§ 4.39 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE rose to call attention to the serious difficulties being faced by local authorities caused by the ever-increasing number of touring caravans during the summer and to consider how best to finance the urgently needed services in the interests of public health, amenity, and the caravanners themselves; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I should like to thank the Government for having given time for a debate on this subject, which is an extremely important one for all of us who dwell in the country, and indeed for everybody else. Its importance is shown by the number of speakers who have decided to put their names down, and I am delighted to see that practically all of them have some connection with, or some considerable knowledge of, the effects which the tremendous increase in the number of caravans is having on the whole countryside.
§ My Lords, caravans bring joy to a great many people, but no-one would be likely to describe them as things of beauty that enhance the amenity of, in some areas, our fast disappearing countryside. Having said that, I wish to make it abundantly clear that my Motion is not directed against the ever-increasing number of caravanners—at least, not against those who, like most members of the Caravan Club, have a sense of responsibility and duty to the countryside and to the regions of the country that they visit. It is self-evident that families, especially if they have a quiver-full of children, who want to visit the open country but cannot face the high charges of hotels—themselves burdened with rising costs, and often S.E.T. as well—see the answer in the caravan. No, my Lords: this Motion is put down in an endeavour to make the Government aware that, without some constructive participation by them, local authorities who have to cope with the problems raised by the summer invasions will be faced with a situation which they cannot handle.864
§ The areas of maximum beauty, and the areas which attract the greatest number of tourists of all kinds, are those which almost always have the smallest rateable population and the most extensive areas of empty or nearly empty space. The people of these places are already very heavily rated and would find it an intolerable burden if they were called upon to meet, in addition, the growing drain on local finance during two or three months every year for the provision of amenities—water supply, lavatories, Elsan closet waste collection; and, last but not least, the collection of the vast amount of litter left behind. This is difficult enough when sites are organised and controlled, but it becomes more so when we take into consideration the huge increase in roadside litter, mainly due to tourists, particularly caravanners and campers, taking meals by the roadside and residing there overnight.
§ It may not surprise some noble Lords who have to deal with these matters on a local government basis, as I do, that we have here a very real health hazard, and I do not suppose that there is a single person, be he caravanner or camper, who wants to add to the risk of an outbreak of typhoid. I do not wish to go into unpleasant and sometimes unmentionable details, but I will give just one example of what may result from lack of facilities and the money to provide them. Two summers ago, there was a phenomenal increase in the number of caravans arriving at a certain seaside fishing village. The authorised caravan park was soon filled and new arrivals had to spread out into the most unsuitable places. Toilet facilities did not exist, and it was found at the end of the season that fish boxes had been taken into service.
§ I am not blaming the caravanners for all of this: there were campers, and others, who added to the unsavoury situation. But this kind of thing could be avoided if the necessary finance was available. Here I should like to draw the attention of the Minister who will be answering to a particularly "cock-eyed" bit of ill-digested legislation. On every approved caravan site the number of caravans is legally limited by the lavatory accommodation available for that site. Yet any number of campers residing in tents can pack themselves in 865 or near the site without either let or hindrance—hence a midden can, and often does, result. Would the Government look into this very dangerous omission; and, indeed, into all the scrappy and ineffective legislation on this whole matter? I wonder how many noble Lords have any idea of the cost of providing latrines in out-of-the-way places solely for tourist use. It is usually a figure of between £3,000 and £4,000; but not seldom it reaches the great sum of £8,000 which, despite welcome help from the Countryside Commission, places a very heavy load on county rates.
§ Let us now consider how matters could be improved. To suggest a tax on caravans would, of course, raise a howl of protest—do they not already pay a heavy road and petrol tax? Yes, my Lords, they do. But this does not benefit the local authority, so far as providing amenities is concerned, nor has it over the years, so far as the Highlands are concerned, provided one first-class motorway to the North. Much of the A9, our one road link, is a disgrace and a constant source of danger and delay to road users during the summer months. From the use of the authorised caravan parks the local authority rates do benefit to a minimal degree. Outside these parks, however—and in the case of my own county the great majority of the areas used are both unauthorised and unsuitable—the rates do not benefit; indeed, the ratepayer is a heavy loser.
§ Why then are there not more authorised caravan parks, large and small? Because, my Lords—and I speak from personal knowledge and experience—to construct them requires considerable capital; and, although it may be news to some of your Lordships, capital for many of us is in short supply. Even so, there is a steady growth in the provision of authorised sites in my county, and I am sure that the same is so in others. I do not intend to co into figures that would illustrate the difficulties faced by my own county, which I am sure would be echoed by every other county in the Highlands and possibly everywhere else; but I should like to put before the Government certain suggestions.
§ The Government might well carry out a study of how these matters are handled in Western Europe, and in Scandinavia where, in my opinion, the whole position 866 is dealt with in a far more efficient way, to the benefit of caravans, the local population and the country as a whole. In Switzerland, the Development Society, a local body independent of the municipality deals with all matters concerning hotels, chalets, shopkeepers and so on, and levies a small tourist tax calculated on a daily basis of approximately one shilling per adult and half that sum for children in the 5 to 15 years age group. The tax covers not only caravanners, but campers and hotel guests, while chalet owners pay a lump sum. In return, the Society is responsibile for a wide range of amenities. The French, through their Tourist Organisation and their local authority taxe de séjour, also seem to manage better. But if we are going to follow their example—and we might do worse—our tourist boards will have to be run by full-time professionals, and not, as often happens, by well-paid, part-time retired and semi-retired individuals appointed under the "Old Pals Act."
§ I would press the Government to take a long, hard look at what is becoming a very serious problem and a threat to some of the loveliest parts of Great Britain. Local authorities, through their planning and other departments, should be given statutory powers to deal with the location of all caravan sites, large and small; with the way these sites are laid out, and with matters of access ant so on. I should welcome some assurance by the Minister that this possibility will be considered. No doubt someone will say that local authorities already have these powers; but this is not true, as their powers do not cover all the points that I have raised—and too often when there is legislation it is indefinite, and anything but clear.
§ My Lords, there are many other problems which I have not mentioned, such as the hazards and obstruction caused by caravanners to other road users on roads which are often single track with passing places; but I will leave this aspect of the problem to be dealt with by other noble Lords. Finally, my Lords, how is the cleaning up of the Augean stables to be financed? I have put out some feelers and await with interest the suggestions which the wisdom of your Lordships may bring forth. I beg to move for Papers.867
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE)
My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, on giving us the opportunity to debate this vexed but fascinating subject of touring caravans and, if I may say so, to do so in a speech which, because of its lurid details, perhaps brought home to us in a better way what are the very real problems that confront this country. It was thought that as there are a large number of speakers taking part, it may be convenient if I spoke first; and of course my noble friend will reply on behalf of the Department of the Environment.
Having several personal friends and relatives who are ardent owners of caravans, and having been a very keen camper myself, I share with the noble Earl his understanding of the great attractions of this type of holiday, particularly for children. As my noble friend has been a former Convenor of Ross and Cromarty County Council and is now Vice-Convenor, he certainly understands the problems of caravanning from personal knowledge. It is difficult to estimate the exact number of caravanners, but including children as well as adults, there are probably about 1 million in Britain to-day, and the number is likely to increase steadily.
This afternoon we are not talking about those caravans which, although mobile, are left in one place for the whole summer and are let to a succession of tenants. The subject of this debate is the touring caravan which is towed behind a family car to one or more sites during the course of a holiday; and "touring" includes staying overnight on the way to and from a main holiday area. When sites are used primarily for this purpose they are described technically as "transit sites". One of the problems about catering for touring caravans is that, by the nature of things, they cannot supply the site operators with guaranteed rents for the whole season; and it is often this uncertainty in demand which results in too few licensed sites to meet everybody's needs. When there is a shortage of sites, as my noble friend has told us, people are driven to park illegally in road lay-bys or in fields. In Scotland we call this "wild" caravanning. If it is done 868 on any scale, this, of course, is where the public health and amenity hazards lie.
However, I think we should be fair and concede that there are many caravanners and campers who take great care of their surroundings and clear their litter, and have hygienic facilities of their own. For what is, I admit, a minority of campers and caravanners, the whole point of going off on this kind of holiday is to get away from it all to the wild places. But nevertheless, the bulk of those who enjoy this kind of holiday want the facilities which have been described. The public health problems of touring caravans and camping, to which my noble friends referred, have been under study by the Camping Working Party under the Department of the Environment and it should report shortly. We shall then consider any recommendations as they could or should apply to Scotland; and of course we shall consult all the local authorities and the organisations concerned.
The statutory provisions concerning caravans in Scotland differ in one major respect from those in England and Wales. The main Act, the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, applies also to Scotland, but an important way in which its application has been modified is in relation to the crofting counties. Schedule 1 to the Act allows up to three caravans to be placed for up to 28 days a year on land holdings of five acres or more in size without any requirement to obtain a licence. This concession has been extended by Order to any period during the six summer months and reduces the size of the qualifying land holding from five acres to two acres for the crofting counties. This means that many crofters can rent sites on their holdings to three touring caravans at a time and can get some economic benefit from tourists to supplement the proceeds of the croft.
There is now a wide variety of finance available in Scotland for providing and improving caravan and camping sites. Local authority finance and countryside grants are given to local authorities on the advice of the Countryside Commission. The Scottish Tourist Board and the Highlands and Islands Development Board give both grants and loans to private developers. The Small Industries Council 869 for Rural Areas of Scotland can give loans and, lastly, there is the purely private investment.
At the weekend I was fortunate to have the opportunity of staying in the Borders with my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, and we went together to see a private investment project at Lilliardsedge Park, at Jedburgh. It is extremely well laid out, both for touring caravans and also for campers. I was particularly interested in the charges, which are 10s. a night for caravans, and 3s. for each person in a tent, the minimum charge per tent being 8s. a night. We seem to have had a tradition in Scotland that a great many local authority sites should charge only 2s. 6d. a night. I should have thought that the 10s. charge was very reasonable indeed, considering the facilities provided. The great thing about this site was that it acted as an information centre for tourism for the Borders as a whole.
In Scotland I think that we have been fortunate, in that many local authorities have provided caravan sites with many pitches reserved for tourists. It is sometimes said that caravans are of no economic benefit because they are completely self-contained in their requirements; but in fact the caravanners buy a good deal of food locally and quite a lot of petrol. They also buy presents and other things which take their fancy. A recent calculation showed that touring caravans in Scotland alone bring in a total revenue of £1.5 million a year. Therefore local authorities who have established sites have received far more general benefits because of them than simply the revenue from charges.
