HC Deb 11 November 1980 vol 992 cc409-14

Lords amendment: No. 144, after clause 152, in page 127, line 39, insert—



There are hereby repealed—

  1. (a) in subsection (2) of section 6 of the Act of 1968 (limitation of duty to provide adequate accommodation for gipsies and provision for exemption), the words from "and the Minister" to the end"; and
  2. (b) section 190(2) of the Local Government Act 1972 (certain exemptions from the duty mentioned in paragraph (a) above to be continued in force)."

Mr. Fox

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Lords amendments Nos. 145, 146 and amendments thereto, Nos. 147 to 149 and Nos. 156, 253, 254 and 265.

Mr. Fox

The seven proposed new clauses and additions to schedule 34 and to the long title seek to restore proposals on gipsy sites contained in the original Bill, together with one additional proposal. In the case of four clauses and an addition to the schedules of repeals there are minor drafting changes. Amendments Nos. 145 and 147 contain changes of substance that are acceptable to the Government. The additional proposal in amendments Nos. 156 and 253 is to delete the specific reference to gipsies from section 127(c) of the Highways Act 1959. That has already been accepted in principle by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. I shall be happy to enlarge if the House wishes me to do so.

Mr. Graham

I congratulate and commend the Government on their intention, which has been persistent throughout. I acknowledge that in attempting to streamline the original Bill the clauses were dropped. The Minister may recall that in Committee I sought to reintroduce them, but understood that under our procedures it was not possible to do so. I know that on both sides of the House and in another place there has been a general desire for these modest improvements to aid and support local authorities in certain parts of the country to deal with problems caused by the lack of sites and the lack of powers.

In my part of North London, and in outer London generally, a great deal of frustration has been felt by local councils and local residents when the problems have come to the fore. The Cripps report of 1968 has taken a long time to implement, but a little flesh has been put upon the bones over the years. I know that my authority in Enfield—I am delighted to see in his place the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) who will wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—has asked local Members of Parliament, including the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry), to do what they can. The additional powers to tow away caravans parked in any other than a designated site, increased fines for persons who intentionally obstruct anyone acting in the exercise of powers conferred, and the increase in the range of weapons open to a local authority will be warmly welcomed.

On behalf of the Opposition, I wish to say that I am grateful to the Minister and his colleagues for finding the opportunity to implement what I know was always their original intention.

Dr. Mawhinney

I also welcome the amendments. I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) that the amendments are in no sense partisan. They have the support of another place and of Members on both sides of this House. The hon. Memfor Edmonton referred to problems in his area. It is not without significance that three of the four noble Lords in another place who moved the new clauses had connections with the county of Cambridgeshire, and two of the three with my constituency—Baroness Stedman, representing the Opposition, and my predecessor in Peterborough, Lord Harman-Nicholls, representing the Government.

The amendments must be taken in conjunction with clause 61, which provides finance for the provision of gipsy sites. I welcome the Minister's statement in the other place that the moratorium on the provision of finance for the sites has been lifted and that some money is now available for them.

1.30 am

While clause 61 is important, because it seeks to protect the rights of gypsies—they have rights, despite what the majority of the people may think—the amendments are also important, because they seek to protect the rights of local authorities and local residents. Subsection (3) of new clause W makes clear that designation depends on adequate provision already having been made. That is the crux of the amendments.

In my constituency we already have a proper site, with 22 places. A second site for another 50 places is being sought. My district council agreed on a bipartisan basis that money should be sought to provide that second site, and that at the same time designation should be sought to give the powers conferred by the amendments on the district council.

Designation was not available when the decision was made, and in the intervening period there have been strains. Some of the more Left-wing members of my Labour-controlled district council want to press ahead and obtain the money anyway, irrespective of the designation powers. I pay tribute to the leader of the council, who understands the importance of linking provision with designation.

The provision of sites will undoubtedly attract more gipsies. The local authority must have the powers to deal with that. No doubt other district councils will want to apply for grants to provides sites, and to apply for designation. I support the view of my district council, provided the provision and the designation are linked. If it seeks the one without the other, particularly the provision of money without the designation, I shall not support it, and I trust that it will not be made available, because the two must be seen together.

That leads me to the amendment in my name to Lords amendment No. 146, which makes clear that if a district council wishes to have designation it must make a joint application with the county council for designation to be conferred on it. My district council does not have a problem. The Cambridgeshire county council has generously agreed that if adequate provision is made it will support Peterborough district council's application for designation.

I am not casting aspersions on the county council. However, there is the general point that if one district in a county makes provision, and incurs a certain amount of political opprobrium in the process, it should have the right to be designated. However, if surrounding districts in the same county council area have not made provision, they may see themselves as being at a disadvantage. The excess gipsies who come to the district that has made provision will be moved on, because that district will then have designation powers, and they will be moved into adjoining districts that do not have designation powers.

Those districts will then tell the county council "There are more of us than there are of those that have made provision, and we want you to protect the rights of the majority—the majority of districts that have not made provision." The county council will be under pressure not to agree to a joint application, for the sake of the majority of districts in its area. If that happens, the district that has made provision and incurred the political opprobrium will be robbed of designation, and its final state will be worse than the first. It was for that reason that I tabled the amendment. I shall not speak to it at greater length because it is late. However, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment standing in my name.

Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)

I wish briefly to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham). I know that the inclusion of the clauses will be welcomed by my local authority, by my constituents and by the constituents of the hon. Member for Edmonton and of my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry). The London borough of Enfield has been concerned during the past two or three years about the considerable difficulties that the inadequate powers have created, but this is a large step in the right direction.

Mr. Squire

I, too, would like to make a brief contribution at this late hour as someone who served on the Standing Committee and, as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) will remember, endeavoured to get through amendments similar to those now before the House. It is tremendous news for many boroughs, particularly Havering. I believe that the House of Lords has performed a stirling duty. Should anyone suggest that it does not have a place in future, I know that a number of my constituents would rush to its defence in the light of these amendments.

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

Having campaigned to redress the balance of rights and privileges in favour of the law-abiding citizen, I welcome these additional provisions relating to gipsies and caravan sites which the Government originally wished to see included if Parliamentary time permitted. It is essential that the nomalies created by existing legislation should be corrected, and these proposals go a long way in that direction.

For far too long it would appear that the itinerant traveller has been able to wend his unattractive way, almost without impunity, leaving a trail of damage and disturbance in his wake.

In Hertfordshire, particularly in Welwyn and Hatfield, local residents have had to suffer the increasing scandal of gipsies invading the roadsides, fields and green spaces. They will be particularly grateful if the Bill, when enacted, can bring about the alleviation of the problem that such an inflow of illegal camping can create for a community.

It is wholly appropriate that this Government, being committed to the principles of law and order and the protection of the environment, should ensure that this corrective action is taken.

Mr. Fox

I am grateful to the House for the welcome that it has given to these new clauses. Of all the parts of the Bill that were dropped between its first presentation in the other place and when we faced it here, this is the one part about which most representations have been made. I am certain that what is proposed will go a long way to mitigate this problem.

I cannot advocate acceptance of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). The Government welcome the concept of district designation, but any such application must be considered in the light of the county council's duty to provide an adequate network of sites throughout the county. Therefore, the county council must always be involved in applications for designation. Although I cannot accept my hon. Friend's amendment—indeed, I do not believe that what he described will come about—I shall certainly watch carefully how matters develop.

Quesion put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 145 to 149 agreed to.

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