HL Deb 21 June 1968 vol 293 cc1020-55

11.7 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a small Bill, a Private Member's Bill, introduced in another place by Mr. Eric Lubbock with all-Party support, and it received an unopposed Third Reading. I said that it is a small Bill, but perhaps I should have said two small Bills, because there is a distinction to be made between Part I and Part II of the Bill. There is no direct connection between the protection of occupied caravans and the provision of sites by local authorities for persons of a nomadic way of life, referred to as gipsies; but I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate that it is difficult enough to get one Private Member's Bill on to the Statute Book and it would be even more difficult to get two. It was therefore thought convenient to incorporate these two proposals in one Bill and I hope it will receive your Lordships' support.

Part I of the present Bill is an interim measure, drawn on the lines of the Protection from Eviction Act 1964, with certain additions. That Act was in the nature of emergency legislation to meet the situation which Parliament felt necessary to deal with at that time. It affected, of course, only dwelling houses. This Bill is intended to give a measure of protection to caravan dwellers until more detailed legislation is introduced, should that be found necessary.

It will provide some degree of security and ensure some reasonable safeguards against arbitrary eviction. I do not wish to imply from this that landlords—that is to say, site operators—are bad landlords. That is not so at all. But there is a very small minority who have acted harshly towards caravan dwellers, who have no protection. Much of our landlord and tenant law arises from the fact that there has been a minority of bad landlords. That is how it works out. I think that your Lordships will agree that if there is even a small minority who do not treat the occupiers of caravans fairly, then it is right that there should be some legislation.

Before outlining the provisions of the Bill, I would pay tribute to the Consumer Council. They undertook a valuable survey on this subject and produced a report entitled Living in Caravans. I spoke yesterday to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, who said she was sorry she would not be here today to support this Bill, but I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, who I believe is now President of the Consumer Council, is to take part today. That certainly was a valuable study and shows clearly the need for some protective legislation. It is not alleged by those supporting this Bill that there is a large number of cases of wrongful eviction, although examples were given in another place when the Bill was under consideration and I have had a certain amount of correspondence right up to this morning from caravan dwellers who feel that they are placed in an unfair position and subjected to unreasonable threats. There seems to be a case for trying to remove the fear of uncertainty, which is inevitable if there is no adequate security.

In drafting the Bill, an attempt has been made to make it as simple as possible. That is the reason for following the precedent of the Protection from Eviction Act 1964. I should like to clarify one or two features of Part I of the Bill. There are different circumstances in which a caravan may be occupied as a residence. The occupier may own the caravan. He may be buying it on hire purchase. He may be hiring it from an outside source or from the site operator—that is, the owner of the site. All these cases are covered by this Bill. There has been very little legislation specifically designed to protect residents on caravan sites. The Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, which deals with the licensing and control of caravan areas, did not enable local authorities to impose conditions relating to security of tenure. Therefore, again, for that reason it seems right that there should be some legislation.

The Bill applies wherever a site licence is required or where a caravan site is run by the local authority. And "caravan site" is defined in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. The First Schedule to that Act sets out certain exemptions. I will not weary your Lordships with the details of those exemptions, but may I point out that they include the case of a caravan which is placed in the curtilage of a dwelling house incidental to the enjoyment of the house. It applies to the occasional stops by people travelling in a caravan. It applies to certain recreational sites, and to the winter quarters of travelling showmen. Therefore, they are all exempt.

Under this Bill the provisions do not apply to caravans on land made available for certain months of the year only, and they do not apply where the licence is granted for holiday use only. The intention is to cover cases where the occupant is using the caravan as a permanent residence. There are many retired people who find it pleasant, or to their liking, to live in a caravan. There are other cases where the breadwinner has a job near to a caravan site. In neither of those cases do the occupants of the caravan want to move about from one place to another; they wish to stay on the caravan site.

The nature of the protection can, I think, be summarised as follows. The Bill has these aims: to make it unlawful, without the sanction of the courts, to deprive a man of a pitch, or of a caravan and pitch which had been hired to him so that he could make his home there; to give the courts power to suspend any Order for possession that they make for up to twelve months at a time, to review or extend that period, and to fix terms and conditions[...] and thirdly, to give protection against harassment. There have been some cases of unreasonable evictions, and there is no doubt that there is some fear and uncertainty in the minds of some occupiers of caravans. I am not going to refer to the cases which have already been discussed in another place, or even to the correspondence that I have received, but may I just mention one new example that has come to light within the last few days?

A letter was written to Mr. Eric Lubbock, who passed it on to me. I should like to make it clear that I have had no time to investigate this case, but it is, I think, an illustration of the insecurity of caravan dwellers. There is a certain caravan site called the Mead Lane caravan site, in Chertsey, Surrey. Apparently, on part of that site some development has taken place, and the contractors were concerned that children should not stray on to the building site. That is fair enough. But a notice was delivered by the building contractors, in agreement, I am told, with the agents for the caravan park, to all tenants of the Mead Lane caravan park. I have a copy of the notice, and it reads: Any personnel or children found on building site where builders are working will be given notice to quit their site within 24 hours. That is not very clearly worded, and I presume that it does not mean that 24 hours is given to the child to leave the building site. As I understand it, the notice was delivered to all tenants of the park, and it means that any parents who allow their children on to the building site will be given 24 hours to quit their home. My Lords, it is difficult enough for parents in any circumstances to control what their children do. It is perfectly right that they should be warned, but it seems to me harsh in the extreme, if this notice is to be taken seriously, that the parents of children should be told to quit their home within 24 hours if the child is found on the building site.

I want to be absolutely fair, because this notice goes on to point out the danger to the children's safety if they wander on to this site; there are excavations which fill up with water, and a child might suffer serious consequences. This may be intended only as a warning. It was delivered by hand to all occupiers of the caravan site, and I mention it as an illustration of the lack of security. Whether they may be turned out within 24 hours, I do not know, but in many cases there is only a weekly tenancy, they could be evicted within a week, and they have no safeguard. There is the further problem that in many cases a dweller may be acquiring his caravan on hire-purchase, and if he has to leave the site he probably will not be able to find another site within a short space of time; and in that event may have to dispose of the caravan at possibly a serious loss. I will not delay your Lordships with many other harassing illustrations, but I hope that that gives some indication of what I mean by security of tenure.

To turn to the Bill, on Second Reading I think it would not be expected that I should outline the clauses in great detail. Clause 1 defines the application of Part I. It does so by reference to what is called "a residential contract", and that covers both a licence and a contract. Subsection (2) of Clause 1 defines "a protected site"—because we are dealing with caravans on protected sites. It explains this exemption to which I have already referred; namely, where a caravan is for holiday use only or for use during only certain parts of the year. Clause 2 deals with the minimum length of notice. This applies to cases where the tenancy or licence is not for a fixed term. If one has a caravan under an agreement for a year, then Clause 2, as I understand it, would not apply, but at the end of the year the owner or the site operator would still have to go to court to get possession. But this month's notice would apply where there is, say, a weekly tenancy, and the minimum of a month's notice would have to be given, even though the caravan was held on only a weekly tenancy.