My noble friend Lord Cromartie asked whether it was a fact that there were sufficient and good statutory controls on the location or licensing of sites. All the necessary controls for licensing are given in Section 1 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, and planning permission must be obtained for all sites. Therefore, I think one can say that, so far as we can see at the moment, the legislation is sufficient. There has also been a steady increase in the number of touring pitches provided by private enterprise. If you take both the local authority and the private enterprise sources together, there will be an increase of 1,500 pitches in Scotland in the coming 870 season compared with the number available last season.
As my noble friend has recalled, the Countryside Commission for Scotland who advise the Secretary of State on the payment of countryside grants at a rate of 75 per cent., have already recommended that nearly £100,000 worth of grants should be offered over the next three years for the provision or improvement of caravan sites. As noble Lords may know, the Scottish Tourist Board publishes a very good publication called Scotland for Caravan Holidays which is a very handy guide to the facilities which are available. The Board has done what it can to improve standards and increase the number of pitches. In 1970 it mounted a survey to discover the number and distribution of touring caravans, including the extent of "wild" caravanning. I understand that the Board also hopes to supplement this information by inquiring into the attitude and characteristics of caravanners and campers—which, I should think, will be a long and absorbing study. Both the Countryside Commission for Scotland and also the H.I.D.B. have helped to finance the survey and most of the detailed work is being undertaken by Edinburgh University. All the data is now being analysed at the University and interim reports have been made to the Tourist Board. The Board is starting to consider the policy implications. The complete Report will be ready for publication later this year. I do not think I can usefully say much about it as it is not entirely complete as yet, but there are some clear results. One interesting preliminary indication is that there were some 70,000 touring caravans on Scottish roads at some time during the 15 summer weeks, and that 60 per cent. of these came from South of the Border or overseas.
When the Tourist Board is ready to consider what action it should take, it will be able to use part of the £300,000 that it has been allocated to assist tourist projects in any part of the Scottish development area. This special allocation of funds will be an annual feature of the Board's project within their Great Britain total of £1 million. As noble Lords know, the H.I.D.B. has power to make grants or loans to hotels and privately-owned caravan sites provided that they satisfy the Board's criterion that 871 they are viable and that they will make a contribution towards local employment.
To date the Board has centred its tourist grants and tourist promotion on improving hotels and other holiday facilities. But it is now starting research to find out the best methods by which it can assist touring caravans and those who go camping. The Small Industries Council for Rural Areas of Scotland is 100 per cent. grant-aided from development funds, and it operates in the rural parts of Scotland which are outside the area of the Highland Board. Unlike the Board, it has no power to make grants, but only loans. Until recently its work for tourists was confined to offering loans to small hotels and boarding houses that were too small to meet the Tourist Board's criteria for grant assistance other than hotel development and associate schemes, but it is now prepared to offer loans for development of private caravan sites catering for touring caravans. As noble Lords will know, there is one group of touring caravanners who will have all their needs pretty well looked after, and they are those who are members of the Caravan Club. The Club is spending a good deal of money and is expanding steadily every year.
The noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, was good enough to let me know that he was going to raise the question of a tax on caravans, and indeed several people in the Highlands, who have suffered from being behind a large caravan for a long time on a narrow road, have said to me: "Why not tax the caravan as well as the car which pulls it?" I think one must say, in the caravanner's defence, that many of these touring caravans are probably only used for about two or three weeks in the year. It is true, however, that there are arrangements for taxes of this nature in some countries, such as France and Germany, where there are special taxes, like road taxes, on caravans. Most other countries, however, have a composite tourist tax on each night's stay, which of course would cover hotels, chalets and also caravanners. We have not, as we all know, thought fit either to have a tourist tax or a tax on caravans as yet in this country, and I feel that it is not up to me to suggest or to speculate on what might be in the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But it is a 872 question which is of great interest, and I shall listen carefully to see whether this particular point is pursued by other noble Lords in this debate.
The main point which the noble Earl sought to raise was that many caravanners want to go to the most beautiful parts of Scotland, and in many cases these are in the most remote areas and therefore areas which are of low rateable value. This is why the specific countryside grant is a way of redressing the balance in favour of local authorities with limited resources of their own as against those which have greater wealth at their disposal. As I said earlier, I think that all site owners could consider raising their nightly charge for caravans. Countryside grants are, of course, only paid where we consider that the charges are fixed at a reasonable level and where there will still be a loss on the cost of providing essential facilities. I should have thought that a higher site charge was certainly one way of getting increased revenue.
To sum up, my Lords, there already seem to be enough agencies in being who are interested in providing for the needs of touring caravans and of campers, and I think that they work very well together. I think that until we get the Working Party's Report the legislation is sufficient. There are also various sources of finance. I think that we shall be in a much better position to consider the priorities when these surveys are received. I agree with my noble friend that there is a great deal yet to do, because without doubt this is a great leisure industry. It is growing very fast, and we must ensure that better provision is made, not only for the comfort of touring caravanners themselves but to preserve what I certainly claim are some of the most incomparable and beautiful parts of our country.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, I should like to start off by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, for having raised this interesting subject this afternoon. I wish straight away to express to the noble Earl my apology that, as the debate has come on much later than I think either he or I anticipated, it will not be possible for me to stay until the end; but I give him the promise that I 873 will read everything that is said after I leave. I cannot say that share with the noble Baroness any experience of caravanning, nor can I say that I was ever an enthusiastic camper—they are both pursuits which I am quite willing to allow other people to undertake so long as I am not myself compelled to take part in them. But, like the noble Baroness and the noble Earl, I have a number of friends who are enthusiastic followers of both forms of holiday-making, and I am willing to concede that they cannot all be wrong in thinking that there is something worth while in doing this.
It is obvious that the problems to which the noble Earl has directed our attention this afternoon will grow in number rather than diminish, because all the indications are that every year produces more people who purchase caravans and who follow camping holidays. I think he is right in emphasising the point that, whatever the difficulties that land on the shoulders of the Government or comparatively poor local authorities at the present time, they are going to be even greater in the future. One of the consequences of so many people taking holidays abroad is that some who would never have thought of having a camping holiday see some of the very desirable camping sites and caravanning sites abroad and come back thinking that they can get exactly the same here. The fact is, of course, as the noble Earl has said, that so far they cannot, except to a limited extent. Some of your Lordships will probably have seen some of the best of the caravan sites. One which was opened about two years ago in East Lothian, where they take a most enlightened view of their responsibilities to this type of holidaymaker, will, I think, bear comparison with anything that is provided on the Continent.
But the noble Earl's main concern, I think, was directed not to the well-organised official sites but to the problems which arise from their inadequacy, and from the overflowing of holidaymakers into sites that may be perfectly beautiful in prospect but are not so beautiful after they have been visited. I am not at all certain that what is provided under the legislation will necessarily be completely satisfactory from the point of view of the local authorities.
874 Having said that, I would add that I doubt whether any Government will be in a position to provide local authorities, particularly those in the North of Scotland, with finances which would be satisfactory from their point of view. I well remember that when we were discussing the Countryside Bill, and the grants available for this and other purposes were set at a limit of 75 per cent., instead of the local authorities saying, "How good and generous the Government are to give us 75 per cent.," they screamed their heads off because they were not getting 100 per cent. I am quite certain that if we had offered them 100 per cent. some local authorities would have wanted to make a profit out of the transaction, and would have asked why the grant was not to be 125 per cent. So I do not expect that there will ever be satisfaction.
Even so, I am not quite certain that what may be available to local authorities to help them deal with this extra problem of keeping the unofficial sites tidy will be adequate. So far as I can remember from my own recollection, and from what the noble Baroness has said, probably the only resource available to the local authorities under that heading is what they may get under rate-support grant, in so far as that expenditure is counted as a reckonable expenditure. The poorest authorities are the ones who get most under rate-support grant. Some of them get a very large percentage indeed of their finance from that source, so it cannot be said that it is completely inadequate. Surely the right answer must be that we should step up as much as possible the provision of official sites. Charges—even the higher charge which the noble Baroness mentioned—cannot be regarded as unreasonable. I believe that the vast majority of people would prefer to go to a good site rather than make do with a bad one. As the noble Earl said, the resources of local authorities are limited. They cannot do all that they would like to do. Sometimes they cannot even do as much as they are prepared to do, because, as the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, said, capital is restricted. It may not always be the case that the Government will give the necessary borrowing consent for all the things that the authorities want to do at a particular time. As always, it must be a matter of priorities.
875 One of the advantages of sitting on this side of the House is that I have a better view of those occupants of the Official Box than I had when my back was towards them. Seeing who are sitting over there, I have a strong suspicion that if I had been sitting on the other side of the House the speech which I should have made would not have differed very much from the one which we have heard from the noble Baroness this afternoon. I find it, therefore, not surprising that for the third time I find it impossible, in speaking after the noble Baroness, to disagree with her, particularly as most of the benefits flowing from Government to which she referred all accrued from action taken in the past five and a half years. So it would not be appropriate for me to disagree with her.
However, there was one point on which I thought she was perhaps a little optimistic—I hope that she does not get into trouble under the Trade Descriptions Act. Although her second reference to the point I am thinking of modified the first one, she talked rather optimistically about the six summer months; and later in her speech she spoke of the 15 summer weeks. If this is an advertisement for Scottish holidays, then I wish to encourage it, but I do not wish necessarily to guarantee that the noble Baroness's arithmetic will be backed up by the weather clerk. However, it is the fact that the season up North tends to be growing longer. One of the difficulties of providing holidays was that everybody wanted to go North in July or August. People are now beginning to come up in May, and are still coming up in September, although whether they reckon that May is a summer month, and also September, I do not know. As the season lengthens, and the number of people using these facilities grow, obviously the problems will become greater.
I hope that when the Report to which the noble Baroness has referred comes out it will provide some of the answers to the problems to which the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, has directed the attention of your Lordships' House. If it produces answers, I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer wil make it 876 possible for something to be done about it. Having said that, I must admit right away that I am no enthusiast for any new tax for this purpose. A previous Secretary of State for Scotland (not unknown to the noble Baroness) had the idea of levying a tax of sixpence a night on tourists; but that suggestion fell by the wayside before the proposals were finally discussed. I doubt very much whether it would be any more popular to-day than it proved to be then. In any event, it does not seem to me to be any part of the present Government's remit to create new taxes; I thought their job was to try to get rid of some of the existing ones, including selective employment tax, which was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie.
There was one remark by the noble Earl that I did not like. He appeared to criticise some of the existing Boards. He said that this job ought not to be done by well-paid, part-time people, but that professionals should be doing it. I thought that was a little less than kind. Perhaps he did not mean it to sound exactly as it came over, particularly when he made reference to the "Old Pals Act". I have noticed in recent months that the present Government have not rescinded the "Old Pals Act". The Government themselves in this country might be regarded as consisting of well-paid amateurs doing the job backed by professionals. That is the way Boards work. I do not want to refer to the Highlands and Islands Development Board. because we shall be discussing that to-morrow, but what is taking place in the Highlands, and in other parts of the country, in the Boards which have been set up shows that using interested people, prepared to give their time to a job, backed up by fully qualified and, I hope, well-paid professional servants, if not entirely civil servants, is a good way of doing the job.
