§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Loveridge (Upminster)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Caravan Sites Act 1968.Part I of the Caravan Sites Act gave greater security to tenants on fixed sites and Part II dealt with the problems of travelling of gipsy families. My Bill deals only with Part II.
Perhaps I may explain my intentions to the House under three heads: first, what the Bill sets out to do; secondly, the reasons why it is needed to protect residents living near illegal camps; and, thirdly, how it protects the campers themselves.
First, the Bill aims to remove an anomaly. This arises because Section 10 of the Act makes certain encampments illegal in local authority areas where adequate sites have been provided for families on the move.
Section 11 was intended to ensure enforcement. It does not work. The Bill is to enable it to work as intended. It applies only in local authority areas which have been designated by the Secretary of 459 State as providing adeqeuate facilities for travelling families. In these areas only it enables local authorities to obtain summonses to attend court against the owners of caravans alleged to be breaking the law so that they may answer the complaint. If the owner cannot be traced, the court may order that a notice be affixed to the caravan concerned inviting the owner to court. If he then fails to come to offer a defence, and only then, the court may try the alleged offence and, if it is found proved, order that the offending caravan be moved.
Secondly, the reason why this amendment is necessary can be demonstrated from a case in my own borough, but it affects many other areas. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) in November last year asked:Is the Minister aware that the Caravan Sites Act has completely failed to solve the problem of unlawful gipsy camping".—[official Report, 13th November 1974; Vol. 881. c. 398.]These encampments may be filthy, even insanitary, and often give rise to bitter complaints and even actual fear for the health and safety of the children of many residents living nearby.
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) had to call in the fire brigade to help clear up the debris from such a camp. In my constituency, an encampment in Moor Lane, Cranham, which moved away in 1973, was back again for months in 1974, breaking the law with impunity because the enforcement section could not be applied.
That section was said by the Government in June last year to provide an expeditious means by which a magistrates' court could grant an order of eviction on the offenders and their caravans. It did not and could not do so. Nor could it do so in the neighbouring constituency of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) into whose area they moved via Romford. The same problems in 1968 caused the hon. Member for Hornchurch to support the then Bill, on which he served as a member of the Committee, and he supports this amending Bill today.
There are two main reasons why the Act does not function as intended. The first is that local council officers often 460 cannot find the names of the owners on whom to serve summonses.
The London borough of Havering was among the first to provide sites to be designated and has experience of how the Act does not work. The chief executive of that borough wrote to me saying:Our experience is that an illegal gipsy encampment is not a fixed body of persons. Numbers of people and caravans vary from day to day.To overcome the difficulty of finding the owners the council tried to bring a case in their absence. This was opposed and went to the High Court. On 18th July 1974 the court determined that a caravanner could not be proceeded against unless he had an opportunity to be heard. At the same time the court recognised the council's difficulty in saying that there weregreat practical difficulties for local authorities seeking to operate these provisions",and went on,even if the difficulties render the machinery of this legislation ineffectivethe court must still ensure that the defendant had the opportunity to dispute the facts.
The machinery is, in fact, useless. The Bill seeks to remove some of the difficulties of enforcement for local authorities whilst at the same time preserving the right of the citizen to be heard in his own defence. It would not only protect residents from illegal camps but be helpful to travelling families themselves.
Thirdly, until the end of 1974 only 110 sites, providing for 1,635 caravans, had been provided in the kingdom even though the Government estimated that there may be 5,000 such travelling families. That is 1,500 more families than Lord Avebury estimated when he so effectively introduced his Bill as the then Member for Orpington in 1968. I am glad that my hon. Friend the present Member for Orpington supports this measure today.
If Section 11 is amended to work, councils will see the benefit that comes from providing proper sites, more sites will become available, and the need for illegal camping will grow less. More facilities and stable conditions should enable gipsy children to have a better education. This problem was raised by the hon. Members for Nottingham, West 461 (Mr. English) and Hornchurch in 1968. The latter reminded the House of the Plowden Report's statement that gipsy childrenare probably the most seriously severely deprived children in this country. Most of them do not even go to school.I know that the Government are considering the working of the Act. If they mean to amend it, I hope that they will favourably consider the proposals now put forward in the Bill.
I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House who support the Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Loveridge, Mr. Alan Lee Williams, Mr. Michael Neubert, Mr. Michael English, Mr. Simon Mahon, Mr. David Mitchell, Mr. Michael Shersby, Mr. Roger Sims and Mr. Ivor Stanbrook.