Clause 3 deals with protection against eviction and harassment. It applies to all residential contracts, and there are three types of action by a site operator which would become a law. One is if he, during the subsistence of the residential contract, unlawfully deprives the occupier of his occupation; the second case is where after the expiration or determination of a residential contract he enforces otherwise than by proceedings in the court any right to exclude the occupier from the site. In other words, he must get an order from the court if the occupier does not go away, does not leave voluntarily. Thirdly, he must not harass the occupier in such a way that he leaves. This harassment means action with intent to cause the occupier to abandon his occupation. This is the same kind of subject of harassment as has been discussed in the case of ordinary dwelling-houses. Much of the discussion on that subject originated from the famous Rachman case. This provision is to ensure that there may not be similar kind of harassment in the case of those who dwell in caravans.

I do not think I need to go into great detail on the other clauses in Part I. There is protection when the occupier dies. There is protection for the widow or widower of the occupier and, in default of a widow or widower, for any member of the occupier's family residing in the caravan. Clause 4 deals with provisions for suspension of eviction orders and sets out the circumstances which will be taken into account by the court in deciding whether there should be an order for possession or whether there should be some deferred order. Clause 5 provides that "the court" means the county court. Therefore, to sum up Part I, the intention of this Part of the Bill is to provide reasonable security of tenure for those who wish to live in caravans.

To come to Part II, which I can deal with quite briefly, the object of this Part of the Bill is to ensure that certain local authorities provide sites for gipsies according to need, and at the same time have effective powers of control over unauthorised camping by gipsies. May I make it clear that "gipsies" are defined as persons with a nomadic way of life, whatever their race or origin. There has been some suggestion that this is contrary to the Convention of Human Rights, because we make a distinction between those of a nomadic way of life and those who are not. But the main object of this Part of the Bill is to provide better sites for them.

The Ministry of Housing and Local Government have had long negotiations with representatives of local authorities, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will provide any information we ask for on this subject. Part II is the outcome of these negotiations. I referred to certain local authorities. These are county councils, county boroughs and London boroughs. There are limitations on this duty to provide a site. In the first place, county boroughs and London boroughs are limited to providing a maximum of 15 pitches. If no land is available, county boroughs and London boroughs can apply to the Minister for exemption, and if there is no gipsy problem in the area they can apply for exemption.

I should perhaps just mention that local authorities have power under Section 24 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, to which I have already referred, to provide caravan sites for use as permanent residences or for holidays or other temporary purposes for people normally residing in their area, or for others, and a few authorities have used these powers to put up sites for gipsies. But the great majority have been reluctant to do so for various reasons, and there is now fairly general agreement among local authorities that the best way to make effective progress is to put a statutory duty or certain authorities so that the burden may be fairly shared.

Properly equipped camps are needed not only to provide places where gipsies can lawfully settle and enjoy basic amenities and send their children to school, but also to reduce the nuisance to house-dwellers in places where gipsies settle in numbers that cause annoyance. To ensure that this nuisance is stopped, and that expensive gipsy camps are not left unused, the Bill provides for penalties for unauthorised camping by gipsies in any area where adequate camps have been established. But in the current economic circumstances, particularly because of the implications of this Part of the Bill for local authority expenditure and manpower, this Part will come into effect only on ministerial Order. However, it will put beyond doubt which authorities will be required to deal with the gipsy problem, and will enable them to begin preparatory work in their area.

My Lords, if we accept that there are these people who wish to follow a nomadic way of life, I think it would be wrong to force them to live in conventional houses. But, if that be so, some provision must be made which is fair to them and to the rest of the community. I hope that this Bill will commend itself to your Lordships' House. I hope I have given sufficient explanation of the contents of the Bill. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Wade.)

11.29 a.m.


My Lords, it falls to my lot to be the first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for introducing the Bill into this House. In another place it was greeted with fairly friendly voices in every part of the House, and I expect that this may prove to be so in your Lordships' House this morning. I shall myself be brief, not only because of the amount of Business on the Order Paper but because the noble Lord, Lord Wade, himself has so adequately gone through the Bill and expressed the intentions behind it that there is little more to add. But, although the principles of the Bill are in general agreeable to most people, there are a few details to which I may wish to draw attention in Committee.

The difficulty of the occasional bad landlord in regard to legislation is one which comes up in many aspects of policy. It is the difficulty of legislating so as to "do down the dirty dog" without making life impossibly difficult for the ordinary, decent citizen. I suspect that in Part I of this Bill the problem presents itself in the form of the following question: to what extent is it sensible to press the analogy between houses and caravans?

This Bill is based largely on the sort of procedure against harsh landlords which has been adopted in the Rent Acts and the protection from older Evictions Act. It seems to me that it is not always and inevitably the case that what is sauce for the bricks and mortar goose is also sauce for the caravan gander. This particular point seems to me to need a little more consideration, although these points were considered in another place mainly in respect of the right of succession to a tenancy or licence, to the heavy penalties imposed on the harsh landlord, and possibly also in the matter of jurisdiction. I know that there was discussion in another place as to whether it might be better to put the jurisdiction into the magistrates' court. However, these are all Committee points, and I may be able to table some Amendments on them.

There is only one other aspect of the Bill to which I hope I may refer, without being disorderly—although I fear I may be disorderly because it is not something that is in the Bill but an omission from the Bill. The Bill does not apply to Scotland, whereas Part I of the 1960 Act does apply to Scotland. I asked why this Bill should not apply to Scotland, and I was assured that it would be too complicated to make it do so. When I looked at the 1960 Act I saw that that was a valid reply, and not just an excuse, for in Part I of the 1960 Act there is the usual clause about "in the application of this Bill to Scotland" et cetera, but the "et cetera" does not just go to the usual half dozen or so lines setting forth different legal terminology: it runs on for four pages. So it might well be that if we tried to apply this Bill to Scotland the adaptation would be almost as long as the Bill itself.

However, that leaves us with the problem that here is a Bill to set right certain wrongs, and if it goes through—as I hope it will—they will have been set right only in respect of England and Wales. What, then, should be the next step? I merely throw this as a question into the air. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, may already have had some thoughts on the subject, or possibly the Government may have had some. Would the Government consider, in the course of the next year or two, introducing a Scottish equivalent to this Bill? Or perhaps we could look to the Liberal Party again, who do not lack for Scotsmen in either House of Parliament; perhaps they would introduce a Scottish Bill on the same lines as this.

11.34 a.m.


My Lords, I wish briefly to support what my noble friend Lord Wade has said and to elaborate one or two points. One of the points which occurs to me on Part I of the Bill is that some associations of local authorities have expressed their opinion that caravan sites were not suitable as permanent residences. But that cannot really be the case, I think, because, provided that the sites are so arranged and equipped that they conform to the normal rules of environmental hygiene, I can see no difference in the propriety of a person living in a caravan, if he so wishes, since under this Bill the local authority would be able to take steps to get rid of any nuisance which might be made from a sanitary or an environmental hygiene point of view.

