§ Order for Second Reading read.12.34 pm
§ Mr. Peter Hubbard-Miles (Bridgend)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Although I have sponsored this Bill, I am not motivated by any practical pursuit of the hobbies of caravanning or tenting. My only experience of caravanning or tenting was at the age of nine when, as a boy scout, I went to camp for a fortnight's holiday. I enjoyed the first four days so much that on the fourth night I awoke, in torrential rain, at a bus stop one and a half miles from the tents. I had walked in my sleep from the camp site to the bus stop, where I might have caught a bus home. Since that time, I have accepted that something within me tells me that I am not one to follow the pursuits of tenting or caravanning.
However, no one should assume that I am opposed to those hobbies. I have great admiration for the large number of people who enjoy those worthwhile pastimes and give their families much pleasure by introducing them to those pursuits. My reason for promoting the Bill results mainly from being an observer of the tenting and caravanning scene. Within a one-mile radius of my home town, it is possible to count more than 3,000 caravans on any day of the year. It will perhaps therefore by understood why I have had good reason to think about caravanning in the 25 years that I have lived there.
Anyone who could have foreseen such a concentration of caravans in the 1950s would probably have wanted to introduce legislation to prevent it happening. The fact that I disapprove of such a heavy concentration of caravans in one small area does not mean that I think that the caravan sites are not well run. Bearing in mind the constraints under which such a large complex must operate, I have nothing but praise for the people who run the sites. The Bill has little or nothing to do with that, however, because the caravans on those sites are static—they are used for summer holidays but remain on the site. I am concerned with the problems associated with mobile caravans.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)
Does my hon. Friend's definition of a static caravan include those which he has described and caravans that are capable of being moved, although they remain static?
§ Mr. Hubbard-Miles
Most caravans can be moved but rarely are until they come to the end of their worthwhile lives. They are moved to a site where people take their summer holidays, are maintained during the winter but are moved only rarely — for example, when the owner leaves the country, sells the caravan or gives up the idea of taking summer holidays in it.
We also have touring sites in my area. In July and August there is an enormous influx of such caravans, which has created some problems with siting. Unfortunately, many people hitch their caravan on to their car in the hope that they will find a site, only too often to discover that the well-run sites are fully booked.
Having been fortunate in the ballot and having had much experience of the problems that caravanning creates in some areas, I was pleased to find that much research has been done by the Department. In 1978, a consultative document was issued, to which there were 300 responses. It was found that the distinction between tents and 633 caravans had become outmoded, as some forms of tent and caravan display similar characteristics. For example, there are folding caravans and trailer tents and tubular steel framed tents that are often as big as, if not bigger than, many touring caravans.
The document also stated that the growing demand for camping and caravanning needed control and that constructive efforts were needed to improve the standards and increase the provisions of the sites in a coherent and acceptable way. If that is not done, the demand will take less acceptable courses of its own volition. At that point the Government decided to encourage bodies to find more sites, advise good minimum model standards for the sites and bring together the use of tents and caravans under one legislative procedure.
In my constituency we have many touring sites and in July and August, many people with caravans and trailer tents come to find sites. It forms part of the south Wales coastline and abuts the Gower peninsula, where there are also many touring caravan sites. When I worked in local government we faced considerable problems created by the inflow each summer of many touring caravanners and campers.
I wish to express my gratitude to the organisations that were consulted on legislation for tents and caravans. I received tremendous co-operation from bodies such as the Caravan Club, the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland, the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union. The vast majority of these many organisations—about 160 were consulted—welcomed the idea of legislation and the broad outlines of the Bill. I have had long hours of discussion with many of them.
It is not generally realised that the hobby of camping comes under entirely different legislation from that of caravanning. My Bill seeks to bring the two pursuits together under one piece of legislation. The tents of today are no longer small, low-ridged tents with walls that drip each time the side is touched, but large, comfortable, well appointed structures with tubular steel frames, which are often capable of housing a family.
My area attracts many people because it is a beautiful part of Wales and we have a remarkable climate. Hon. Members may have noticed from today's newspapers that we have not had any appreciable rainfall for three months and that the Welsh water authority will have to introduce water rationing unless, unfortunately, we have heavy rainfall within the next month or two. Hon. Members will appreciate my deep interest in the subject.
Although we have to some extent dealt with the problems of touring caravans, we have not dealt with tent camping, which now presents similar problems to local authorities. A unified system of control makes good sense. The problems have been discussed for many years, and it is more than 13 years since the first report of the camping working party in 1971. I have learnt that all the interested groups—campers, local authorities, farmers, landowners and commercial operators — agreed the principles recommended by the working party, which we are trying to incorporate into the Bill.
No one would expect that all those involved in such pursuits will agree every detail. It would be surprising if tent campers, who have faced few restrictions on their activities during this century—the pastime has grown from a comparatively minority interest to a massive 13 million nights of tent camping each year — were tremendously enthusiastic about controls. However, the 634 intention of the Bill is that the facilities available to those campers should be improved and that standards should be set so that tent campers are assured of a good standard of sites. Despite the fact that some opposition might have been expected I was heartened to discover that, once all the responsible leaders of the organisations involved in tent camping had been reassured about the measures that we propose to protect the informal casual camper, they welcomed them.
The Bill has the limited objective of creating a unified system of licensing control for tent and caravan camping. It does not address planning problems or wider issues such as mobile homes and gipsies.
§ Mr. Porter
I was interested to hear my hon. Friend say how many organisations and lobbies are enthusiastic about this complex Bill, which sets out many regulations. How many individuals have supported this legislation? Camping and tenting are often carried out by individualists who prefer to take their holidays in that way and do not wish to be part of an organisation or a lobby. Has it been possible to take their views into account?
§ Mr. Hubbard-Miles
There has been some response, but it is much more difficult to obtain a consensus from individuals. Later on, my hon. Friend will realise that in the Bill we are taking steps to protect the camper who wants to go on to a site on his own or with just his family or a couple of friends. Such camping will be excluded from the conditions of the Bill.
The Bill has limited objectives. We are seeking to minimise bureaucratic intervention and to set controls in a form appropriate to the different types of camping. Any suggestion—there has been this suggestion while we have been talking about this Bill—that it is related to the activities at Greenham Common can be discounted, because this Bill will not affect the events at Greenham Common. Some people thought that there was an ulterior motive in this Bill and that its objective was interference in the activities at Greenham Common. I assure the House that I have no intention of attempting to achieve that. I shall leave that to those who are concerned with the matter.
The Bill has limited objectives. Clause 1 extends the controls on touring caravans under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 to cover tents. Schedule 1 makes the consequential amendments and disapplies the requirement for tents to be licensed under section 269 of the Public Health Act 1936, so that tent sites as well as caravan sites will be under one and the same system of licensing.
The next five clauses introduce modifications to the existing dispensations from the controls in the 1960 Act, or introduce new exemptions from licensing to cater for the special character of some tent camping. I wish to emphasise that all exemptions are intended to eliminate bureaucratic interference where it is not justified, and all relate to temporary sites and can be divided into two types. Small numbers and short stays—this covers the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter)—do not justify the panoply of controls, so we have put in a number of exemptions to allow such camping to continue unimpeded.
