HC Deb 09 December 1992 vol 215 cc833-4
6. Mr. Clifton-Brown:

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the responses to his Department's consultation paper concerning reform of the Caravan Sites Act 1968.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)

The Department has received more than 1,200 responses to the consultation paper from local authorities, gipsies, land-owning interests and other organisations and individuals. We are considering the responses carefully, and will make an announcement in due course about implementing the reforms.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend will recognise that that problem causes misery in many rural areas and I urge him to take whatever action is necessary before there is a repeat of last summer's activities. May I also urge him to communicate to his colleagues in the Home Office the need for reform of the Public Order Acts to relieve the problem?

Mr. Baldry

We intend to take action, and we shall proceed as soon as we have had the opportunity to consider responses to the consultation paper. It might be helpful to make it clear to hon. Members that our proposals for reforming the Caravan Sites Act 1968 do not cover public order problems caused by large congregations of new age travellers. Home Office Ministers, in consultation with other Government Departments and the police, are urgently considering what practical measures—including changes to the civil and criminal law—can be taken to deal with mass trespass.

Mr. Gunnell

The Government have spent more than £50 million since 1979 on the development of caravan sites. Will the Minister explain how he intends the quality of those sites to be maintained and how spaces will be made available for travellers? Can he explain how the legislation being contemplated can assist with homelessness, as it seems to me that it threatens to make the situation a good deal worse?

Mr. Baldry

I think that the hon. Gentleman should allow the gipsy organisations to speak for themselves. In response to our proposal the National Gypsy Council has said: Having been in the forefront of official site provision ever since the implementation of the 1968 Act, and as originators and the strongest advocators of the concept of private site initiatives for gypsies, the views of the National Gypsy Council are well documented. In our opinion private sites are beneficial to all concerned, to gypsies because they offer them the security of a legal home and a base from which they can send their children to school, to local authorities and central Government who are spared the expense of developing and managing sites and to local settled communities by the reduction in the number of unauthorised encampments. Furthermore, private gypsy sites are in locations where the gypsies who will live on them want to be. They suffer none of the problems due to incompatibility which are sometimes found on local authority sites and once a private site has become established, the families on it quickly prove themselves to be good neighbours.

Mr. David Nicholson

Is my hon. Friend aware that there will be a widespread welcome for his proposed measures to deal with illegal camping? Is he also aware that some of my constituents have strong reservations about aspects of his consultation paper, which appear to enable local authorities to evade their responsibilities? Will he do all that he can to protect my constituents in North Curry and Wrantage, who may be disadvantaged if neighbouring local authorities are able to evade their responsibilities in relation to gipsy encampments?

Mr. Baldry

We are determined that no local authority shall evade its responsibilities under this or any future legislation.

Mr. Pike

Will the Minister give an assurance that the Department is not working to a rigid timetable in considering responses to the consultation, as it is important to consider the complexities of such a broad issue before the Government respond and take action?

Mr. Baldry

We will onsider all the responses very carefully, but there is no doubt that the 1968 legislation, which was brought in for the best possible reasons, has failed the travellers and local communities. It is time for a reform and we are determined to bring that about.