition that the caravan is a socially acceptable way of living and of spending one's holidays. It seems to me that concentration on the negative approach, without an accompanying positive public policy, will not achieve very much.
The extent to which the Bill deals with any suggestion of a positive policy towards caravanning is almost negligible. The Arton Wilson Report, in its summary in paragraphs 350 and 351, mentions two points made by the representatives of caravan dwellers; first,that there should be a more positive and sympathetic public policy towards caravan-living —in particular, encouragement to site operators to equip their sites well, and willingness to allow land to be used for caravan sites in the areas where a demand for caravan-living exists,and, secondly, thatas a corollary of this the powers of local authorities to control site location and conditions should be considerably strengthened." The Government seem to have accepted the corollary without doing anything about the recommendation. We have the corollary, but not the main proposition.This is a one-legged or half-hearted approach, which, without an accompanying positive public policy towards caravanning, is not adequate. I do not know how many hon. Members have read the comment in this week's Country Life, but it says that the Bill appears to be a hurried Bill, and that if we had been 775 prepared to wait longer for it we should probably have got a much better one. I am inclined to agree. For one thing, it is a Siamese twin; it has two parts which deal with related matters.
Part I deals with caravan sites, and Part II with enforcement notices, although I agree that some enforcement notices may deal with caravan sites. It is like the old syllogism that all dogs are animals, but all animals are not dogs. It is an untidy way of legislating to put two things like this together in one Bill. I complained about that, and I am sorry to introduce this note of slight disharmony, but it is a half-hearted approach to the caravan problem, and an untidy way of legislating.
That probably arises from the background to the Bill, and the Minister said, and we are all agreed, that the background to the Bill is Sir Arton Wilson's Report. But the Report deals only with residential caravans. The first sentence of the Report says:This Report is about people … who live in caravans and have no other homes.It deals with residential caravans, which are only part of the problem. They are an important, but not the biggest part.
There are three distinct categories of caravans. I will not give the figures, because they have been given by many hon. Members. There are residential caravans, and at the other end of the scale there are what I call the elite of the caravanning world, 13,000 people who own their own caravans and park them in the corner of an orchard, a field or a farmyard, and visit them at weekends and perhaps tow them round the country or take them on the Continent for their holidays. Between those two extremes there are the caravans which are used by holiday makers, and we are told that in 1958 3 million people, one in 16 of the population, spent their holidays in that type of caravan. There are 50 per cent. more of that type of caravan than residential caravans.
Each group has its problems. Sometimes the problems are common to all three, but there are problems that are peculiar to each of those groups. The Bill, based on the Arton Wilson Report which is a report on an investigation into the first category, lumps all three together. I predict that just as the present powers of local authorities are de- 776 fective because laws which were intended to apply to dwelling houses are being applied to caravans, the powers of local authorities will be defective in future because this Bill, which is and intended to deal with residential caravans, will be applied to caravans of all categories when it becomes an Act.
That is not an intelligent way of doing things. It would have been much better if the Government had waited a little longer, if they had given more thought to this problem—as Country Life suggests— and if they had brought in a comprehensive Bill dealing with each type of the three sections which I have enumerated, each with its own peculiar problems, and embodied in such a Bill a positive approach to the whole caravanning problem.
The Bill is not an adequate solution to caravanning in Britain. Anybody who understands caravanning will agree with that. It is not an adequate solution to slap on a lot of regulations and restrictions intended for residential sites to sites of every kind.
As many hon. Members have pointed out, a comprehensive Bill could also have dealt with tented camps. Anybody who has visited such camps will agree that, from a public health point of view, many tented camps are ghastly places. The danger to health is very much greater in those camps than on any caravan site that I have ever seen. As far as I can see, such camps still come under the inadequate provisions of the Public Health Acts.
A comprehensive Bill could also have dealt with shacks. The hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) referred to the Northumberland coast. He knows that coast, and I am sure he will agree that miles of lovely sand dunes are disfigured by unsightly shacks which are built round a horse-drawn caravan which was parked there forty years ago. One sees a sort of shack bungalow with a kitchen, living rooms and all the rest built on to it. These things are a disfigurement to a great deal of our coastline. Unfortunately, this Bill does not deal with the tented camp or the collection of shacks. The definition of a caravan which appears in the Bill would rule out either of them.