We have also given credit to the social cohesion of clubs and other organisations. Where an organisation accepts responsibility for its members' activities on a camp site, it will be able to obtain exemptions from licensing 635 requirements. This group of exemptions is an attempt to relate the amount of control needed to the ability of the organisation to deliver it. The casual youth group is limited by both numbers and type, and where strongly hierarchical organisations are well able to discipline their members, they should be enabled to camp without any restraints. If one thinks of my first experience as a scout, one will understand the reasons for this.
In the 1960 Act, a single caravan can spend up to two nights without the site owner needing a licence. Clause 2——
§ Mr. Porter
My hon. Friend has properly referred to the exemptions from site licensing for youth organisations, but I see that the definition of a youth organisation isan organisation or institution providing recreation or education for persons most of whom are less than 21 years of age.Is my hon. Friend satisfied that that is a proper and appropriate definition, bearing in mind from his own scouting experience that there are rover scouts—I think that they are still called that—who are over the age of 21? There are also organisations such as the Young Conservatives who, for all I know, may go camping up to the age of 30. Should not the definition be looked at in rather more detail?
§ Mr. Hubbard-Miles
My hon. Friend has a point, but I suggest that such groups are covered by other clauses. Where an organisation is prepared to accept responsibility for the activities of its members—I presume a group of rover scouts would be a classic example of such an organisation—it can apply for an exemption certificate. A certificate, according to a later clause, can be held on a national or a local basis. My hon. Friend suggested that a group of Young Conservatives from his constituency might wish to go camping. The branch could apply for an exemption certificate for itself, or the national organisation could apply for an exemption certificate for all its branches.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
Am I right in thinking that this provision would apply to any group taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme such as schools, members of cadet organisations and even industrial firms? Many people camp under that scheme, and I am sure that this provision would be welcomed generally if it was likely to further that activity.
§ Mr. Hubbard-Miles
Yes. That is one of the objects of the Bill. It is to encourage well-run camping expeditions and to encourage groups such as the ones mentioned by my hon. Friend to promote this worthwhile and enjoyable hobby. Any organisation, be it national or local, prepared to accept responsibility for laying down codes of behaviour by its members can apply for exemption from the Bill's provisions.
Under clause 2, a single caravan can spend up to two nights on a site without the site owner needing a licence. The clause modifies this to provide that either a single tent or a single caravan will be allowed to spend two nights plus the night of any adjacent public holiday such as Good Friday or a bank holiday Monday without the need for a licence. Furthermore, anyone back-packing with a small tent will be free to stop over for the same short stay wherever a farmer is prepared to have him. The only limit 636 on camping of that sort is on occupiers, who may not allow such camping for more than 30 nights in any one year without obtaining a licence.
Clause 3 changes the existing rule which allows three caravans to be stationed for up to 28 days in a year on agricultural land of more than five acres. If the Bill is accepted, in future the limit will be based on two hectares of agricultural land or one hectare of non-agricultural land, with the intention of bringing into use smaller areas of land such as football fields for occasional campers. This again is aimed at encouraging the pursuit of this hobby and again it is proposed that the permitted maximum numbers shall be five caravans or tents and the allowed period 30 nights.
That brings me to clause 4. The Public Health Act 1936 requires an occupier to have a licence if he wants to run a tent site for more than 42 days. Scouts, guides and similar organisations can obtain exemption from the Department of the Environment which will absolve an occupier from that obligation. In other words, any farmer who provides site accommodation for such organisations will not be required to have a licence.
Clause 4 replaces that provision so that any organisation which has among its objects the training of the young in good citizenship and discipline may seek an exemption certificate.
§ Mr. Hubbard-Miles
That is a matter for the Department to consider when an application for such an exemption is made. Clearly, it would be difficult to spell out in the Bill the exact details of political attitudes of organisations. It is not intended that there should be any political attitude towards the hobby. The organisation must show that its object is the training of the young in good citizenship. My hon. Friend and the Minister would have to make up their minds on that.
The other change in the clause is the provision of a new power which would be available to the Minister to enable him to impose conditions on the exemption certificates. That might cover my hon. Friend's point. For example, there is a need on conservation grounds to control the number of rallies held in some national parks. At present that is done by an administrative arrangement under which those organising caravan rallies in some places are asked to consult national park authorities. This provision will regularise that situation.
The 1960 Act allows the Minister to authorise selected organisations to issue certificates exempting an occupier from licensing for a site taking up to five caravans. That is known as the certificated location—or CL as it is better known. At present four organisations are allowed to do that. They include the major caravan and camping organisations. Those bodies have the authority to issue a licence to a farmer or landowner saying that he can take up to five caravans on to his land without formally applying to the local authority for a licence.
It is a mark of how successful that has been that the main organisations impose strict rules on members using this facility and grounds for complaint are effectively zero. Those are worthwhile and helpful situations, catering for small groups of people who perhaps want to get together without the formality of a large site. We are not trying to make one massive site. We are looking for the casual camper, the family camper, who wants to enjoy a few weeks in the company of his friends and family.
637 Clause 5 recognises how well that has worked up till now. It benefits campers, farmers and the wider community by keeping the number of sites small. The Bill proposes to increase the number from five to eight and includes caravans or tents, rather than only caravans.
There have been some critics of certificated locations, but I believe that they meet a need. There are more than 5,000 CLs in the United Kingdom which are used happily and successfully by 300,000 people every year.
One of the problems that we faced in drawing up the Bill was how to deal with youth camps and rallies. Clause 6 recognises the semi-formal, organised camping for young people which is large enough to be a worry, but not permanently organised so that its internal disciplines and codes of conduct can be an effective control. For example, an organisation may decide, as a one-off event, to take a site to foster good relationships. The clause provides an exemption which should meet the need of those organisations, while preventing long-term, large, uncontrolled, summer-long encampments. The Bill includes exemptions for up to 15 tents for 15 nights. That is in line with the recommendation of the 1971 working party on camping and I warmly commend it.
Clause 7 deals with the problem of rallies. Various organisations have been anxious to protect the facilities that they enjoy under the current legislation. I have had more correspondence on this subject than on any other and I believe that we have come up with a solution which is acceptable to all sides.
The 1960 Act allows an exempted organisation to hold caravan rallies for its members lasting for up to five days, without a site licence. About 170 organisations hold exemption certificates and although, as I know from my local area, there are occasional problems, the vast majority of rallies take place without incident or complaint.
The Bill proposes to continue to rely on the good sense of British club members and to leave the basic concession almost unchanged. It merely proposes to apply the provision to five nights instead of five days, because that makes the matter clearer.
I hope that those who take part in rallies will be pleased with the new provision that a members' rally of up to 30 nights may be arranged with the prior agreement of the local authority.
The other important change included in clause 7 is the ending of the exemption under which some clubs have been permitted to establish what are known as managed sites, without the need for a licence. Because of the way in which the General Development Order works, they have not been subject to planning control.
In practice, only three organisations have established such sites, but it was generally agreed during the consultations that led up to the Bill that any large permanent camping site should be subject to full local authority control for planning and licensing.
The problem is what to do with existing sites. The Bill suggests a compromise for those who argue that all sites should be controlled and those who believe that none should be. It is reasonable for members of a club to continue to be able to camp on established sites even if they have lower standard facilities than those demanded of sites licensed by a local authority. The Bill contains a transitional provision in schedule 3 to allow existing managed sites which take members only to continue to enjoy exemption.
§ Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)
My hon. Friend seems to be talking out his own Bill, although some of us would like to speak in support of it. If five caravans are parked on a licensed site which holds eight, is there a commercial or a purely political reason for prohibiting the entry of a non-member who may then decide to mess up a local lay-by? What is the purpose of permitting only members when space is available and someone is prepared to pay for it?
§ Mr. Hubbard-Miles
Managed sites are similar to certificated locations. If unlimited access to such sites were allowed the certificated locations would be at a disadvantage. The Bill contains a compromise between the two types of site. I believe that only members of a particular organisation should be exempt.
I appreciate that I am talking rather a long time, but the Bill is long and complicated.
§ Mr. Porter
The Bill is long and complicated. Schedule 2 contains a new subsection which states:Different standards may be specified … in England and Wales and in Scotland.I am not sure what that means. Are there to be different model standards for sites in England and Wales and in Scotland or is there a distinction between England and Wales, and Scotland? The words are not clear.
§ Mr. Hubbard-Miles
We have no intention of introducing a nationalistic approach. The difference in standards is the difference between the CL and the managed site—the site which is licensed by the local authority and the site with an accepted lower standard because it is an informal camp site. The Bill allows existing sites to continue for a transitional period.
Much detail is contained in the remaining clauses and schedules because of the complexity of the Bill. We have tried to minimise interference by local authorities.
Basically, the Bill is fairly simple. That might be a contradiction, but I do not think that it is. Some people believe that the Bill does not go far enough and others that it goes too far. If I have a worry, it is that the new controls may cause some farmers to stop allowing camping in some fields which are used for that purpose for up to 28 days a year. I hope that the Under-Secretary will explain how he plans to phase in the new controls if and when the Bill' is enacted. It is my hope that at the end of the day there will be more and better sites for campers. That is my first concern in promoting the Bill.
Two provisions are specifically designed to do that, and with these I end my presentation. The first provision is the refinement of the term "adjoining land", which presently governs the extent of unlicensed camping on land in the same occupation, be it a smallholding of 5.5 acres or an estate of 5,500 acres. In future, "adjoining land" will have the sense of within 500 metres on land in the same occupation. Secondly, there is the proposed transitional arrangement which would provide automatic entitlement to a site licence to anyone who can show that in the three years before the Bill was printed he had tents on his land. The conditions in such a licence would be related to the previous stage.
I believe that if the Bill were enacted it would make a modest but worthwhile improvement to our life together on these islands. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to all hon. Members for being so patient. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Hubbard-Miles) on his foresight in using his good fortune in the ballot to bring this important Bill before the House. As he rightly said, both camping and caravanning are fast-growing leisure pursuits, and the two are often interchangeable. Campers eventually grow older and become caravanners. The Caravan Club has about 250,000 members, and it is estimated that about 2 million campers and caravanners intermittently use the facilities that we are discussing. They use facilities that enable them to see the best of Britain. Their presence is not permanent, so they do not destroy the environment. They go to enjoy the environment and to leave no trace of having been there, unlike developments which include shacks or holiday bungalows, which can irritate the local community. The campers and caravanners arrive at the sites, spend their money and leave.
There has been no legislation on this subject since 1960, and it is important that our legislation is brought up to date. That is what the hon. Gentleman has sought to do. I should declare an interest, because I am a keen caravanner, a member of the council of the Caravan Club and the secretary of the all-party camping and caravan group.
The Bill goes back to the working party's report in 1971, when it was decided that the false distinction between tents and caravans should end. The hon. Gentleman has given effect to that recommendation by using the word "units". When I was a Minister from 1974 to 1976 in the previous Labour Government, I and my ministerial colleagues used always to consider next year's legislation at about this time of year. A Bill of this sort was always on the long list, but it never reached the short list. The hon. Gentleman has put his Bill before the House, and that will be of great advantage to the House.
The working party's report said that the distinction between tents and caravans should go. It recommended that the exemption for 28 days, which is limited to three caravans, should be increased to five units. The ludicrous position had arisen whereby a farmer could take the three caravans for a total of 28 days, and an unlimited number of tents. There was much newspaper comment and many reports of greedy farmers overloading their fields with tents, which can become a public health hazard. The Bill puts that right. Having provided that there can be up to five units on a 28-day site, it would be ludicrous to leave the figure at five caravans for certificated locations. The hon. Gentleman correctly increases that figure to eight.
I shall explain what is meant by a certificated location, because non-caravanners may not fully understand. It is typical ministerial jargon, which comes straight from the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. Many phrases in current use come from Acts of Parliament. We cannot think of any better definition than "certificated location", the words in the Act. Certificated locations are the jewel in the crown of caravanning. The Camping and Caravanning Club of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Caravan Club and other organisations police the system at their own expense. The Caravan Club rejects 60 per cent. of the people who apply to have a certificated location on their land. An inspector goes around the land. He may not be satisfied with the access 640 to the site. He may consider it dangerous for a caravan to go in and out of a narrow lane, and he would reject the site. That works extremely well.
The Minister will be aware that the present Secretary of State for Employment, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, at the Caravan Club's 75th anniversary dinner, paid tribute to the certificated location system. He said that an Act of Parliament had rarely devised a system that caused so little trouble to anyone.
This year the Caravan Club has not received one complaint from a local authority about any of its 4,000-plus certificated locations. There are few institutions about which one can say that. The site is carefully considered by the club before anyone obtains a licence.
The fact that the figure is increased from five to eight does not necessarily mean that there will be eight units on each site. If a site is small, the Caravan Club would say, "No, you have only half an acre, you cannot go up to eight caravans." If the site is 10 or 12 acres, it is absurd to limit the number to five when other people are anxious to use the site.
Let us preserve the CL system. If the 28-day exemption increase from three to five is accepted, it is logical that the CL numbers should increase from five to eight as is proposed in the Bill.
I disagree with the method suggested by the hon. Member for Bridgend for applications for CLs. At the moment, whichever club is involved, it polices the system. It has discretion whether to issue a CL licence. The hon. Gentleman proposes that the organisation must give written notification to the local authority. The Association of District Councils did not ask for that. It did not want that addition to bureaucracy, but the Caravan Club would agree that where a local authority asked that it should always be given written authority, that would be done. That is fair enough.
A good example which springs to mind is the Gower peninsula, near to the hon. Gentleman's constituency. There is so much pressure in such an area that it would be perfectly reasonable for a local authority to demand advanced notification. It is absurd to require advanced notification in every case when the system works so well and is so well policed by the clubs. I think that it is a little unnecessary, and if we reach the Committee stage that small matter might be put right.
I slightly disagree with the hon. Gentleman when he proposes that in future exempted sites should require planning permission. I wonder why. There has been no complaint about them. There was nothing about that in the 1971 report. It seems needless, and we are worried about what would happen to the existing 181 sites. Will they have to apply for planning consent? I do not think that the wording of the Bill is clear. The requirement would be unnecessarily bureaucratic and would cause a great deal of work for no reason.
The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) asked about non-members using a members' site. Ideally, the club prefers a site for its own members' use, and it is usually the local authority or the national park that asks the club whether others may use the facility. The site is neat and tidy and is administered by the club, and when it can be used generally the local authority does not have the worry of caravans being parked in lay-bys and so on. That 641 aspect should be considered. I do not think that it is necessary to apply for planning assent for existing sites; nor is there a need for that to be done in the future.