One interesting point in regard to the tenants or occupiers of caravans is, as my noble friend said, that Part I of the Bill does not apply to the casual caravan dweller who may be on holiday: it applies only to the people who want to make their caravan a permanent home. Not everyone would want to do that, but some people do, and if they are turned out of their pitch at a moment's notice, if they have no security of tenure, it means not only that they lose their pitch for their caravan but that their caravan becomes practically valueless to them, because until they can find somewhere else to put it they cannot live in it; and in that case it would not be at all simple to dispose of the caravan. Therefore there is a case for some sort of security such as this Bill gives in Clause 2, which is just as important as it is for people living in normal houses.

Part II of the Bill refers to the gipsies. I think it makes the law much simpler as regards gipsies, because there again some people like to lead a nomadic life, and others do not. Those who like the nomadic life do not necessarily need to be gipsies; so, as my noble friend said, the fact that they are being controlled in some way does not contravene the Human Rights Convention; nor, in the same way, is there anything racial about it. There are quite a number of people who like the nomadic way of life and who are not gipsies. They come from all parts of the world, including, I believe, Ireland. One would rather see a site provided for them by the local authority than to see, as one did in the old days, a broad grass verge with a gipsy camp on it; it looked very pretty but it was not an ideal thing, either from an environmental or from a nuisance point of view.

There is nothing in the Bill to prevent people who wish to be nomadic from moving from one site to another, but they must move to a site which has been licensed or approved by the local authority, and at the present time I do not think they can object to being submitted to some kind of discipline, instead of being able to go just exactly where they like. Therefore one has to regard the position envisaged by the Bill not sentimentally but purely practically. I think this Bill makes a good addition to our legislation, and I trust that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

11.39 a.m.


My Lords, it is true that most of the points which occur to one in the way of criticism of this Bill are essentially Committee points, and I do not propose to take up the time of the House in going into them at this stage. However, there are one or two points of principle. I have ascertained the views of the Association of Municipal Corporations on one of them. I am referring now to Part II of the Bill, and the Association are opposed in principle to the idea of placing upon local authorities at the present time any obligation to provide sites for gipsies. This, it seems, can only mean increased local government expenditure in a financial climate in which the Government have called upon every possible retrenchment.

One hopes, at least, that an assurance will be given by the Minister that this Part of the Bill will not be brought into force until he is satisfied that affected local authorities are in a position to meet this expenditure. Furthermore, in many areas it would seem particularly inappropriate that such an obligation should be placed upon any urban authority. Urban land is scarce enough in all conscience, and towns are surely not appropriate places for these sites.

Turning to Part I, the Association feel some difficulty over the apparently conflicting issues: security of tenure for residential caravan occupiers, in order to prevent hardship, and the question whether caravans are suitable as permanent dwellings. The Association have come to the conclusion that they are not. It is recognised that there is a need for provisions of this kind to be enacted, but it is felt that some Amendments need to be made to limit the protection given by the Bill to permanent residential caravans, and not to include caravans used for holiday and other temporary purposes, and also that certain limits should be placed on the power of the county court to suspend orders for possession.

There are a number of other points, as I have said, which are better left for the Committee stage, but perhaps I may mention two of them today. Perhaps there ought to be Amendments to strengthen the provision as regards prohibition of unauthorised camping and enabling local authorities to recover their expenses in the matter of removing caravans. That is all I wish to put before the House at the moment, because there are many Amendments which we think may improve the Bill in Committee.

11.43 a.m.


My Lords, I also wish to give a very warm welcome to this Bill. I have one major criticism to make of it which I will come to in a moment, but I believe that Part I in particular gives the essential protection necessary and brings the caravan dweller really into line with the house dweller. I think it is inevitable that we have had an increase in caravan population in the last few years and that we are likely to have it in the future, because of the housing shortage, because of the growing reshaping of industry and the need for people to move quickly, and partly because the caravan industry itself turns out such splendid caravans now that some of them I have looked at I should dearly like to live in myself.

There is a third aspect, and this touches on the criticism I would make of Part II. This third aspect is the desire of a small number of people—perhaps the desire of the majority of people—to be free of the constrictions of the concrete and asphalt jungles which are becoming part of our civilisation. Some resentment is felt by worthy tax-paying citizens about anyone who appears to opt out of their responsibilities to the community, and this is understandable; but is there not perhaps also some jealousy and envy in our attitude towards the true nomads? All the poets speak of the great longing; we all know Yeats's poem about the Lake Isle of Innisfree. I do not think there is anybody in what they call "the rat race" who does not feel a yearning to get away from it at times. I think there is something in our attitude to the nomad of envy.

We have, where I live, an old gentleman who is called Smokey Joe, who has been "foot loose and fancy free" for forty years or more. He has not got a caravan; he lives where he can and how he can. He is a local character; everybody befriends him. He prefers to live that way. The police take him in every winter. He is installed in a hospital and fed up and cleaned up, and as soon as he gets the opportunity he escapes and goes back to the nomadic and free life. I personally should not like to live like that, but I admire and respect his desire to do so. And I believe he is a very well educated man.

What I regret about Part II is the fact that "gipsy" is spelled with a small "g". I know there is some judicial background for this, but just the same it is a pity. It is like calling everybody who comes to your Lordships' House conservative. We know that could not conceivably be true. And to lump all nomadic peoples together, and particularly the small genuine section of Romany, and to spell it with a small "g" is, I think, partly in some cases an insult to the true Gipsy, and sometimes is misleading. There is in the public mind a kind of double image of the gipsy. We have the dark, romantic, camp-fire, fiddle-playing image of the gipsy, and, on the other hand, the image of them as being rogues and thieves and cheats and fortune-tellers. But we ought never to forget that they are a race with a culture of their own and that 400,000 of them were executed, as the Jews were, by the Nazis. And we have still in this country a small but important group of true Romany people, who I believe are entitled to some consideration, who have hardly anybody to speak for them, and who tend to be lumped in this Bill together with other people for whom perhaps there is not quite so much to be said.

We all know that the true Gipsy is proud and clean and independent, and it is true to say you could eat a meal off the floor of the true Gipsy's caravan. I remember years ago there was a field at St. Mary Cray where we had the Gipsies in one corner, the true Romanys, with clean caravans, and the site they occupied was spotless; and in the two-thirds of the site occupied by the other travellers, it was filthy—the horrible sight we have seen so often along the trunk roads of our countryside and even some of our beautiful lanes, where cars are broken up and the whole thing is made filthy and unpleasant. This is not the work of the true Romany or Gipsy. In fact, the true Romany is very contemptuous of these people. He divides them into categories. There are first of all the didekeis who are half Romany blood. Then there is, secondly and picturesquely, a group they call the "posh rats", who have some Romany blood but very distilled. And finally there are the people they call simply the "travellers"; and they are very often people who have been forced to travel for various reasons.

Perhaps we have to face the fact that modern society, with its trunk roads and motorways and the shortage of land, has made it almost impossible for the true Gipsy to survive, though I understand that in Wales there are still true Romany families living together, pursuing the old crafts which they have pursued for centuries. By his very nature the Gipsy must exist as a nomad if he wishes to follow his way of life—and I speak always of the Gipsy with a capital "G" so that you will understand I am speaking of the Romany. He must exist near centres of population, outside them; and with the growth of our society it often happens that just outside these population centres there are no sites, or very limited ones. Land is now tremendously valuable. And, of course, he has been swamped out and his image ruined by the didekeis and others of whom I spoke.