The Tourist Boards have made a good start; the Countryside Commission have made a good start; the Highlands Board have made a good start in dealing with these problems. Given the necessary working together of local authorities and Central Government, and the not unsympathetic approach which the noble Baroness has given to the problem, I feel that if we have another debate on this subject in two or three years' time 877 the noble Earl may be able to say, "I accomplished something by raising this debate in 1971".
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend Lord Cromartie has raised this subject, I promised him several weeks ago that I would support him in a debate, which I am delighted to do, but I have little to add to what has already been said. Therefore, I do not intend to take up more than a minute or two of the Parliamentary time which my noble friend has been lucky enough to secure. I want to hear what other speakers are going to say, particularly, if I may say so, my noble friend the Duke of Atholl. He has represented views, which I and others hold on this subject of caravans, on deputations to the Secretary of State. He has done this far more effectively than I could have done, and with far greater knowledge than I possess. So far as I am concerned my noble friend the Duke of Atholl is my top "pin-up" caravan authority.
There are three interests involved. There are, first, the interests of the holiday makers. Thousands of people—and in future it may be a great many more—can, by using a caravan, have a good holiday at a price which they can afford, whereas they would not have been able to have a good holiday in any other way. That is an important interest. Next there is the interest of the locality in which they have their camping or caravan holiday. It may be against the interests of the locality if they make a mess, but it is very much in the interest of the locality that they should spend their holiday there because they are bringing money into the locality, and are increasing the tourist trade. Thirdly, there is the general public interest, because it is a national interest that we should encourage urban and suburban dwellers to get as close as they can to nature, if they wish to do so, on their holidays. We need not go so far as the people in Stephen Leacock's book, who, anxious to get back to nature, threw off their clothes and plunged into the forest uttering savage growls. But we want them in a civilised way, if they like nature, to get close to it at a price which they can afford. That 878 is to the benefit both of the country and of the town.
My noble friend has quite rightly said that caravans ought to be controlled to prevent them from being a nuisance because that, as he said, is in the interests of the caravanners themselves; it is to their interest that they should be reasonably popular in the locality where they want to spend a holiday. He has asked us to give him any suggestions we had on how to clean out what he referred to as the Augean stables. I remember one method, a year or two ago, by a big sheep farmer. Caravan campers had been making rather a nuisance of themselves in a certain area of his grounds, and he put up a huge notice-board on which was written, "Beware of adders". When the caravanners came the next time and saw the notice they hurriedly departed elsewhere full of apprehension that they might be attacked by savage, venomous snakes, although in fact I do not think there was an adder within fifty miles of the place. There must, of course, be controls.
My noble friend's other point was that of finance. That is something one always has to be careful about. You must not spend public money to subsidise holidaymakers unless it can be justified clearly in the public interest. I do not want to be at all didactic about this. There is only one point that I want to ask to be considered, and I do not want a reply to be given to me now. I think my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie said that, if there were only three caravans, they could camp without a licence and they do not have to have any sanitary buildings. That is quite reasonable because, after all, if there are not more than three, and if the people are reasonably careful and civilised human beings, they ought to manage without desecrating the territory round about them without any built-in sanitary equipment. If, on the other hand, there is a camp of 50, 100 or 150 caravans, then, of course, they have to have large sanitary installations built in. But with so many caravans, when the cost of this is spread out it does not come to a great deal for each caravan, and the campers can afford the charges which will cover it.
879 However, supposing there is a site with five or six caravans, or ten or a dozen. In my own experience, the cost of erecting lavatories and other sanitary buildings which are probably necessary, although not as great in actual figures as a building for a huge site, is far more expensive in relation to each caravan, and the holidaymakers could not afford to pay enough charges to cover it. I do not know what the right answer is. It may be that the best plan is to leave things alone and have only either very big sites or very small, unorganised ones of not more than three caravans. But this would mean neglecting and wasting a great many good and beautiful sites which might prevent overcrowding in some areas and spread the thing out more evenly. Provided proper precautions are taken about tidiness, and so on, that would probably be a good thing. As I say, I do not want an answer now, but I suggest to the Government that it may be justifiable.
My noble friend Lord Cromartie said that these things were done much better in Sweden. I have no doubt they are. They always seem to manage things so much better in Sweden, including trade unions, I have been told. But he did not say whether any contribution was made towards the cost from public funds. That is something I just do not know. But it seems to me that if it is possible, if it is justifiable, to make any kind of public contribution, it should probably be concentrated on the expense of building expensive public lavatories which may be necessary on the caravan sites, and it should probably be mostly concentrated on the very small sites of half-a-dozen or ten caravans, where the occupants can-not afford to pay their share of the charges for these buildings.
§ 5.26 p.m.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, I have been looking forward to this debate and I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Cromartie for introducing it. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Dundee for the kind things he said about me, and assure him that my practical experience of caravanning is absolutely nil. My experience of camping was as a Wolf Cub in somewhat distant days, when one's object was to light a rather wet bundle of twigs 880 with two matches, rather than to use a smart modern primus stove, with which I think all campers are equipped nowadays. So I feel that my interest in caravanning and camping must be said to be theoretical rather than practical.
I have, of course, another interest which I feel I must declare, and that is that I am starting a caravan site on my land which I hope will be open this summer. Although my plea is for financial assistance for certain kinds of site in certain places, I do not think mine would qualify. I want to put in a plea for assistance for small sites—and mine is going to have 200 pitches—in remote places. And I think that, with the best will in the world, it would be hard to say that within 100 yards of the main Perth-Inverness Road was a remote place.
I believe my noble friend Lord Dundee has rather underestimated the cost of setting up a caravan site of this size, because there are, under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, many regulations one has to obey in order to obtain a site licence; and in order to obey all these regulations the cost per caravan pitch is something like £300. I believe that two or three years ago the National Trust worked the cost out as between £200 and £250; but one would be very clever if one did it from a virgin site for a sum of money of that kind nowadays.
My major plea is going to be that there should be some financial assistance for private people who wish to start small caravan sites in remote areas. I consider that these sites are nearly always better run by private people than by local authorities, because besides looking after their caravan site private people usually have some other occupation, such as a market garden or small farm. But the snag at the moment is that it is almost impossible for them to obtain any form of financial assistance. I thought my noble friend the Minister of State said that a wide source of finance was available to people who wished to start caravan sites, and she quoted various sources, the first of which was the Small Industries Council for Rural Areas of Scotland. My noble friend is quite right: they will make loans—but at so near the "going rate" at which one can probably borrow from one's bank that it is really hardly worth while borrowing from them, unless, of course, your bank does not 881 consider you a sufficiently good risk. In this case, I think that they, too, may be rather doubtful about your status or the viability of your project and so be reluctant to lend you money. Moreover, in remote areas, and on a small scale, it would be impossible to make a site pay. It simply would not be filled up for a large enough part of the year, and all the overheads could not possibly be covered.
As the speaker for the Scottish Landowners' Federation, I had a letter on this subject dated July 16, 1970, from the Scottish Development Department, because I had inquired into this question of finance. Having referred to the Small Industries Council for Rural Areas for Scotland, the Scottish Development Department then go on to say:The Secretary of State may make grants under the Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 to local authorities for the improvement or development of municipal sites. The Countryside Commission for Scotland have power under section 7 of that Act to make grants or loans to persons other than public bodies for projects of a countryside nature. But the resources the Commission have available for this purpose are limited and they have not so far felt able to use them to assist commercial projects such as caravan site developments.So that would seem to deal with that source of finance that my noble friend was suggesting the potential caravan site developer might have.
The third source she suggested was the Scottish Tourist Board. Indeed they have power under Section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 to give grants for more or less the same purposes as the Countryside Commission, but again they have only limited funds, and again the Board has not yet decided how to settle priorities for giving assistance of this sort. So far as I know, the Board still has not given any assistance of this kind.
The letter then goes on to say:There is virtually no prospect of assistance from the Ministry of Technology under the Local Employment Acts.Those are no more, so now there is not only virtually no prospect; there is absolutely no prospect of any assistance. So, my Lords, I cannot see where anyone who wants to develop a small caravan site in a remote area can turn to for the sort of grant which would make such a project viable, and only in this way shall we start to get over the problem—unless, of course, one happens to be lucky 882 enough to live in one of the six crofting counties. Then one may be able to get money from the Highlands and Islands Development Board. But, my Lords, that is only six counties out of the 31 in Scotland.
If grants for small sites in remote areas were given, one of the conditions should be that those sites should be used only for touring caravans and not for static caravans. One of the troubles is that the few existing sites are often full of state caravans which are used largely as week-end cottages, when they should, for the benefit of Scotland, be available for touring caravans. I would just point out that allowances will not really help in these cases, because it is unlikely that a site operator will make a profit, and in order to get benefit from investment allowances one has to make a profit in the first place. But for the large sites in the less remote areas obviously it would be an advantage if the caravan site operator were able to obtain the same allowances as all other industries receive.
I think, too, that in certain remote areas sites should be allowed which do not quite come up to the model standards of the Caravan Sites Act 1960. A survey was carried out by the Scottish Tourist Board and its results were published in 1969. This showed that many caravanners wanted only simple, basic sites. In fact the Caravan Club representative on the Scottish Tourist Board Committee is quoted as maintaining the point of view that the extent of the amenities laid down in the model standards of the Caravan Sites Act is unnecessarily high, and he represents 70,000 touring caravans. So surely what we want is plenty of sites with varying standards of amenities, well landscaped—and this is very important, because so often a caravan site is an eyesore for everyone else although it may be a marvellous site for the people in the caravans on that site. Local planning authorities are quite right to insist on high landscaping standards when they give a licence to a caravan site, and in the interests of all, including caravanners, I am convinced that we want a ban on caravans other than in authorised sites which are properly licensed. We are not anywhere near being able to achieve that at the moment, because there are not enough sites for all the caravans that are on the road in the summer.
883 I would just point out that from the sanitary point of view campers are probably more of a problem than caravanners. People in caravans usually have their own lavatory which they can carry around until they come to a suitable disposal point; campers do not, and this is a point which should not be forgotten. It is surprising to me that the legislation, such as it is, is more restrictive so far as caravans are concerned than it is in regard to campers.
