HC Deb 31 March 1993 vol 222 cc289-90W
Sir Cranley Onslow

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures the Government propose to tackle the problem of illegal camping by gipsies.

Mr. Baldry

My Department and the Welsh Office issued a consultation paper "Reform of the Caravan Sites Act 1968", on 18 August 1992. The paper set out our proposals for reducing illegal camping. It was widely circulated, and we have received 939 formal responses, copies of which are in the Department's library. A list of the responses is in the Library of the House.

Responses were received from local authorities, police authorities, the churches, farmers, landowners, members of the public and, not least, gipsies and other travellers. Most respondents acknowledged the deficiencies of the present arrangements for providing caravan sites for gipsies, although few made any constructive suggestions for change.

The existing system of local authorities' providing caravan sites has not yielded sufficient accommodation for gipsies. Nor has it reduced the incidence of illegal camping, which can be an intolerable nuisance for residents of the settled community. The Government consider that local authorities should have stronger powers to deal quickly and effectively with illegal camping, and that the Exchequer should no longer have an open-ended commitment to meet gipsies' accommodation needs; more gipsies should be encouraged to find their own sites.

Accordingly, as soon as parliamentary time allows, my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales propose to give local authorities in England and Wales a new power to direct trespassers to remove their caravans from land; failure to comply with such a direction would be a criminal offence. They also propose that it would be a criminal offence if, having left, the traveller returns to the same land as a trespasser within three months. Local authorities would then have the power to evict on receipt of a magistrate's order. They propose that the duty which the 1968 Act places on local authorities to provide caravan sites for gipsies will be repealed although local authorities would be given a discretionary power to do so. They also propose the repeal of the Secretary of State's powers to direct and designate local authorities, and to provide grant for sites.

After consideration of the responses to the consultation paper they have decided that it is not necessary to give authorities a power to seize caravans. Nor do they now propose to offer financial assistance to gipsies to move into conventional housing, although they continue to believe that gipsy families who wish to make that move should be encouraged to do so.

Finally, they will issue for public consultation shortly new draft guidance to local planning authorities. Their intention is that the draft guidance and their legislative proposals should put gipsies in the same position as other developers under the planning system; but also should ensure that the system recognises gipsies' special accommodation needs. It should enhance gipsies' confidence in the planning system, and lead to the provision of more sites to gipsies requirements.

The Government believe that these changes will serve better the original objectives of the 1968 Act, to provide legal sites for gipsies and to eliminate illegal camping.