I have mentioned some very minor niggles arising from a praiseworthy Bill. I congratulate the promoter. How far the Bill will get at this late stage in the Session I do not know, but if a Second Reading is given to the Bill today the Minister will know that the will of the House is clear and that he could, in the next Session of Parliament, bring in Government legislation on this very important subject. If he did, he would get a very fair wind behind him from the Opposition.
§ Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)
I join the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Hubbard-Miles) on getting so far with his Bill, even if he took rather a long time about it. Those of us who come from the west country are well aware that the trains from Paddington are infrequent and seem to get less and less frequent. That is why I want to bring perhaps a change in view to the debate.
We have been listening with great interest to reasons why the Government or the parliamentary system should regulate, re-regulate and in many cases make even more regulations, but meanwhile the people are choosing, of their own free will, to go to self-catering accommodation in buildings or caravans or tents. I have obtained figures today from the English Tourist Board, via the excellent West Country tourist board, showing the number of holiday nights and where they are spent.
The figures are interesting. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend overstated one of the figures by 50 per cent. You and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have a west country interest. I find that 96 million holiday nights were spent in the west country last year. These days our holiday season is very short — part of June, all of July and August and part of September. It is fascinating to find that 51 per cent. of those holiday nights were spent in catered accommodation, and, to my astonishment, a full 49 per cent. in the west country were in self-catering of one kind or another. I in no way object to the Bill, but those figures show a changing pattern of the holiday world which must be considered.
In my part of the country a number of farmers have been badly hit by the milk quotas. It might be suggested that this has no relevance to the debate. On the contrary. The right hon. Member for Halton mentioned the certificated locations, which are usually very small countryside sites where the farmer or his wife is able to obtain a useful contribution to the farm income. Anything which makes that harder to do, and less attractive, should be opposed root and branch.
There can be no doubt that the self-catering industry is replacing hotels and boarding houses to a considerable degree. I mentioned that 51 per cent. of holidays in the west country were in catered accommodation—that is where someone is paid to feed the holidaymaker—and that 49 per cent. were not. The next figure shows how the split occurs. In the self-catering sector—the only one with which we are concerned today—caravans are only 10 per cent. of the total, and tents 16 per cent. Flats, chalets and buildings which are rented and occupied by holidaymakers make up 34 per cent. of the total. Therefore, only a third of those involved in self-catering 642 are in a building of some sort where they look after themselves. Within this figure, those using holiday camps account for a mere 10 per cent. of the total.
In my area there are some super static caravan sites. We call them caravans without wheels. They can be moved, but it is a difficult task. They represent 26 per cent. of all holiday nights in the west country, far more than I would have guessed. It is interesting to note that just over a third of the accommodation is in holiday camps and on static sites, where a bar or some form of refreshment facility is usually provided.
My hon. Friend is concerned particularly with tents and touring caravans. Caravans account for 10 per cent. and tents for 16 per cent. of the total holiday nights, as I said earlier. That is a very high percentage — exactly the same as for buildings other than flats or chalets. I shall deal in a moment with the goods and bads of touring caravans. My present point is that my hon. Friend's Bill relates to only 26 per cent. of the total holiday input into the west country. Hon. Members from further afield may be interested to know that whereas in the west country there is about a 50–50 division between catering and self-catering holidays, outside the west country the self-catering figure is now 60 per cent. That may mean that there are many more tents and caravans dotting the hills around Bridgend, and not enhancing the view.
I should add, for those who wish to tot up the figures, that 2 per cent. of west country holidays are on boats.
The right hon. Member for Halton mentioned the Caravan Club. I, too, am a paid-up member of that excellent body, which has a quarter of a million family members or, in other words, half a million married couples, or three quarters of a million family groups of husband, wife and child. These are responsible and caring people who love the countryside and prefer to take their holidays there.
There is a current canard that caravanners do not spend money. It may be that, because of our ridiculous Sunday trading laws, caravanners have to take some things with them because they cannot buy them locally, but the two most recent surveys show that in this country an average caravan holiday party spend £300, apart from their motoring costs, on their holiday.
If my hon. Friend's Bill becomes law—or if the Government bring in similar legislation in a later Session —it will make life difficult for the caravanner. We will destroy a large sector of our tourist industry, and we shall not help anybody, except that our action will be good news for the touring clubs of France and Spain. As with our licensing laws, we shall be driving abroad tourists who find our restrictions too irksome and are not prepared to accept them. There is a danger that additional restrictions will lose us not merely the golden egg, but the whole goose. The tourists will go elsewhere.
It is fashionable to say that caravans destroy the traffic pattern. I come from lovely north Devon, where there is one whole mile of dual carriageway in a large constituency —and that was constructed only because of the presence of an industrial estate. In my area it is often the tractors or the cows that cause delays. Caravans move at a pretty brisk pace. They certainly travel as fast as many overloaded cars.
I accept the third objection, which is that caravans are not beautiful. Bad sites have spoilt the whole principle of tenting and caravanning. Those who belong to the major 643 organisations know and accept the truth of that. That is why, for example, we seem to have a number of members here from the Caravan Club.
It is not necessary for sites to spoil the landscape. In the Lake District there is a site for 300 caravans very close to the lakes, and it cannot be seen. It has been sculpted into the countryside and the area has been fenced and planted with trees. However, it is true that a bad site looks awful and should not be allowed.
There is at present a general exemption which allows anyone to make some use of his land for tenting or caravanning for up to 28 days in a year. There are also certificated locations where one of the camping or caravan clubs has allowed—as is their present right—planning permission. Three caravans are allowed under the exemption, and five on a certificated location. It would be wrong to remove that distinction. There is a difference between the field or bit of land which is used for 28 days in a year and has no facilities, and the certificated location which is inspected annually—the certification has to be renewed—and which must have good facilities. If my hon. Friend's Bill is passed and the general exemption goes up to five caravans, I am sure that many hon. Members agree that we should then be talking about at least eight for the certificated location. The danger is one of size.
Operators of wheel-less caravan sites object strongly if they see people who are not in their line of business seeming to cream off business. If a person likes a holiday in the country, whether in a caravan or in a tent, he is probably different from the type of person who wants to rent a holiday bungalow or a static caravan. We should make a great mistake if, as a result of the Bill, we found that we were discriminating against site operators in favour of anyone. The British people are quite capable of making up their own minds where to take their holidays. As a west country Member, I hope that we shall not make it more difficult for people to come down to my part of the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) has asked several pertinent questions. The Bill bears little resemblance to a private Member's Bill, as it is lengthy and extremely detailed. I sometimes fear to ask too many questions in case the answers have not yet been thought out. Occasionally a good and simple idea turns into a vast octopus of legislation which, unwittingly, draws in every district council. They will be required to argue, discuss and visit sites. We shall bureaucratise something that goes along very nicely as it is.