Having made those general comments, I wish to comment on the Bill itself. In 777 order to get it out of the way, I will comment first on Part II, which I think is good. I do not think it should be in the Bill. As I have said, I should have preferred a comprehensive Bill on caravanning. But Part II is in the Bill, and I think that it will be of great assistance to local authorities. I wish to support what was said by the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) This will be my main comment.
Generally speaking, I should be opposed to withdrawing the right of appeal to a court and substituting an appeal to the Minister. The independence of our British courts is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, safeguards of our liberty, and as a general rule I consider it unwise to withdraw the right of appeal to the courts. I realise that in this case the Minister acts in a quasi-judicial capacity and also that provision is made for a further appeal to the High Court. But, as a general principle, I consider this a retrograde step. I concede that in this case there exists the complication, which the Minister mentioned, of a possible double appeal to the Minister and to the court. But, as a general principle, I do not think it is a thing to be welcomed.
Clause 26 (7) has been mentioned. It is the subsection which applies Section 290 of the Local Government Act, 1933, to appeals under this Bill giving Che right to make an order with regard to costs. I think that is new, and I am not sure how it will work out, but, on the face of it, it would seem to be a welcome provision.
Clause 26 (4) has been referred to by two hon. Members. On balance, I feel that enforcement notices which deal with caravan sites concern not only the appellant but other people living in the area who may be affected. In my opinion, there should be some means of holding a public inquiry at which other people besides the appellant could express their views. There may be snags about this, but I should welcome some machinery to enable that to be done.
Part I of the Bill deals with caravan sites, and I wish to support what was said by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley). I believe that this Bill will impose quite unnecessary restrictions on the 30,000 to 35,000 touring caravanners whom I described earlier as the elite of the caravanning community. 778 I say that because they take great pride in their caravans. They are owner-occupied vans and the owners care for them very well. Some of the caravans are twenty years old, but they look like new and there are frequent competitions for the best preserved caravan. These caravans are never let to other people, and their owners conform to a high standard of social behaviour both when they are touring and when they are on a caravan site.
Clause 2 (2, f) deals with what I might call night halts on sites of convenience. These are to be limited to the areas of rural district councils. Anyone who has towed a caravan, especially on the Continent but also in this country, will know how difficult it is to find a night halt near a large town. This, it seems to me, will rule out filling station night halts, the public-house back garden— a very satisfactory site from many points of view—and similar sites of convenience of that kind, simply because they are not within the area of a rural district council. Anyone who has towed a caravan in France knows that the Esso stations are the best caravan sites obtainable because they provide washing facilities, hot and cold water, toilets and the rest of it. Some in this country are equally good. Sites of convenience, whether they happen to be in rural district council areas or urban district council areas, are absolutely vital to the touring caravanner, and I ask the Minister to look at that problem.
On the same theme, Clause 2 (2, c), the bit which gives exemption principally to members of the Caravan Club, seems to apply only to the sites owned or managed by the Club and there is no exemption to members of the Club on tour. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns has been a member of the council of the Club for years and years and knows what he is talking about. He said that there have been virtually no complaints about the behaviour of members of these exempted organisations. They conform voluntarily to very high standards and set the pattern for caravanners generally. I can see no earthly reason why this exemption, which they have had for, I think, ten years, should be withdrawn from them. I think it a most retrograde step. The combination of these two things would 779 make the position of the touring cara-vanner quite intolerable, so I hope that the Minister will look at that.
Every caravanner who is proud of caravanning will welcome the attempt to impose structural standards, but not structural standards fixed by a local authority. We want national standards. The weakness of the Bill is that Clause 4 (2, b) gives the local authority power to lay down structural standards and Clause 4 (6) gives the Minister power to specify conditions, but the conditions there do not coincide with the conditions in the other provision. The Minister has no power to specify structural standards. I can only believe that that is an error and that that power was never intended to be omitted. It is were included, it would go a long way to meet the point of view which I am putting. Local authorities would be obliged to take into account model structural standards specified by the Minister. It is the district councils, not county councils who are to do this.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. de Ferranti) knows what he is talking about because he is a manufacturer. He said that it would cause chaos in the industry. The industry in Britain is the second largest in the world. It is second only to that in the U.S.A., and it plays an important part in the export trade. I think that the Common Market will knock a hole in that unless we do something about it, but you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would rule me out of order if I made an extended reference to that subject. This matter of local authorities specifying standards could create chaos in the industry and do great injury to it. Caravanners and the industry want standards laid down, but they want national standards.