Other noble Lords have covered various other points that I should have liked to mention, but there is one quite important point upon which I feel I must touch. It is on a somewhat different subject, and that is the difficulty of getting planning permission, not from the local authority, who on the whole are usually only to keen for people to start caravan sites, but from what was the Ministry of Transport or the Scottish Trunk Roads Department. I believe that the Trunk Roads Department in England is now part of the Ministry of the Environment, and in Scotland it is no doubt still the Scottish Trunk Roads Department. They appear to want to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to have a caravan site within reasonable distance of a main road. I think they might be told that in the interests of getting caravans off the road and on to proper sites they must be a little more reasonable in their standards, because many of the roads in Scotland simply do not have a long enough straight stretch anywhere on them to be able to satisfy the planners in the Scottish Development Department, with their insistence upon having 800 feet of straight road (400 feet on each side) on your way in and out of the site. In many cases there is not a stretch of road that comes up to these standards, and I hope this will be brought to their attention. My Lords, I think we have had an interesting debate, and I look forward to hearing all the other speakers.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ BARONESS WHITE
My Lords, the noble Earl, to whom we are greatly indebted for initiating this debate, has not put any geographical limitation upon his question and therefore I think it might be appropriate if we have a voice from Wales. So far all the contributions have 884 been from North of the Border, but we in Wales, of course, have problems every bit as acute, if not more so, as those which have been described with such experience and knowledge by the noble Lords who have already spoken.
Our Welsh coastline is some of the most beautiful in the Kingdom, and in the proposals made by the Countryside Commission for heritage coastal areas one-third of those proposed are in the Principality. Also, we are much nearer to the great industrial areas, both in South Wales and in the North to Merseyside and the Potteries, and in mid-Wales to the Midlands. Therefore, we are suffering most acutely in the peak summer periods from congestion of every kind, both on the roads and on the caravan sites themselves. I can speak from close experience, because for some time I was a Minister in the Welsh Office, concerned with these matters, and I think most of us in Wales would agree that we have already reached saturation point with static caravans in most of the coastal areas. Therefore, there is no room left unless we show great pertinacity and ingenuity in planning for the tourist or transit caravans which are the particular subject of this debate.
I have the greatest sympathy for the touring caravan family, because I think they are much more enterprising than those who go and sit down or sleep in the static caravan camps, although they pose very great problems. I have, for example, evidence which has been sent round to all the statutory and voluntary authorities concerned by the Glamorgan County Council, which is a very dedicated local authority where planning is concerned, about the danger they see in the Gower Peninsula, which is one of the most exquisite areas in Wales and which is being very seriously threatened. They say that visitors are still coming in, despite the lack of facilities. There is a tidal wave of day visitors from the industrial areas of South Wales. The Council reckon that, in addition to the static caravans on Gower, at a peak weekend in the summer there are some 1,000 touring caravans trying to find places to rest overnight. They say that there are very few small approved touring caravan sites, and as these clubs come in at the weekend the existing site operators and farmers have been opening up other unauthorised 885 sites. Caravans have been parked on commons, verges and other open land, with all the attendant problems of visual intrusion, public health, traffic congestion, and in some areas ecological damage. So this is a very acute problem to all of us in Wales. Parts of the Gower Peninsula near the coast, certainly also Pembrokeshire and Anglesey, have very few trees and screening is very difficult. Therefore, any further sites which are authorised, however well managed or built, will be extremely intrusive on the landscape. It seems to me that we need a strategy in this matter.
One of our problems in Wales is that so often the territory which is just inland from the coast is also very beautiful and ought not to be spoiled. I am told that one of our major camping organisations are particularly gratified with the efforts made in Cornwall by the county council. But with the greatest respect to Cornwall, while their coastal scenery is superb, my own view is that a great deal of the inland scenery is not all that distinguished and is not very much spoiled if you have more caravan sites there. Where I live in Montgomeryshire, the beautiful Dovey Valley, the fact that you are ten miles from the coast would not be of any help if you had a badly sited caravan camp. There are some very sensitive areas, and very careful planning is needed if we are to provide what is absolutely right and proper accommodation for the touring caravans without spoiling the scenery for everybody else.
The distinction between the static caravans and touring caravans was, of course, marked in the legislation, the Countryside Act 1968. As we know, England and Wales have a different Countryside Act from Scotland, and we have a separate Countryside Commission. But under Section 34 of the English and Welsh Act provision was made for special grants to be available for transit caravan sites, as opposed to static, in an effort to deal with this problem, but the Act has not been in operation long enough to see how it is going to work. I understand, from inquiries that I have made, that for England and Wales there have been 75 applications so far from local authorities and private developers, about one-third from private developers. It seems to me—and I think the position is also the 886 same in Scotland—that the Countryside Commission is a little hesitant as to disposition of its limited funds, and I do not think that any actual grants have so far been made under this section. But the powers are there, and I think all of us who are taking part in this debate will hope very much that they will be used, and that they will be used intelligently.
I also hope—although I admit that in many places this is bolting the door after the horse has gone—that planning authorities, in giving consent for any further static sites, will insist as a condition of the consent that there shall be provision also for touring caravans. I think it is a great pity that more was not done on these lines after the 1960 Caravans Act, when planning authorities could have used their powers to greater effect. But I am advised that they did not all wake up to this fact, and a number of opportunities have been lost of using planning consent as a way of ensuring that provision was made for the touring caravan as well as the static ones.
I think we have to look at further possible ways of mitigating the very great difficulties which face those in this country who want to take their caravans on tour. I may perhaps mention from our Welsh experience one or two directions in which we are making a little progress. I do not want to make too high a claim for it. I think one noble Lord earlier did mention information centres. It is very important that one should try as far as possible to make sure that those who are coming with the intention of camping should have some knowledge of where they may stay without breaking the law. In Pembrokeshire, with the assistance of the South Wales Tourist Council and the local authority, we have set up an information centre, and I am told this has proved invaluable in controlling the influx of tourists, by making known caravan sites which were formerly not always fully used and relieving the congestion in some areas, around Tenby in particular, which were becoming more than saturated. This seems to me an excellent idea.
It has been suggested that we should have strategic transit sites on the Borders as visitors are moving into Wales, so that they can spend the first night of their journey in satisfactory conditions. I was very much interested to see that 887 the Countryside Commission and the British Tourist Authority have suggested that racecourses would be ideal for this purpose, because they are used only at certain periods of the year, there is quite a large area vacant, which is not by any means unsuitable for touring caravans, and water supply and toilet facilities are laid on. So far as I can see, we could have on our Welsh Border, starting in the North, Chester, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Chepstow, which would provide the first helpful line of racecourse transit sites.
Then it is suggested that other purpose-built transit sites could be provided. At the moment, the local authority have a short-stay site at Cardiff, but suggestions have been made that Severn Bridge, Brecon and Llangollen would make good strategic transit or short-stay sites. I think they would be excellent, because it would mean that people coming into South, Mid, and North Wales respectively could find proper accommodation at the outset. In Pembrokeshire, too, the Countryside Commission and the local authority have used a disused airfield to provide 50 pitches for touring caravans. These are not taking up all the site, and there is room for expansion. I am sure that in other parts of the country there are still disused airfields which could be used for this purpose and which already have some of the basic facilities, though they may need some money spent on them. There is also hard standing. This is a way in which we might try to tackle this particularly difficult problem of finding places for touring caravans. I hope that any experience that we in Wales have had in this pioneering direction will be entirely at the disposal of people in other parts of the United Kingdom who wish to see what can be done.
I think one has to face the fact that provision for touring caravans is not as remunerative as it is for static caravans, and unless something is done by way of public inducement, by public pressure and planning and so on, we shall not get rid of this position which is so unsatisfactory for everybody concerned, including the innocent caravanner who comes into an area, peaceably hoping to have a wonderful time, but finds the place so crowded that he does not know where to turn. Thus we get all the 888 troubles which have been described, of camping on verges and all the nasty mess that is sometimes left behind.
We need to do all that we can, because as a tourist country we are not by any means at the top of the league in this respect. Noble Lords have mentioned experience abroad. I was looking up information upon this point. It leaves one somewhat disquieted when one compares the small effort that we are making, not only for our own domestic holidaymakers but to attract tourists from overseas who are used to far better conditions on the Continent than at the moment they can normally find in this country. To me, this is most regrettable.
I am told that in the five years since the British Travel Association obtained the approval of the Ministry of Transport to issue signs for approved camping sites which reach international standards, there have been applications on behalf of only 172 sites. Of those, 140 applications have been granted to sites considered to be up to standard and the proprietors have been told that they may display the signs; but of that number only 102 have more than 20 pitches. This compares with more than 1,000 sites in France which are municipally operated and which always provide for tourist caravans, and some 3,000 privately operated sites. Of course in other countries, such as Italy, Switzerland and so on, there are large numbers of caravan sites.
We compare extremely badly with the Continent, both in the number and in the standards of our sites for touring caravans. It seems to me a great pity that this should be so. I know that there is in existence a Working Party in the Department of the Environment which is concerned with this matter. There is also the Working Party of the Countryside Commission whose report is now being circulated to various interested bodies. I fully appreciate that recent legislation on the countryside has not had much time in which to be operative, but I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, who I understand is the most expert camper in the House and who is to reply to the debate, will feel that we are all greatly interested and concerned in this matter, and that, where necessary, they will exert pressure on their colleagues to see that we make further progress.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, I shall be very brief because most of the things I wanted to say have already been said. In thanking the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, for introducing this debate, I want to try to impress both on the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, and on Lord Hughes, on the Opposition side of the House, that, in my opinion, unless something is done, we shall not in the future be able to cope with the problem of caravans and camping in the Highlands. There have been a certain number of generalities in the opinions expressed. I shall confine my remarks to a study group, of which I am chairman, in the County of Inverness, where for years we have been seriously perturbed over the problem of preserving the countryside and, of course, all the problems that go with litter, sanitation and camping by tourists.
In general terms, the tourist industry is one of the great assets in the North. The tourist industry in the United Kingdom brings in a total figure of £1,000 million, of which, on the most recent figures available, Scotland can claim about £97 million. The county of Inverness, which is the largest county and the most thinly populated in the North, stands to gain about £3½ million out of the total spent by tourists. In this county, which I know well, the trade brought in by caravanners and campers is about 10 per cent. of that total. May I say, here and now, that we welcome caravans and their occupants. On putting statistics through a computer we found that they spend more per head of the party, the family group, and stay about one and a half days longer, as well as being extremely well-behaved. So that in every sense they are welcome people. But we simply have not the facilities to deal with them.
This problem, my Lords, is going to get worse, because we also find that they are increasing in number at the rate of 15 per cent. per annum. This is a formidable and, I think, impressive increase. And with the roads improving (as I hope one day they will) this trend is going to continue, because we know that the desire "to get away from it all" is one that is found not only in Great Britain but in every part of the world. People cannot afford hotels, least of all bad ones. 890 Frankly, there are not many good hotels in the Highlands, with their short season, S.E.T. and the rest. If anything, they are on a slippery slope. They are not going forward in their development, whereas the camper most certainly is.
