HC Deb 14 June 1976 vol 913 cc163-89

10.15 p.m.

Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 10, line 14, leave out 'and be deemed to have had effect as from 1st April 1974' and insert 'as from 1st April 1979'.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will hon. Gentlemen please leave the Chamber quietly. To do so noisily is not fair to the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young).

Sir G. Young

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker.

The effect of the amendment would be to postpone until 1979 the obligation on London boroughs to provide sites for gipsies. Many of us are surprised to see the clause before us once again. The only change I can detect is that it is now Clause 10 instead of Clause 12, but that is no consolation. During the Second Reading debate the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), said that he found it objectionable that the Department of the Environment had slipped this clause into a Private Bill and that he had little enthusiasm for it.

During that debate hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed disapproval of Clause 12, as it then was. The hon. Members for Peckham (Mr. Lamborn), Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) and I all condemned Clause 12 as it then was. We received an undertaking from the sponsor of the Bill that the matter would be reconsidered in Committee. We are somewhat distressed that, in spite of the reservations expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, the clause has returned to us unamended.

The notes on the Bill, which have been thoughtfully provided by the Greater London Council, state that Many of the powers proposed in the Bill are being sought at the request of the London Boroughs Association and are designed to benefit the ratepayers of London generally. Clause 10 certainly does not come under that heading. The London borough of Ealing has made clear that it does not favour Clause 10 because it makes it mandatory on the council to spend a substantial sum of money to provide facilities for gipsies.

I quote again from the brief in support of the clause: in the 1968 Act, Parliament placed a duty on the Inner London Boroughs to provide gipsy caravan sites and clearly Parliament must have been satisfied that this was an appropriate duty in all the circumstances. Since then, the Minister has made clear that he is not satisfied with the working of the 1968 Act. In reply to a Parliamentary Question by the hon. Member for Peckham, he said that he was not satisfied and that he was appointing Mr. John Cripps to review the working of the 1968 Act as far as it related to the obligation to provide gipsy sites. It is totally wrong to prejudge the finding of Mr. John Cripps and in the meantime make it obligatory on London boroughs to provide gipsy sites.

I quote what the GLC says about the attitude of the London Boroughs Association: the LBA have reaffirmed their unanimous support for the clause as it stands". I do not know how the GLC got that impression. I have with me a letter from the Town Clerk of the London borough of Ealing which states: Having consulted the Leader of the Council. I am certain that this council would be unhappy with the imposition of mandatory powers in respect of caravan sites, and feel that the situation would best be met by legislation giving permissive rather than mandatory powers. I confirm that that is still the position of the London borough of Ealing. It is most unhappy about the obligation.

Why should we resist the clause? It is common ground between all of us that there is a crisis in local government spending, and this was reaffirmed yesterday by the Secretary of State. It has been said time and again that local authorities must cut back. If the clause is unamended, however, the London borough of Ealing will have to spend £275,000 on 16 pitches for gipsies and there will be an annual deficit of £34,000, which works out at over £2,000 per pitch. It is absolute madness for the Government to compel London boroughs to make provision on this scale when the London boroughs are having to cut back on other services.

Time and again the Government have said that we must all make sacrifices. It is only reasonable to expect that the gipsies, like everyone else, should have to make sacrifices. If the Minister would care to come to Ealing and explain to my constituents why the Government are insisting on cut-backs in the provision of telephones for the disabled, in school books and in many other essential services while the Minister is insisting that the London borough of Ealing must spend this amount of money on providing for gipsies, he would get a rough reception from his own supporters as well as from Conservatives. People in London simply cannot accept that the Government have their priorities right if they insist on provision for gipsies while cutting back on services for other residents who have a greater call on their obligations.

I ask the Government to wait until Mr. John Cripps has reported. In a recent Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), the Minister said that he did not wish to prejudge Mr. Cripps's findings, yet if the London boroughs are obliged by the Bill to go ahead with this provision it will, in effect, be prejudging the situation. The London boroughs, particularly Ealing, Lambeth and some others, are hoping that the Government will have second thoughts before they bulldoze this provision through. I repeat that I find it objectionable that the Government should use a Private Bill to put right national legislation. The former Under-Secretary of State said on Second Reading that he found it regrettable that this had happened. I hope that the Minister will accept the serious reserva- tions that many of us have and reconsider the clause.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). The distressing business of gipsy caravan sites has plagued many hon. Members in inner and perhaps outer London as well. I hope that this will be regarded not as a political matter but as one of concern to all London Members.

We have all received the helpful notes from the GLC. They contain the rather pathetic phrase: This clause has understandably given rise to a certain amount of disquiet. Having read that, I read on hopefully to see whether it was proposed to make any alteration to the clause, but it was not. I, too, must express my surprise at that. On Second Reading there was concern generally among hon. Members because it was felt that the Bill was not the proper place for the introduction of such a provision and that the Government should find their own way to solve their own problems and not look to a Private Bill to do so.

