HC Deb 26 June 1984 vol 62 cc879-91

'A person who parks a caravan for more than eight hours at any one time on a lay-by adjoining a trunk road commits an offence.'.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 2—Parking of caravans on picnic sites— 'A person who parks a caravan for more than eight hours at any one time on a picnic site provided under section 55 of this Act commits an offence.' Amendment No. 5, in schedule 8, page 177, line 27, at end insert— 'Section (Parking of caravans on lay-bys): Parking for more than eight hours on a lay-by'. Amendment No. 6, in page 177, line 27, at end insert— 'Section (Parking of caravans on picnic sites): The Parking for more than eight hours on a picnic site.'.

Mr. Walker

The background to the new clause is that experience has shown that, when splendid laybys are provided, they are not always occupied by the people who were expected to occupy them.

Clause 55 provides for the provision of picnic sites on our major trunk roads. That is something of which I heartily approve.

Mr. Craigen

During proceedings on the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, the hon. Gentleman made great play of the fact that he was the caravaner's friend. What would be the position under the new clause of a caravaner from, say, Blairgowrie, travelling to Edinburgh, whose caravan developed a fault? If he was stuck in a layby for a day or two, what would his position be?

Mr. Walker

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to explain my thinking more fully, I shall deal with that point. I have been a caravaner all my adult life.

Mr. Maxton

And a pilot, a glider, a bus driver, a trade unionist, a council house tenant——

8.15 pm
Mr. Walker

If the hon. Gentleman knew anything about those who spend their recreation time flying and gliding, he would realise that one of the important things that is not available to them is a residence. They therefore tend to pull the residence around with them, and that is where the caravan comes in. One becomes a caravaner because of one's other interests. There is a caravan parked beside my house today, as there has been for my whole adult life.

The amendment is neither frivolous nor humorous. We are spending much money on our trunk roads to make it possible for individuals who have a legitimate interest in the countryside to see our beautiful countryside. The facilities are intended to be used by genuine tourists who use the trunk roads as a means of getting from point A to point B. Among those tourists there will be caravaners who from time to time will find themselves in exactly the same position as someone who breaks down on a motorway or anywhere else. One commits an offence if one leaves the broken-down vehicle in a position in which it could cause problems to others. The normal procedure is to call out assistance. The Caravan Club and other bodies make provision so that assistance can be summoned. Those who find themselves in that situation are able to call assistance. It is unlikely that they will be stranded for days on end.

New clause 1 deals with people who wilfully park on laybys for more than eight hours. Some people park for days and frequently for months. That is not intended by clause 55, by which we provide picnic sites. Overstaying is an abuse of a provision that is intended for the legitimate traveller. Contrary to the views expressed by some Opposition Members, I work closely with the National Gypsy Council and with travelling people in my constituency, who oppose overstayers. They believe that provision of proper sites is the means by which to deal with the matter. The A9 is the main road to the north and now has substantial sums of public money spent on it and I hope that clause 55 will ensure that there will be picnic sites on it, but not if they are abused, as is the case with other laybys.

It is not enough for my hon. Friend the Minister to say that local authorities can make byelaws to ensure that such people are prosecuted because under the arrangement of non-harassment the police visit a layby, make a charge and submit details to procurators fiscal, who submit the case to the Crown Office for approval. By then, the people concerned might have been on the site for three weeks. I should like statutory penalties to be written into the Bill. That would be a simple and effective means by which to ensure that the new picnic sites are not abused. The laybys should present an image of an interested and caring society which wants tourists and caravaners to visit the area.

Anyone who has used the A9 at this time of the year will be aware that there is a caravan every few hundred yards. We must ensure that trunk roads have adequate facilities for genuine caravaners. Genuine tourists are deterred from using laybys because of their appalling state, as a result of being misused by people who are not the travellers of the romantic past. They are a new type of person, whom I call dropouts who want to avoid the consequences of having an address, such as paying tax. Such people have been photographed and reported in the local press as saying that they do not care, that they will park anyway, and that they do not care what we do.