It is true that his life is poor, because, again, modern society has taken away from the Romany the opportunity that he had to sell his arts and crafts. You can turn out from a factory hundreds of thousands of those horrible plastic flowers which are a substitute for the sort of real thing that the Gipsy used to make by hand and bring round and sell, or the real thing that he used actually to pick. And the great trade in clothes pegs has almost gone out of demand, with the tremendous growth of the spin dryer and other accessories of civilisation. So it may be true that he will have to be absorbed and assimilated. Perhaps the passing of this Bill will make it easier to face that inevitable process, but I should find it extremely sad if we could not do something to save that rare and rich culture, to separate in some way the true Romany from all the hangers-on, and to give him some special consideration as an essential and colourful part of the life of these Islands.

Like other noble Lords, I have one or two comments that might be better suited for the Committee Stage. I should like, for example, to raise a question on Clause 10, which was, I understand, raised in another place but which I think is important and underlines the point that I am trying to make. The only phrase that I am concerned with at the moment is that which deals with the fact that it will be an offence for "any person, being a Gipsy". It seems to me that this is discriminatory. I know that the movers of the Bill did not intend it to be so, but it is in practice, and it will continue to be. It is clear that they were trying to avoid a situation where the ordinary citizen, out with his car or his trailer or his caravan, could not park for one night. What this Bill does in its present form is to say that you can go out with your Jaguar or your Ford Consul with the trailer behind it and park for one night, because you are not a Gipsy and you can prove it. But any true nomad under this clause of the Bill cannot park for one night.

It seems to me that this is discriminatory. There may not be sites within easy driving distance. It may take two or three nights to get from one authorised site to another. That seems to me to be a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Wade, with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, might give consideration, to see whether there is not some way round it. I understand the difficulty and that one does not want people taking up a long residence, but it seems unfair that people who have lived this nomadic way of life for centuries should not be any longer allowed to park even for one night in other than an authorised place.

There are other points that I should like to raise on Committee. I have been approached by a Gipsy Support Group to raise one or two other questions, and I shall perhaps be putting some of these down as Amendments. But there is one other point that I might draw to the attention of the Government and ask them to comment on. It is a matter which I think is of some urgency. If the operation of the sites is to come into effect only by a special Order, may I point out that it is likely that there will be serious hardship this winter, and is it not possible in the interim for the Government to make some emergency proposals for temporary sites, not perhaps up to the standard of those that we hope eventually to build, to allow for these people?

Secondly, is it not a little unwise to spread the ratio of 115 per county borough as is suggested in the Bill, regardless of the distribution of the gipsy population? For example, for many years Kent has been a great home for the gipsies. After all, it is a beautiful county and it is the Garden of England. I believe that we in Kent have a population of something like half of the total (I am using the word with a small "g") of gipsies, and I think that in some boroughs or areas where we have had a traditional number of people living with us the number of 15 is quite small. In those cases it would seem to me that something like 30 might be more reasonable. Again I understand the difficulty, but it is an important matter.

Finally, I should like the Government to comment on this point. What is to prevent the local authority from taking stern measures in one way or another, to drive off its gipsy population for the moment, and then send in a full return to the Government saying, "We have no gipsy problem. We have nobody here"? That seems to me an important aspect that ought to be considered. But, coming back to my main point, I hope that the sponsors of the Bill and the Government will give serious consideration to the true Romany, to see if something cannot be done even to register these people, so that their culture and their distinctive characteristics will not be driven away from us.

11.57 a.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for any length of time this morning because the noble Lord, Lord Wade, has already fully and carefully explained the purposes of this Bill. However, at the outset, I should like to declare an interest, in that I am a member of the National Caravan Council, which is the representative body of the British caravan industry. Parts I and III of the Bill concern the caravan industry and the owners of caravan parks. As has already been pointed out, Part II gives power to—in fact, it requires—local authorities to provide sites for gipsies (with a small "g" I think), where the need is apparent, and this does not directly affect the industry.

I am sure your Lordships were all extremely interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said about the Romany population of this country. I hope that during the further stages of this Bill it will be possible to do something, somewhere and in some way to meet the extremely important and interesting points that he made in his speech, dealing mainly with Part II. The National Caravan Council applauds the intention of this clause, as this should effectively put an end, if not immediately then in the not-too-distant future, to the eyesores of untidy encampments on roadside land and verges. These have been the caravans that so many people have seen and which, I regret to say, have undoubtedly coloured their opinion of caravans generally. They have brought disrepute on this industry, which is doing an extremely valuable export trade, and adversely affected its wider acceptance.

Regrettably, too many of our fellow citizens, in spite of the Arton Wilson Report, still seem to think of caravan residents as sub-standard people living in sub-standard accommodation. This is quite untrue. The industry generally welcomes Part I and what it sets out to do. However, I think that the point may be clearly and firmly made that the vast majority of caravan park owners run well-ordered parks, to the complete satisfaction and great enjoyment of those living on them, some 90 per cent. of whom, I think, own their own caravans and thus are home owners. It may be true that a quite small minority of caravan park owners have given cause for complaint on rare occasions, but does not this happen in all forms in the modern complex society in which we live? It is therefore very much in the interests of the industry that whatever cause for complaint there may be should be removed and firmer legislation, as there is in this Bill, is, I think, the way to do it.

Part III sets out to correct a defect chat has become apparent in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. This defect is in respect of the definition of a caravan, and particularly twin units. The industry have been anxious to get this put right as soon as possible and will be content if all that is required is achieved in this Bill. But we should welcome an assurance that it does in fact achieve all that is required, because while the 1960 Act applied to England and Wales and Scotland, Clause 17(3) of this Bill, which by Clause 13 purports to amend Part I of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, says that the Bill does not extend to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, has drawn attention to this matter and, like him, I should like some clarification. Is it the case that Part I of the 1960 Act is amended in relation to Scotland by this Bill? This is a very important point and one on which we must be quite clear. May we have an authoritative answer from the Government Benches? It would be extremely helpful if the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate on behalf of the Government could give a helpful and constructive answer on this point which clarifies the matter.

I think we must also be careful not to make it too difficult to remove a disreputable element from the caravan community, any more than in a housing estate. I have available with me here evidence of the militancy of some of the caravan residents' leaders, of how police have had to be called in because of disturbances at local council meetings. Indeed, one demonstration was on behalf of a family evicted from a local authority park for failing to observe the rules. Therefore, in the interests of the other caravan owners on the estate, or any estate, we must see that where a caravan resident does not behave as he should there are certain sanctions against misbehaviour.

This Bill has had a rapid passage in another place. Like other legislation now coming before your Lordships' House, it seems that there are improvements to this Bill which could be made with advantage, as other noble Lords have already said, and therefore some Amendments will be laid for consideration during the Committee stage. They will certainly not be wrecking Amendments but will be aimed at making the Bill a better one.