An earlier speaker this afternoon said that we cannot build permanent sites. This is perfectly true, because the average person has not the capital to invest in a large site. There is also the fact that the season is very short. Despite what has been said by speakers on the Front Bench, I think the season for camping is a good deal less than six months or 15 weeks. If you are going to borrow, you will not get the interest on your money. If you have to "fit in" on a capital outlay of, say, £25,000, you are not going to get your interest rates on what I consider to be a three-months season. In the far North I put the season at 12 weeks. I think I am perfectly right in saying this because I am an interested party: I have a caravan site of my own.
I have just one more figure for the noble Baroness to digest. We took a census in the county of Inverness in the month of August. This was not a particularly good month, and we did not consider that the figures were unduly high. But shortly before the grouse shooting began it was found that on 817 miles of road in the county of Inverness there were 1,187 caravans and campers. That number was over and above the total on the authorised sites, which on the same day amounted to 5,884 people. These figures may not sound very big to people living in the Home Counties. But when one considers that in the landward area of the county of Inverness there are only 17,000 ratepayers, some of whom live in the Islands, one can readily understand that the tourist population greatly exceeds the number of local inhabitants.
On the Road to the Isles—the one immortalised in the song—in Lochaber on that particular evening for every mile of the road there were 3.3 caravans parked in lay-bys in places where they should not be. I think the chorus of that song runs:You've never smelt the tangle of the Isles".But if you were wandering that way on a hot summer's day there would be a good deal more than "the tangle o' the Isles" coming from the Skerries and the "loos" if you had a good nose to cope 891 with what was left behind. This is a serious matter, because if this calculation of a rise of 15 per cent. is a correct one—and I think it is—we are going to have something like 10,000 caravans on the Highland roads by 1974.
I suggest that we must seek practical ways and means of financing all that goes with preserving the beauty of the Highlands. This is our greatest asset, and it must be preserved. I should like to pay the highest tribute to one of our newest bodies, the Countryside Commission. They have done a great deal to provide sanitation. Very few lavatories existed—I can assure you of that. Only last week in the County Council we discussed the cost of putting something into Glen Nevis where winter climbers are sometimes in search of relief, in more than one sense of the word. I think there are four lavatories there which cost £8,000. This is something which no county can afford, especially if, as in Inverness-shire, a penny rate brings in only a few hundred pounds. How can one cope with this problem with the funds available, any more than the Countryside Commission, with £100,000 to spend, can provide sanitation?
There are very few public lavatories outside the villages. Certainly, although the big caravan sites are well equipped, there will not be enough space for things to come. I hope that the noble Baroness will bear this fact in mind. I felt that her speech tried to justify what was going on now—and perhaps it does. But it certainly will not cope with the future situation; and the ratepayers in the Highlands cannot do it. To my mind, it is rather unfair that the Countryside Commission should use all their money in providing toilet facilities in areas such as National Parks—which will be coming along soon; and I welcome them—when one thinks of the situation that arises from the opening up of the countryside and the provision of car parks and so on.
I have two practical suggestions. The first is that the static sites should be phased out, so far as possible, and that travelling caravans should take their place. This would provide ample space for parking and the right facilities, which already exist on static sites. Secondly, immediate steps should be taken to prevent parking in lay-bys. This is a shocking 892 practice, and it should become a statutory offence to park in lay-bys. I hope that, if there is one message that I have succeeded in putting across this evening this is the one to be noted for our narrow country roads.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for speaking twice in one Sitting, but I do so on what are indeed two important subjects, especially to the Highlands of Scotland. I hope, therefore, your Lordships will forgive me, and I promise to be as brief as I can. I share the gratitude of other noble Lords that the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, has brought this discussion before us. I only wish that he had made his Motion include nomadic tourists, because it is my experience that tourists with tents and with Dormobiles are increasing more rapidly than those with caravans. I think we are seeing this trend, and we have to cope with it, because the needs and requirements of a tented site are not always exactly the same as those of a caravan site. There-for one must keep the layout of sites flexible, so that one can deal with the trade as the trade is, and cope with the change as the change comes.
I should be all against the taxation of caravans—let me say that to the noble Baroness right away. I always have been against taxing the tourist. We try hard enough to "milk" the tourist, and if we milk the tourist properly then those who drink the milk will be able to afford to pay the taxes; but I do not think we should tax the tourist first. I believe we should tax those who, we hope, make profits out of the tourist. Therefore, I should be against taxing caravans. I think it would be extremely difficult, for instance, to tax tents, and Dormobiles are already taxed as vehicles. I do not know that it would be fair to put an extra tax on them in view of the small period of time in which they can be used as Dormobiles. Therefore, I would come down against taxation. I think that an important thing we should consider is an examination by the Scottish Tourist Board and the Highlands and Islands Development Board into what is the requirement in the way of sites. As the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has pointed out, we have not enough sites for the caravans that are with us now; we have not enough sites 893 for the tents that are touring our Highlands now; and it is quite clear that the number of tents, Dormobiles, and caravans is growing with each year that passes.
I may tell your Lordships that in the municipal caravan site in Thurso the return from rents for pitches has increased in the last ten years eight and a half times. In cash it has gone up from about £165 a year to something over £1,400. This is a steady growth rate each year, with the exception of a slightly extra growth in particularly good summer seasons. We are convinced that this growth will continue. It represents a growth in the use of sites mostly during the months of July and August. We feel that it is important to provide facilities—especially for tents and Dormobiles, which have not so much space as caravans—for people to enjoy themselves in wet weather—places where they can watch television, play ping pong, wash their clothes, and that sort of thing, which they cannot do in a tent or a Dormobile.
It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that the season is getting longer. That is not our experience in the Highlands. There is a small peak around Whitsun, but nearly all the tourist trade in the Highlands is still being carried on from the middle of July to the end of August, during the school summer holidays. If we are to expand our season, we must look to markets other than the home market. We have to think in terms of the touring caravan, the camper from the Continent and elsewhere, who is expecting better facilities. If we are to increase the length of our season we must try to increase the facilities, and the standards of the facilities, so that it is just as much fun and pleasure to camp and caravan in April, May and June as it is in July, August and early September.
The point has been made by more than one noble Lord that small sites should be helped. I am doubtful about it. I believe that in the Highlands a croft site of two acres or more could have up to three caravans without the standards of the large sites being applied to it. That is good for the crofter, for the touring caravanner and for the camper, because facilities for spending the night can readily be found, and at such 894 sites there is usually sanitation at the croft house, where the needs of the caravanner or camper can be met.
But to encourage by grant sites that are admitted to be uneconomic before they start is a rather doubtful proposition. Also, even with marginal cases there would be a proliferation of sites, making the problem of landscaping and preserving the amenity in scenic areas more difficult. If you allow one person to have a site you will have to allow everybody to have a site. If you allow one person a grant, you will have to allow everybody a grant. So I should prefer that assistance be given to the large caravan sites, particularly municipal caravan and camping sites where full amenities are intended to be laid on, and municipal sites which have shown themselves to be efficient, liked by tourists and growing. The person who is providing a facility which is required should receive assistance to go on doing a good job. An examination by the Scottish Tourist Board and the Highlands and Islands Development Board might confirm this.
I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, in disliking static caravans. I should like to see static caravans turned into well-designed chalets. They are a masquerade. They are wolves in sheep's clothing. They are not the real thing. Their wheels are rusted solid and there is no point in having those ugly objects polluting the view. So the phasing out of static caravans could be a very good tool in helping us to provide a number of extra sites for touring caravans. I promised to be as brief as possible and I have spoken long enough. I should like to end by asking the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, whether the Government will consider siting some racecourses in the Highlands of Scotland, so that we can turn them into caravan sites, because we have no racecourses at the moment.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, I am sure there is no need for the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, to apologise for addressing your Lordships' House a second time. He is both knowledgeable and direct, and he speaks with such charm that we are delighted to hear 895 him. In fact, we wonder whether he will consider addressing your Lordships' House a third time in the next debate.
We are indeed most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, for initiating this debate which will bring light to bear upon a problem which has not been fully appreciated nationally, though it is known by those who are devotees of touring caravanning. I am not going to follow the discussion, which has been so exhaustively taken up, on the question of sites, their drainage and their sanitary facilities. I have never in my life been to a caravan site, nor have I any wish to go to one. I stand confessed before your Lordships as an unrepentant "wild" caravanner. I started caravanning with my family over forty years ago and I have never pitched a caravan on a recognised site during those years.
I must confess to the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, that after the war I penetrated with a caravan into the wilds of Wester Ross in places where no caravan had ever been before, and several times pioneered where one could say one was the first who ever burst into that silent sea. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, talked about milking the tourist caravanner. Perhaps I may relate the subject of milk and caravans in those early days. We used to go for milk to the croft or farm where we were parked for the night, and on more than one occasion payment for the milk was refused. They were surprised that we should offer payment, because it was a natural refreshment to give to the visitor in those parts. The reverse process seems now to be taking place.
What I have to say has been covered by implication, though not directly, by several speakers. I wish to stress first, the great social virtue of the caravan. It keeps the family together on holiday, which is of very great value at the present time when the tendency is for the family to splinter off at a very young age. As one noble Lord has said, caravanning develops the initiative and self-reliance of a family. The second virtue which I would emphasise, which is allied to the first, is that it is the cheapest possible form of family holiday.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, has pointed out, caravans contribute very substantially to 896 Scotland's economy, and the English caravans represent a major proportion of the tourist traffic. To put the noble Baroness's argument slightly differently, I understand it is estimated that the average family of four in a caravan in Scotland spends around £40 a week, excluding site fees at the caravan park. If they did not caravan, most of these families from England would not come to Scotland for their holidays; they would go elsewhere. Caravans are to my mind, therefore, a very important part of this section of our economy; and their possibilities can be easily extended. Scotland, my Lords, can do with more caravans. Better facilities for touring caravans will generate more money in Scotland, more employment and, most importantly of all, more happy families.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, as a somewhat lonely Sassenach in this debate to-day, I feel rather like the chap who finds himself in a club of which he is not a member. However, I appreciate the problems of Scotland because before now I have stayed with the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, in his part of the world. My purpose this afternoon is to bring to your Lordships' attention the fact that even in the depths of darkest Devon we suffer from this problem of the increasing number of caravans, their high concentration in some areas and the inadequate approach roads. In the November before last I drew your Lordships' attention, in a debate on the South-West, to the prolems of our approach roads. Who, coming to our part of the world (especially in the summer months, but almost at any time), has not been frustrated by finding himself behind a slow-moving queue with either a milk tanker or a caravan at the front? Eventually, somebody loses patience, he overtakes where he should not, there is an accident and the slow-winding snake comes to a halt.
