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Patnick, Sir Irvine

Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey

Pawsey, James

Pickles, Eric

Porter, Barry (Wirral S)

Portillo, Rt Hon Michael

Powell, William (Corby)

Redwood, Rt Hon John

Renton, Rt Hon Tim

Richards, Rod

Riddick, Graham

Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm

Robathan, Andrew

Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn

Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)

Robinson, Mark (Somerton)

Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)

Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela

Ryder, Rt Hon Richard

Sackville, Tom

Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim

Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas

Shaw, David (Dover)

Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)

Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)

Shersby, Michael

Sims, Roger

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)

Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)

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Soames, Nicholas

Speed, Sir Keith

Spencer, Sir Derek

Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)

Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)

Spring, Richard

Sproat, Iain

Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)

Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John

Steen, Anthony

Stephen, Michael

Stern, Michael

Stewart, Allan

Streeter, Gary

Sumberg, David

Sweeney, Walter

Sykes, John

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, John M. (Solihull)

Temple-Morris, Peter

Thomason, Roy

Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Thurnham, Peter

Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)

Tracey, Richard

Tredinnick, David

Trend, Michael

Trimble, David

Trotter, Neville

Twinn, Dr Ian

Vaughan, Sir Gerard

Viggers, Peter

Waldegrave, Rt Hon William

Walden, George

Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)

Walker, Bill (N Tayside)

Waller, Gary

Ward, John

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Waterson, Nigel

Wells, Bowen

Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John

Whitney, Ray

Whittingdale, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Wiggin, Sir Jerry

Wilkinson, John

Willetts, David

Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)

Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)

Wolfson, Mark

Yeo, Tim

Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes: Timothy Wood and Derek Conway

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Question accordingly negatived .

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to .

Clause 75

Repeal of certain provisions relating to gipsy sites

Lords amendment: No. 79, in page 60, line 24, at end insert-- ("( ) This section is subject to subsections (4A) and (4B) of section 152.")

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8.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones): I beg to move, That this House doth disagree withthe Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 157, 160, 169, 315, 316 and 335 and the Government motions to disagree.

Mr. Jones: Clause 75 would repeal the gipsy site provisions of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, including the duty placed on local authorities to provide caravan sites for gipsies in their areas. It would also repeal the Secretary of State's powers to designate local authority areas and to direct authorities to provide sites or additional sites. It would further repeal the Secretary of State's powers under the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 to pay grant to local authorities in England and Wales in respect of the capital cost of gipsy site provision.

It was our original intention to bring these repeals into force immediately on Royal Assent. Amendment No. 79 and the amendments grouped with it would delay those repeals until after 1 July 1999. The sole exception would be the repeal of the designation provisions in the 1968 Act, which would come into force on Royal Assent. Even after 1 July 1999, the repeals could come into force only by means of commencement orders in relation to local authority areas. Each order would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. That process would obviously mean further delay in bringing the repeals into force in England and Wales, in some cases long beyond the initial five-year extension.

The Government disagree with the amendments and I invite the House to reject them. One of the noble Lords who tabled the amendments in another place argued that the proposed delay would give local authorities an opportunity to reduce substantially the shortfall in the provision of accommodation for gipsies. We do not believe that a five-year reprieve would have such an effect.

In the past 13 years, the number of gipsy caravans stationed on unauthorised sites has remained broadly the same year after year-- an average of 4,000 caravans each year since 1981-- even though 100 per cent. grant for the capital costs of site provision has been available since 1978 and £87 million has been expended on site provision. The shortfall in provision has been largely due to natural growth in the gipsy population. Plainly, site provision is barely keeping pace with the growth in demand and is not reducing the shortfall.

There is simply no basis on which to believe that a five-year extension would lead to sites being provided for all gipsy families who have no lawful place to camp. What would a five-year delay achieve? It would not make it any easier for local authorities to find suitable sites; nor would it check the natural growth in the gipsy population. The evidence of the past 24 years suggests that in five years' time we shall be no further on in reducing unauthorised camping.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton): My hon. Friend mentioned the natural growth in the gipsy population. First, will he reassure me that there is no possibility or danger of what we understand here as new age travellers-- whom most people would not regard as

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gipsies-- benefiting from the planning arrangements that the Government's proposals envisage? Secondly, will he address the concerns, of which I think he is aware, that have been expressed by the National Farmers Union, which fears that the removal of the Lords amendments might result in a worsening rather than an easing of the present problem for farmers and others arising from unauthorised encampments?

Mr. Jones: On my hon. Friend's first point, I do not believe that there is a major danger, as there has been a court finding on the definition of gipsies as opposed to new age travellers. We are pretty confident on that count. On his second point, we shall have to see how local authorities behave, but the proposed powers are stronger and cover a far wider part of the country, which should be enough to reassure the NFU.

We have serious principled objections to the amendments. My Department has carried out a detailed review of gipsy site policy. The consultation paper that my Department issued in August 1992 elicited almost 1,000 responses from a wide range of interests, including local authorities and organisations representing gipsies and landowners. We considered carefully all the responses before making our legislative proposals. That process has taken more than two years to reach this stage. It is now proposed that there should be a further delay of at least five years in bringing these long-awaited reforms into force and we believe that that procrastination cannot be justified.

We recognise that council site provision has contributed to alleviating the difficulties experienced by the gipsy community. Indeed, the predicament of gipsies in England and Wales is now far different from in 1968. At that time, probably fewer than 10 per cent. of gipsy caravans in England and Wales were stationed on authorised sites, whereas the figure is now about 46 per cent. A further 24 per cent. are on authorised private sites, and many more are stationed on tolerated sites where they are allowed to stay with reasonable security from eviction. Some of our critics have claimed that our reforms would place gipsies in the same predicament that they faced in 1968, but that is manifestly not the case.

We believe that public provision of sites has now reached an acceptable level. Public accommodation has been provided for 46 per cent. of the total number of gipsy caravans in England and Wales. We do not believe that it is in the public interest to continue to maintain what has become an open- ended commitment to provide sites for all gipsies seeking accommodation at the public's expense. It is our view that the right approach now is to encourage more gipsies to establish their own sites through the planning system. We know that many gipsy families would prefer to establish their own sites rather than reside on council sites. The National Gypsy Council has for a long time supported the case for private provision. Private site provision has increased by more than 135 per cent. since 1981. Our intention is to encourage that trend.

I am familiar with the argument that the planning rules are stacked against gipsies and that consequently many of them are wont to purchase and occupy land without first getting planning permission. That practice invariably adds to their problems. In January, my Department issued a circular entitled "Gypsy Sites and Planning" which

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