On Second Reading the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said: The House should have put its own house in order rather than involve the Bill in this way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman still feels the same, because I agree with him. The then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment made the excellent remark: With hindsight, I have considerable sympathy with what my hon. Friend said. I do not think that this is the proper way to go about this matter."—[Official Report, 3rd March 1976; Vol. 906, c. 1393, 1399.] It was with some relief and satisfaction that we listened to that debate, because we thought that at least there would be some consultations with us before decisions were made. We were told that there would be consultations. I understand that there have been consultations between the Department of the Environment and the London Boroughs Association, but I was not consulted. I shall be interested to hear whether other hon. Members were consulted.

Despite the assurances that were given on Second Reading, I was not consulted, which predisposes me to the amendment. However, my main contention and the main reason why I was among those who tabled the amendment is that the Minister, wittingly or unwittingly, has failed properly to use the powers available to him under the Caravan Sites Act 1968. Clause 6(2)(a) of that Act provides that the Minister may give exemption from caravan sites when he is satisfied…that suitable land within the borough is not available". Cost must be a criterion of suitability. I defy anyone, especially the Secretary of State, who spoke to his colleagues yesterday, to refute that statement.

Lambeth has spent £150,000 to provide places for 15 caravans at a cost of £10,000 each. That shows that the land was not suitable. The people of Lambeth are especially bitter about the £150,000 spent and the £20,000 a year in running costs to be taken from rates and taxes to provide caravan sites for people who do not pay rates and who will compete against other people who are pursuing their trades in Lambeth. The caravan site dwellers may pay £2.50 a week in rental towards the £20,000 a year cost of maintaining the site, but I cannot believe that that is a proper way to spend Government money. Meanwhile, Lambeth has pre-empted this debate by moving the gipsies on to the unfinished site which has no water or lavatory facilities.

We should oppose the Government for two reasons. First, they should do their own job and introduce their own legislation to put right the difficulty that they have encountered. Secondly, it is right and sensible at least to delay the matter until Mr. Cripps has given us his conclusions, which I am told we can expect by August.

Passing the amendment will give hope to those who have been concerned with what has been going on. When the Government get round to passing legislation, we shall have heard from Mr. Cripps and the situation may have been clarified and made easier.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Guy Barnett)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I speak at this stage, particularly in view of the two speeches to which we have just listened. I want to correct one or two misunderstandings which some hon. Members may have had and which may possibly give them the wrong impression of the situation.

One fair point was made and I shall repeat it. It was made by my predecessor in this office who said that possibly there was room for criticism for the provision appearing in the Bill. But that does not mean, as the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) said, that the Government are bulldozing the clause through the House. I want to put it on record that the Government have done no such thing. The suggestion was made, and it was taken up with the agreement of the London Boroughs Association and the Greater London Council, that it would be of benefit to Greater London. But there was certainly no question of the Department of the Environment forcing the clause or anything like it upon the London Boroughs Association or the GLC.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South, and Finsbury)

I recognise that there is no question of forcing the GLC to put the clause into its Bill. I understand, however, that there was a request to the GLC from the Department to put it in. Why did not the Government put it in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, where it belongs?

Mr. Barnett

That Bill was concerned entirely with generalising legislation that had appeared in local Acts made by local authorities. I understand that every provision in that measure is precedented. I shall check on the answer, but probably the provision would not have fallen naturally into that Bill, which was carried through the House with the Opposition's co-operation because it was precedented in local Acts.

My hon. Friend is correct to suggest that the Department welcomed the fact that the London Boroughs Association and the GLC were glad to see this clause in this Bill. There was every argument for its being there, because it applied totally to the Greater London area. As I understand it, the clause is, in effect, designed to rectify an error which appeared in Schedule 30 to the Local Government Act 1972. When Conservative Members complain about the Government's putting right something that the Government got wrong, I reply that it is something that not this Government but the last Government got wrong. Here is yet another anomaly in legislation passed by them. It had to be put right.

The Government very much welcome the fact that the error is proposed to be corrected in this clause, because the error appears to have the effect of depriving the London borough councils of their powers and duties in relation to caravan sites under Part I of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. I am certain that it was not Parliament's intention to do that.

Although I want to say something about gipsies, I should make it clear that the clause has little or nothing to do with them. Despite all that was said on Second Reading, in our view the error affects all caravan sites with the exception of gipsy sites, which are provided for in accordance with the duty imposed by the Caravan Sites Act 1968. This duty was specifically reaffirmed in the main body of the 1972 Act. My firm legal advice is that, where a statute imposed a mandatory duty on an authority, the power follows that duty. I know that at least one London borough has had independent legal advice to that effect. In short, it will make no practical difference to the obligation on London boroughs to provide gipsy sites whether Clause 10 is included or omitted.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

Is it a fact that under the Act to which my hon. Friend is now referring—and I take his point—the Minister had the power of exempting a London borough? Is it also a fact that the Minister of the day—I think one of our Ministers—exempted the London borough of Westminster, for reasons I do not understand, but refused to exempt the London borough of Southwark? I believe that that was done under the original Act. If so, why?

Mr. Barnett

Again, we are going a little wide. My right hon. Friend is correct to say that some London boroughs are exempt—namely, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea. It is also true to say that my right hon. Friend's borough is not exempt.