The right hon. Member for Halton said that there had not been one complaint last year to the Caravan Club, which is by far the biggest of the relevant organisations. What on earth is the point of making a change? I do not object to the principle of my hon. Friend's Bill, but I wonder whether the practice of it could be unduly time-consuming for councils. There is always the niggling fear, which is perhaps more common on this side of the House than on Opposition Benches, that we are providing jobs for the boys where we might have taken jobs away in the past few years. I can envisage planning committees saying that because they have the extra responsibility for camping sites they need more planners and inspectors. At the moment, the system is self-policed and self-financed. If the result of that is no complaint by any public body, we shold be happy with that success story. 644 I fear that we might be moving a little too fast just because some things are bad. I understand the problem near Bridgend, as I have seen how a crop of tents can appear to come up overnight. The same happens in my part of the world, although, fortunately, we have rules and regulations which prevent too much abuse in national parks. I understand the argument against unlimited and unplanned camping and caravanning, but the present system does not do badly. Although my hon. Friend's Bill is unlikely to go further in this Session, should it come forward again I hope that we shall have something far simpler, a bare skeleton, through which we can work. I am well aware that the legal men say that everything must be described, redescribed and defined, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South said in his interventions, we must ask whether we really need a Bill when there are no problems. That is the crux of the issue. What is the point of this Parliament trying to impose more legislation when we do not appear to need such a full-bodied Bill?
I am well aware that people complain whenever something new emerges, whether it be a small airfield or microlight aircraft with engines that go pop, pop, pop. Every time we seek to build a new road somebody complains, and every time someone suggests a caravan park people complain. We have the infinite problem of finding a balance between peace and quiet, which is what caravanners and campers want from a place such as Exmoor or the north Devon coastline, and the need for those of us who live in such places to make a living from them. Although the North Devon district council is extremely enlightened and sensible, some councils are dominated by people who, rightly or wrongly, describe themselves as conservationists, to the extent that they would drive both camper and caravanner from those few remaining lungs of Britain adjacent to our national parks. I would deeply regret that.
I do not wish to oppose the Bill. I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend on having brought it to this stage, though perhaps, alas, too late. If it comes forward in future, I hope that those who draft the Bill will bear in mind that some hon. Members think that it is their job to reduce the volume of legislation and to legislate only when it is strictly necessary. My attitude will depend on what the Minister says, but at this stage I do not feel other than neutral. The case has not been made.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)
I hope that it will be convenient for me to intervene at this stage because many points have been made. I hope that I shall not detain the House too long.
First, I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Hubbard-Miles) on the way in which he introduced the Bill—with his clause by clause analysis and background experience—and on the way in which he has stuck to the task during the past 12 months. A great deal of research has gone into the Bill and he has held long discussions with interested leading organisations. Many of those organisations are most enlightened in their attitude towards the problem, and have approached it with a degree of constructiveness, which I hope will be echoed elsewhere.
My hon. Friend triggered off some recollections in mind mind about camping many years ago. I must say, 645 perhaps at some risk of misinterpretation outside the House, that my experiences were somewhat similar to his. He referred to the type of accommodation that existed in the 1950s. I am not sure whether he can remember that decade but I certainly can. My experiences under canvas were of a military nature. The dripping walls of canvas were a reason which provided me with a prolonged anxiety complex and a certain amount of depression about the prospects of camping under canvas again. That is a source of deep dismay to my family. An enormous number of people participate in camping to enjoy holidays, the countryside and leisure. It has become an enormous industry throughout Europe and is a most important dimension of our society. My hon. Friend was right to mention the explosion of interest and the enormous demand for it.
Over the years many Opposition Members have taken a close interest in the subject. When the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) was a Minister he set up the working party, and the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes), who mentioned important issues in his speech, played a part as a former Minister in the Department.
A great deal of work has been done. There has been a working party, there have been recommendations, and officials both inside and outside my Department have put a great deal of work into the matter. I congratulate them and thank them for what they have done.
The Government broadly welcome the Bill. The will of the House will decide whether it makes progress. I would certainly not stand at the Dispatch Box and say that there are plans for it in future Sessions, because this subject has been around for many years. The parliamentary timetable is important. Whether it reaches the Committee stage will depend on the attitude of all hon. Members. The strategy behind the Bill is to be welcomed. The involvement of successive Administrations in proposals to modify and modernise licensing controls is important, and with the explosion of camping in recent years this Bill is as close as we are likely to come to an agreed compromise among the various interests in camping and caravanning.
Anyone involved in such pursuits outside the House must view the Bill with some anxiety. I shall not defend or criticise my hon. Friend's Bill, which is a private Member's Bill, but the Government are anxious to approach it constructively. It is not our intention, as some of my hon. Friends said, to introduce more bureaucracy. The intention is to introduce some unification, which was an important feature of my hon. Friend's speech. As the right hon. Member for Halton and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend said, the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 brought touring as well as static caravans under a new form of licensing control while leaving tent camping to continue to be licensed in England and Wales under the Public Health Act 1936.
It is interesting to note that the 1960 Act contained 30 clauses and 15 schedules, which is in stark contrast to my hon. Friend's Bill. I do not mean to be disparaging when I say that my hon. Friend's measure is more modest. Those of us who have taken the trouble to acquaint ourselves with the 1960 Act during the past year since my hon. Friend was fortunate enough to come so high in the ballot will know that those 30 clauses and 15 schedules did not do what they set out to do. We are all capable of being wonderful armchair critics with the benefit of hindsight, but the 1960 Act was, in some respects, an obvious mistake. It was not 646 long before the development of the frame tent introduced the revolution in camping about which the House has heard. Not only were tent sizes similar to those of caravans, but the fittings available induced thousands of people daily to take up camping. More and more people could inhabit one tent, and the dichotomy between camping and caravan-site licensing became less and less sensible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) has corresponded with me about this subject more than once and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) has experienced similar problems. Those who have the good fortune to represent the glorious parts of our kingdom must suffer such planning difficulties. I do not wish to discuss the planning aspects today. Although several questions have been asked, they must be directed elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend painted a glowing picture of the Gower peninsula that might induce me to return there later this year.
Camping and caravan licensing have been separate, but there is now a much closer relationship between frame tents and touring caravans than there is between the latter and static caravans, be they holiday caravans or mobile homes.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
It has been suggested that we are doing something new by trying to unify the legislation for caravans and tents. However, the effect of pre-war legislation was that both were covered under the same planning and public health legislation. The anomaly was that the 1960 Act ignored that process and dealt only with caravans. In that sense, we are simply legislating for what was always the position.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
That is right, but we should recognise that it was not a deliberate omission from the 1960 Act. Tent camping has moved at such a pace in the interim that we must now assess what should be done. I do not wish to be drawn too far down that road, because my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Potter) asked my hon. Friend the Member for Brigend about gipsies and mobile homes. If I can offer one source of solace today, I can say that the Bill does not relate to gipsies, who are covered by the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and by subsequent legislation on mobile homes. I can offer a small crumb of comfort to my hon. Friend for his constituents—that this legislation does not impinge on past legislation on this matter.
§ Mr. Porter
My hon. Friend has obviously read the Bill in some detail. On the point about gipsies, tinkers and mobile homes, will the Bill affect what is happening on Hampstead heath? There are some elderly people up there who are terribly worried about what is happening.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
I feel that I should not answer on that point, although I have responsibility for gipsies and their problems. Legislation is available to control what is occurring there. I should not wish to incur your displeasure on a Friday, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by going too far. The answer to my hon. Friend is that this legislation will not intrude on previous legislation.
I shall now touch on the background of some of the historical aspects of the Bill.
In 1969, a camping working party was formed by the then Ministry of Housing and Local Government to 647 examine the situation and in 1971 it reported on many aspects of camping with recommendations many of which, with little change, are contained in this Bill.
The major proposal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend has explained, is to unify site licensing controls over camping and caravanning.