For example, the Caravan Council think that the protection provided in Clause 1 to caravan residents may be drawn too widely. Certainly it goes beyond the protection now given to people living in houses and fiats. This surely is not right. There is no evidence that I know of to show that caravan residents are less well off than those living in homes which are not mobile. We should not in any way wish to condone harassment, but we believe the penalties may be worthy of review. Accordingly, it is proposed to table appropriate Amendments for further consideration because of the point made previously about not weighting the Bill too heavily in favour of the residents.

The National Caravan Council think that a case can be made out for removing the provision in Clause 14 that local authorities may institute proceedings on behalf of third parties. Furthermore, the Council think that cases under the Bill should go to the magistrates' court, and not to the county court as provided in Clause 5, because of the need for faster action than the county court is likely to provide, and the need to spread the, load, as well as the fact that the magistrates' court, because of its licensing responsibilities, has local knowledge of the place.

There are further points of detail in respect of definition which will be raised in discussion of Part III of the Bill, though I need not trouble your Lordships with them in this Second Reading debate. I have indicated some points which will need consideration during further stages of this Bill, but in principle, as I have already said, the Caravan Council welcome and support this Bill.

12.6 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wade, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and the Consumers' Council for the kind words he said about us. I cannot claim to be its President, but I can claim to be its new Chairman, and we are very proud of our association with Mr. Lubbock and now with Lord Wade in pursuing the background which has provided the information on which the main provisions of Part I have been based. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, referred to what I think is called, "Living in a Caravan" pamphlet, which was issued by us after a professional survey covering over 500 caravan dwellers.

Although there is general agreement in the House in favour of the Bill, some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, make me think that it might be as well to mention or e or two facts which go somewhat in the opposite direction. For example, arising out of this survey it was found that 70 per cent. of dwellers were on one week's agreement, or did not know what the agreement was, which is a rather high figure and not at all what you would find among dwellers in ordinary housing. Fifty per cent. of those who dwell in caravans have no written agreement at all; 50 per cent. of the sites have communal lavatories; one quarter of the caravans have no water laid on to the van, and roads and footpaths were often very unsatisfactory. The most interesting theme running through all the complaints—and out of 450 letters received preliminary to the survey 75 per cent. contained complaints—was the threat of the fear of eviction. Many of these people, though by no means all, are fairly simple people. There is a shortage of sites and people are frightened of complaining to their landlord or to the site operator about things which he would very likely put right. They are frightened of doing so because they are afraid of losing their site.

I feel that the noble Lord, rather naturally, made things sound a little more satisfactory than in fact they are. Many caravan dwellers will have accepted the situation of second-class housing because they cannot find anything else. The inquiry showed that 44 per cent., I think it was, said, "If we had the chance of a house we would go to-morrow". A large proportion of the remainder probably live in caravans because they like doing so, and good luck to them. But it is always the weaker half who need protection, and at least we know that 44 per cent. of those who were living in caravans at the time of the inquiry did not want to do so.

If one buys a lease of a flat in London to-day one often gets landed with £1,500 worth of somebody else's execrable taste in curtains and carpets; and something not dissimilar happens on caravan sites. The question of taste does not come in, but there is something called a connection charge which should, of course, be paid by the original owner of the caravan and should, and usually is, paid week by week. But there is a tendency for some site operators to charge newcomers with this connection charge, although the charge may have been paid off.

I do not want the noble Lord to think that this is true of all operators; it is not. But it is an abuse which exists. Our figures show that 27 per cent. of the people asked were paying some kind of site premium, ranging from £25 up to £200. I do not say that premiums were always as high as that, but there were some very high ones. An even worse abuse is that some site owners will let pitches only to people who buy caravans from them. This is a sort of double "closed shop": it means that if you leave the site you have to sell your caravan, probably at a loss, and buy another to get on another site. I assure your Lordships that everything is not all right in the caravan world. There is a corner of it which needs to be looked at. My noble friend Lord Royle has already a Bill before your Lordships dealing with overcharging through electricity meters, but this is another field in which we have had evidence.

In any slightly embarrassed group (and I think that the people who live in caravans because they cannot get anywhere else inevitably become so) there are always a number of people who find life too difficult for them, who get into worse and worse conditions, and who are on the way down. These are the people who cause the trouble to which the noble Lord referred. There are difficult people who have to be dealt with, but I feel that the provisions of this Bill cover this problem quite adequately.

Somebody must decide what is to be the national policy towards caravans. Are they to be accepted as a contribution towards the solution of housing problems for many years to come, or are they, like the "prefabs" (which were put up with a four-year life, or whatever it was, during the war and which are still in existence all over England) to be a permanent contribution to a shortage which is not quickly going to be overcome? If they are to be a permanent contribution—and my view is that at the moment they are nearer that than anything else—it would be wrong for local authorities to grant them short-term permissions. They ought to grant indefinite or very long-term permissions, since short-term permissions will not encourage the site operator to make his site really good, because he knows that after a time he is going to lose his investment, and it gives him an excuse for not doing the things that he ought to do.

My own view, and that of the Consumer Council, is that it is a great pity we cannot bring local authorities into the same category as everybody else. This matter might be further looked at. Although they are defended by a democratic process, local authority sites are of no higher standard than those of other owners. They do not have the worst sites, but their sites are not better than average.

When it comes to Part II of the Bill, I speak on my own behalf rather than for the Consumer Council, since we have not felt that the special problem created by gipsies (whether with a large "G" or a small one) is necessarily a consumer problem. For my own part, I feel that they are an oppressed minority. I strongly favour giving them some kind of stability of existence in this country. I believe that there is some real persecution here, although it is not directed at the upper class gipsies of whom we heard from my noble friend Lord Willis—and it is a great satisfaction to me to find myself, for the first time in my life, very slightly to the Left of him on this point. It is not the upper class gipsies with these long pedigrees who are persecuted: it is the tag-end who are the difficult problem, and the problem families whom we meet everywhere.

Everybody always shoves them on to the next man. This is a symbolical example of what is happening in hostels, in prisons and lunatic asylums. There is always a tag-end which is being shoved on, and some of these people live in caravans. It is a very unsatisfactory situation that they should be pushed from pillar to post, even though their pedigree may not be good enough to satisfy my noble friend. I have been woken up late at night by a member of the Simon Community to say that he had three caravans with nowhere to put them. This is not an unknown thing, but these families were difficult, and this problem is a real one.

Part II of the Bill seems to do what should be done: it makes provision for a minority group, some of whom are of perfectly good behaviour and some of whom are not, to live as citizens in this country. It provides them with sites, and, having provided them with sites, tells them quite reasonably that they cannot go anywhere else. This is a satisfactory situation but I observe a reluctance on the part of local authorities to shoulder this burden. Who can blame them? It is bound to cost money, and the difficult members of these communities are fearfully difficult and pose a great problem. I agree with my noble friend Lout Willis that this Bill should not be long delayed. I find myself in the position of being able to support both Parts very fully, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wade, on bringing the Bill through with so little opposition, and to hope that it will go through your Lordships' House as easily as it went through another place.