I support what a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have said about the exemptions for local authorities. Exemption under Clause 2 (2, b) from the need to acquire a licence for a local authority site has been referred to. I see no reason whatever why a local authority should be exempted. The local authority should set the standard. It should be the first to submit itself to its own standards and it should be seen to submit to its own standards. I hope that the Minister will think again about that provision. Local 780 authority sites could set the standard for the whole of the sites throughout the country if they are really good. Most of them are good, but some are not. I see no reason why they should be excused from having to obtain site licences.
My fourth comment, and here I am a little in the dark, is on the existing use rights under the 1947 Act.
It seems clear to me that these sites, or many of them, are in great danger of being closed. Many of them have operated quite satisfactorily for twenty or thirty years. I should regard it as most unjust if sites of this kind were to be closed, particularly as there is no provision for compensation. It is common justice that if a licence is given for only a short time, or if there is no licence, compensation should be provided. The Minister said that if a discontinuance certificate were issued there would be compensation.
If the number of vans were to be drastically reduced under Clause 16, a site operator's income would be reduced accordingly. I do not agree that all site operators are wicked exploiters. I know many of them throughout the country who are tremendous caravan enthusiasts. They are in the job because they are enthusiasts and they give tremendous help to caravanners of all kinds. No doubt there are some exploiters, but this does not apply to all of them. If in the new law Parliament deprives a site operator who is doing a job of a considerable part of his income, he certainly should be compensated.
Clause 18 gives a local authority power to provide sites or to acquire existing sites. That is a good thing. It is significant that the hon. Member on the Government side who, probably, has more local authority experience than any other hon. Member opposite—the hon. Member for Brierley Hill—forcibly supported the granting of powers of compulsory acquisition to local authorities in this respect.
Local authorities are given the power to open or to acquire sites, but why do we not lay upon them the duty to provide sites? In opening the debate, the Minister said that the Bill probably would not result in many local authority sites being established. It seems to me that the Bill will result in quite a number of sites being closed. We impose upon 781 local authorities the duty to establish other institutions. The Education Act, 1944, places on local authorities the duty to establish schools in sufficient number, of sufficient diversity and so on to meet the needs of their locality, and I do not see why we should not place upon local authorities the duty to establish sites where they are needed.
The Minister will bear in mind the Egham case in which the local authority invoked the whole majesty of the High Court and obtained an injunction, but, even armed with that injunction of the High Court, the local authority could not get out the resident caravanners until an alternative site was provided. That is the kind of thing I had in mind when I pleaded for a more positive approach to caravanning.
There is an increasing number of people who prefer to live in caravans. The Economist carried out an investigation and estimated the number of resident caravanners at about 150,000. It was expected that this number would decrease as the provision of housing increased, but that later, towards 1970, it would increase again as the proportion of retired people in the population rose. An increasing number of retired people are attracted by the caravan as a cheap and easy place in which to live.
First, therefore, we have an increased number of people who prefer to live in caravans; secondly, 3 million people spend their holidays in caravans and, thirdly, probably 35,000 people tow their vans around the country. This number is certain to increase as the number of motor cars increases. I should be delighted if every family owned a motor car. It is a commendable and laudable aim for a family to try to get a motor car and to get out into the country. For this reason, the number of vans being towed around the country is bound to increase. For these three reasons, many more caravan sites will be required over the next few years. The Bill, however, will close some sites—at least, I hope that it will—and will reduce the size of certain sites.
A duty should be placed upon local authorities to provide sites where they require them. The trouble is that, in areas where the need its greatest, the anti-caravan complex among local authorities is greatest also. Caravanning has 782 reached such proportions that local authorities must face up to their social responsibilities. There is a social need for caravan sites, and if private enterprise cannot provide them, local authorities must fill the gap.
I was delighted to hear what the Minister said on duration and conditions. I congratulate him on the stand he has taken on this. Obviously, if a site licence is given for only a short period, the whole purpose of the Bill will be defeated. The purpose of this Part of the Bill is to improve standards of caravan sites, but if permission is given for only five years, or even for ten years, no site developer can be expected to spend the requisite amount of capital on the site. I tried to obtain a figure, and I believe that it costs about £100 per stand to develop a site up to decent standards, the sort of standards which I hope will be required for residential sites under the Bill. Site developers must be given a long period of tenure of their sites. I hope that the Minister will see that that is the case.