The answer to part of that problem will come (but oh how slowly!) when the M.5 is extended to Exeter and the dual carriageway extension of the M.3, all of which we have been promised, is brought to that part of the world. We have also been promised dual carriageways on what are now the main roads. The trouble is that this merely gets the caravans and 897 the other holidaymakers to their destinations quicker, and thereby aggravates the "in situ" problem, which is causing alarm and despondency in many areas at the moment. With us, the touring caravan is a problem along with motor caravans and tenting holidaymakers. Even so, the number of touring caravans coming to Devon is growing prodigiously. At the time of the survey last summer, there were 2,200 (and this does not include, naturally, those on the way in or on the way out, or hidden in farmyards or on parts of the Moor), whereas in 1960, when we had a survey at the same time of the year, there were 1,300. The annual increase is now running at 16½ per cent. plus, which I think is a little more than was quoted for Inverness. Another bit of information to show the trend is that during 1968 and 1969 112,000 new caravans were put on the road for the home market.
The problems arising, so far as we are concerned, are fairly obvious, and are the same, I think, as are experienced elsewhere, but I think we suffer from greater concentration. We have meetings between the planning authorities and the local authorities, and so on, but it does not really seem to get us anywhere; nor have we found an answer to the problem. I feel that one of the first things we ought to do is to have a system whereby, on their way down or into a specific area, holidaymakers could make contact to find out where there are vacancies. We had an awful experience last year, when the Torbay area was absolutely crowded and people had to be sent away.
To my mind we must have new caravan parks. Torbay and other seaside areas say that they are all full up, but I think there is scope for more caravans on Dartmoor. However, here we are up against a lot of what I call bureaucratic or institutional obstacles. There are parts of Dartmoor which are boggy and are probably known by only one person in a million. If we were permitted to build there nicely landscaped reservoirs with attendant caravan sites, boating facilities, et cetera, we could kill many of our problem birds with the same stone. We could save good land and homes elsewhere, supply badly needed water and take off the narrow roads 1,000 caravans which only block the local traffic. In the case of this particular site I am thinking 898 of, every summer the roads are jammed with visitors and all they can do is sit and gawk at Princetown Prison. But somebody "nobbled" that Committee, so we lost that possibility.
The caravans are mainly congregated on the coastal areas, where they are too thick on the ground already for aesthetic comfort. If I may quote a case of my own, I have a field by a river not far from the coast which had been a council rubbish dump. My tenant cannot plough it, therefore, without bringing up tin cans. I applied for permission to build a caravan site. It has a nice hedge around three sides, and on the other it is down. I said to the planning officer, "I propose to build that hedge up so that it has high trees all around." As an example of the sort of difficulties one has when one tries to do these things, he said, "You cannot do anything until you have grown this hedge up", which I myself had proposed. Yet at the same time, on a hill not 500 yards away there is a permanent caravan park around which all the trees and hedges have been cut down. It stands out like the warts on Cromwell's nose; and for the next two years the land in between will be a mud bath, anyway, while they construct the Chudleigh by-pass. There are far too many examples of that sort of hindrance to our trying to catch up with this terrific increase in the number of caravans.
Caravanners, both mobile and static, spend, so we are told, only half as much on their holidays in Devon as do those who go to hotels and boarding houses. For that reason they are not the most popular element in the tourist set-up. For that and other reasons, the touring caravanner cannot really expect to have the front row of the stalls for "standing room only" prices. Local residents, who have paid and are paying considerable prices for their selected places, cannot have their interests ignored; and as a local resident I feel that I should be on the local residents' side. Club sites operated under paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Caravan Act are the sites generally most acceptable both to the planning authority and to the caravan clubs. As almost every speaker to-day has said, the grants which are available are generally thought to be inadequate.
I should like to make one or two suggestions. The problem of the site 899 operator ought to be given a little more consideration. The nomad (I use that term for want of a better word), cannot stand too much of the frustration of being turned away—and there was a lot of that last year. Perhaps the law could be made a little less fierce in this respect, especially in the so-called "explosive" period when there really are too many caravans. If the operator were allowed a small extra number of caravans for that period, or if he were allowed to take on a little ground next door, it would save a great deal of disappointment—especially if the park and other facilities are available. This might help to solve that problem. It was because of the danger to public health, arising from the fact that the roving caravan has no set place to go to, that I applied for a caravan site licence. Last year I found four caravans parked in a very narrow lane. It meant that nobody else could get by; and my woods were being used as their lavatory and as a dumping ground.
It seems to me that at the end of every season the planning authorities must get together with the holiday trade and make sure they have learned the lessons of that season so as to cope with the problems of the next. At present, these protective policies are, I think, a little too inflexible and imprecise. If we could have more sites allied to maintenance areas, say on the M.5 and approach roads, we could devise a way of channelling the visiting caravanner to places where there are vacancies by connecting these sites by telephone to sites in various parts of the county, thus avoiding the trouble that we had last year. This would be of special importance in these explosive periods.
The only other thing I would suggest in that respect is that, in addition to having telephonic communication, there should be approved site directions for caravans. If we could get this sort of communication, the right sort of approach roads and the right sort of overnight halts close to those roads, we might be able to avoid a great many problems in the future. A very large proportion of the million and a half holidaymakers who come to Devon every year either arrive in caravans or stay in them during their holiday period. I shall be more than interested to hear what the noble 900 Lord who is to answer for the Government has to say in respect of the various problems that noble Lords have raised this afternoon.
§ 6.35 p.m.
THE EARL OF DUNDONALD
My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Cromartie for introducing this debate to-day. For a few moments I should like to focus our attention away from Devon back to Scotland. Tourism in Scotland is becoming more and more important. We have plenty of open space where the urban dweller can learn to love and enjoy the countryside. But, to reiterate what many noble Lords have said, the caravanner and the camper who tows a trailer—not to be confused with the camper who camps in the open countryside—are producing a very real problem.
I have listened attentively this afternoon (and my noble friend the Duke of Atholl "shot down" various forms of financial assistance to the local authority and caravanners) but I have not heard a word about what the Highlands and Islands Development Board have done. It would be helpful to me, and I am sure also to our county council in Argyll, to know what the Highlands and Islands Development Board have done or are able to do in helping the caravan camper. I will amplify that point in a moment.
In our part of Argyll the caravan camp is, on the whole, extremely well regulated. But having observed the situation over several years—and I have no personal interest in the caravan camps at all—I have come to the conclusion that they are too small in area and that it is important that the local authority (under the powers which I believe they have available under Section 49 of the Countryside (Scotland) Act) should have the funds to be able to enlarge these camps. We should not then have, as at present, numbers of permanently parked or touring caravans ranged in long rows inland or facing the sea in cooped-up situations where the children, were it to rain for six or seven days, have no recreational facilities of any kind. I think that further financial assistance should enable the sites to include recreational or amenity areas part of which, if possible, should be on a hill.
901 Now we come to the other subject of camps—and I exclude the open camper, the man who camps well off the main roads and does not mind if he pitches his tent on the top of Ben Nevis. He is the real camper. My noble friend Lord Cromartie referred to those who come in Dormobiles or who have trailers carrying their camping equipment. It would appear to us in Argyll, and I think also to others, that they are allowed to park in large numbers practically anywhere—and without proper sanitary facilities. I am not talking about crofters and smallholders who can park within their acreage two or three caravans or tents. My noble friend Lord Lovat referred to this arrangement, which works extremely well. What we are concerned with is the Dormobile individual, the Dormobile species, or the man in the car with a trailer: it appears that he is able to park more or less anywhere without proper sanitary facilities.
I have listened carefully to what was said on the subject of taxes on caravans; and I feel that the caravanner would not object to a limited tax (I should not like to specify a figure) payable by day or by night, or by week or by fortnight, for the facilities of a proper, licensed caravan camp. It has already been said this afternoon that this situation exists in other countries where there is a sort of residence tax. I have no objection to caravanners, although, as I said, I have no personal interest in caravans. I have talked to a great many caravanners, and I do not think they would object to such a tax if the facilities of caravan camps could as a result be improved. Could not such a tax be collected by the licensed caravan camp and paid direct to the council in whose area the camp is situated, the money to be applied directly to the improvement of caravanning, rather than be collected by the central authority in the way that S.E.T. is collected? The caravan operator or owner would have to make a return to the Inland Revenue, and so would have to keep proper books; and each night, or each week, the money could be paid to the council. I would suggest a tax of say, £1; and I think this is something that the Government should consider.
My noble friends Lord Cromartie and Lord Lovat know the problem of the roads better than I do, but in our part 902 of Scotland passing places on the roads are obstructed by caravanners who cannot get their vehicles off the road. Such a tax as I have suggested might be used by local councils to improve and enlarge licensed caravan camps, which would help to relieve the congestion on the roads. Possibly the Highlands and Islands Development Board might be able to help with road improvements. I am in favour of allowing the present situation to continue in respect of the siting of caravans on crofting land, where the croft provides lavatory facilities and there are no drainage or water problems. Help should be given to the larger caravan camps. Sites where there are only 10, 12 or 15 caravans should not be considered, since they are not economic.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ LORD SANDYS
My Lords, as the second Englishman to take part in this debate, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Cromartie for providing this opportunity for me to address your Lordships. I come from a part of the County of Worcester, in the Midlands, about half-way between the Borders and Devonshire and on the M.5 which has already been referred to. The reason I am speaking in this debate is that our county has recently been awarded a Civic Trust Award for the design of a camp site. I feel that this is the sort of thing on which other local authorities might employ their expertise.
We had a derelict Army camp and no one knew what to do with it. It was full of weeds and a source of interest to hooligans. It belonged to the local authority and it was cleared, very much on the lines described by the noble Baroness, Lady White. It was not an airfield but an Army camp, and the facilities included hard standings which have been put to excellent use. The opportunity to improve this site was taken by Worcester County Council. There may be similar sites in our county and in other parts of England, Scotland and Wales. Our needs in England are precisely those which my noble friend the Duke of Atholl mentioned earlier. We need plenty of sites of varying standards which are well landscaped.
My Lords, it is the landscaping to which I should like to address myself particularly; it was referred to by my 903 noble friend Lord Dundonald. Landscaping should provide two things, concealment and amenity. By "amenity" I mean amenity from the point of view of the outside observer, and also that the camp site should provide much more than is available on camp sites in this country at present. Camp sites should be fun. Given imagination and a will to make them so, this could be achieved.
So far as concealment is concerned, I would make a plea, not to the Government but to the caravan manufacturers: is there not another colour which caravans could be painted, other than cream or green? Equally, are there not substances which could be applied to the paint to give a matt effect, or provide slightly serrated or nobbled surfaces, so that the sunlight would not reflect from it? Is it not possible to construct camp sites in such a way that they are "dug in", rather along the lines adopted by Hampshire County Council? There they have used the gun-pit principle for their car parks by providing bunkers which are an amenity in themselves and provide a degree of privacy for the caravanner and would-be camper.