We face a serious problem, which detracts from the Scottish countryside and results in people who have travelled a route resolving never to go back. We should think seriously about the problem. We are discussing trunk roads, not secondary roads on which many laybys are abused. I merely wish to ensure that the new picnic sites are not abused.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

There is much sense in what my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said, bearing in mind the fact that a layby is defined as a place for a temporary stop. The important point here is that we are dealing with trunk roads. We do not want permanent parking on the verges of our trunk roads. We want laybys to be used for temporary stops—for a meal or an overnight stop.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister does not leave the matter entirely to local authority byelaws but provides a much more rapidly dealt with offence so that caravaners can be moved on quickly after they have stayed their allotted time. It would be useful to have on record the legal status of signs that are occasionally found in laybys which say, "No overnight parking". Are byelaws enforceable or are such signs merely an expression of hope on the part of the highways authority? My hon. Friend has raised a serious point. Of course, if someone breaks down with a puncture or worse, the police will take that into account.

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) talked about caravaners and drop-outs and explained his worries. I hope that he will not take it amiss if I tell him that several Opposition Members viewed new clause 1, and, to some extent, still do, as part of his campaign in regard to travelling people in the Perth and Kinross area. Anyone who reads the reports of Scottish Question Time for the past few years will find that the hon. Gentleman has constantly urged the hapless Solicitor-General for Scotland to spend a great deal of his valuable time interviewing the procurator fiscal in Perth about his failure to mount sufficient prosecutions against travelling people.

There has been a rather unpleasant atmosphere about some of the exchanges on this matter. I remember talk about illegal parking, about collusion between national and local government officials and the discredited advisory committee. The hon. Gentleman said that he tried to keep good relations with organisations that deal with travelling people but, in a recent exchange, he was not above referring to the national advisory committee on travelling people as discredited. There have also been hints about health and hygiene, vermin problems and the rest.

Although the hon. Gentleman introduced new clause 1 in a most general sense, his anxieties and, I believe, unjustified feelings about travelling people have much to do with these new clauses and amendments. I recognise that there can be a problem, although it is limited. The hon. Gentleman will know that only about 500 families in Scotland were on the road in 1982. I admit that 103 of them were in the Perth and Kinross area, which might be higher than expected. However, the problem is limited and should be treated with sympathy. This seems to be an attempt to ensure that travelling people shall be dealt with expeditiously and moved on quickly so that in no way will they offend the susceptibilities of the hon. Member for Tayside, North and his friends.

8.30 pm

It became clear during the hon. Gentleman's remarks that the new clauses are designed to get around the Government's long standing policy of non-harassment. The Labour Opposition—I suspect that the other Opposition parties may sympathise—believe that policy to be correct. It has our support. If the intention of the new clauses is to circumvent it, they should be resisted by the Government.

I referred to the number of travelling families on the roads in Scotland and to the latest estimate available to me. I am sure that the Minister has been well briefed and, like me, will have seen what was behind the new clauses. Will he say something about the current situation on sites? That may sound as though I am widening the debate, but I do not think that I am because the whole policy of non-harassment is at the centre of the debate on these new clauses.

That policy applies not to any general offence that may be committed by someone travelling the roads but is specifically limited to the problem of unlawful encampment, and involves the submission of papers to the Crown Office. It seems to be something akin to overkill, but if we are to take literally the answers that we have received, those papers are personally scrutinised by the Lord Advocate who decides whether any prosecution is necessary. From what we have been told we know that the Lord Advocate takes into account the circumstances in which the alleged offence took place, but also considers a number of other matters such as the number of sites available in the locality in which the caravans came to rest.

On 15 February this year in column 259 of the Official Report, the Solicitor-General for Scotland made it clear that the Government were doing everything in their power to encourage the provision of sites. There have, of course, been 100 per cent. grants since June 1980. How much has been spent, how many sites are there and what has been the usage rate? I ask those questions because they are relevant to the operation of the non-harassment policy, which indirectly is being attacked by the back door. Have there been any prosecutions?

Mr. Bill Walker

Not so.

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Member for Tayside, North says with some indignation that that is not the position. If non-harassment is a matter of lawful encampment, the situation must be considered at the highest level in the Crown Office before a prosecution can be mounted. That is an interesting argument that we may debate later if the new clauses find favour with the House, but it is not clear whether, if the new clauses were added to the Bill, they would be included in the non-harassment policy as well. In other words, this would then be regarded as unlawful encampment and would therefore be subject to what the hon. Member for Tayside, North no doubt sees as the kid glove approach which the non-harassment policy represents.

Mr. Walker

The new clause explicitly refers to trunk roads. In my constituency, where there have been problems on laybys, the trunk roads have not been affected. However, that could change because of the provision of new picnic sites on trunk roads. There are plenty of laybys on the non-trunk routes and, consequently, the non-harassment policy, if continued, would provide adequate parking. In addition, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are sites in Perthshire.