It is pleasant to reflect that two of the signatories of the report, as long ago as 1969–71, were Mr. Donald Chidson of the Caravan Club and Mr. George Cubitt of the Camping and Caravanning Club who is a member of the Sports Council, and they are both still in post today. That provides continuity, and I hope will give my hon. Friends who are concerned about aspects of the Bill some reassurance. I believe that their organisations welcome the Bill, and it is important to have such organisations behind it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend has been diligent in ensuring that there is such support. There are, of course, details that they would like to see changed, as hon. Members would, but that can be undertaken in Committee.
Little then happened until the long summer of 1976, when camping suddenly became more popular than it had even been before. Revival of interest led to the issue in 1978 by the previous Administration of a public consultation paper based on the recommendations of the working party.
We continued the working party. My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), when Secretary of State for the Environment, announced in November 1980 that the Government believed that legislation to implement those recommendations in a slightly modified form would be desirable when parliamentary time could be found.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend is therefore to be congratulated on bringing to the House a measure which is the fruit of so much hard work and discussion and which is, as I know from discussions that I have had with many of the groups most affected, generally supported on all sides.
The most important reservation that has been expressed is that there is a danger that the new legislation will result in a reduction in available camp sites. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend asked me to explain how the Government would plan to avoid that.
We are determined to avoid it. Paragraph (3) of schedule 3 is the key provision. It provides that all tent sites so used at any time within a three-year period before publication of the Bill shall be automatically entitled to a site licence. Three years has been chosen because many such sites are on farms and in fields which are used for crop rotation. It may be that some are used for tenting only every third year. This is a fairly predictable pattern.
I have shown our determination to ensure that all sites are covered. It is no part of our policy to reduce the availability of camping sites. The thrust of the Bill is to provide for better control over existing sites, and it is our intention to encourage new licensed sites to be brought into use.
It is clear that all of us dislike bureaucracy, and farmers are no exception to that. Many have argued that farmers dislike bureaucracy so much that they will not even bother to apply for a site licence. That is not likely to happen except in a small minority of cases. It may happen in some cases, but it will be sporadic.
648 The responses of fanners to any additional red tape has be be offset against their great experience in handling paperwork wherever there is additional money at the end of it. I do not wish to be flippant about this, as the Government see this as the greatest problem to be solved if the new controls are to achieve our objective of more and better camping sites. That is clearly in the interests of hon. Members who have a profusion of such sites in their constituencies. That is why the controls are very important.
Much as my Department dislikes circulars, we are already committed to doing all that we can by way of circulars. We have to use them sparingly, but in this instance they are important. In addition, there will be seminars and publicity to make the new controls easily understood and the licences easy to apply for. We are willing to consider any other measure that will help to ensure that site owners feel it worth their while to continue offering places to campers.
We shall be looking to local authorities to use the transitional period of 18 months that we should propose to leave between the passing of the Bill and its commencement to work out how they are to meet camping needs in their areas. I believe that in many cases this will mean that licences for small, short season, 30-day sites will be granted with a lower standard of facilities than those required at commercial sites.
The other anxiety that I have had expressed to me, not only today but outside the House, is about casual camping and rallying. This again has been looked at carefully, and I believe that my hon. Friend has struck the right balance in the Bill. Although he does not carry everyone wholeheartedly, I think that, given time, those anxieties will be allayed. I have looked at these proposals carefully, but there is no point in bringing in controls which everyone agrees are needed and then having so many exemptions that they do not bite effectively.
Many people have expressed concern that there are too many exempted organisations. Some background on that might be of help to the House. Currently, there are 173 caravan clubs holding certificates of exemption, all of which may hold rallies under paragraph 6 of the first schedule to the 1960 Act. Only four of these organisations — the Caravan Club, the Camping and Caravanning Club, the Motor Caravan Club and the Civil Service Motoring Association — may set up certificated locations, and only the first three of these have been allowed to set up managed sites. The certificated locations have to be notified to my Department. Between them, these organisations have just over 5,000.
Managed sites are not notifiable, so that the exact number is unknown, although the Caravan Club's handbook states that it has 180 this year. Although there has been a large increase in the number of exempted organisations for rallying purposes—there were about 57 in 1977—the majority are probably splinter groups from the larger clubs who were either dissatisfied with the larger organisations or preferred to arrange smaller, more personal rallies. But I do not think that there appears to have been any significant increase in rallying as a result of the increase in exempted organisations. All have been required to abide by a code of conduct as a prerequisite of the issue of an exemption certificate, and so far no complaints about their activities have been received. One certificate has been withdrawn, but this was because the club secretary was abusing the privileges.
649 The genuine back-packer and the genuine rallier have nothing to fear from the Bill. The site operator who tries to use the availability of exemptions to operate an unlicensed site all summer should find it difficult. But this is a matter of detail which I suppose the House could well discuss in Committee.
That leads me to my final observation. The Bill is a compromise in which many of us, not least the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) who initiated the 1978 round of consultations of which this Bill is the culmination, have had a part. It should be seen as a package. It is a balancing of diverse interests for the greater public good. That is why I believe that the right place to test whether the details rather than the principle are as they should be is in Committee. The Government welcome the Bill. We think that it is an important step forward.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
I am extremely glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Hubbard-Miles) has promoted this Bill. There is no doubt that the issues that he raises have great pertinence for Members of Parliament who represent my part of the world. I ought perhaps to say, as a lawyer, that I can well understand why what is effectively a fairly simple measure does not make easy reading. I am not trying to make money for my profession—that would be wrong—but I can understand why the Bill is not an easy read.
My experience of camping was not particularly auspicious. The only time that I attempted it was many years ago at a pop festival on the Isle of Wight. I put up my tent, but it was promptly stolen, and I had to buy a paper sleeping bag from an entrepreneur who was selling them on that occasion. I do not know whether he was also stealing the tents, but it certainly made me realise that I would associate myself more readily with the entrepreneurial seller of sleeping bags than with the happy wanderers who pitched tents.
One particular aspect of the Bill upon which I want to touch was raised first in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) and then dealt with at length by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller). It was suggested that we are passing more law than we need and interfering in areas where no legislation is needed. If a Conservative Administration were seen to be conniving at such behaviour, one would wonder what was going on.
An anomaly has crept into the system, even though it may have been unintentional. Before the war, legislation to control the use of camping sites covered both caravans and tents. It did so by a rather ramshackle and haphazard combination of planning regulations and the Public Health Act 1936. The simple fact is that the legislation was seen to be creaking and failing, and by the early 1950s it was not working. Finally, we had the 1960 Act, which, in a sense, was a watershed.
In 1960, the traditional idea of a tent or a back-packer was very different from what it is today. There was an almost Arcadian feel to them. One imagines people wandering through some sepia-tinted countryside with a tent on their back, laying down their head where they will. The situation is far different now. Many tents are nothing but inflatable caravans. Their size and complexity mean that more often than not they are towed behind a large motor car, not simply strapped to someone's back.
650 From my experience of the congested roads in my constituency and in the west country, where I have lived all my life, the development and technology of tents has ensured that the distinction between a tent and caravan has become even more artificial. The Bill defines a large tent as one which exceeds 2.6m in height. In plain English, I take that to be about 8ft. It has been described as something the size of a marquee. It only goes to show that we are not dealing here merely with a small tent. We have moved on from that. Therefore, it is clear that this legislation is required.
