Interpretation

Clause 9 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1975.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment made: No. 40. in page 9, leave out lines 4 to 6.—[Mr. Kaufman.]

1.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King , Bridgwater

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This will give me a further opportunity to express my appreciation to the Minister for the interest and considerable amount of time he has spent on the Bill. I hope I may, through him, pass a very sincere expression of appreciation to his officials who have worked to improve certain aspects of the Bill and to enlist the support of other Departments, not least the Lord Chancellor's Office and the Scottish Office. I should like also to say how much I appreciate the efforts of my parliamentary agent, Mr. Colin Winser, who spent an enormous amount of time on the Bill. Its complexities have grown as we progressed. I could just about carry the file into the Chamber and I shall just about be able to carry it out again. That is a measure of the work involved.

I express my appreciation, too, to the sponsors of the Bill. Sadly, a number of them were not able to he with us today, but they have all played a part in the discussions. The Bill has been an excellent example of close co-operation across party lines to achieve common objectives. I say "Thank you", as well, to all the hon. Members who attended the Committee, not least the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved).

I have received an enormous amount of correspondence about the Bill. It is clear that there has been much misunderstanding about certain aspects of it and exactly how certain reasonable points were covered. The most common concern among site owners was that this would provide a licence for any resident, no matter how dishevelled or broken down his mobile home, automatically to be able to maintain totally unfit accommodation for up to eight years. I have tried to clarify that point and to show that there are proper safeguards.

It is always easy to make exaggerated claims about a measure with which one has been closely involved. All hon. Members recognise that the Bill goes some way to improve the situation existing under the 1968 Act. Some have asked whether it gives full security of tenure, and the honest reply to that is that it does not. It gives a qualified security of tenure—an improvement in the present situation. In the odd situation of mobile homes, where people may own their own dwelling but rent the site on which it stands, it is impossible to give the occupiers absolute rights over something which does not belong, to them. That is part of the problem.

I have one regret about the Bill. It is, with great respect to the eminent draftsmen who worked on it, that the language is not absolutely clear. It is significant that this week my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) produced, with the help of his colleagues, a report on the problems of the wording of parliamentary Bills. The situation of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) showed how one can be led astray by wording which seeks to achieve an objective, and which one thinks will make an improvement, but which is revealed by legal advice to disadvantage those whom one is trying to help. However, the Bill is as clear as we can make it. I hope that it will be backed by explanation by the representative bodies, so that all concerned will understand their rights and obligations.

The Bill will not be the final answer to all abuses, some of which are exaggerated. As both representative bodies have said, there are rogues on both sides who may exploit loopholes, but for the great mass of people who live responsibly and properly on sites, the Bill will be a further reassurance and confirmation of their rights and will give them that greater security which we all want them to have.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), I hope that the Bill will help to make more respectable the whole concept of mobile home living. As I said on Second Reading, in the United States 5 million people live in mobile homes by choice. Apart from those, mentioned by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, who have no alternative, many people in this country make the same choice. I hope that the Bill will show that Parliament recognises the choice of these people and its own responsibility to see that they are properly treated under the law. I hope that it will open up an expansion in a useful field of housing provision.

1.52 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Ward Mr Michael Ward , Peterborough

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) and those who have helped him to bring the Bill to this point. He is far too modest about his own rôle. If there is a lack of clarity in some parts of the Bill, the important thing is that he has brought a good deal of clarity to the relations between site owners and residents. In the last few weeks my own contacts in my constituency have borne this out. I have been asked to have a meeting with residents and owners to discuss the Bill. I, too, think that the Bill will bring about a new relationship between owners and residents.

Because of the social and geographical isolation of many people on caravan sites, it is important that proper information about the Bill should be disseminated. I was hoping that the Under-Secretary would be able to tell us that the Department would make publicity available, perhaps through local authorities, to ensure that occupiers know their rights. It is important that the details of the new agreements are known. Although this would involve some minor public expenditure, I hope that the Minister will ensure that it is not left to the popular magazines and the associations.

The associations cover only a limited number of sites. Like other hon. Members—I hope—at my meeting on Sunday I shall do my best to extend the activities of these organisations, which bring order and sense into the relations between owners and occupiers.

Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member and those who supported him, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan).

1.55 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Oxon Mid

I should like to extend my own strong congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King): I and many others can testify from personal experience to the enormous care that he has taken to consult people and organisations, and to the good-humoured patience and acumen with which he has listened to what, at the beginning, were somewhat unclear observations from many of us who came to this area without, perhaps, the deep knowledge that some hon. Members possess. In a tangled matter of this kind, without such qualities on the part of the main sponsor the Bill would have foundered.

We should also thank the Under-Secretary for his attitude. I had previously known and heard of him in a more combative capacity, and it has been pleasant to hear him time and again doing his best to make the Bill a workable reality. Perhaps it is a little churlish to ask him not to weary of well-doing. He has been placed in charge of an important inquiry into these matters. I hope that he will confide in us from time to time how he is getting on and tell us when he will be able to bring forward something new. There are other aspects, such as holiday caravans, where real problems arise. I hope that he will keep an eye on these, although they are not strictly relevant to this debate.