Mr. Dewar

I am well aware that there are sites in Perthshire. I know that there have been some delays in implementation and, to be fair, the hon. Gentleman has at various times made a fuss about that. For example, the site at Tulloch has caused some problems.

Under the policy of non-harassment there would be no prosecution for unlawful encampment without the specific authority of the Lord Advocate. If the new clause were to reach the statute book—I hope that it will not for reasons that I shall give—presumably any prosecution to be mounted by the procurator fiscal would be included in the non-harassment agreement, or would it be modified automatically given that these provisions are analogous with that policy and would be seen as unlawful encampment charges?

As I understand the intervention of the hon. Member for Tayside, North, it is that I am putting far too sinister an interpretation on the new clauses and that in no way are they meant to restrict travelling people resting their caravans in laybys. Indeed, there are many laybys on small side roads in the hon. Gentleman's constituency where, by implication, travelling people would be welcome to go and camp. For cosmetic reasons and to help the tourist trade the new clauses are designed to stop caravans resting in laybys on trunk roads.

The hon. Gentleman may take this amiss, but there is a good deal of sophistry in that approach. It is thoroughly unconvincing. Frankly, his dislike of the non-harassment policy and the habits and way of life of travelling folk are at the base of the new clauses.

I entirely accept that there can be problems and that it would be ludicrous if there were no protection against someone setting up home in a layby near to another person's dwelling thereby creating major problems. But at a technical level these proposals would produce far more difficulties than they would solve, apart from their doubtful pedigree and the basis on which they have been put forward.

I do not know what a caravan would be in this context. A definition would have to be written in, and that would be difficult as the Bill has now concluded its passage. As the hon. Member for Tayside, North will know, it has already been through the other place. Perhaps he is thinking of the definition in section 29 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, which does not include a tent. I do not know whether that distinction was meant to be made in the new clauses. But if one looks at the Mobile Homes Act, the various caravan sites Acts and the 1960 Act, one will see that there are problems over the definition of a caravan. At a minor technical level, the new clauses are inadequate, given that there has been no attempt to define what we are talking about or what would be the subject of criminal prosecution.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Tayside, North would agree that the creation of a criminal offence is serious. If one intends to do so, one should go to the trouble of defining the offence. That has not clearly and sensibly been done.

I suspect that adequate powers already exist to move people on from laybys if in some way they have become a public nuisance. If a policemen were to say, "Under the motorway regulations and the trunk road regulations we are asking you to move on", and the drop-out, travelling person or the man from Margate who has broken his back axle told him to sod off, there is something called the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. That has recently been given a certain prominence. I am sure that the Minister would be the first to assure his hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North that such an incident would amount to a breach of the peace and that the person concerned could be summarily lifted and removed to the local police station.

Will the Minister confirm that the police have no difficulty moving people on in the way that I have described? If they refused to move on—this is perhaps the real point in view of the arguments that have been used—they are then arrested for a breach of the peace or obstructuring a police officer in the course of his duty under the 1967 Act. There would then not be a prosecution for unlawful encampment, and such people would not have the protection of the non-harassment policy. The situation is adequately covered, and if the police allow these people to defy them it is because the police do not think that the situation is as horrendous, serious and difficult as the hon. Member for Tayside, North instinctively does every time he comes across someone who can be described as a travelling person, a drop-out or someone who does not fit into his set of socially acceptable norms.

It is clear that this new clause is badly drafted. It is inadequate in definition and absolutely unnecessary because the existing powers are adequate. This is a difficult problem. There are frictions, and it would be silly to claim that they do not arise. To their credit, the Government have tried with the grants that they have given to the non-harassment policy to deal with this sensitively and sympathetically, which is what this problem demands. To adopt these new clauses would be to disrupt that approach and to import on to the statute book a series of proposals that would be seen as vengeful and hostile. They would put back by a long time the cause of the proper integration of travelling folk into society if they so wish. Therefore, I hope that the new clauses will be resisted by the Minister. If he does not, the Labour party will resist them.

Mr. Michael Forsyth (Stirling)

I support the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) either has not ventured out of the boundaries of his constituency or has not done his homework on this matter. For those of us who represent constituencies where tourism has an important place in the economy, these new clauses offer some hope.