12.16 p.m.


My Lords, intervene briefly in support mainly of my noble friend Lord Wakefield of Kendal. I have no personal association with camp ownership, but I have been informed of the difficulties by a neighbour who has. I shall therefore restrict myself to Parts I and III of the Bill; though I am tempted to include some remarks on Part II, having heard the fascinating comments of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, on that Part and about the people whom it affects.

Referring to Parts I and III, I support the Bill in principle, as I think all speakers have done so far, but there are various aspects of it which I am sure will require amendment. There are two particular points that I should like to emphasise. The first is that the Bill appears to me to be excessively biased against the camp site owner. Surely it is wrong, if one can prevent it, to have an Act of Parliament which is biased excessively in one direction or the other. Can it not be said that if you bias a Bill excessively against one particular group of people, you are liable to lead to more rather than less law-breaking? It is necessary to make sure that the Bill provides for penalties on those who deserve them, but surely we should not legislate with the "lunatic fringe" primarily in mind. Although one has heard the statistics quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, I suggest that in this case perhaps we have the lunatic fringe primarily in mind.

The second point which might be considered by your Lordships relates to the special social conditions on a camp site. One has up to 20 families per acre, a large proportion of whom, on any statistical basis, are people who prefer a mobile home to a fixed abode. I suggest that this means they are people of independent mind and thought who wish to have the sort of freedom that a mobile home can give them. With people of independence gathered closely together in a comparatively small area, there must be certain social problems. Good site owners, I think, recognise that fact, and take responsibility for ensuring that those social problems are smoothly overcome. I therefore suggest that it is very important, in a Bill of this sort, to encourage site owners to take that social responsibility which is surely a very necessary part of their task, but which this Bill makes no attempt to do. In fact I go further and say that parts of this Bill could be interpreted as describing the site owner as a wicked home-breaker, equivalent to the worst type of slum landlord for whom heavy penalties have to be provided.

I do not believe that it is going to be possible, by a process of amendment, to alter this Bill so that it lays sufficient emphasis on the need for encouraging the social responsibility of the site owner. But I understand, from having read the reports of all the debates in another place, that this Bill was regarded as a holding operation and we have heard this morning of a further Bill that is to be brought in later. What I should like, therefore, to do at this stage is to suggest to the Government, and to anybody who may be concerned with the introduction of another Bill of a rather more permanent sort, that they should give great consideration to the need for encouraging the social responsibilities of the site owner. They should encourage him to do his job well, rather than produce legislation which penalises excessively the site owner who does his job badly.

12.22 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, but I hoped that some passing reference might have been made to the extremely difficult role played by the police in dealing with this problem and to the conspicuously tactful way in which they have invariably carried it out. I have been quite amazed at the degree of sympathy, understanding and forbearance shown by the police, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. Although initially, when this Bill is passed, Clause 11, deal- ing with the removal of unlawful encampments, may involve the police in rather heavier and perhaps even more distasteful duties than they have had to carry out previously, I profoundly hope that within a period of two or three years the police authorities will have their labours considerably lightened by the Bill when a greater degree of social responsibility is realised by those with whom it has to deal. At this stage there is little else that is called for on my part, except that I would endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Willis about Clause 10, and I cannot help feeling that the three words "being a gipsy" might have been better left out.

12.25 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for partaking for a moment, but as I initiated a debate on gipsies I should just like to say a few words on Part II of the Bill. While I welcome the Bill most heartily, there is one point that rather worries me. I am not a lawyer, but it appears to me that under this Bill you can commit a criminal offence by doing something if you are a gipsy, but if I, for instance, do the same thing I shall not be committing an offence. If I park a caravan on or near a lay-by and make a filthy mess I shall not be committing an offence, but if I were of a nomadic way of life I should be committing an offence. I quite understand that this is a very difficult matter to put into law, but I always thought that the act constituted the offence and not the type of person who committed it. However, I suppose it is almost impossible to evolve a form of words that would make the position strictly fair.

I also should like to make what is perhaps a Committee point and draw attention to Clause 8 which deals with the acquisition of sites by councils. It is obvious that any council or borough desiring to purchase a site for gipsies is bound to encounter a great deal of opposition from neighbours around that site, and I was wondering whether it would speed up the acquisition of sites if some compensation were payable to those people, because, rightly or wrongly, a great many people have a horror of having gipsies just beside them. There are a great many decent and extremely honourable gipsies, but there are some very untidy ones whom I would call travellers and not true gipsies.

I think that paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of Clause 10 is excellent, because there have been so many instances of gipsy encampments near highways. I have personally known of accidents to the children of gipsies, owing to their proximity to the highways. So I very much welcome that paragraph. I would point out that in Clause 16 we have the definition of "gipsies", which means persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin". But, as the clause says, that definition does not include members of an organised group of travelling showmen, or … persons engaged in travelling circuses, travelling together as such; I presume that the members of an organised group of travelling showmen can make just as much litter and general mess, and can cause just as much disturbance on a site in the country as gipsies.

Coming back to my earlier point, I cannot see how in law there can really be any distinction so that an ordinary citizen who takes his caravan on holiday is not prosecuted for being untidy because he is not a gipsy, although if he were a gipsy he would be prosecuted. Presumably you could prosecute the ordinary citizen under the Anti-Litter Act, and perhaps that covers it, but I should just like to make that point in defence of gipsies, because some gipsies are very decent people.

12.30 p.m.


My Lords, caravans tend to be blemishes on the beauties of the countryside, and indeed to disturb the amenities of rural England, as do caravan sites, particularly if they are not well sited. The noble Lord, Lord Wakefield, is very experienced in this, and I think we all congratulate him on the admirable way in which he sited his large caravan site on the shores of Windermere. This Bill, therefore, has naturally received a good deal of attention from those of us who are concerned about the amenities of the countryside, and has been anxiously looked at by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. I am glad to say that, as we see it, this should be a helpful Bill from our point of view, and we certainly would not wish to oppose it. Indeed, we feel that it makes a distinct contribution to the solution of our problems.

12.32 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be brief. I had not intended to intervene in this discussion this morning, but I think that one voice has so far not been heard. We have heard one noble Lord proclaiming himself as a Scot; we have heard another noble Lord proclaiming himself as interested in caravan manufacture; we have heard my noble friend Lord Chorley proclaiming himself as a lover of the English countryside; and we have had my noble friend Lord Willis proclaiming himself as a gipsy-lover. I can claim to be none of those things, but I have for 25 years had a very close association with local government, and as local government is destined to have a very important part to play in the implementation of this Bill, I should like to say a word from their point of view.

But first there is one comment I should like to make about Part I, which is the "non-gipsy" part of this suggested legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, said and indicated in many ways that this Bill was based largely on the philosophy of the Rent Acts as we have known them for the last forty years or so, but there is one feature of the Rent Acts which does not appear in this Bill, and that is some measure of rent restriction so far as caravan dwellers are concerned. There is wholesale racketeering going on by the proprietors of sites who are letting them out to caravan dwellers at so much a week. They are letting out sites for one caravan to various caravan dwellers at very high rents indeed, and I sincerely hope that before we finish our Committee stage some consideration will be given to this aspect of the question. I am not suggesting that it will be an easy matter to deal with, but there are some people making gigantic fortunes by buying up a piece of farm land cheap, putting in a few elementary facilities and then charging exorbitant rents.