In our constituencies we all hear of people who are in desperate difficulties, domestic, social and personal, because they do not have a satisfactory roof over their heads. Since I began to listen to these stories, I have come to the conclusion that the mobile home could provide an answer which was economical and independent, and which, in suitable conditions, could meet the needs of people who have never thought of a mobile home. I hope that the Bill will establish in people's minds the concept of the mobile home as a serious addition to our housing scene. The achievement of this Bill, I hope, will be not simply that of bringing order and security into existing sites; I hope that it will encourage individuals and particularly local authorities to get into this business themselves to relieve housing stress.

1.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

One of the things which have given me pleasure in the few years that I have been a Member of Parliament is the use which is made of our complex procedures in marshalling through useful Private Members' Bills, which have reached the Statute Book through the diligence and, sometimes, the courage of private Members.

The Bill which the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) has steered through is very worth while. If not one of the greatest and most far reaching of Private Members' Bills, it certainly joins the ranks of those Bills which, in their own spheres, will have great impact. This one will benefit the owners of mobile homes and site operators and I believe will have the desirable spin-off described by the hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) of encouraging people to live in the open in mobile homes.

My only regret is that our procedure means that we must move so quickly from Committee to Report to Third Reading without being able fully to study the impact of all these provisions. If I may say so, that is not a fault of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State when he said that he had seen him on previous occasions in the House as a combative politician. We also see the hon. Member for Bridgwater in the same position when he sits just behind the Opposition Front Bench making hard-hitting and pointed comments to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench. However, when it comes to these occasions, when there is a degree of co-operation and understanding, the qualities that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend possess come to the fore. They are able to join together on a non-partisan basis to get through such measures as the Bill now before us.

Far from being a disadvantage to anyone, I believe that the Bill can form the basis of an expansion not only of site facilities but of the mobile home industry itself. That would be a good thing. The hon. Member for Bridgwater has said that many people choose to live in mobile homes because they provide the sort of life that they want to lead. I have absolute sympathy and understanding with that point of view. Although I am not a mobile home dweller I am an active caravanner and camper. I know just how great a benefit can be conferred upon one's family by getting out into the countryside, away from the smoke and dust of a large town, and enjoying the beauty and the relaxation that should be open to us all and is, indeed, our heritage. I fully understand those mobile home occupiers who choose a form of existence in which they are very close to the open air and to the good living that can come from it.

I appreciate that not all mobile home sites are in the country. Many are adjacent to large towns and cities, such as the area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward). I join with my hon. Friend in his plea to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to ensure that this worthwhile measure receives adequate publicity. It is not enough merely to get it on to the statute book; we must go further and ensure that people are aware of its existence. That applies not only to those who now occupy mobile homes but to those who will occupy them in succeeding years.

We can provide publicity in a number of ways. I shall briefly draw two methods to the attention of my hon. Friend. First, it is obvious that local authorities will be aware of the measure, because it is their duty to be so aware. However, I think they can be encouraged by a departmental circular to ensure that in their information offices a short document is available to convey information to interested parties. That can be done at minimum expense but with considerable benefits.

Secondly, I ask my hon. Friend to give consideration to encouraging publicity through the citizens' advice bureaux. I know that in my constituency an enormous number of people go to the bureaux and receive very good advice on a wide variety of topics. Certainly the bureaux are equipped to pass on a wealth of information on many complex subjects. They provide a friutful source of advice and they are known places where citizens can go when they are in trouble. People either go to the citizens' advice bureaux or to their Member of Parliament. Sometimes they can combine both those desirable sources of information. If the citizens' advice bureaux could provide information on this measures in a document in leaflet form they would assist in making information on the benefits of the Bill more widely known on a continuing basis to operators and site dwellers.

Photo of Mr Michael Ward Mr Michael Ward , Peterborough

Does my hon. Friend not agree that he has been talking about passive publicity? People would have to take the initiative to receive that sort of information. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a case for asking local authorities, which in most cases must have few caravans in their area—in my area there are about 500—to make some positive material available to caravan site owners and site dwellers?

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

I do not dissent from that. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has made a note of my hon. Friend's views. Certainly an initial splurge of publicity to get the Bill understood as quickly as possible is an excellent idea, but I must add a word of caution. When we are encouraging local authorities to reduce expenditure, would it be right, in a borough where there is widespread use of mobile homes, to incure any great expenditure? I would not like to comment upon that, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will take the point into account in any circular that he finally decides to send out.

I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill's Third Reading. I hope that it will open up a new era of opportunity and co-operation between the two parties involved—namely, the owners and the site operators—which will be mutually satisfactory. Above all, I hope that it opens up greater avenues for sites to be developed which are not only fairly profitable for the owners but enjoyable for the occupants.