The Minister, by his power to specify model conditions, can influence conditions considerably throughout the country, particularly as there is a right to appeal to the magistrates' court, and the magistrates' court is obliged to take into account the model conditions. I appeal to the Minister not to make the conditions too onerous and not to try to impose the same conditions for sites of all kinds. I believe that the residential site does not require the same sort of conditions as what I would call a "summer" site.
Again, it varies according to the area. I had a caravan for many years on a very remote spot on the Northumbrian coast. There was not a water closet within miles of the site, yet I cannot imagine a more delectable and pleasant site than that. So there must be some flexibility in the conditions specified by the Minister and laid down and imposed my district councils, both with regard to the type of site and to the locality.
I have strong views on the question of colour, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lons-dale. I think, as does the hon. Member, that it would be a great mistake to insist on uniformity. I have heard people advocate that all caravans in the 783 country should be painted green. That is quite wrong. I do not know if all hon. Members recollect what happened during the war. Caravan owners asked the Government whether they should camouflage their caravans. They were told, "No", because the English countryside has dots of white patches, light patches and cream patches all over it. That is a feature of the English countryside.
The hon. Member for Morecamibe and Lonsdale referred to the Lake District, which I know very well. He will recollect that the whitewashed cottage is to be found all over the Lake District. If one looks at the distant landscape one will see whitewashed cottages here and there all over the place. There is no earthly reason why cream-coloured caravans should not be integrated into the landscape, provided that they are properly sited and conform to the contours of the land, and so on. I could not agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South, who advocated, I take it, keeping caravans out of the National Parks. I think that that is one of the places where they should be.
In conclusion, I believe that in the mechanised, high-pressure world in which we live today, man's greatest need beyond the bare necessities is from time to time to recreate himself, his body, his mind and, indeed, his soul, by a return to the simpler life of the countryside, by a return to the soothing timelessness of the seashore, by getting out of the city anthills in which most of us spend our lives. I believe that anything which is conducive to this should be welcomed and assisted by public policy. Since the war the modern caravan movement, apart from providing pleasant and satisfying homes for about 150,000 people, has enabled millions of people to do just this—to get out into the fresh air into the recreating atmosphere of the countryside.
This great movement will go on. It should not be halted; indeed it cannot be halted, and it should not be sterilised by arid restrictions and controls alone, without any positive policy. Side by side with these admittedly necessary restrictions which are shown in Part I of the Bill, I believe that there should be purposeful guidance and encourage- 784 ment by public policy, both nationally and locally. If this Bill, which we all welcome, is to be accompanied by such a policy, I think that a major contribution will be made to both the physical and the spiritual well-being of Britain.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)
I should like to join with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) in congratulating my two hon. Friends who addressed the House for the first time today. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots), whose modesty does him credit, made a speech which the House quite clearly enjoyed. It was lucid, cogent and constructive, and I shall have occasion to refer to the contents of it again during my own speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) made an equally distinguished beginning in a witty form which those of us who heard him will long remember. He made a contribution to which I shall refer again in a moment.
If I may, as a complete newcomer myself, address the nomad, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, I should like to say that I thought his speech, the first which he has delivered from the Box, a most encouraging debut, full of constructive and well argued points, and I certainly cannot complain that he has not given me enough to reply to.
Both parts of the Bill which the House has been discussing emerge from the Arton Wilson Report, which has so rightly been praised by all who have referred to it, and the fact that they both emerge from this Report is my answer to the main complaint of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central. He called the Bill a Siamese Bill, because it is composed of two parts. That is quite so, but I hope that the House will recognise that the constructive approach of the first part to caravans would be ineffective were it not for the improvements in the enforcement of the planning law contained in the second part. Both these chapters of the Bill emerge clearly from the recommendations of Sir Arton Wilson.
The debate we have had today has shown a most gratifying measure of 785 agreement on both sides of the House for the general principles and purpose of the Bill. There are, of course, in the minds of many hon. Members, and emerging from many of their speeches, reservations and differences in detail which it will be a pleasure to discuss and hammer out in Committee. I think that the general agreement is a significant recognition of the part which the caravan plays in the life of the community today, and a recognition of the need for an effective instrument of control and development under the Town and Country Planning Acts.
As my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, the caravan, for all its mobility, has come to stay. I do not intend to go over the figures which have been brought out in many speeches today, but the fact is that caravans provide homes for thousands of families and have brought holidays in the country and by the sea within reach of a very large and growing number of people. It is probably not unreasonable to say that the caravan is for many people today what the week-end cottage was for a previous generation.