There are other ways in which amenities could be provided, but I do not wish to take up further time by discussing them. I would mention the opportunity which there is for the exchange of information among Government Departments. Now the Forestry Commission has very much enlightened views about State forests compared with the early attempts made after the First World War, when trees of only one variety were planted in rectangular slabs. As the Forestry Commission has now opened the door a chink, it might be persuaded to open it a little wider and consider planting more varieties, with a view not only to the final crop being profitable but also to landscaping as a national amenity.
Another Government Department which has a stake in this regard is the Ministry of Defence. I will not mention any particular camp site or area of derelict land which might well be disposed of in the forthcoming re-allocation of land, because I think it would be unfair to refer to a particular site which many of us might know. But undoubtedly such 904 national resources which are in many cases along our coast line are awaiting Government action, and the caravanning community has a call upon them. Finally, my Lords, the Ministry of Transport comes into this. There are enormous areas of disused railway land, and also stations, which could be turned into places for caravan camps, and there sites could be established with great benefit.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, I regret that there appears to have been some slip-up in the "usual channels", and my name has been omitted from the list of speakers. I make no secret of the fact that I find camping an extremely uncomfortable way to spend a holiday. Far from it keeping the family together, as was said by my noble friend Lord Balerno, whenever my family go off camping I certainly do not go with them. But I know that there are people who desire this sort of holiday, and I fully appreciate the position.
I am sure that we are all most grateful to my noble friend Lord Cromartie for initiating this debate about what is definitely a growing problem. To my mind, the main reason why it is a growing problem is because of the existence of the iniquitous selective employment tax which, by increasing the charges, has driven many people from the hotels. However, we hope that before many months the Government will implement their promise to do away with this tax. As the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, said, during the last two years the Inverness County Council has made a survey of campers. In 1970 the survey showed that there were 6,000 units which were almost equally divided between caravans and tents. Counting other units hidden away in remote glens, probably 11,000 persons were using this source of accommodation during that period in the Inverness area alone.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems resulting from caravans, as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has said, is the obstruction caused to our vital communications by week-end and holiday drivers trying to weave their way over our narrow roads towing a trailer, a practice which becomes blatantly evident if for any reason they have to try to reverse. 905 Owners of commercial lorries and trailers, usually driven by experienced and careful drivers, have to pay heavy road fund taxes for using our roads, but for some reason or other a caravan can be taken on our roads without any tax. It may be that our draftsmen have had difficulty in deciding "when is a caravan not a caravan". There are, indeed, problems, such as into which category a Dormobile would fall, or one of those tent-type contraptions which fall down into a trailer. But I am confident that if someone were to put their mind to it these problems should not be insuperable. On the other hand, one has to be careful that one does not drive more people out of caravan camping into tent camping. There can be little doubt that the caravan is a good method of providing the additional holiday accommodation required.
I have tried to establish three different camping sites in three different places in Scotland, and the first, and perhaps biggest, hurdle that one has to surmount is to try to satisfy the planners. I think, as other noble Lords, and particularly my noble friend the Duke of Athol], have said, this is most important. The planners desire a site to be out of sight of the main road, and yet they do not like advance direction signs as they are unsightly also. If one overcomes these two problems, one then has to surmount other problems about which some noble Lords have complained bitterly, such as the difficulty of getting over the trunk roads problem, where frequently we are told that we cannot have access.
Many speakers have emphasised the difficulty with capital in the setting up of these sites. It is probable that one cannot build a toilet block, even for a small site, for less than £1,000. The place from where the money should come is from the campers themselves. When a tourist tax was suggested, I was not greatly enamoured with the idea and I am afraid that I disagree with my noble friend Lord Dundonald in his suggestion that there should be such a tax. Presumably, this would have to apply also to hotels and would make them more expensive. It would make camping sites more expensive, and would definitely encourage a marked increase in indiscriminate camping so as to escape both site charges and tax.
906 What is required is new legislation firmly to ban indiscriminate camping, as applies in many Continental countries. This ban is strongly enforced behind the Iron Curtain, and France applies it very strictly. The indiscriminate camper, apart from failing to provide revenue for the development of camping sites by the installation of such things as hot water, laundry facilities and the like, leaves litter and excreta, and the site becomes a general eyesore, fouling up the very scenery which people have come to see.
Urgent action must be taken to stop camping in lay-bys, woods, and even in one's arable fields and up one's private drives. As the law stands at the moment, I believe that the responsibility for preventing indiscriminate camping falls upon the occupier or owner of the ground; and indeed, the owner or occupier could be held liable for permitting camping in unauthorised places. I feel that this is grossly unfair, as the wretched owner has very little power to remove a camper, let alone someone obstructing one's roads, as I found to my cost. The Inverness County survey showed that in August, 1970, of the units found, 21 per cent. of caravans, 30 per cent. of motor caravans and 18 per cent. of tents were outwith licensed sites, and most of these were therefore polluting the countryside. I say this with due deference to my noble friend Lord Balerno; I do not know whether he was one of them.
I hope that I may digress slightly on to the question of tents, although the Motion specifies caravans. As my noble friend the Duke of Atholl has said, in the past there has been legislation for controlling caravanning, but the far greater problem of camping in tents seems to be ignored: indeed, if I may say so, I think my noble friend in putting down his Motion may have overlooked this point. Tent camping is far more likely to lead to a litter problem. Unlike many caravans, tents have no toilets, and tent campers are far more likely to make open fires. Indeed, the tents—multi-coloured monstrosities—frequently with a pair of underpants drying on the guy-ropes, are a far greater problem than caravans.
I know that if one tries to restrict camping there will be an outcry from mountaineers, asking why they cannot pitch their bivouacs in the remote areas. 907 Perhaps there would also be an outcry from certain noble Lords. Whatever may be the position, it might be possible to permit a certain amount of camping by some form of special permit. If there is to be legislation, it is frequently the case that the few have to suffer for the benefit of the majority. So far as this particular piece of legislation is concerned, there can be no doubt that it is essential.
My noble friend Lord Cromartie was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on the question of the organisation by amateurs of tourist concerns. I think my noble friend probably had in mind a specific case—and I fully agree with him—when an amateur organiser very nearly wrecked a very large company of tourists in Wester Ross last year. With respect, I think that there should be some proper professional control.
Finally, may I digress on to a Highland problem which may well not be popular, but which has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir and my noble friend Lord Thurso, on the special terms for crofters. I am afraid that I cannot agree that this is a good thing. I think it was probably felt that a caravan or two should be permitted near a croft house as additional accommodation to the house; but this is not in fact what transpires. Crofters have established small camping sites, frequently on their common grazings, where a number of crofters can combine, and you have a good number of caravans together in a completely unlicensed site without anyone able to control them. They are not subject to planning permission, and there are hardly ever any toilet facilities provided. Crofters are in a special category where they can secure grants which are not available to anyone else, and therefore there seems to be less excuse for them to have this dispensation than anyone else.
I therefore regret that I must disagree with my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir when she says that no new legislation is required. I hope that, having listened to this debate, she will have heard from a number of noble Lords that there are certain aspects which do require legislation. Apart from substantial camping outwith licensed sites, particularly during the peak periods, almost every site in 908 Inverness-shire is substantially overcrowded. It is therefore to be hoped that the Government will shortly introduce a camping Bill to cover the many problems discussed to-day and at the same time to stop the particular loopholes of indiscriminate camping.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I should like to express the utter sense of shock with which I have listened to the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down, and I wish here and now to begin the public outcry which he confidently and quite rightly anticipated. As economic advance continues, I believe it is more and more generally accepted that we should do more than we have done in the past to improve the quality of life. That means enabling people to get out and enjoy the natural beauties of this lovely country. While I am second to none in my admiration for Scotland, which I visit as often as I can, I should now like to say a word about good old England, because we have the most lovely countryside, but it is getting rather hard to enjoy it. I am greatly concerned at present trends. For instance, hotel prices are becoming inordinately expensive. If you want to stay in a nice hotel in England, Scotland or Wales, and if you take some of your children, you pay an astronomical price. I do not know how people manage to pay for the holidays that they like to enjoy. This, I believe, is retrogressive.
There is little doubt that the caravan and, for that matter, the tent, represents an excellent solution. It is good for young people to live fairly hard—I do not believe it does the old ones much harm either—and there is a great deal to be said for encouraging our countrymen to get out, get themselves fit, and enjoy nature in the way in which you can live closest to it. But the present trend is to restrict facilities. I have noticed on my peregrinations round this country that it is getting increasingly difficult to find anywhere to pitch a tent or lodge a caravan. The various municipal and rural authorities like to stick us into camp sites and to restrict us to camp sites which are mostly in the neighbourhood of towns. Personally, I like going out into the real country, but it is increasingly difficult to find a good site 909 for a tent or caravan there. Of course, many local authorities are dominated by the local commercial and hotel-owning interests, and this has some influence on the situation. I do not want to impute unworthy motives to the local authorities, because I think they try very hard. Some of the camp sites I have visited have been beautiful, well organised and a credit to the locality.
The next point I want to make is that the National Trust property is getting more and more extensive, and covers more and more of our ranges of hills, with magnificent views and beautiful coastline round the United Kingdom. Unfortunately the National Trust property, with the exception of a few sites, is not available to tenters and caravanners. It is not a matter of whether you are an extremely clean tenter or caravanner, as I claim to be: there are no sites. That is a shame. These beautiful areas should not be closed to people who want to go and stay there, provided that they behave properly. It is a great pity from the point of view of all our countrymen that it is getting harder to visit these places. Personally, I would favour opening more camp sites. I strongly endorse the preference for the travelling caravan rather than the static one, which has been mentioned so much in this debate, and there should perhaps be a little more care taken about sanitation and lack of noise. Generally speaking, we want more facilities, not fewer.
One other matter, although it is only partially relevant to this debate, is that it seems to me, in my part of the country at any rate, South East of London, that much National Trust property is beginning to get overgrown with gorse and hawthorn bushes and unkempt bushes of all sorts. This is not altogether the fault of the National Trust, because they do not have the money to look after these places. It really is a shame when beautiful places, like Toys Hill for instance, get so grown over that although they have been given to the National Trust so that everybody may enjoy the magnificent view, yet unless you are able to climb a high tree and look out from it you cannot see what the view might be. If somebody could encourage the National Trust to look after these areas and restore their original amenities, it would be of great benefit.
910 I should like to give another example of what is happening and which I believe is retrogressive. One of the most beautiful bays in the South of England is Cuckmere Haven, near Seaford. For a great many years, to my certain knowledge—because I have been there often—there has been a camp and caravan site, with water laid on and toilet facilities; and a beautiful place it is. Complaints have been raised in the neighbourhood because the caravans can be seen from some angles, and the caravan and camping site is going to be closed entirely in a few years, by order of the local authority. Let me make it perfectly clear that the local authority have the legal right to do this. I am not saying that they have done anything that they have not the right to do; all I am saying is that it is an attitude which is as dead as the dodo.