Mr. Mellish


Mr. Barnett

I cannot answer that question offhand. I am not sure why, and I think that my right hon. Friend will be glad to look into this matter in regard to the London borough of Southwark. There is certainly a case in respect of that borough. Nevertheless, the fact is that in the legislation there was the possibility of exemption.

A good deal of disquiet has been expressed on the subject of gipsies, and I remind the House that the Cripps Committee is studying this subject in detail. We hope to provide the remedy for which many hon. Members are seeking on the subject of gipsies after that report has been completed. However, I must make it clear that my legal advice is that this clause has no relevance to the question of gipsies.

Mr. William Shelton

May I refer the Minister to a document issued by the GLC to hon. Members in which the council says: The best view—a view taken by the Department of the Environment's legal advisers—is that the 1972 Act repealing certain provisions has had the completely unintentional effect of depriving London boroughs of their powers under Part I of the 1960 Act."? If that is the case, there must be some doubt about the duty of London boroughs to act in providing gipsy camp sites. Will the Minister comment on that statement?

Mr. Barnett

I was about to come to that point—namely, that Clause 10 will not affect the duty of London boroughs to provide gipsy sites. Without the clause, however, the boroughs are at risk in relation to activities on other caravan sites. That is the situation as we understand it in the Department of the Environment. It is not as the hon. Gentleman has put it.

Mr. George Cunningham

It is difficult to understand the situation. Right from the beginning, when the GLC was pressing hon. Members about the purposes for which that clause was included, it always spoke in terms of gipsy sites. Presumably the GLC cleared that with somebody, presumably with the Department of the Environment. Are we now to take it that the Department takes a different legal interpretation from that which was taken earlier, or that it has always thought on the lines that my hon. Friend is putting forward? If there is a difference, if the Department is right now, it was wrong then; and if it was wrong then, how can we be sure that it is right now?

Mr. Barnett

The Department of the Environment has always taken the view which I have just expressed. I cannot accept responsibility for any advice which the GLC may have taken in the past. The advice I am giving to the House this evening is the advice which I have just enumerated—namely, that this provision does not cover the gipsy situation because that is covered by a different Act. In view of that situation, the Government would like the House to pass this clause, because it would give an advantage to London and bring it into line with the situation which already exists in other parts of the country.

Mr. Mellish

My hon. Friend the Minister is doing extremely well, and I address these remarks to him in a friendly way. As for inner London, nobody in his right senses would want to put caravans in that area. The only people who might want to put caravans in inner London are gipsies. Therefore, when we are talking about caravans, obviously we are thinking of gipsies. Incidentally, if I had time I would go into the question of whether they are gipsies. However, we are obviously confused about the situation. If we are dealing here with caravans and the use made of them, let us admit that we are thinking of the use made of them by gipsies.

Mr. Barnett

I said earlier that I have a lot of sympathy with what my right hon. Friend is saying. I do not think he will find the answer to his problem by rejecting the clause. He will find an answer to the problem through administrative action and also as a consequence of the recommendations that will be made to my right hon. Friend by Mr. Cripps when he reports. This clause is primarily concerned with the provision of caravan sites, not in inner London—because I would not have thought that anyone other than probably a gipsy would want to have a caravan in my right hon. Friend's constituency—but in parts of outer London where a person might wish to do so. That is why I commend the clause to the House.

Mr. William Shelton

Before the Minister sits down, may I return to the point he raised earlier? I must ask him to look again at page 7 of the brief provided by the GLC a few days ago—at least, I received my copy only a few days ago. It says: there must…be some doubt about the duty of London boroughs under the 1968 Act to provide gipsy caravan sites". This refers, at least in the submission of the GLC, to gipsy caravan sites.

Mr. Barnett

I can only repeat what I have said, that gipsy caravan sites are provided in accordance with the duties imposed by the Caravan Sites Act 1968. This duty was specifically reaffirmed by the 1972 Act. The duty is imposed by that Act, and the clause with which we are concerned relates to the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

I am grateful for this opportunity to say something in a non-partisan spirit about Amendment No. 1 and Clause 10. I shall not be able to agree entirely with my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) and Streatham (Mr. Shelton) but I take the point they make. My constituency is one of those in Greater London which has recently been afflicted with a gipsy problem. It seems that in my part of South London the problem is to some extent a seasonal one, with gipsies descending on the area in greater numbers at about the time of the Derby and the Epsom races.

This phenomenon is evident this year, with the usual adverse effect on many of my law-abiding, tax- and rate-paying constituents, specifically the residents living in the area of St. Helier Open Space, bounded by Shaftesbury Road, Robertsbridge Road, Middleton Road and Green Wrythe Lane. They have had to put up with an invasion of as many as 40 or 50 gipsy caravans, with all the lorries, cars, electric generators, children and dogs which go with such an invasion. This has caused considerable anger to many of my constituents, who resent being kept awake at night, who are alarmed by the risk to public health and who are affronted by the apparent ability of gipsies to go where they like and do as they please without incurring any of the normal obligations which weigh upon the rest of the community.