My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) made a most interesting analysis of the current position, and a rather intimidating glimpse of the trend to come, and has given us something to think about in the speed of growth of this modern industry. Today is not the occasion for me to go into the implications of the use of land or the volume of land to be released, of which he spoke.
It is true, as Sir Arton Wilson made clear, that most caravan dwellers would prefer to live in houses, and that most caravan dwellings, other than those of retired people, tend to concentrate in the areas of industrial expansion. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), in a speech to which I shall return many times, stressed the implications for housing policy of this undoubted fact, and, of course, the Government recognise this.
Houses are being built in large numbers in such areas of growth, and I am sure that the House will recognise that families that occupied caravans, shem-selves change their dwellings quite frequently; that is to say, there is a constant turnover of the actual individuals dwelling in them, as large numbers of 786 them save enough money or get to a situation in life in which they can afford to buy or rent the homes that they desire. It is, of course, also true, as i am sure the hon. Member for Anglesey will agree, that the areas of expansion, or some of them, tend themselves to shift as growth moves from one industry to another. So much by way of introduction.
Part I of the Bill is designed to secure that the caravan, whether for holidays or as a home, has its proper place in the community. We want to see that the caravan sites are properly located, and we also want to ensure that people who, for one reason or other, choose to live in caravans can do so in pleasant and healthy conditions. Although, at first sight, the Bill may look a little forbidding, with its references to licences, permissions and penalties, I think that the House recognises that its real purpose is positive and constructive. It represents a new deal for the local authorities as well as for the caravan dwellers. It will give local authorities more effective powers of control than they have hitherto possessed, and will also enable them to deal in a constructive manner with caravan problems in their areas.
I should now like to deal with some of the points raised on Part I. A large number of hon. Members spoke of details on Clause 2, which provides for exemptions from licensing requirements. The hon. Member for Anglesey was concerned lest Clause 2 (2, a) might entitle a caravan site to be set up within the curtilage of a dwelling-house. I would reassure him that any caravan that is to be exempt in such circumstances must be enjoyed incidentally to the occupation of the dwelling-house. If there were the least smack of commercial use, or any suggestion of a caravan site, such a user of the site would be an offence against Clause 1, as being not incidental to the occupation and enjoyment of the dwelling-house.
The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Deer), in a tribute to travelling showmen which I should like, from personal knowledge, myself to echo, referred to Clause 2 (2, e). He was concerned that though the exemption for caravan sites used by travelling showmen while on their travels is continuing, their winter quarters, with all the appertenances they acquire, lose exemption. I must tell 787 him categorically that this is so. The reason is that whereas, before the Bill was introduced, individual caravans were exempt by reason of the people who used them, the control is now no longer on the caravans, but on the site occupier and the site used by that site occupier as a caravan site.
That being so, there seems to be no reason why travelling showmen, predicting their regular need for winter quarters, should not be able—in the context of the good will which we hope that the Bill will lead to—to make their application for planning permission and, in due course, for site licences, just as everyone else will do. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that if the Bill produces the good will that most hon. Members seem to think it will, there should be no difficulty about travelling showmen's winter quarters.
Other hon. Members have been concerned that local authorities, in their use of caravan sites, are themselves not subject to site licensing. The fact is that in the Bill we are relying so much on local authorities that it seems absurd to require that they should licence themselves. Nevertheless, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be willing to look at this again in Committee, and perhaps we may be able to make it an obligation on the local authorities, in conducting any caravan sites of their own, to bear in mind any model standards that my right hon. Friend may issue.
We come to the bigger subject of Clause 2 (2, c) and 2 (2, f), subsections which have tended to be confused by some hon. Members. In subsection (2, c) organisations which apply to my right hon. Friend for a certificate of exemption—and they will largely be the same sort of organisations as are exempt under previous legislation—will be entitled to secure exemption for sites occupied and supervised by them. Hon. Members will see that the concentration is still on the control of the site occupier rather than on individual caravans.