I now want to turn to Part II of the Bill—that which deals specifically with gipsies. My noble friend Lord Willis was most poetical and lyrical about them. I almost fancied at one time he was singing us an "Air on a capital 'G'string." I am not a gipsy, and I have not had much to do with gipsies. They used to steal my chickens occasionally when I had a place in the country, but I like them as much as anybody else. However, there is another side to this question. I am a member of a small public authority which is responsible for an area accommodating a population of only about 80,000 people, and yet we have gipsies camping on two or three sites in our area where they tear down trees in order to make their fires, dump their rubbish in our water-courses and dump the old cars from which they have stripped the saleable material. It costs us, a small authority, over £5,000 a year to clear up the mess that they leave behind them. So while we sing lyrically about the gipsies, let us look at that side of the story as well.

In those circumstances, of course, if we look at this realistically, it is much cheaper for a local authority to buy, equip and provide a proper caravan site where matters can be kept under some degree of supervision. Of course—and nobody has touched on this point this morning—it is an expensive undertaking for a local authority to buy and equip a caravan site. You cannot properly equip one for 15 or 20 caravans at less than £20,000, and when the treasurer or the finance committee chairman of a local authority goes to his council on budget day and says, "I want £20,000 to set up a site for 15 gipsy families", he finds that it is a very difficult thing for him to put over. I am one of those people who has been putting this over on the authorities with which I am connected for some years; and, of course, we find ourselves faced with difficulties. It is not merely sufficient to say in this Bill, "A local authority shall provide this site, shall provide these facilities".

The county council of which I have been a member for 22 years has recently embarked very enthusiastically on attempts to solve this gipsy problem. We found one site, and we immediately had a petition from the villagers saying they would not have it at any price. We therefore looked round for some other accommodation in that area, and one small local council was good enough to say that it would provide 12 of its council houses—three a year for four years. But that did not find much favour among the gipsies, and ultimately that proposal was withdrawn, and one could quite naturally understand the reasons why. So we had to abandon that site. We then went to another site. We thought it was perfect. It was the remnants of an old war-time aerodrome, with lovely concrete runways already standing there to make hard-standing sites for the caravans. It was delightfully shielded from public view by a row of tall trees on one side and a long hedge along the road. But as soon as the negotiations began to be whispered about, the farmer broke up the concrete runways, ploughed up the field, cut down the trees and trimmed down the hedge. The position became impossible. The farmer's actions had ruined all those natural facilities which were destined to make it into an ideal caravan site, so my county council had to call off the negotiations. Now the landowner's solicitors have sent us a bill for his costs, and it looks as though we have got to pay them.

Then we searched round for another site. We saw an old R.A.F. camp—not an aerodrome, but a camp where R.A.F. tradesmen had been trained for their respective trades. We found that and we were going ahead with it. We asked Ministerial permission, and we got it. Then we sent our surveyor round to make a more detailed examination, and we found that the whole place was honeycombed with sewers and pipes and manholes which would have made it an absolute danger for any gipsy children who might have been living there. So we had to call that off. Then we found another place, apparently ideal in every way. That called forth a warm protest from the villagers. They applied to the Ministry for a public inquiry, and we are now waiting for that public inquiry. It will probably be another 12 months before we can dig a single spade into that site.

The trouble, my Lords, is that when you hand this job over to the local authority, even though the local authority is philosophically very eager to get on with the job, you find that the local council is composed of various members who come from various parts of the district. One of them will represent a ward, one of them will represent a little township, another will represent two or three villages; and as soon as you mention the name of a place there is wholesale opposition from the representative of that place. It is something like the Stansted Airport story, my Lords: we all want an airport, it is absolutely essential, but it must not be in our own district. That is the trouble, looking at it realistically, with which local councils are going to be faced. I am not saying that it is a trouble which cannot be overcome, but we must not look for too speedy action from the local authorities, enthusiastic though they may be in their endeavours to solve this gipsy problem.

I have only one more thing to say, and that is with regard to the suggestion by two noble Lords that magistrates' courts might be better than the county courts for settling the problems that arise under this Bill. I have been a magistrate for a long time, for a quarter of a century. I do not think that magistrates' courts would be suitable. Magistrates in any given area are men who may own land, who may own houses, men who are tied sentimentally to their own districts. It would be putting an unjustified burden upon them to ask them to adjudicate on matters of this kind. I like the distant independence of the county court judge who goes round on circuit and who lives probably 40 or 50 miles away. I think that would be a much better medium of justice through which to settle any troubles that arise under this Bill. Finally, my Lords, I welcome the Bill and hope that, with Amendments, we shall give it a speedy passage.

12.42 p.m.


My Lords, I think there is little to be said from the point of view of the Government except to confirm what the House already knows—for it was said in another place: that the Government welcome this Bill and are grateful to Mr. Lubbock and to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, for introducing it in the two Houses of Parliament and have contributed largely to its drafting. While I am on the subject of thanks and congratulations I must of course mention the Consumer Council, of which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has already spoken, and congratulate them on their Report, Living in Caravans, which excavated a great deal of the primary material needed before legislation could be framed, and also to congratulate once again our own sociologists in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I did this a year ago in this House and I do so again. They produced a large sociological report on gipsies which excavated the rest of the material necessary for Part II of the Bill.

I will take up one or two points which have arisen in the debate and which it seems to me the Government should answer. They are mainly questions of fact. Several noble Lords asked about a Scottish Bill. Let me say at once that this Bill does not apply in any respect to Scotland. So far as a Scottish Bill is concerned, the Government will keep an open mind and consider any evidence of the need for fresh legislation in Scotland. At the moment we know of no very crying need for it, but I can say that it should not be difficult to convince the Government of such a need, if it existed. This is rather a question of wait and see. The Government are waiting and seeing, too. On the one detailed aspect of that point, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield, who asked about twin trailers in Scotland. The 1960 Act is not amended in Scotland by this Bill. I think that answers that factual point.

My Lords, let me turn now to the comparisons which have been made by several speakers between the degree of protection afforded to caravan dwellers by Part I of this Bill and the degree of protection afforded to house and flat dwellers, bricks and mortar dwellers, by the Rent Acts in general. I think I heard one noble Lord say that the protection in this Bill for caravanners went beyond what is available to the householders. I was astonished to hear that. If any noble Lord cares to read the Protection from Eviction Act 1964 and the Rent Act 1965, he would find that this Bill does not begin to approach the degree of protection afforded by the present law to the bricks and mortar dweller.

I turn now to Part II of the Bill, the gipsy part. I should like to repeat what has been said in another place—and I am sure that the Association of Municipal Corporations are aware of it; that there is no question of Part II of the Bill coming into force immediately. This must await economic circumstances when it will be justifiable to lay this expenditure on the local authorities; it will await that turn of events. I am anxious to avoid mentioning any time. It is the Government's wish to bring this Bill into effect as soon as possible, but now is clearly not the time. On the question of Clause 10, which bothered several noble Lords, let me say I can understand their worries about it. Parliament must always look closely at any proposal that a given action may be an offence when it is committed by one class of person but not when it is committed by another class of person. No doubt, in Committee the House will examine this clause closely.