Obviously, such people must be moved off open sites and green areas that are intended for adult and child recreation and for the use of bona fide residents. I recognise that it is not enough simply to move gipsies on. There must be a co-ordinated, considered and compassionate response to a problem which affects thousands of people throughout Greater London. The only long-term answer, in my view, is the adequate provision of permanent sites for gipsy caravans. I therefore accept that Clause 10 is a necessary step in that direction, first of all, as the Minister said, to rectify the present unsatisfactory legal position caused by the Local Government Act 1972, and more widely as part of a broader strategy to deal with the gipsy problem.

I understand that the Cripps Committee, which is looking into the workings of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, is expected to report some time before the autumn. I hope that when its report is available—and assuming that it will contain sensible proposals for the tightening up of the law—the Government will not hesitate to put forward further legislation, if that should be shown to be necessary, to deal with the problem more satisfactorily.

10.45 p.m.

No reasonable person should hold anything against gipsies themselves. But I believe, however, that it is intolerable that law-abiding citizens should be prevented from sleeping, should have their children's health and safety put at risk and should have their general peace disturbed by the unwanted presence of gipsy encampments which, it seems, grow up almost overnight in residential areas.

I cannot support the amendment, which seeks to delay by five years the London boroughs' implementation of Section 29(1) of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960.

Mr. Mellish

As I understand it, and as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has argued, we are not talking necessarily about gipsy sites. However, anyone who talks about sites for caravans in the Greater London area knows of the sort of person who is called a gipsy.

I recently visited the office of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government. He received me and my local authority representation in a courteous manner. One of the officials to whom I was introduced was what my right hon. Friend called the Gipsy Officer. I asked him how he defined a gipsy. I was brought up to believe that a gipsy is a man with a bandeau round his head who strums a guitar and sings romantic songs before an open camp fire. The term "gipsy" in that sense is not applicable to what I have been seeing in recent days. Many of the types who understandably have a life of their own are what are called didicoi. They need open space to break up cars. That is part of their livelihood. They seem to pay no rates, although I am sure that they pay taxes. They do not seem to conform in any way.

The borough of Southwark has more than its share of astonishing people. It has got me for a start. But it has vagrants, meths drinkers and social welfare problems of a sort that are unbelieveable. When we say "Pack it up, we cannot take any more social problems on our back", we are not talking about gipsies singing melodious songs around a camp fire. The term "gipsy" has become intermixed. We have in mind those who live a life which is quite extraordinary. I suppose that they are nomads. They move from site to site.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is an honourable man for whom I have great respect and affection, but I suggest that the word "gipsy" has become intermixed and that we are really looking after what are called nomads. What humbug we talk.

What are we doing with the nomads or didicoi? 'They go to a site and they are oppressed, shouted at and screamed at. They live in filth for month after month and we move them out. We put them in another site and erect some barricades so that no one will see them. This is the humbug of it all. I am not told that they will stay at the site which I have in mind for a limited time because the area is wanted for something else. They will be moved to another site, and I have a shrewd idea that it will be next door to where I am operating a headquarters.

The people who do the planning operation do not understand the people I represent. I do understand them. Those who do the planning do not live in the area. Oh, no, they have nothing to do with that. They said to me "Look, Mr. Mellish, you have a great deal to say about a lot of things. The Minister decided under the Caravan Sites Act to exempt the boroughs of Westminster and Chelsea. He has the authority and power to excuse the London borough of Southwark." I said "All right. I will go and have the argument." That is how it came about: how to define "gipsy", and why cannot my area, with the heartaches that we have, be exempted?

We are one of the victims of the Industrial Revolution and all that flows from it. Right across my borough were built the famous railway arches which daily help to transport the thousands of people who run up and down between their place of work and their homes in the southern belt, and good luck to them. But we have to suffer from the noise, the turmoil, the dirt and the arches. As if we have not enough heartaches and problems—

Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South, and Shoreditch)

Perhaps I can help my right hon. Friend, since he is so concerned about moving the didicoi from one site to another and he thinks that he knows where it is. I can tell him where it is. It is in my constituency. They have just arrived, and they have come from the Walworth Road. I take it that my right hon. Friend has done something to get them out of his area and into mine.

Mr. Mellish

That puts my case perfectly. I am a selfish, self-opinionated local Member of Parliament whose life started and almost ends with my beloved people, and I do not care where these people go as long as they are out of my area. My hon. Friend has them. He can keep them, look after them and care for them. But do not ask the London borough of Southwark to take on more than it can.

I have the impression that much of this debate is irrelevant—my hon. Friend the Minister will not be surprised to hear that much of what goes on in this House is irrelevant—but this is not. As I under- stand it, what the GLC is trying to do in this General Powers Bill—and half the time I do not know what it is up to—is to rectify that which was in doubt in order to make certain that that doubt is removed so that the London boroughs collectively will be compelled to do something which they doubted whether they should do, anyway, and which it was doubted whether the Minister could authorise them to do. It is in that context that all this argument arises.

I end with a plea. I agree that these nomads—I do not use the expression "didicoi"—have a right to live their lives in their own way. But the rest of society is sick of the idea that they will not conform, send their children to normal schools, use normal toilets and live the normal way of life that everyone else does. Therefore, they become a problem. I concede that there should be sites where they might live and have a future which is secure. At the moment, they have no secure future where they are. In this speech, I warn my own local authority that if it pushes them into the area where I think it intends to push them, it had better watch out. I think that it knows that. I am saying that something should be done, and I am taking this opportunity to say a few words about it. I have great respect for the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), but if I had my way, they would all be in Ravensbourne.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

The effect of the amendment will be to defer the duty of London boroughs to deal with the problem of gipsies. I want, however, to distinguish between people who are gipsies, didicoi and nomads and those who are caravan dwellers who live in established places of residence on sites provided by local authorities.