One of the first letters from a constituent that I received after coming to this place was on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) sent me a reply that I had occasion to discuss with him afterwards. In that reply, he pointed out that the police could not be expected to enforce the existing law, which is difficult to enforce. People were parking their caravans in laybys that were intended for other purposes, and this constituted a problem that caravan site owners, not unnaturally, are distressed about.

We impose on caravan site owners considerable costs and obligations in terms of planning, screening their sites, ensuring that there are adequate sanitation and sewerage arrangements and adequate provision of water supplies. They ask, quite rightly, why people on holiday in caravans should be able to park themselves in the nearest layby and do whatever they do in the heather, while all the costs imposed on the caravan site owners and all the obligations intended to protect the environment go for naught. My hon. Friend's new clauses are important in that respect.

Labour Members wax eloquent on the policy of non-harassment and how important it is. I ask them to look at the response of the local authority in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North. That authority has been enlightened and has provided decent sites. I wish that my Stirling district council was as enlightened. The members of the Labour party on the council seem to play a game of, "How can I avoid this travelling people's site being in my ward?" with the net result that we have no travelling people's site. That means that, despite the fact that they can have a 100 per cent. grant to provide such a site, nobody is prepared to have it in his ward. Travelling people parking in laybys represent a major problem and one that is not the fault——

Mr. Maxton

What, on trunk routes?

Mr. Forsyth

In my constituency there is a trunk route that causes problems. The local authority is particularly embarrassed because it is not prepared to provide a permanent site because of the prejudices in the Labour groups on the council.

I am sure that the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North is not to deal with the policy of non-harassment, which needs to be dealt with separately. I hope that my hon. Friends will have the courage to face up to the problems being created by that policy. My hon. Friend's intention was to deal with the existing problem. In my constituency, the problem of travelling people parking in laybys does not arise in the highland areas or the areas of outstanding beauty. However, I have faced terrible resentment from people who have to meet obligations and costs that are then ignored by those who find it cheaper to park in a layby.

No doubt the police could find reasons to move people on, but this is not a priority, because the overwhelming impression given to the police, especially if they ever read or listen to the hon. Member for Garscadden, is that this is not an important problem. It is an important problem, particularly in parts of Scotland where tourism is a large currency earner.

8.45 pm
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) never fails to amaze the House. We have just heard the great disciple of private enterprise, the man who endlessly tells us that he is opposed to state intervention in anything, saying that it should become a criminal offence to leave a caravan in a layby for eight hours under any circumstances. I know that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said that there should be exceptions, but his new clauses mean that anyone who ever leaves a caravan on a layby on a trunk road in Scotland for eight hours or more should be subject to proceedings at the hands of the police. I am amazed that the hon. Member for Stirling should support such a suggestion.

I suppose that we should no longer be surprised by some of the things said by Conservative Members. We are familiar with the level of intolerance shown by the hon. Member for Tayside, North, and we have been treated to the now immortal words of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone), who said last week that any miner who ever showed his face on the picket line was a common criminal.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

That has nothing to do with it.

Mr. Home Robertson

It has a lot to do with it. It has been said that miners who turn up on a picket line are ipso facto common criminals, and, if this new clause were to pass into statute, anyone who left a caravan on a layby for eight hours would become a common criminal and would be subject to such procedures.

I understand the problems about which the hon. Member for Tayside, North is talking. In my previous constituency of Berwick and East Lothian, I was particularly aware of the problem in Berwickshire. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is here now and he knows the difficulties that have arisen in a particular caravan site in his constituency. Frankly, it would have been a lot better if the people concerned had been encouraged to use laybys on their way through rather than becoming frequent residents in a tourist caravan site.

However, the more one restricts these people, the more difficulties will be created for them and everybody else. I am appalled by the negative, legalistic and arrogant attitude expressed by Conservative Members. I hope that the Minister, and any other rational person—just for once I shall give the Minister the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is semi-rational—will reject these new clauses out of hand, because that is what should happen.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

I support the new clauses. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) gave his usual tirade about travelling people. New clause 1 refers not to travelling people, but to everyone who owns a caravan.

New clause 2 refers specifically to caravans parked on picnic sites. Local authorities like mine which benefit from tourism provide caravan sites adjacent to picnic sites. The tendency is for people with children who are touring in a caravan to move to a picnic site and, if they are permitted, to remain on that site overnight and then continue the journey.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Is the hon. Member suggesting that people should commit an offence when he uses the words "if they are permitted"? I do not follow his argument.