Clause 2 (2, f) deals with the much more casual traveller, and in this case there is exemption for not more than three caravans for not more than 28 days in an area of not less than five acres in a rural district council's area. The hon. Member for Anglesey rightly said 788 that, as drawn, the "five acres" is a very vague concept, but I am sure he will agree that there has to be some limit, otherwise there would virtually be exemption for every space of land on which a caravan could be put. We can look at this point again in Committee, but I remind the House that under Clause 3 (2) the person applying for exemption for his site for this purpose can be required by my right hon. Friend to give complete details of the area and of the limit of the five acres which he has in mind, so that the vagueness of which the hon. Member for Anglesey spoke need not occur.
The fact is that hon. Members who have complained that travellers will be confused because they will not know whether they are in a rural district council's area are forgetting that control in the Bill is not on the individual caravanner, but on the site occupier; and the site occupier can rapidly discover whether the site which he wants to let to an occasional travelling caravanner is in a rural district council's area. If he exhibits a notice saying that he can house one, two, or three caravans on a five-acre site for no more than 28 days, no caravanner who obeys that notice and accepts that implied invitation can be punished under Clause 1 in any way whatever. Any offence which is caused by any excess over 28 days or any crowding of caravans falls clearly on the site occupier.
§ Sir K. Joseph
In as much as cows are occasionally found in an urban district council's area, the hon. Member may be misled.
In the change from exempting individual caravans or caravan members of exempt organisations to a policy of exempting the site occupied and supervised by exempt organisations, no reflection whatever is intended on the conduct and behaviour of the members of previously exempt organisations. I am sure that hon. Members will accept that assurance. The suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, North 789 and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) that exempt organisation should be able to secure exemption for individual sites is precisely what I hope the Bill achieves. I think that that will satisfy him.
The next question which has been frequently raised is whether, under Clause 3, local authorities should be bound to issue site licences if the applicant for a site licence already has a planning permission. In many cases, local planning authorities and local authorities are identical bodies. Nevertheless, it remains true that many are not. If land is adjudged by the local planning authority as suitable for use as a caravan site, after considering all the implications of that decision, the Government do not think that the applicant should be frustrated by the local authority being able to refuse that particular use of the site.
This is not the occasion for me to enter into planning permission questions and the way in which it is given. My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) rightly drew attention to the evils of decisions made in secret without the local residents having knowledge of what is going on. But my right hon. Friend cannot possibly intervene in these essentially local matters unless there has been a grave error or a quite clear lack of consideration of local issues. My right hon. Friend will bear in mind, however, the need for stressing on local planning authorities the importance of ensuring publicity for decisions when the opportunity arises.
To return to the subject of caravans, it is my right hon. Friend's view that local planning authorities, in considering applications for caravan sites, should consult the local authority concerned if there is any doubt whatever about the availability of services. I hope that this will be some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, who raised the point very clearly. My right hon. Friend will be giving his views to local authorities and local planning authorities by way of a circular on this matter. I stress, however, that local authorities retain, by Clause 4, the right to impose conditions and have complete power to protect the public health and all other aspects of the public interest which are set out in Clause 4.
790 I would draw the attention of the House to the analogy that all this bears to the situation of somebody seeking planning permission for building houses. If this planning permission is given for a particular site, the local authority concerned cannot frustrate that planning permission by saying, "You shall not build houses here", but it can regulate by byelaws the way in which they are built. The situation is identical here, where the local planning authority gives planning permission and the local authority has to accept that as general permission to develop a site for that purpose but can control it under Clause 4 by way of conditions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), who is not now present and who has explained that he had to leave for another engagement, asked whether the numbers of caravans could form part of the conditions. The answer is "Yes", because in Clause 4 (2, a) the word "number" is clearly inserted. It could still be also true that planning permission itself might include a reference to numbers as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) referred to roads. Conditions can be made to cover roads on the site, but not roads outside the site, as he will well understand. There has been some confusion about standards. Some hon. Members seem to have hankered for my right hon. Friend to lay down, as it were, national regulations. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central that any such system would be far too rigid for the infinite variety of sites and all the variety of purposes for which caravans are used. Our purpose is to issue model standards which local authorities will be required to consider when framing their conditions under Clause 4.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), who has also apologised for having to be away from the Chamber, spoke of the danger of shacks escaping control, but under Clause 4 (2, c) there is a condition of control for other structures which, I think, covers the point. Several hon. Members have asked me about the construction of caravans. If we were to lay down in the Bill conditions about the 791 construction of caravans it would turn it into a totally different Bill and involve a totally different matter. It would be a Bill for controlling manufacture.