Without prejudging anything that may be said, I should like to point out that Clause 10 hangs together with Clause 6, which lays on the local authority a duty to provide the sites for the gipsies. In so far as it is true that gipsies are discriminated against by Clause 10 (which allows them to be moved on in certain circumstances), it is equally true that there is discrimination in their favour under Clause 6, which requires the local authorities—lays a duty upon them—to provide camping sites for gipsies only, and not for any other class of person. Also, of course, when Clause 10 comes into effect in a given area it will not have the effect that the gipsies there may camp nowhere but on approved sites; they may always camp on private land, with the permission of the owner. In any case, camping on private land without permission is already a trespass; this clause makes it a criminal offence. But they may not camp on waste land or on verges. It does not affect their camping on private land with permission.

Then they have a wide range of defences against this charge by saying that somebody was ill, that there was a mechanical breakdown, or even that there was an unspecified emergency. It seems to me that a gipsy who stops for one night on the verge on the way between two authorised sites is unlikely to be unable to sustain a defence of some unspecified emergency and is unlikely to be charged with it. A local authority is going to worry about unauthorised encampments but not very much about one gipsy caravan which stays for one night on the verge. But we shall see how this works out.

My Lords, lastly, but most important, Clause 10 is going to be brought into operation only when the Minister is satisfied either that there are a sufficient number of Clause 6 sites to cope with the gipsies in the area or that there are no gipsies in the area at all. This is the meaning of the proviso on the bringing into effect of Clause 10. Having said that, I do not wish it to be thought that I am minimising at all the unusualness of defining an offence by the person who commits it and I would not prejudge anything that any noble Lord may wish to say in Committee on this point.

I think that this is probably all that your Lordships will wish to have from the Government at this moment. This Bill, we think, is a considerable step forward in reaching a necessary degree of protection for caravan dwellers who at present have far too little of it, compared with house dwellers and also in reaching what one hopes may be a stable position in this troublesome situation between gipsies and the rest. There are only about 15,000 gipsies in the country. It ought not to be impossible for local authorities to set up enough camping sites to cope with the lot at any one moment and to allow them freedom to go from one site to another whenever they wish. For those who want to settle down, move into a bricks and mortar house, send their children to school, it should be an object of general social policy to help them to do so. But I expect that all noble Lords will agree that it should not be any object of our social policy to compel or press any gipsy who does not want to settle down to do so. And in the Government's opinion this Private Member's Bill is a good step forward in the direction of achieving that balance.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder if he could make some comment on the point which has been reinforced by what he has just said, about the need for some kind of emergency action for the coming winter? Would it not be possible for the Government to recommend the making of some temporary arrangement, to meet possible hardship this coming winter, before the sites are available?


My Lords, I apologise, I forgot that. There are really only two actions open to a Minister, the first being to introduce a law and enforce it. Private Members have introduced this Bill, and it is the intention of the Minister to enforce it as soon as economic circumstances permit. The other action open to a Minister is to exhort persons or bodies to do this or that. This, if I may put it colloquially, the Minister has done "until he is blue in the face." Circulars have gone out, couched in increasingly urgent language, to local authorities asking them to get ahead and provide these sites even in advance of the compulsion provided by the Bill. I will, if I may, send copies of the circulars to the noble Lord.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it would not be possible to keep gipsies off the main roads entirely? They are becoming a source of danger with their encampments on main roads. I have been in local government, and I know that we make every provision we can for gipsies. But they still camp on the side of the road, and when they are moved on by the local authorities or the police, they move two or three hundreds yards and camp again.


My Lords, this appears to be to be a complicated legal question, and I suggest that the noble Lord should put down an Amendment to achieve that effect, which can be discussed at a later stage of the Bill.

12.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and for the very constructive manner in which they have contributed to it. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for giving his blessing to the Bill on behalf of the Government and, of course, I am grateful for the help which the Government gave in the drafting of it. I am sure that your Lordships will not wish me to speak at length in replying to the debate, but may I make one or two comments?

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, answered the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, about the jurisdiction of this Bill in Scotland. Perhaps at some future date further thought may be given to the subject of Scotland. My noble friend Lord Amulree pointed out the effect of losing the tenancy of a site. It is not just a case of being moved on; it may very often involve the losing of a caravan because one cannot find another site to go to. It may mean a serious financial loss and very real hardship—such cases have occurred. The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, kindly informed us of the view of the A.M.C. and we shall consider carefully what he said, but may I make this point? I appreciate the problem of expense, but, as I understand it, local authorities are involved in considerable expense in removing unauthorised encampments, and if there were permanent sites there might be a saving in the cost of removal from time to time and the clearing up of unauthorised encampments.

My Lords, I was fascinated by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willis. I am not sure that his point would be entirely met by using the word "Gipsies" with a capital "G." There is, of course, a distinction between the true Romany and other nomads, but I understand that the Ministry's Report Gipsies and Other Travellers shows that it is impossible to say how many true Romanies there are and which of the nomads are entitled to such a distinction. Over the centuries, there has been a great deal of intermarriage between Romanies and the settled population, so I do not think we could solve the problem by using a capital "G" or using the word "Romany". Furthermore, may I point out that the Gipsy Council has accepted these restrictions on unauthorised camping as the price of their favourable treatment regarding the provision of sites.

The noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal, made a very helpful contribution and I appreciate his point of view. I think it was largely answered by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I will examine any Amendments which the noble Lord puts down, but I must make it clear that I am very anxious to see the Bill reach the Statute Book without delay. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, Chairman of the Consumer Council—I apologise for calling him the President—made a very helpful contribution. If I erred myself, it was on the side of moderation, but it is much better that comments on the hardships suffered should come from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who speaks with the authority of the Consumer Council which made this very valuable study. There is no doubt that hardships are suffered by some occupiers of caravans.

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, thought the Bill was excessively biased against the site operator. I beg to differ on that; I think it is drafted as fairly as possible and any good site operator has nothing to worry about. I welcome the encouragement of social responsibility. The noble Lord, Lord Segal, paid a tribute to the police which I welcome. He referred, as did other noble Lords, to the expression, "being a gipsy," but as your Lordships will know, "gipsies" is defined in Clause 16, the Interpretation Clause, as persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin. I think that is about as fair a definition as we can get.

My Lords, I will consider the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard. To the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, may I say that we are grateful to have the support of one so much concerned with the preservation of rural England. I am aware of the association of the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, with local government. May I just point out that this Bill is based on the precedent of the Protection from Eviction Act 1964 and not on the whole body of Rent Acts. We are aware of the expense to local authorities, but, while that is taken into account in this Bill, I hope that there will not be undue delay in bringing Part II into operation. Once again I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and to all your Lordships may I say that I hope that, after careful consideration during the Committee stage, we shall be able to get this Bill on to the Statute Book.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.