My only other reservation is perhaps a lawyer's point. When one reads a Bill such as this, one almost hankers after a consolidated Act, which would make the thing easier to read. That is an old grouse of some lawyers, but I see no reason why I should not put it forward again.
Having said that, I must say the Bill is a useful measure. I can understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North has his reservations about it, but we must face the fact that the distinction between a caravan and a tent is largely academic, and therefore it is right that the legislation should be consolidated so that they can be dealt with in the same way.
§ 2.3 pm
§ Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)
I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Hubbard-Miles) on persevering with his private Member's Bill. I can appreciate his frustration, because I see from the Bill that it was ordered to be printed on 20 July 1983 when he came, I think, 10th in the ballot. We are giving the Bill its Second Reading on virtually its first anniversary.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend and the Minister referred to the working party. Its members might have an equal or greater sense of frustration, since it was convened in 1969 and reported in 1971 and they are still waiting.
The main purpose of the Bill isto introduce a unified system for the control of caravan and tent sites throughout Great Britain.We should look at the Brill, not as introducing more bureaucracy, but as a measure to extend controls on caravans to camping. The Bill substantially maintains existing exemptions and even makes some relaxations. Hon. Members who are worried about the extension of bureaucracy should be reassured.
There is a clear need for the Bill, as is shown by the dates of the legislation governing existing arrangements. Much of our discussion has related to the Town and Country Planning Act 1962, but the other legislation on camping goes back to the Public Health Act 1936 and to byelaws made under that Act. Those Acts also govern caravans, but at least there is the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960; there is much more modern legislation on caravans, and it is intended to extend those controls to camping.
The popularity of caravans has increased considerably. The working party said that it had no precise figures, but my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) will be interested to know that it was calculated that there had been a tenfold increase in tenting in his neighbouring county in a 26-year period. It was estimated in the working party report that there was a general annual 651 increase of 10 per cent., which is not as much as a tenfold increase in 26 years, but is a sign of the increased interest in tenting.
Tents are now much more substantial than the leaky Army or boy scout tents. With tubular frame construction, tents can be larger than caravans and are often significant units of accommodation. That must alter some of our attitudes towards tenting.
It is important that the control of sites should be proper and orderly, but the Bill is not unnecessarily restrictive. It makes the arrangements for caravans and camping better for all who enjoy those pursuits and for those who are involved with them, because of the location of sites and so on.
The Bill is of particular interest to hon. Members who represent holiday areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend outlined his interest. I know his constituency, particularly the part near Porthcawl, which has a substantial summer population of holiday residents in caravans and camps.
Wales has been successful in attracting tourists through the efforts of the Welsh Tourist Board and others. Good progress has been made, though we are far from satisfied. There is still more potential and I hope that the Bill will help us to realise some of it.
My constituency does not have a large summer population of holiday residents, but, as other hon. Members have extolled the virtues of their constituencies, perhaps I may point out that I can fairly claim to represent the most attractive rural areas of Cardiff and it may be possible to develop camping and caravanning in my constituency.
I want to ensure that current imperfections are not continued. As the demand increases, proper arrangements should be made so that the balance of advantage is not outweighed by nuisance to the local community. The working party stressed the weaknesses in planning controls. Under the Town and Country Planning (General Development) Order 1963, no limit is placed on the number of tents that can use a site for up to 28 days in any calendar year. Some popular holiday areas have no facilities and become saturated with tents. That can seriously detract from the amenities of the countryside and, in coastal areas, the freedoms can prejudice policies for conserving the coast.
It is impracticable for local planning authorities to keep a check on all sites to establish whether the 28-day rule has been exceeded. Camping use may be prolonged within the scope of the order by an owner using different parts of his land in succession for camping. It is possible for the general freedom provided under class IV.2 of the general development order to be removed by a direction under article 4. Several hundred directions under article 4 have been made by local planning authorities and approved by the Minister, withdrawing the permission given under class IV.2 in respect of tent camping. Such directions act as a deterrent to landowners who might otherwise make land available for camping sites.
Article 4 directions do not provide the complete answer. A refusal of planning permission for development covered by an article 4 direction gives rise to a liability for compensation in respect of the loss resulting from the refusal. Some planning permissions have been granted in view of the compensation implications.
652 Another difficulty about relying on control by means of article 4 directions is that they could have the effect of moving the problem to the areas outside those to which the directions relate.
The enforcement procedure under the planning legislation, entailing the service of an enforcement notice, with a right of appeal to the Minister and a possible inquiry, is not sufficiently speedy to deal with temporary contraventions of camping uses. By the time that procedure is completed, the development will probably have ceased and the notice is unlikely to have any practical effect until the following year. The powers in section 19 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1968, under which a stop notice can be served to prevent further development pending proceedings on enforcement notice, do not apply because they relate to operations and not to uses.
Public health is a great worry to many of us. Public health legislation contains weaknesses. An extensive period is allowed before camping needs a licence under section 269 of the Public Health Act 1936 — 42 consecutive days or 60 days in total in 12 consecutive months—so it is extremely difficult for local authorities to enforce licensing provisions. Proving that such use has exceeded the permitted period places a heavy burden on local authorities. By the time that proceedings come before the courts, the main camping season is likely to have finished.
Licensing control can also be evaded by moving all the tents from one part of the land to another so that no one part is used for longer than the specified period. The terms of a licence under section 269 cannot subsequently be modified. The maximum fine for a contravention is £5, and for continuing contraventions £2 per day. A licence cannot be revoked by the courts.
Because of the absence of effective public health controls, nuisances from tent camping on unlicensed sites frequently arise. These nuisances result from the accumulation of refuse and the disposal of sewage and foul water. Vermin can be attracted and there might be a risk of pollution to water sources.
If there is no adequate control, water provided at a site might be polluted, nuisance from noise may be caused and close siting results in overcrowding and fire risk. The model byelaws under section 268 of the Public Health Act are not suited to tent camping and enable action to be taken only after the nuisance has occurred. We need a system under which local authorities can ensure that adequate facilities are provided on tent camping sites to prevent a public health nuisance arising.
I know that reservations have been offered about some of the Bill's proposals. However, having studied the Bill, the working party's reports and other evidence, I feel that we are not talking about an unnecessary intrusion. The Bill will not interfere with casual camping, back-packing, rallies or even motor cycle meets. It will not interfere with the Camping and Caravanning Club or with the Caravan Club, two of the most important bodies in the camping and caravanning world, which have a special position under licensing arrangements with the Department of the Environment.
The Bill might be somewhat involved, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend sought to describe it, it is straightforward and comparatively simple. It is not an earth-shattering measure, and it is not unnecessarily restrictive. It is a most desirable measure to bring about 653 uniformity in caravanning and camping. The holiday areas especially will find it desirable to have it on the statute book, and the same can be said of potential holiday areas.
I hope that we shall yet find the time in some way to pursue the Bill's progress to a conclusion, or at least lay the ground appropriately so that the Bill can be picked up in the next Session.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the debate but my point of order concerns the actions of the Secretary of State for Social Services today following the occupation of St. Leonard's hospital, Hackney. The hospital was due for closure and acute patients were to be sent to St. Bartholomew's hospital, which is nearby.