Clause 4 (2, b) deals with caravans in a bad state of repair—the slum caravan —and will allay the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Newark about superannuated horse-boxes and disused buses, but I take seriously the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. de Ferranti), my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) and the hon. Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne, Central that too much variety in caravan construction can be ruinous for cost and productivity in their case as with anything else. My right hon. Friend intends to explore the possibility of devising, after consulting the manufacturers, national standards of construction, perhaps in the form of a British standard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington raised the relevant point of overcrowding. The Bill leaves in force Section 268 of the Public Health Act, 1936, under which the local authority may deal with overcrowding in moveable dwellings as a statutory nuisance.
Now I come to Clause 11, and the problem of existing sites. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey asked whether six months would be long enough. I would point out to him that ever since the publication of the Bill local authorities have been able to start considering what they are going to do about existing sites, and, although we can discuss the matter in Committee, I think he may find that six months will be adequate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South raised two questions on the running down policy set out in Clause 16. He agreed that this policy safeguards the families who dwell in caravans on these sites, but feared that it would prejudice the interests of the site operators concerned. It definitely will. The only site operators who can be concerned in this case will be those who have no planning permission. As such, they have only to expect, as planning enforcement is improved under the Bill, that if they do 792 not get planning permission their use of caravan sites will be a strictly limited one.
With regard to those people who have been worried about sites with existing user rights, I would point out that if any caravan site has planning permission, either express or by existing user, then the only way in which it can be suppressed as a caravan site is through a discontinuance order, which carries with it the right to compensation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South also asked whether, in this case, the appeal in the running down of a site would be to the Minister or to a court. He said that if the running down conditions were part of the planning permission the appeal would be to my right hon. Friend, but if the running down conditions were part of the site licence the appeal would be to the magistrates' court. Probably this is one of the rare cases when planning permission might suitably be given for a limited period, and be given with a maximum number of caravans allowed within it. So the tapering provisions of Clause 16 may equally well be applied under the planning permission as under the site licence.
I now turn to the questions that have been raised about the rights of local authorities to establish caravan sites of their own. My hon. Friends the Members for Morecambe and Lonsdale, for Wokingham and Wembley, South have expressed fears lest these should be abused. I am sure that they would all agree that there could well be circumstances where a local authority might need to run a site of its own. As an instance, an unsatisfactory site may have to be run down and the householders on it may have to be rehoused.
Of course, they will agree that local authorities can take powers now to run caravan sites under Private Acts. The Bill only gives to all local authorities a power which any local authority has been able to claim for itself. Of course, any local authority starting a caravan site would need planning permission from the local planning authority. While it may be true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, that some local authorities have been running sites which have not been altogether satisfactory, I remind him that there have as yet 793 been no model standards to set a pattern of conformity for local authorities or any other caravan operators. As for those hon. Gentlemen who fear that compulsory purchase powers might be used too widely, I assure them that no compulsory purchase can be effective without the permission of my right hon. Friend.
I now turn to a Scottish point. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) asked why the Bill is in its present form, with only Part I referring to Scotland. The reason is that, as he recognised, tourism is growing, and a measure to regulate the establishment and operation of caravan sites would, therefore, be of advantage to Scotland. The same is not true of Part II of the Bill, because in Scotland the existing provisions for enforcing planning control have not given rise to the same difficulty as in England.
§ Mr. Ross rose—
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am sure that the hon. Member will excuse me. I am not a Scottish expert. Perhaps his point can be raised on another occasion. I am not being discourteous, but I might not be able to answer him adequately.
Some hon. Members expressed the fear that the Bill might have some sinister implications for the green belt. This was raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South, and the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). If caravans were to be allowed in any number in a green belt, it would be a departure from the development plan, from the land use prescribed, and would automatically go to my right hon. Friend, by whom all the issues would be considered. Nothing in the Bill—and I say this categorically—in any way alters the green belt policy of the Government. We stand as firmly as ever by the policy of preventing all unnecessary intrusions into it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale stressed that providing a decent site layout and holiday provision for caravans may sometimes justify giving permission for caravans in areas of considerable natural beauty. I am glad that he represented, as did the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, the other side of the story.