I have a site in my constituency at West Drayton which has been provided at considerable expense by the London borough of Hillingdon for caravan dwellers. The amendment does not affect people of that kind. The people whom we are discussing are those who fester the countryside, breaking up old cars, burning motor tyres and the rest of it. I have these people in my constituency at the moment in the village of Fairfield, and no doubt soon they will make their way towards Shoreditch, Bermondsey or somewhere else in London.

My purpose in intervening is to make the point that this Bill is not the right place in which to deal with gipsies. I believe that the time has arrived when the Government should deal with the problem by new legislation specifically enabling local authorities, particularly local health authorities, to deal with gipsies and didicoi. It is a persistent problem which every Member of Parliament and every local authority dreads, because no one has sufficient power to deal with it. Therefore, I ask the Minister to take account of the very strong feelings which clearly exist in the House.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

How does the hon. Member reconcile what he has said with the fact that the London Boroughs Association unanimously supports the clause—and that includes his borough and mine?

Mr. Shersby

It is not my understanding that the association supports it unanimously. That being the case, what I have said is entirely relevant to the debate. I am asking the Minister to take account of the genuine anxieties around Greater London and the other big cities where this is a big problem and a great irritant to local authorities and other people who try to keep our countryside decent and preserve our environment. For that reason I support the amendment.

Mr. George Cunningham

I am not clear about the preferred legal view of the consequences of the various provisions. When I looked at the original Clause 12, I took up the matter with the GLC in bilateral correspondence, and the reply I had from the GLC's legal advisers makes clear that their view is founded on what they conceived to be the Department of the Environment's view at the time.

The 1960 and 1968 Acts were linked to one another, and some of the sentences may be of use to the House. I shall read what the GLC says: The best view (which is the view taken by the Department of the Environment's legal advisers and one with which I agree) is that the provisions of the 1972 Act has unintentionally deprived the London boroughs of their powers under Section 24 of the 1960 Act. Inevitably, if this is so, London boroughs are also relieved of their duty under the 1968 Act to provide gipsy caravan sites, as it is tied to the powers under Section 24 in the 1960 Act. This seems to be the best view of the position, yet it is arguable that the London boroughs in fact still have powers and the duty imposed by the 1960 and 1968 Acts. The council was approached last year by the Department of the Environment, who set out the legal position as they saw it, and suggested that it he clarified and rectified in the next General Powers Bill, as there is no imminent Government Bill in which the provision could be suitably included. Whatever the unsuitability of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, it is more suitable than this Bill for public legislation and the correction of a mistake, which was a mistake not of the Government but of the House. If that is the situation, the provision of sites for gipsies is at issue—that is the point.

11.0 p.m.

Secondly, I should like to take this opportunity of raising with my hon. Friend the Minister the criteria used for not granting exemption. If the London borough of Islington is not entitled on general grounds to exemption from the obligation to supply gipsy sites, I do not know what part of London would be so entitled. We have housing stress greater than almost any other part of the country, with 13,000 families on the waiting list and waiting. To argue that, because a person is accustomed to living in a mobile home, he should have a better chance of acquiring a home in Islington than the 13,000 people on the waiting list is preposterous.

Islington borough's application for exemption was turned down, however, with this explanation in a letter from the Department of the Environment to the council: As regards your application for exemption, it is noted that there are no gypsies in the Borough. The view of our legal advisers is that, in such a situation, since there is no duty to provide adequate accommodation for gypsies who are not in fact residing in or resorting to the area, there seems little point in granting exemption from an obligation that does not exist. The Department then argues that if it tried to grant an exemption it would be necessary to go through the necessary formalities, and, since there is no point in it, why bother?

How does the Department know that there will be no gipsies resorting to the borough? "Resorting to" the borough presumably means something different from "residing in". That means that if gipsies come to resort to Islington, the borough acquires the obligation to find sites. Do the words "resorting to" imply coming intermittently to the borough, or do they mean, as I would have thought, people who had not in the past lived in the area but who start to come there and look for sites for their caravans? I hope that in the appropriate instrument, which is obviously not this one, that point will be cleared up and the Inner London boroughs at least, who by no commonsense criteria can be regarded as suitable places for gipsy sites, will be clearly exempted from this obligation.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

My constituency is suffering from its annual invasion of gipsy caravans and my constituents look upon them in much the same way as do the constituents of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). Perhaps this is one of the problems which illustrates that simply passing a law does not mean that we can deal with a fundamental, almost intractable human problem.

When the House passed the Caravan Sites Act 1968, the theory was that, provided sufficient local authorities could be persuaded to provide sufficient sites, there would in the end be sufficient accommodation for the gipsy population, and it would then be possible to introduce compulsion over their movements outside these sites.

