HC Deb 24 May 1968 vol 765 cc1171-7


Mr. John Fare (Harborough)

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 5, line 19, leave out 'fifteen' and insert 'fifty'.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment the House can discuss also the following Amendments: Amendment No. 18, in line 19, after 'caravans' insert' and tents'.

Amendment No. 30, in page 7, line 6, after ' caravans 'insert' and tents'.

Amendment No. 32, in line 13, after 'caravans ' insert ' and tents '.

Amendment No. 36, in line 36, after 'caravan' insert 'and tent'.

Amendment No. 39, in page 8, line 2, at end insert 'or tent'.

Amendment 42, in page 16, after 'caravans' insert 'and tents'.

Amendment 44, in line 21, after 'caravans' insert 'or tents'.

Amendment 46, in line 30, after 'caravan' insert 'or tent'.

Mr. Farr

These Amendments relate, in one case, to the replacing of the provision relating to 15 caravans on a site by 50 and, in all the other cases, adding "and tents "to" caravans".

3.30 p.m.

I take, first, the Amendments to insert "and tents". By Clause 16, the term "caravan" is given the same meaning as in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. By Section 29 of that Act, the interpretation section, a caravan is defined as, any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another (whether by being towed or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer) and any motor vehicle so designed or adapted, but does not include—

  1. (a) railway rolling stock …, or
  2. (b) any tent; "
If a site is limited to a certain number of caravans only, there will be a totally unrealistic appreciation of the manner in which many itinerants house themselves and of their numbers. Many an itinerant family, such as those one sees in the Midlands, may possess one caravan, or even no caravan at all, and yet set themselves down at the roadside in a secluded part of the county with their one caravan and round it clustered five or six tents within which various closely related branches of the family are housed.

If the words "and tents" are not included in this context it will be impossible for the Minister or the county council to have any idea of the number of families living on a caravan site. If my Amendment to replace the figure 15 by 50 is not accepted and my Amendment to add the words "and tents" is not accepted, no county council can be happy in the knowledge that there will be only 15 families on a site simply because the licence specifies only 15. Although the maximum number on a site is 15 caravans, there will be many more families than that occupying it, and if the site is occupied by 30 or 35 families, they will have to endure a good deal of unhygienic living conditions.

The limit of 15 caravans is nowhere near sufficient. In some of the larger counties with a county authority responsible for the provision of a site, there will be unnecessary proliferation of sites if the limit is kept at 15. It is desirable to have a certain amount of concentration of itinerant families, and only by having numbers greater than 15 on a site shall we achieve the necessary measure of supervision and control which I believe will be to their benefit.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would remind the House that if it wants the Bill there are only 25 minutes left.

Mr. Lubbock

We discussed the position of the county boroughs in Committee and agreed to insert Amendments which laid the duty on them, but it was felt by the Committee, and I hope it will be felt by the House, that this should not be an open-ended provision. We decided that the limitation we put on the obligations of the county borough should be extended to the London boroughs. As the Bill was drafted, there was no limit, although the Minister had declared his intention of asking them to provide one site in each of these boroughs.

If the county boroughs and London boroughs were required to provide 50 caravans there would be the strongest possible objection from the local authority associations and from my borough, which considers that it already has a fair share of this problem.

At the time of the March, 1965, survey by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government there were only 29 gipsy families living in tents in the whole of England and Wales. What the hon. Gentleman says about gipsies having tents which they take with them and use as part of the family's dwelling accommodation may be true but the sites are properly supervised by the local authorities and it will be a matter for them to decide what associated equipment the gipsies may bring with them and whether tents should be included. We should not tell the local authorities how they are to conduct and manage the sites under the Bill. In Bromley we find that the site has been very well established and properly supervised, and we do not get any difficulties with accommodation of the type the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Amendment negatived.

Mr John Wells

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 5, line 30, at end insert: (3) The Minister may give directions exempting from subsection (1) any local authority in the case of which he is satisfied, after such inquiries as appear to him to be appropriate, that adequate measures have been taken or are being taken to provide accommodation for gypsies residing in their area. The Hampshire County Council, one of the pioneering county councils in providing better than camp site accommodation for gipsies, for some reason best known to itself saw fit to write to members of the Standing Committee as late as 20th May pressing its point of view. Its letter is the origin of the Amendment and the two others I have tabled, Amendment No. 29, in page 7, leave out lines 1 to 8 and insert:

  1. (1) Every local authority to which subsection (1) of section 6 of this Act applies shall, as soon as may be after the commencement of this Part of this Act, give notice to the Minister—
    1. (a) describing the number and location of sites proposed to be provided by them pursuant to that section and the number of caravans for which accommodation thereon is designed; or
    2. (b) describing the number and location of sites already provided by them or any other local authority in their area under other statutory powers and which are used or are available for use by gypsies and the numbers of caravans for which accommodation there on is designed; or
    3. (c) describing such other measures as have been taken by them or any other local authority in their area to provide adequate accommodation for gypsies.
  2. (2) Every local authority as aforesaid, in giving notice to the Minister under the fore going subsection, shall describe the arrangements provided by them or proposed by them for securing the provision of adequate facilities for the education, health, welfare and employment of gypsies in their area.
  3. (3) Before giving notice under subsection (1) of this section every local authority as aforesaid shall consult with such housing authorities as may appear to them to be appropriate and after such consultations shall, in giving notice to the Minister, describe the arrangements to be made by such authorities for the provision for gypsies wishing to adopt a settled way of life of permanent housing accommodation.
  4. (4)Where any site has been provided under proposals submitted to the Minister under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section, the local authorty shall give notice to that effect to the Minister.
and Amendment No. 33, in page 7, line 13 after ' directions', insert: 'or to any housing authority requiring them to provide such number of houses and in such areas as may be specified in the directions for the permanent accommodation of gypsies wishing to adopt a settled way of life'. If county councils want to provide better than site accommodation, they should be allowed to do so. I shall read the letter because it enables me to state the case far more swiftly. It says: Hampshire have been pioneers in this country in the field of rehabilitating gypsies and travellers, with the aim of integrating them into the community. In 1962 a survey carried out by the County Welfare Officer showed that there were 157 gypsy families in the county, 105 of whom expressed a desire to be permanently rehoused. Previous attempts to rehousing these families in local authority housing had (with the notable exception of the New Forest Rural District Council) usually been unsuccessful because the change of environment from a primitive camp site to a council house had been too sudden. Spurned by their new neighbours, gypsy families had become ' problem families ' or 'bad tenants' so that there was a natural reluctance by housing authorities to antagonise their existing tenants, and those on the housing waiting list, by providing housing for gypsies. The County Council decided, therefore, to provide intermediate accommodation for gypsies with the following aims:
  1. (i) to provide the family with a home with basic amenities;
  2. (ii) to help the breadwinner settle in stable employment;
  3. (iii) to establish the children in local schools;
  4. (iv) to improve the family's standard of living;
  5. (v) to establish the family as accepted members of the local community."
Four centres were therefore established.

The letter continues.: Each centre consisted of up to twelve bungalows, with a resident warden and resident social worker … They are described in notes which the council sent to us. The letter continues: The centres were provided by the County Council under the powers of Section 21 of the National Assistance Act, 1948, in accordance with proposals approved by the Minister of Health. The total capital cost of the centres is £75,732 and the annual running cost of the four centres is £30,000. There are, at present, 42 families living in the centres and 11 families have been rehoused from the centres in local authority housing. The County Welfare Officer estimates that in 5–7 years all the families "—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot go into too much detail about the proposal.

Mr. Wells

I was seeking by reading the letter, Mr. Speaker, to get through the work more speedily than if I paraphrased it. But I am very nearly at the conclusion of the letter. With your leave, I will just finish the two brief paragraphs.

The letter goes on: The two key factors in the success of these measures are the provision of intensive social work support by the Welfare Authority and the provision of local authority housing when the families are ready to graduate from the intermediate accommodation. The County Council consider that the provision of accommodation for gypsies, whether in caravan sites or residential centres, is only the first step in the process of enabling the gypsy to return to the community. The provision of accommodation must, therefore, be seen in this light and plans prepared to secure that social needs are also met. Part II of the Bill is, in the County Council's view, totally inadequate in this respect. It is for this reason that I move this Amendment seeking to excuse county councils from providing these inadequate steps where they have already provided better steps, such as has already been done in Hampshire. The Hampshire experiment has the wholehearted support of the County Councils Association, which wrote to hon. Members on 21st May. I know not why it left it so late. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) announced his Bill on 29th November. I should have thought that these august bodies might have got hold of him a little sooner. However, I hope that the House will give favourable consideration to my point of view.

Sir Knox Cunningham

If I am correct in my view that the Amendment is in favour of helping gipsies—perhaps the Minister could help us on this point— I should certainly like to support it.

I find that where there are gipsies the inhabitants often consider them nuisances, and that the gipsies are chivvied here and there. Proper arrangements should be made for them. If the Amendment will assist in that way, I shall support it. I find this a complex and difficult Amendment to understand. I did not have the advantage of being on the Standing Committee, and I should appreciate it if the Minister could give me some guidance and assistance.

Mr. Skeffington

I am glad to help the House in any way I can. The Ministry well knows the Hampshire project, and is sympathetic to its approach and to the efforts of other authorities.

There are two further points that I wish to make. It would still be necessary to make provisions for the normal type of habitation and site which the more nomadic members of this community undoubtedly prefer. To accept the Amendment would lead to considerable uncertainty and delay. In other words, it might well increase the gap where there are in some cases reluctant authorities which do not want to provide anything. That is not at all the case with Hampshire, but it could be the case with one or two authorities—every hon. Member knows this—which have not been active.

I can assure the hon. Member that if the Amendment is not approved the Minister is bound to take into account what is already being done before he issues any directions under Clause 9(2), and I give an undertaking that this would always be done where adequate provision was already being made.

Mr. Wells

In view of the Minister's assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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