794 The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, raised a rather worrying point which many of us have read about in the Press. That is the story of the development at Ockley, in the Dorking and Horley rural district, where a number of sites were sold off to people as weekend or play sites. The vendors never claimed that there was planning permission to use the land as caravan sites, but they did say that the possibilities of using a rural site for recreational purposes without planning permission were considerable. The Article 4 direction, confirmed by my right hon. Friend, reduced these possibilities. The notice referred to by 'the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central was a large one put up by the rural district council and the real trouble in this case was not that of a caravan site or an enforcement order, but human nature. Some people are naturally gullible or hopeful. They buy land without proper researches or safeguards and, of course, there are always sadly, "sharks" ready to take advantage of that.
The Bill will make it more difficult to use land in contravention of planning control and may, therefore, reduce the chances of the "sharks" in future. But it cannot provide that people should never buy castles in Spain. I can only emphasise that before anybody buys land he should take legal advice.
I come now to Part II of the Bill, enforcement notices. Clause 26 covers land use, land operation and development and not just caravans. At the moment, there is a dual system of resisting an enforcement notice—that is to say, by way of planning application to the local authority, followed by an appeal to the Minister, and simultaneously a right of appeal to the magistrates' court, and so on, up the system of courts.
In disingenuous hands, this dual system, as all Members have agreed, has lead to a very great deal of abuse. Clause 26 replaces that by a single appeal to the Minister. Only one hon. Member, the Member for Brierley Hill, has spoken in favour of retaining the dual system. He agreed that planning decisions under Clause 26 are rightly in the Minister's hands, but he argued that all other issues in Clause 26 should be left for the courts.
795 Questions of whether or not a development has permission, or is in breach of condition, or whether the requirements of the enforcement notice are excessive which at present fall to be determined by the magistrates' court, are primarily matters of fact rather than of law and are, therefore, suitable for an administrative tribunal. The remaining question, which now goes to the magistrates' court, is whether the operation or use of the land requires permission which may involve questions of law.
These are precisely the questions which the Minister is frequently called upon to determine on appeals under Section 17 of the Act. Thus, there is really nothing revolutionary about the appeal jurisdiction which Clause 26 gives to my right hon. Friend. In so far as the Minister's decision on appeal involve questions of law, they will be subject to review by the High Court under Clause 27. The hon. Member should note in addition that, of course, the parties have a right to be heard by my right hon. Friend's inspector under Clause 26 (4).
The hon. Member for Anglesey was concerned lest there might be a vexatious litigant. I point out to him that Clause 26 (7) provides for my right hon. Friend to impose costs on any such vexatious litigant. It is quite true that Part II of the Bill would be completely frustrated, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central made plain, if delays were too long in deciding planning applications and I assure the House that my right hon. Friend is quite prepared to make special arrangements, if necessary, to make sure that that does not occur.
The hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) asked whether it would not be futile to provide for appeal to my right hon. Friend under Clause 26 (1, a) if he had just rejected a planning application from the same applicant, but I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that in this case it would not take long to dispose of the new application.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns raised an interesting point about giving notice of intention to owners of caravan sites. I remind him that Section 37 of the Town 796 and Country Planning Act, 1959, requires owners to be informed of planning applications, but, anyway, I should have thought that the use to which a site was put was something to be prescribed by the agreement between owner and tenant and it does not necessarily come into a Bill of this kind.
Several hon. Members have inquired why the Bill does not cover tents. The fact is that, on the whole, people in this country do not live in tents all the year round. Tents can be packed away when not in use and it was not a tent incident which led to the Arton Wilson Report.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the definition of a caravan in Clause 23 (1) does not, in fact, cover tents, because surely a tent is a… structure designed … for human habitation … capable of … being transported on a motor vehicle"?
§ Sir K. Joseph
That is a nice point which we shall enjoy discussing in Committee, but if a tent is covered then we shall have to consider amending Clause 23 (1), because it was not intended to cover tents.
I hope that I have dealt with most of the main issues raised by hon. Members during the debate. I can assure hon. Members that my right hon. Friend will most carefully study all the suggestions and comments which have been made. I know that he welcomes them and will welcome any further criticisms or ideas which may help us to improve the Bill. We all have the same objective—that caravan users should be able to expect decent conditions, that site operators who provide those decent conditions should have security of tenure and that local authorities should have effective planning control.
While welcoming the Bill and praising its negative aspects, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central complained that the Bill contained little of positive approach. I am sure that he and the House will agree that, without the goodwill of all concerned, which the Bill should help to secure and which can be based only on effective planning control, there will be no positive future for caravans for which he and all of us hope. As a firm basis for improving 797 the present situation of caravans and their prospects for the future, I very much hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).