Mr. McQuarrie

The police do not cover all movements, nor do members of a local authority.

Mr. Maxton

What about an MP?

Mr. McQuarrie

An hon. Member who wishes to do that can be released from his duties to allow him to do so.

Mr. Maxton

If the hon. Member is saying that the police can already remove people, why does he support the new clauses? Surely they are unnecessary.

Mr. McQuarrie

I have not suggested that the police have the authority to remove people. I am saying that a byelaw might exist under which people could be moved. I am trying to drive home the fact that caravans should not be parked on a site on which children play. If that is allowed, not only is a caravan on a picnic site, but a car is parked there. The car will be driven to town to pick up the papers and the messages whereas the caravan will probably not be moved for more than eight hours. The movement of the car causes the danger to children.

Mr. Maxton

The hon. Member used to work in the construction industry. Let me remind him of what might happen. Let us suppose that a new toilet block is to be installed on a picnic site. A contrast will be given to a construction firm which might park a caravan for the workers. Under the new clauses, that building contractor would be committing an offence.

Mr. McQuarrie

That is the biggest nonsense that I have heard for a long time. The picnic site would not be a picnic site until the construction work had been completed.

My argument is that picnic sites should be preserved and that local authorities should, if necessary, pass byelaws to make certain types of parking on picnic sites an offence. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that caravans and the cars towing them will not be permitted to park on picnic sites for over eight hours.

Mr. Buchan

My wrath has been allayed by the speech by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) who can always be relied upon to bring a little light fun into our proceedings. We are not talking about an isolated set of circumstances. This is not the first time that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has made suggestions about parking and travelling people. We know what he is after. It is no use the hon. Members for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and Banff and Buchan suggesting that the new clauses deal with anything other than the travelling people. A vendetta has been conducted by the hon. Member for Tayside, North for almost a decade—it certainly feels like a decade. The vendetta is always, but always, against the travelling people.

The hon. Member is not trying to provide for holidaymakers or even for caravans—they provoke a tone of contempt when he talks about them. The hon. Gentleman is in a funny situation. Tents are permissible— It's farewell to the tent and the old caravan To the tinker, the gipsy, the travelling man It's farewell to the forty foot trailer". I have no doubt that the trailer, the tent or the vendor would be permissible at Greenham common.

The new clause is nonsense. If we do not bank on the Minister rejecting the new clauses, all hope is gone. The hon. Member for Stirling seems to be the apostle of freedom; he is the man who wants to remove as many shackles as he can. It is no use him calling in aid the National Gypsy Council. I should like to know with whom on that council he has discussed the matter. It is no use pretending that the new clauses do not attack the travelling people, the gipsy and the didicoi. If the hon. Gentleman pretends that, he does not tell the truth.

Many of the settled gipsies, tinkers and didicoi are also worried about what is happening. They are the best people to deal with the problems. The hon. Member for Tayside, North tables new clauses designed to be published in the local press and to stir up feeling. We have known the hon. Gentleman for many years and we know what he is up to. Instead of doing that, he should enlist the aid of the people who know the travelling people. Sheila MacGregor is an obvious example.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) accept that the Stewart family of Blairgowrie is one of the most respected travelling families around and that members of that family regularly consult about such matters?

Mr. Buchan

I know the Stewart family extremely well. It is an honourable family and I wish that the hon. Gentleman would give some credit to what the travelling people have done for Scotland's culture. Most of the songs that I have gathered and published come from the travelling people, including the Stewarts of Blairgowrie. The hon. Gentleman should pay more attention to what they have to say and enlist their support—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has misled them if he said that the new clause would deal with the problem. We are dealing not only with the use of laybys, but with the question of relationships. There is an advisory committee, people such as the Stewarts, and Sheila MacGregor—a member of the Stewart family—but there are also others who have objections to the National Gypsy Council.

The hon. Gentleman is the Member of Parliament for the area. He arouses anger and resentment about the travelling people, which is directed also at those settled in the area. Therefore, they naturally look for protection. The hon. Gentleman should have had enough sense to give them the right advice. He should now do the decent thing and withdraw the new clause.