In practice, however, there have been so many exemptions, no time limit on the duty of local authorities to provide sites and such a bad underestimation of the number of sites needed that even today, after eight years of the operation of the Act, we have come nowhere near to providing adequate permanent sites for the gipsy population. I do not think sites have been provided for more than 20 per cent. of the 1968 figure for that population, and the population has risen since then.

We must look at the problem again, and I am glad that the Cripps Committee is considering it. We have to approach it from an entirely different point of view in future. Personally, I believe that the only possible solution lies in the registration of every gipsy family, or every gipsy caravan, entitled to a site under the 1968 Act. Once we get registration, we shall know the numbers involved. We shall know by the simple matter of arithmetic how many sites each authority which normally expects to be invaded by gipsies has to provide.

It is impossible for us to go on as we are, imagining that we are solving the problem by passing an Act but in practice suffering all this nuisance. If the provisions of the Bill are intended to restore to local authorities powers which they have lost, and if the intention of the amendment is to deprive them of any power at all to deal with this problem, I believe that the provisions should be supported.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I do not think it matters whether we call them "gipsies" or give them any other name. That is not the point. What is really depressing is that it does not matter whether these caravan dwellers are in Ealing, North or Ealing, Acton or Bermondsey or anywhere else. It is not that such people live in caravans. Rather is it their behaviour—that is what frustrates, irritates and annoys.

Certainly, the London borough of Ealing has leaned over backwards to provide education even to the point of getting teachers to go to the caravans and encourage the children to take an interest in going to school. The borough has also provided water and toilet facilities—the whole lot. It is with great reluctance that I have to say that all this has been in vain.

What is more, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) rightly pointed out, the link between the 1960 Act and the 1968 Act almost comprised a felony. It created an impossible situation for the local authorities. The present legislation makes the situation almost impossible for the police, who have discovered that under the legislation it is almost an impossibility for them to act.

How absurd can one get? If people drive on to a park or open space in the London borough of Ealing, provided they are not using a caravan the police can shift them, but if they use a caravan, dress in a peculiar way and claim that they are gipsies, they can almost get away with murder. The Department of the Environment must have run out of excuses by now. It has made a complete mess of the original legislation. It has not endeavoured to find proper reforming legislation.

The last thing I want is for my remarks to be regarded as being anti-caravan dwellers or anti-gipsy. But there is a problem, and we have to find the right way of dealing with it. The way the existing legislation has been drafted has made the situation absolutely impossible.

I am not making a party point, but a reasonably constructed letter was sent by the town clerk or chief executive officer of the London borough of Ealing to the Department of the Environment in 1972 following the passing of the Act, and it took nearly two and a half years before there was a reply. It must have been an extraordinarily difficult situation for those who had to give the answer to the letter.

By putting this provision in this Bill we have made a mistake. There is a need to look at the initial legislation and for a proper Bill to be introduced into this House in order to clear up this difficult situation once and for all.

Mr. Ronald Brown

In the course of my remarks on the Second Reading of the Bill I said that I took great exception to the then Clause 12, and I stated my reasons. I said on behalf of the promoters that I was expecting discussions to take place during the Committee stage in order to ascertain the true facts about this clause, since there was little doubt that there was confusion in the Department, in the Greater London Council and in the boroughs.

I am now informed by the promoters that a meeting was held between the London Boroughs Association and the Department of the Environment consequent on the Second Reading debate at which the London strategic approach to the gipsy problem was debated. The conclusion reached at that meeting was that it was essential to proceed with the clause, which is now Clause 10, so that the unsatisfactory legal position could be rectified.

The LBA has reaffirmed its unanimous support for the clause and considers that the right way of dealing with the gipsy problem is not by rejecting the clause but by way of the enactment of legislation in pursuance of the Cripps Report which is expected in the autumn. We have an assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister that he will produce an interim report in July to give us some idea of what Cripps is saying. Those are the facts, which I give to the House.

The LBA can apparently do nothing to remove these itinerants who arrive in the area. I can amplify from my own experience what everybody else has said. No doubt I shall now do as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) proposes to do, and I shall try to push these gipsies into Islington a bit further and get them out of my constituency. It is a silly situation.

One of the problems is that the Department is dilatory. We are satisfied that, even though the 1968 Act provides for an appeal by the boroughs, we have seen in inner London that that is virtually worthless. Islington and Southwark, and I believe, Lewisham, sought to appeal, but it has been refused. These are all areas of great stress. Yet Westminster and Kensington can apparently get what they want without any problem. The rest of the inner London boroughs have already seen the colour of the Department's money and they do not like the colour of it. It is no good saying "If you have problems, you can appeal to the Executive." We have seen what that is worth. The Department is culpable to the extent that it has shown that there is no purpose in appealing, because the appeal will not be allowed.

The Department must understand that this burden must not be placed on inner London boroughs. There is no suitable accommodation in the inner London boroughs. I gave my word to the Minister that I would not vote against the clause tonight, but I want him to understand that I do not think the best solution has been found. Many London boroughs have spent vast sums of money on providing caravan sites under the Caravan Sites Act, which has nothing to do with gipsies. Because of their obligations in connection with the maintenance of those sites, I am assured that the London boroughs will have acted ultra vices if the clause is not passed, and they will be faced with a great problem. I am informed by the London Boroughs Association that this is an important element. I therefore urge my hon. Friends to oppose the amendment.