The Secretary of State has sought by means of an application in the courts yesterday and today to obtain a possession order and an eviction order against those persons currently occupying the hospital. There are 49 patients to be moved from the hospital following the closure of six wards and the loss of 90 beds. My concern is whether the right hon. Gentleman's actions in seeking a possession order and an eviction order against the shop stewards and the trade union concerned, which is the National Union of Public Employees, has been taken properly after discussions with members of the district health authority, and whether he should be asked to come to the House, even at this hour, to explain his actions and to make a full statement on this important matter.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
There is nothing that I can do to help the hon. Gentleman on the issue that he has raised. It is nothing to do with me as the occupant of the Chair.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Statements have been made by Ministers almost on the spur of the moment. Yesterday, at half an hour's notice, we had a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment. It was on an important issue, but not one involving life and death, which is true of the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). We are talking about the lives of people in St. Leonards hospital, Hackney, and perhaps the Leader of the House, who is in his place, could make arrangements for a Minister from the Department of Health and Social Security quickly to come to the House to make a statement.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The proper time for statements has long since passed. There was no application from the Secretary of State at the appropriate time this morning to make a statement.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House has heard the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and even the right hon. Gentleman must have some concern for the 49 patients who are liable to be moved. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the Leader of the House to contact the Secretary of State for Social Services and to make some arrangement that at least will reassure my hon. Friend that the 49 patients will be cared for properly.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand the concern that hon. Members have expressed, but there is nothing that I can do as the occupant of the Chair to assist in this matter.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you advise me and my hon. Friends of the best way to obtain an answer from the Secretary of State, because I understand that an application is being made at this moment in the High Court for a possession order and for the eviction of those people who are currently protecting that hospital and the patients in it from the actions of Her Majesty's Government?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I should be very rash, even on a Friday afternoon, were I to try to advise the hon. Member on such matters. I believe that he appreciates that.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House is here. May we have a statement on this important matter?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to wish to respond. I must remind hon. Members that we are taking up valuable private Members' time.
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)
I was beginning to believe, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that no one wanted to hear what I was about to say about an important matter. In saying that, I in no way criticise the hon. Gentlemen who have taken the steps that they have this afternoon on a matter that is apparently of great importance to them. I hope that they will do me the courtesy of treating the remarks that I make about this important private Member's Bill in the same way.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Hubbard-Miles) on his courage, nay even his effrontery, in bringing a Bill of this complexity to the House. I have met my hon. Friend on a number of occasions and found him a most congenial companion. When I find him down to schedule 7, paragraph 3, item 4, I begin to wonder whether that geniality was somewhat contrived. Although I have no intention of dividing the House against the Bill, that might give him some cause for thought.
Hon. Members may be wondering why someone from the north-west should be interested in such a matter. There are a number of reasons. One is that I am a former camper, and, while my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment was busy defending the country in a tent, I was busy in a tent in what was then called Anglesey, and which now by force of the Boundary Commission is called Ynys Môn. It happend to be an Army tent, and of course my hon. Friend the Minister was right: if it rained the rain came through the roof.
I am minded, as a matter of some boastfulness, to inform the House that as a result of my camping in Ynys Môn I was awarded the Todhunter prize for the best scout at camp. That cannot be gainsaid. In the 23rd Birkenhead that was an achievement. It was the high spot of my camping career, which thereafter declined. For the past 20 years I have not been in a tent save a marquee at Chester races where I intend to go the next time as well.
There is, however, a more serious reason why I address my mind to the Bill. It is well known—the Opposition should take note of this — that deindustrialisation is taking place in the north and north-west. That will continue regardless of which political party happens to be in power. I welcome it in this sense alone: the great mill towns and the dirty industrial towns of the old north are not proper and fit places for people to live in.
655 I have addressed my mind to what can take the place of the employment that those admittedly dirty places provided in the past. By the grace of my colleagues, I am the vice-chairman of the Conservative Back-Bench committee on tourism. While I have listened with great interest to those represenatives of established tourist areas, my anxiety about the Bill is what it might do to those areas which wish to become tourist areas and provide employment.
There is enormous potential for tourism in the Wirral peninsula. For those hon. Members who know nothing about the Wirral peninsula, may I say that it stretches from the Mersey, which is industrialised and contains Port Sunlight in my constituency—a great Unilever complex —and, at least to date, a shipyard, through splendid farming country to the Dee.
The other day some farmers came to see me. They were concerned with milk quotas, about which an announcement had been made. I understand that as a result they will have to reduce their herds. I do not pretend to understand agriculture, but that was the gist of their complaint. With fewer cows they will need less land. I was asked for my advice on what they should do with their land. I said, "Why not turn it into a camp or caravan site to attract tourists or holidaymakers to the area? That will also enable you to maintain your standard of living." They said, "Yes, but have you seen the private Member's Bill that is due for debate on Friday?" I replied honestly, as I always do, and confessed that I had not seen it. They said, "If you are suggesting that we should provide camp sites and go into tourism, do you want us, as a matter of ordinary form, to start making the applications in triplicate to the local authorities in the detail required in the Bill?" One of them said to me, "Do you realise that there are to be exemptions on certain sites related to whether people are there for one night or two days? It will be necessary to look at the definition in the Bill, where it says that a holiday meansChristmas Day, Good Friday or any day which in the part of Great Britain where the land is situated is a bank holiday under the Bank and Financial Dealings Act 1971".He told me—this did surprise me—that that Act was not next to the Reader's Digest on his bookshelf. That sort of bureaucratic nonsense will not attract people to the tourist industry.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend is trying to tidy up legislation that was originally passed in 1960. I wonder whether, in the course of his activities, he has realised what sort of monster he is spawning. I am not at all certain that the Bill can be tidied up in Committee.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
I did not intervene in the previous exchange even though my daughter is a senior nursing sister at St. Leonard's hospital.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned his interest in tourism and the use of suitable sites. I am a camper rather than a caravanner and have no interest to declare. Will he say something about the 4,000 sites that the Camping and Caravanning Club has certified and licensed? Does he think that the Bill needs to be considered in the light of whether a facility which has been organised, governed and strictly supervised for many years could be lost as a result of the passage of the Bill?
§ Mr. Porter
I am grateful for the intervention because I share the hon. Gentleman's reservations. Obviously he did not have the opportunity earlier in the debate to listen to his right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes), who mentioned that point and also paid tribute to the work of the club in a self-policing way. I do not think that the danger is quite as great as the hon. Member for Brent, South considers it to be, but it is there. I am not certain whether it could be ironed out in Committee.
Where regulations can be imposed by the bodies involved, without the interference of the state and the local authorities, I welcome that, and I hope that that aspect will be borne in mind when we discuss the Bill on another day.
I recall the old Erasmic advertisement, which said that things can be too little, too much or just right. I am not certain whether the Bill attempts to do too little or too much, but I am certain that it is not right.
I listened with great care to my hon. Friend the Minister. Perhaps I should have been better informed at the end of his speech, but I was left none the wiser. I had the impression that the Government are rather keen on tidying up. I cannot believe this when I hear it from a Conservative Minister. In 1979, as a callow youth, I was told that I need not worry about coming here because there would be less legislation than in the 19th century. Since then my wife and children have hardly seen me because I have been legislating away—or so I have told them.
§ Mr. Pavitt
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Porter
This is a serious point. A nascent tourist industry with an important component of camping and caravanning could be strangled at birth in those areas which most need it. The areas which want to regulate it are those which already have tourism on a large scale. Tourism is a major part of their economy. I want to encourage economic activity in the Wirral peninsula——
It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.