A Member of Parliament should listen to advice and then exercise his judgment. Has the hon. Gentleman taken advice or has he exercised his judgment? Has he merely listened to a few people——

9 pm

Mr. Bill Walker

The hon. Gentleman is badly misinformed about what is happening in the Blairgowrie area. He should know that I had a meeting last Sunday with representatives of the National Gypsy Council. I had a meeting two weeks ago with John Stewart on his private site. Indeed, I am a regular visitor, finding out what is happening. I do not take advice from only one source. I use my own judgment, based on various information—including that from Double Dykes, which is no longer in my constituency.

Mr. Buchan

I was right—the hon. Gentleman is operating under his own judgment. That is the final indictment of this new clause. His judgment on this, as on many other matters, is severely flawed. He knows that the new clause is nonsense and part of a vendetta. I wish that he would drop it. He should fight for proper expenditure by his Tory council to provide sites. He should strive for the right sort of relationship with people such as the Stewarts. He should tell them that he is a Member of Parliament and that he wants to assist them, not harass them. If he did, he would be met with open arms. I hope that he will withdraw the new clause.

Mr. Allan Stewart

I was slightly alarmed to hear the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) say that if I accepted the new clause all hope was gone for Britain. However, it is an important matter and we have had an interesting debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) asked a specific question about the "No parking overnight" signs. They are merely advisory signs with no statutory backing. No offence is committed if they are ignored.

The new clause would discriminate against a specific class of road user, the trailer-caravan driver, while leaving drivers of cars, lorries and mobile campers unaffected. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) would accept that such road users could be just as great a problem as caravanners. The caravanner who stays for seven and a half hours would also be untouched by the new clause. It is difficult to understand how he would be less likely to cause a nuisance than if he stayed an hour longer.

My hon. Friend mentioned caravan drivers who needed to stay in a trunk road layby or picnic site because of a genuine emergency such as illness or vehicle breakdown. He pointed to the emergency services available. Nevertheless, such people would be penalised under my hon. Friend's proposals.

Parking is a traffic matter that can be regulated under existing road traffic legislation, which enables my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make orders for such purposes. However, any such orders would have fairly serious enforcement problems. For example, how does one prove that a caravan has been there for over eight hours?

My right hon. Friend is aware that some overnight parking of caravans occurs in trunk road laybys. I accept, therefore, that there is something of a problem, a problem about which my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) wrote to my right hon. Friend. However, the problem is usually limited to the height of the holiday season. In general, it is not excessive, and there is legislation available to deal with the situation if caravans are parked dangerously, if they are an obstruction or if they are causing litter.

There are, in addition, a number of technical problems with the new clause, some of which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) pointed out, but I will not delay the House by discussing those.

The new clause is not about the non-harassment policy—the policy of toleration—and my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) emphasised that. It would be wrong of me to debate that policy at length. The policy is that travelling people should not simply be moved on from one illegal site to another or be prosecuted for just being there. If there is room on an official site nearby, they will be asked to move to it. If there is not, and if their presence in a layby is obstructing its use to other road users or is causing other serious problems, the police and local authorities will attempt to find an alternative site in the area, to which the travellers will be asked to move and there they will be asked to remain.

As hon. Members have pointed out, the provision of sites is extremely important, and the hon. Member for Garscadden fairly paid tribute to the Government's policy in relation to the 100 per cent. financing of sites. As hon. Members have said, the identification of sites and getting sites accepted is not always easy. However, we are working closely with the local authorities to identify new sites that would be appropriate and sensible. The hon. Member for Garscadden will be interested to learn that there are now 12 sites in Scotland.

The question of picnic sites was raised, in particular, by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan. Schedule 8 to the Bill amends section 54 of the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 to empower general or district planning authorities to make byelaws in respect of any trunk road picnic sites managed by them. The 1967 Act will also empower countryside rangers employed by the managing authority to patrol picnic sites. I am, therefore, satisfied that adequate powers will be available to control parking on trunk road picnic areas.

I have listened carefully to everything that has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the new clause. I hope that, in the light of my explanation of the present legal position under other legislation, my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North will feel it appropriate to withdraw the new clause.

Mr. Bill Walker

I have listened with care to what has been said in the debate. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), in the absence of what I judge to be any realistic policies from the Labour Front Bench, decided to indulge in some personal abuse of myself. I am sure that when he reads the Official Report tomorrow—and if, as I believe, he has ambitions one (lay to be Secretary of State for Scotland—he will regret what he said tonight. I commend the hon. Gentleman to read carefully what he said this evening. As the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) demonstrated clearly, advice may be forthcoming, but it is necessary carefully to consider its origins and whether changing circumstances and times should change attitudes.