11.15 p.m.

Sir George Young

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply.

We have had an interesting debate on the amendment. I must point out to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who sponsored the Bill originally, that it is hon. Members, not the London Boroughs Association, who represent Londoners. I am not bothered that the LBA wants the clause. I am satisfied, having consulted my constituents, that they do not want it. I know that I speak for them in registering my concern at what the GLC is trying to do in the Bill.

I am more confused now than I was at the beginning of the debate. There has been some difference of legal opinion between the Department of the Environment's advisers and the GLC's advisers on the current situation. I did not find the Minister's explanation satisfactory. He reminded me of something from "The Mikado" about apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind". There he was, a London Member, telling a disbelieving House comprised of other London Members that the clause was in the interests of Londoners. With two exceptions, no one believed him.

Mr. George Cunningham

Does the hon. Gentleman recall another quotation from "The Mikado" when someone is drawing attention to a fault in a statute? The Mikado says: That's the slovenly way in which those Acts are always drawn…I'll have it altered next session.

Sir G. Young

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that we could draw on even more quotations from the Gilbert and Sullivan operas if we wished to amplify the argument.

Whatever Parliament may have wanted to do in 1968, the situation has changed. The Department has said that the 1968 Act is unsatisfactory and it has instituted a review. To my mind it is wrong, while the review is proceeding, to extend the Act to London. Secondly, there is no money. It is wrong to compel the London borough of Ealing to spend £250,000 on provision for gipsies when it is having to cut back on everything else. I urge those who spoke in favour of the amendment to record their support in the Lobby.

Mr. Guy Barnett

With the permission of the House, I should like to speak briefly again. The House has had an interesting debate on the subject of gipsies. In view of all that has been said, I should make it clear that I cannot answer many of the points that have been made because the Cripps Committee is studying the problem. However, I assure hon. Members who have raised issues concerning their constituencies that these matters will be passed on to Mr. John Cripps and taken into account in the study which he is undertaking.

I recognise that many hon. Members feel deeply concerned about the issues which have been raised. But when we consider the problems of stress, to which reference has been made, it should be remembered that the GLC area—the London boroughs as a whole—has provided no fewer than 405 sites. I think that the six counties around the GLC area could have made a much greater contribution than they have made. My figures suggest that those six counties, which have a greater area available than the GLC, have provided only 386 sites.

There is a major problem here. The hon. Member who said that the problems of today are different from those of 1968 was absolutely right. The numbers are greater, and the problems are therefore greater. I want to emphasise what I said earlier. The clause makes no practical difference to the obligation on London boroughs to provide gipsy sites. In that respect, it does not matter whether the clause is included.

A number of London boroughs are concerned that, because of the small legislative error to which I referred, they might be acting ultra vires in relation to other kinds of caravan sites. That is presumably why the LBA supports the clause. The London boroughs have in mind particularly their functions under the 1960 Act. The distinction is clear between the provision of sites for gipsies under the 1968 Act and the provision of sites for other caravan dwellers under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. I therefore repeat my earlier recommendation that the clause is acceptable.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 199, Noes 269.

