HC Deb 07 March 1984 vol 55 cc835-6
2. Mr. Colvin

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will review the provisions of the Caravan Sites Act 1968.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

No, Sir. The legislation was reviewed in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980. I have no plans to institute a further review at this time. With the amendments we introduced in 1980 the Act provides an adequate framework for authorities to provide sites and control illegal camping by gipsies within the meaning of the Act.

Mr. Colvin

Is my hon. Friend aware that several possible gipsy sites have been identified in the Waterside area of my constituency? Can he assure me that no decisions will be made on any of those sites until a full local public inquiry has been held on each one in turn? Does he agree that, in spite of what he said about the 1968 Act, it is high time that we reinterpreted the meaning of the term "gipsy"?

Mr. Macfarlane

I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety. I cannot give him the immediate assurance he seeks, because initially these are matters for the local planning authorities. I shall consider on its merits any proposal referred to me under section 8 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, and in doing so I shall bear in mind the extent of local feeling, as I do in all cases.

I understand that hon. Members on both sides of the House have anxieties about the definition of gipsy, and that is why two years ago we produced a consultative document which tried to identify the problems of long-distance travellers. That is one of the matters on which I am consulting the Association of County Councils.

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Under-Secretary of State accept that, in the two years since he introduced his consultation document, a great many Londoners have had to suffer the unpleasantness, filth and squalor of caravan sites established outside their homes? London councils have wasted large sums of public money simply moving these people from pillar to post. When will the consultation and consideration stop and some effective help be given to the councils which have met their obligations under the Act but still suffer these regular invasions?

Mr. Macfarlane

I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety. As a London Member, I know some of the sufferings occurring in this area. The hon. Gentleman must discuss any specific local problem with the local authority and, of course, with the chief of police, because designation is an important process in all these matters. In 1980 that Act was strengthened, and I have no further proposals at present.

Dr. Mawhinney

Is my hon. Friend aware that he has earned the deep appreciation and gratitude of all my law-abiding and rate-paying constituents for the firm and sympathetic action that he has taken about the gipsy problem in Peterborough? Is he further aware that by this summer, thanks to his help and steadfastness, we shall have about 72 pitches in a designated district, and the other 150 illegally parked gipsies will have to move to someone else's district, because we are fed up with them in Peterborough?

Mr. Macfarlane

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support and approval, but I have no doubt that in the fullness of time I shall receive the wrath of some other hon. Member representing an adjoining area.

Mr. Anderson

Will the Minister, in consultation with his colleague at the Welsh Office, sympathetically consider the problems of those relatively few authorities which are honestly seeking to comply with the provisions of the Act, and excite the lively resentment of their residents and ratepayers when they do so? Surely, after 15 years, the time has come to consider how patchy the provision is under the Act. Is the Minister content with the development? Will he reconsider the problems of individual authorities?

Mr. Macfarlane

The Act was amended in 1980 precisely because of the problems that had emerged during the 12 years following the passing of the original Act. Of course I shall study any individual cases that come to my attention. Plainly, they fulfil a major part in any discussions that we have with the local authority associations. I shall draw what the hon. Gentleman has said to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

Mrs. Currie

Is my hon. Friend aware of the considerable difficulty that there is in finding sites in cities? May I refer him to the protracted negotiations currently under way in Derby, which are causing considerable anxiety to householders and industrialists? Will he consider exempting major built-up areas from the provisions of the Act?

Mr. Macfarlane

I cannot give my hon. Friend that guarantee. I well understand the anxieties felt by the people of Derby. I know the background to that protracted case, but I cannot give that assurance. We must consider each site and case on its merits.