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion on what I shall regret and what I shall not. However, does he accept my basic argument, which was at one with the Minister's, that if a caravan is blocking or obstructing a layby or motorway, if it is possible under present powers for the police to move it off and i f the owner refuses to move it, the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, as recently authoritatively interpreted by the Law Officers, gives ample powers to the police? Therefore, the new clause is not necessary whatever symbolic merits or demerits it may have.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman is on good ground there, and I acknowledge that. I accept that the definition in the new clause is not clear enough. I overlooked that and in this instance I was not advised as well as I wish I had been. I make no criticism of anyone else because it is my new clause. If the drafting is not satisfactory, the fault is mine. However, the hon. Gentleman must recognise that the power of the 1967 Act has presented difficulties in dealing with problems to which the new clause is directed.

It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman has not seen the volume of correspondence which I have received on this issue and accordingly does not realise how many people have been trying genuinely to find solutions to an extremely thorny problem. In the main, those who complain are taxpayers and ratepayers. They consider that the law is not being applied evenly and fairly. As a lawyer, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, if the public believe that the law is not fair and just, it is time to become extremely concerned.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be aware that the Perth and Kinross district council and the Tayside region have expressed grave doubts about the way in which their byelaws are being exercised under existing provisions. I have volumes of correspondence on this issue and I have sent copies to the Scottish Office. The correspondence shows that their byelaws and police laws are not being exercised in a way that demonstrates that the law is fair. Bearing in mind the correspondence that I have received, I have deep reservations about my hon. Friend's comments on the adequacy of present provisions.

Mr. Michael Hirst (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

I may have the wrong end of the stick, but is it not right that the existing laws allow the police to take action when there is obstruction? In most instances no obstruction is caused and the police are unable or are reluctant to act because they have to show that there is obstruction and difficulty.

Mr. Walker

If a caravan is parked on a layby, there is some doubt about whether it is causing an obstruction. That is a doubtful area and one that has produced problems. However, the hon. Member for Garscadden was on strong ground when he said that the new clause, as presented and drafted, has weaknesses. I acknowledge that and I am sorry that that is so. The new clause is an attempt to make clear to the law-abiding, taxpaying and ratepaying public that we are concerned with finding solutions to these problems and is not an attempt to cause harassment. To my knowledge, the hon. Member for Paisley, South has never acknowledged that I was instrumental in a prominent way in obtaining a change of policy on the part of the Perth and Kinross district council to ensure that there are travelling sites in Perthshire.

9.15 pm

There is only one way to solve the harassment problem—provide sufficient sites for all the travelling families. I fully support that policy. I am delighted that the Government are putting forward sufficient funds for that purpose. It is distressing that local authorities are not providing for this need, but I am not surprised at that. No one ever wants such a site next to his house. I wonder whether the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is prepared to give up some of his land for a site. If he did so, that would be a generous and positive attempt to deal with the problem. If the hon. Gentleman were to say, in reply to my point that it is difficult to find sites, that he has 500 acres and would be delighted if a small part were to be used as a site for travelling families, that would be a positive contribution, compared with some of the contributions that have been made.

The hon. Gentleman was recently in Blairgowrie. If he had talked to members of the travelling families in Blairgowrie, they would have told him that I regularly visit the private site there. I have great regard for John Stewart who runs that site, because he is attempting to find an answer to a difficult problem. He recognises the difficulties caused by anti-social people on his site. I wish that the hon. Member for Paisley, South were less romantic and more realistic about the difficulties in finding a site.

We in Perthshire are trying to find genuine answers to the problem, and we have gone a long way towards achieving that end. My questions in the past have been designed to get the local authority to change its policy. I have been successful in having that policy changed. I hope that I am as successful as a result of this debate in alerting other local authorities to their responsibility when travelling families are forced, in the absence of sites, to use laybys. There is no excuse in a civilised society for that action. Sites should be provided for those people.

Mr. Dewar

I am anxious that sites should be provided. I made that clear in my speech. I recognise the difficulties. Anyone who has dealt with this problem, even on the periphery, as I have, knows about the difficulties. I am sorry if we have misinterpreted the hon. Gentleman's motives. He must recognise that some of the exchanges in the past put the amendments in a context whereby they lent themselves to the construction we placed on them.

Mr. Walker

I accept that point. Because the measures are not drafted adequately to deal with the problem, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Hon. Members


Question put and negatived.

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