Division No. 179.] AYES [11.22 p.m.
Adley, Robert Griffiths, Eldon Mudd, David
Aitken, Jonathan Grist, Ian Neave, Airey
Alison, Michael Hall, Sir John Nelson, Anthony
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Neubert, Michael
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Normanton, Tom
Awdry, Daniel Hannam, John Nott, John
Baker, Kenneth Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Onslow, Cranley
Bell, Ronald Hastings, Stephen Oppenheim, Mrs Sally
Benyon, W. Havers, Sir Michael Page, John (Harrow West)
Berry, Hon Anthony Heath, Rt Hon Edward Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Biggs-Davison, John Heseltine, Michael Parkinson, Cecil
Blaker, Peter Hicks, Robert Pattie, Geoffrey
Body, Richard Higgins, Terence L. Percival, Ian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Holland, Philip Peyton, Rt Hon John
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pink, R. Bonner
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Hunt, David (Wirral) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Braine, Sir Bernard Hurd, Douglas Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Brittan, Leon Hutchison, Michael Clark Raison, Timothy
Brotherton, Michael James, David Rathbone, Tim
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Jenkin, Rt Hn P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Jessel, Toby Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Buck, Antony Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Budgen, Nick Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Ridsdale, Julian
Bulmer, Esmond Jopling, Michael Rifkind, Malcolm
Burden, F. A. Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Kimball, Marcus Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Carlisle, Mark King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda King, Tom (Bridgwater) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Kitson, Sir Timorthy Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Clegg, Walter Knight, Mrs Jill Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Cockcroft, John Knox, David Shepherd, Colin
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Lamont, Norman Shersby, Michael
Cope, John Lane, David Silvester, Fred
Cordle, John H. Latham, Michael (Melton) Sims, Roger
Cormack, Patrick Lawrence, Ivan Sinclair, Sir George
Corrie, John Lawson, Nigel Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Costain, A. P. Le Marchant, Spencer Speed, Keith
Crouch, David Lester, Jim (Beeston) Spence, John
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Lloyd, Ian Sproat, Iain
Drayson, Burnaby Luce, Richard Stainton, Keith
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward McCrindle, Robert Stanley, John
Durant, Tony Macfarlane, Neil Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Dykes, Hugh MacGregor, John Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Stradling, Thomas J.
Emery, Peter McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Tapsell, Peter
Eyre, Reginald Madel, David Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Fairgrieve, Russell Marten, Neil Tebbit, Norman
Farr, John Mates, Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
Fell, Anthony Mather, Carol Townsend, Cyril D.
Fisher, Sir Nigel Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Trotter, Neville
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Mawby, Ray Tugendhat, Christopher
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin van Straubenzee, W. R.
Fookes, Miss Janet Mayhew, Patrick Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Viggers, Peter
Fox, Marcus Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Wakeham, John
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Mills, Peter Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Fry, Peter Miscampbell, Norman Wall, Patrick
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Weatherill, Bernard
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Moate, Roger Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Glyn, Dr. Alan Monro, Hector Wiggin, Jerry
Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Montgomery, Fergus Winterton, Nicholas
Goodhew, Victor Moore, John (Croydon C) Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Goodlad, Alastair More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Morgan, Geraint TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Sir George Young and
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Mr. William Shelton.
Gray, Hamish Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Abse, Leo Armstrong, Ernest Bagier, Gordon A. T.
Allaun, Frank Ashton, Joe Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)
Anderson, Donald Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)
Archer, Peter Atkinson, Norman Bates, Alf
Bean, R. E. Grant, George (Morpeth) O'Halloran, Michael
Beith, A. J. Grant, John (Islington C) Orbach, Maurice
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Grocott, Bruce Ovenden, John
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Owen, Dr David
Bishop, E. S. Hardy, Peter Padley, Walter
Blenkinsop, Arthur Harper, Joseph Palmer, Arthur
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Park, George
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hart, Rt Hon Judith Parry, Robert
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Hatton, Frank Pavitt, Laurie
Bradley, Tom Hayman, Mrs Helene Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Bray, Dr Jeremy Heffer, Eric S. Pendry, Tom
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hooley, Frank Penhaligon, David
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Horam, John Perry, Ernest
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Howell, Rt Hon Denis Phipps, Dr Colin
Buchan, Norman Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Buchanan, Richard Huckfield, Les Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Price, William (Rugby)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Radice, Giles
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Richardson, Miss Jo
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Roy (Newport) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cant, R. B. Hunter, Adam Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Carter, Ray Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Robinson, Geoffrey
Cartwright, John Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Roderick, Caerwyn
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Clemitson, Ivor Janner, Greville Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Rooker, J. W.
Cohen, Stanley Jeger, Mrs. Lena Roper, John
Coleman, Donald Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Rose, Paul B.
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen John, Brynmor Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Concannon, J. D. Johnson, James (Hull West) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Corbett, Robin Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Rowlands, Ted
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Sandelson, Neville
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sedgemore, Brian
Crawshaw, Richard Kaufman, Gerald Selby, Harry
Cronin, John Kerr, Russell Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Cryer, Bob Kilroy-Silk, Robert Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Lambie, David Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Dalyell, Tam Lamborn, Harry Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Davidson, Arthur Lamond, James Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Silverman, Julius
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Leadbitter, Ted Skinner, Dennis
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Small, William
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Deakins, Eric Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Snape, Peter
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lipton, Marcus Stallard, A. W.
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Lomas, Kenneth Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Loyden, Eddie Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Dempsey, James Luard, Evan Stoddart, David
Doig, Peter Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Strang, Gavin
Dormand, J. D. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Strauss, Rt Hn G. R.
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McCartney, Hugh Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Duffy, A. E. P. McElhone, Frank Swain, Thomas
Dunnett, Jack MacFarquhar, Roderick
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McGuire, Michael (Ince) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Eadie, Alex Mackenzie, Gregor Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Edge, Geoff Mackintosh, John P. Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Maclennan, Robert Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
English, Michael McNamara, Kevin Tierney, Sydney
Ennals, David Madden, Max Tinn, James
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Magee, Bryan Tomlinson, John
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Mahon, Simon Torney, Tom
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Tuck, Raphael
Evans John (Newton) Marks, Kenneth Urwin, T. W.
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Marquand, David Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Flannery, Martin Maynard, Miss Joan Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Meacher, Michael Ward, Michael
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mendelson, John Watkins, David
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mikardo, Ian Watkinson, John
Ford, Ben Millan, Bruce Weetch, Ken
Forrester, John Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Weitzman, David
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Moonman, Eric Wellbeloved, James
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Freeson, Reginald Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) White, James (Pollok)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Whitehead, Phillip
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Whitlock, William
George, Bruce Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Golding, John Newens, Stanley Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Gould, Bryan Noble, Mike Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Gourlay, Harry Oakes, Gordon Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Graham, Ted Ogden, Eric Williams, Sir Thomas
Wilson, William (Coventry SE) Woof, Robert TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wise, Mrs Audrey Wrigglesworth, Ian Mrs. Millie Miller and
Woodall, Alec Young, David (Bolton E) Mr. Arnold Shaw.

Question accordingly negatived.

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