They have given orders not only to close, the site in a few years' time but also to destroy the toilet facilities. My Lords, this is a place which hundreds of people visit almost every day of the year. Now this beautiful place is going to be fouled—nothing else can happen. This matter is under consideration at the present time, and I hope that some arrangement will be made to continue the camping, caravan and toilet facilities, particularly if suitable landscaping arrangements can be made. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who is going to reply, knows all about this subject, because we have discussed it. He has been most helpful, and I greatly appreciate what he has done. It is important that in cases like this we should not encourage or help the local authorities to adopt what is really a retrogressive attitude in destroying the availability of the beauties of our countryside for the people that want to visit there.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, before the noble Lord moves away from the National Trust, it is only fair to say that the National Trust, to my certain knowledge, have made several excellent caravan and camping sites in the Lake District. The National Trust for Scotland spend a great deal of money on both camping and caravan sites at nearly all their properties. If they had more money, I promise the noble Lord that they would do a great deal more. So I think he is being a little unfair.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I think I mentioned that there were exceptions, and I warmly endorse the remarks of the noble Duke, for they are entirely right. But what is wanted is more of them. There are not enough of these facilities, and I have said that it is not entirely the fault of the National Trust because they do not have enough money. I hope that they will be able to get more money to do this work.
My Lords, to conclude, I would say that improved facilities are really important in improving the quality of life. It is customary nowadays to say a great deal about the environment and pray for the survival of the insects. I should like to pray for the survival of the human race. I think it is important that we should be able to get out and enjoy our beautiful country, and that goes for all parts of it.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, the Department of the Environment stretches far and wide, but its responsibilities do not normally extend to Scotland and Wales. It is, therefore, a particular pleasure for me to be taking part to-day in this debate, which has ranged from Ross and Cromarty down to the Gower Peninsula, and all over England, as well as Scotland.
I suppose that, as a Minister, one ought not to have any interests to declare, but the fact of the matter is that I have been a camper and a caravanner for some time. I am a member of both the Camping and Caravan Clubs, of which I will say more in a moment. It is quite wrong to suppose that I have any of the particular expertise with which the noble Baroness, Lady White, credited me. Furthermore, I have very scant first-hand knowledge of the ways things are run in Scotland. But I am consoled by the fact that if I omit one or two details about the workings of the Highlands and Islands Development Board Scottish Peers who are present will have the chance of another go to-morrow. I will, nevertheless, do my best to cover the ground.
It is one of the broad policy aims of the Department for which I speak that the beauty of the countryside should be safeguarded. This is a policy which is, of course, shared by my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Wales 912 and for Scotland. But this protection is not just for those whose enjoyment of the countryside is secure, but in order that the greatest number of other people may share that enjoyment when they are on holiday; and share it to the full. I particularly welcome the theme which has recurred over and over again in this debate and which indicates how many of your Lorships share that policy and that aim, and in fact are taking practical steps to give effect to it.
Touring the country by car with a caravan in tow, or with camping gear on board, is proving an excellent way of enjoying the countryside, as more and more families are finding year by year. It is a sensible choice and we want to do nothing unnecessary to restrain the trend. But the speed and the strength of this very popular movement demand careful planning, careful management of sites and a great deal of consideration about legislation and other matters. For this reason this debate, initiated by my noble friend Lord Cromartie, is particularly welcome. The Motion refers to the "ever-increasing number" of touring caravans. The Caravan Club, who have considerable expertise in this field, can endorse that. I am indebted to them for a number of statistics, but one of the most telling is that their membership last year increased by 14,000—an increase of 20 per cent. in one year. Similar statistics could have been provided, if we were discussing the subject, by the Camping Club and many others whose main interest is recreation in the open air.
Faced with this situation, this buoyancy of demand, on the one hand, and a supply of plentiful, beautiful countryside all over the Highlands, on the other, and also the need in the Highlands for economic development, I should have thought it ought not to be our first concern to turn to methods of taxation and possibilities of grant-aid, but rather to look round for an expert entrepreneur to bring this demand and that supply together. In fact, we can turn to the Caravan Club and the Camping Club, and others like them, and find such entrepreneurs active and busy in the field. The Caravan Club (I refer to them because we are talking about touring caravans) are expending £200,000 annually on opening new sites and developing and improving existing ones. That sum, £200,000, is one-third of the 913 total funds made available on the recommendation of the Countryside Commissions of England, Wales and Scotland for all countryside facilities—not just camping sites—over the period of a year. It is a sizeable sum and we ought to salute the Caravan Club for such vigorous activity.
This is the best possible way of bringing this demand and supply together and financing these schemes; it is better than taxing the caravanners and better than some of the grant-aid schemes which have been mooted, although I agree there is scope for grant-aid as well.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that the trouble mainly arises from those who are not members of these clubs? I am afraid that a large percentage of campers are not.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, that is perfectly true, but perhaps it is not for me to advocate from this Box an increase of the membership of the Caravan Club. No doubt that is a point which will be noted.
It is clubs like these who know what their members want. They know the scale of the demand; they know where the sites are most needed; they know the problems of establishing sites and how to solve those problems; they know the problems of running the sites, and they are able to recruit wardens and others to overcome them and to raise the standards. That is not to say that the local authorities do not have a role—of course they have. They must control, and control carefully, the choice of places and development of the larger licensed sites. They must curb (several noble Lords mentioned this) unlicensed camping and caravanning and enforce the law. They must be able to influence and plan the provisions of all sites. It must be for the local authority to look after the landscape and the possible adaptation of derelict sites, which is an excellent idea. This is not to say that independent site operators do not have a role to play as well in providing and running large sites, particularly in appropriate places, for static caravans, which meet a demand for holiday-making of a different kind. But I believe that the main agents for the provision of what the touring caravanner needs, and the best agents for financing measures to meet these needs, are bodies 914 such as the Caravan Club and, for the campers, the Camping Club.
There has been a good deal of talk during the debate of special dispensation for crofters in the crofting counties of the Highlands—most of the remote areas of Scotland. I can say that this is a matter which is being looked into, and all the points that noble Lords have made will be considered with great care in this connection. A plan is being prepared which may help to improve the situation here. I do not wish to make a judgment on the valuable points that have been made, first because this is really outside the scope of my Department, but mainly because the matter is under active consideration.
Several noble Lords, rightly and properly, raised the question of transit sites required by those people who are making their way to their holiday in distant parts of the Kingdom—the Pembroke coast, the Highlands and Islands, the far ends of the Cornish Peninsula, and so on. There is indeed a need for proper transit sites to meet their requirements. The noble Baroness, Lady White, sketched the nature of the problem, and her remarks will be heeded with great care. The British Tourist Association made a study as far back as 1965 and something has been done to implement the findings. There is also a further transit tourist study group now in session, initiated by the Countryside Commission, as the noble Baroness said. In addition to that, there is a movement, which she also mentioned, in the direction of using racecourses, when they are not required for racing, for temporary, seasonal caravan and camping sites. I am glad to pay tribute to the pioneering work that was done by the racecourse at Chepstow and also by the racecourse at Ayr. I think it is true to say that this is one racecourse in Scotland in which experiments of this kind have been conducted, but one has yet to be established in the Highlands.
Here again, there are considerable possibilities, but it does not follow immediately that because there are toilet facilities and catering facilities on the sites of racecourses they are necessarily suitable and ideal for caravanners, or that a racecourse is in the right place for a caravan transit site. But it is certainly 915 something that needs looking into, and a development which is very welcome. Once again, I think the more that the Caravan Club and the Camping Club are drawn into the selection of these sites, and their detailed management, the better it will be for all concerned; and I am assured by the Racecourse Association that they are fully alive to the advantages of keeping in touch with these bodies.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord for one moment, I hope that he has not forgotten the point I made about parking on lay-bys. It would be a great help to the Caravan Club and to everybody else if this was made illegal.
§ LORD SANDFORD
My Lords, I have certainly not forgotten, but I am leaving the legislative matters to the end. A good deal was said, and I very much welcome it, about the relative merits of touring caravans and static caravans. I think there is a place for the static caravan site, and I would not want to go too far in running them down, but I agree that in the choicest areas, in the National Parks for example, it would be wrong to allow people to establish second homes, week-end cottages, by sleight of hand. It certainly would never be countenanced if planning permission was applied for in a straightforward way. If we allow too many of these static caravans in the National Parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, and choice parts of the coast, we shall in fact be doing exactly this. It is most important, and I am most grateful to noble Lords who have mentioned it, that proper scope for touring caravans should be provided for on caravan sites in these choice areas. I understand, for example, that the Peak Park Planning Board normally require at least a third of the pitches in the Park to be reserved for touring caravans. I welcome this approach in trying to cater for the touring caravan.
I come now to the point made by my noble friend Lord Lovat, about parking on lay-bys and roadside verges. I think everybody will agree with him that this is undesirable and reprehensible, but there are considerable difficulties because, of course, parking—just parking—in a lay-by is not an offence. That is what 916 a lay-by is for. On the other hand, it is true that over-night parking could conceivably be regarded as unreasonable, and technically as an obstruction under the Highways Act; but given this rather precise and narrow legal distinction, I think the noble Lord will agree that enforcement in any area would be difficult, and in the remote areas of the Highlands it would be almost impossible. I believe, therefore, that a more promising line would be to encourage the education of the caravanning public in the appropriate code of behaviour when they are caravanning—and the Caravan Club and the Camping Club of course are well fitted to assist in that—rather than to look for legislative remedies. But I agree with the noble Lord that here is a nuisance and a difficulty which ought to be dealt with in some way if at all possible.
Finally, my Lords, I turn to a number of legislative matters, not to go over them all in detail, but to assure noble Lords that a special Working Party is in session. It was initiated by our predecessors and is looking into the whole business of camping and caravanning legislation: the possibility of closing a number of loopholes in the legislation which have been mentioned this evening, bringing the legislation for camping and caravanning into closer harmony, and enabling local authorities to exercise the control which they want to exercise and which is so necessary. That Working Party is nearing the end of its work and will be reporting very shortly. Similarly, I have now ended my speech, my Lords, and I should like to thank all those who have taken part, and the noble Earl in particular.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, I am not going to keep your Lordships long, because it is getting late, but before I say anything I should like to correct a slight mistake made by my noble friend Lord Burton. When I was referring to the Board of Management, I was referring to them quite generally and to no person in particular.
Having said that, I should like to thank all those, from all sides of the House, who have taken part in this debate. I am sure that it has done a great deal of good. It has shed a great deal of light on the considerable difficulties, which are going to get worse, and I only hope that 917 it will be appreciated by the Front Bench and the Government, as I am sure it will be. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.