2.6 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Rossi Mr Hugh Rossi , Haringey Hornsey

I intervene briefly to add my congratulations to those of my hon. Friends and Members opposite to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) for the diligence with which he has piloted the Bill through all the hazards that any Bill must face and for having brought it forward successfully to Third Reading. In addition, as has been mentioned already, my hon. Friend has negotiated with outside interests and has reconciled what at times must have seemed to be the irreconcilable.

On Second Reading I expressed views on behalf of the Opposition as regards the value of mobile homes and the contribution they can make to alleviating our housing problems. I do not want to detain the House by going over that ground again and by making a second speech along the same lines.

The importance of the Bill goes beyond its application to mobile homes in as much as it is giving a charter to an occupier, a tenant as it were, of a form of residential accommodation without in any way imposing control and security of tenure in the full sense. It is seeking to achieve a new relationship between site owners and occupiers by means of a statutory form of agreement, an agreement that is impartial and objective in seeking to give help and protection to the one side and at the same time to recognise the rights of the other party.

Members on both sides of the House have expressed the hope that the Bill heralds a new era, that it will produce a new relationship between the opposite parties to a bargain which, in the past, has been soured for a variety of reasons.

Parliament has now brought forward an arrangement whereby the rights and duties can be balanced fairly and equitably between the parties. I hope that the House will study this arrangement in the light of experience to see whether it is a means whereby we can in future find a way of taking relationships as between landlord and tenant out of the era of asperity that we have seen for so many years in the past. I shall watch the situation very closely and examine the way in which this measure operates to see whether we can find a formula for bringing peace at long last between landlords and tenants.

2.9 p.m.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment)

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) has understandably widened on Third Reading the ground that we covered in the more detailed consideration which took place in Committee and on Report. Certainly I would hope that we can expand areas of good will in all forms of tenure. Whether this legislation and legislation that may follow from it will be exactly analagous to and comparable with other forms of legislation is perhaps open to question. That there will be lessons to be learned from it when it goes forward to the statute book and comes into practice I have no doubt.

The House will wish me from the Front Bench to voice to the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) the congratulations of the whole House for the work that he has put into the Bill. He has spent an enormous amount of time and taken an enormous amount of trouble to get the Bill into the right shape, entering into the necessary consultations and in mastering his brief for the long Committee stage, which was unusually long, although I am sure that he and other hon. Members will agree that it was in no sense protracted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) said in Committee that that Standing Committee had restored his faith in the Standing Committee procedure. I am sure that he was speaking for others, too. Many of us on both sides of the House have often sat on a Standing Committee in which Members of the Opposition, whatever their party, have regarded it as their rôle to obstruct the Government, and Members of the Government, whatever their party, have regarded is as their rôle to evade the Opposition. In this Standing Committee arguments were put forward in order not to take up time but to get a view- point adopted, and in almost every case a debate on an amendment ended in agreement. There were few Divisions, and the House will recall that those Divisions that there were often took place at the instance of one hon Gentleman who was putting forward an individual but isolated point of view.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hornsey for his tribute to the officials of the Department of the Environment, who have worked very hard on the Bill and who willingly associated themselves right at the start with my wish to ensure that the Bill was a viable piece of legislation. We wished to take advantage of the hon. Member for Bridgwater's good fortune in the ballot, and there is no doubt that without the devoted work of the officials in my Department, to whom I should personally like to pay a very great tribute, the Bill would not reach the statute book in the viable and workable form in which it already finds itself.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bridgwater for what he said about other sponsors of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) is a pioneer in this legislation. He sought to introduce a Bill on this subject in the last Parliament but one. It is a mark of his devotion that he has been present today right to the end moving amendments and seeking to improve the Bill. He provided us with the one small crisis that the Bill has encountered, but we got over that and reached agreement on that, too.

On Second Reading I was glad to offer encouragement, on behalf of the Government, to the hon. Member for Bridgwater and his sponsors on both sides of the House. I am now glad that I can add to that encouragement, thanks to the highly constructive discussion of the Bill, particularly in Committee, but on Report as well. There is no doubt whatsoever that this Bill, as a result of the work of the entire House, is a notable improvement on the version which we were considering over two months ago.

At that time I felt it only prudent to qualify my encouragement on behalf of the Government by setting out certain misgivings that I had. These misgivings did not centre on the main principles of the Bill, which were common ground between the hon. Member, his sponsors and the Government. We all accepted the case for creating a statutory basis for the contractual relationship between site owners and site residents. There was never any difference over the need to provide a measure of security which would diminish the fears which many residents feel about an uncertain future and which would help to eradicate the exploitation which can and does occur where site owners do not observe the standards of the responsible among them.

At the same time I am sure that we all shared the aim of encouraging those many reputable site owners who already give a fair deal to the residents on their land. Above all, we knew that even if the Bill could not be a comprehensive, definitive measure, it could still, in the shorter term, do a considerable amount of good.

My doubts were concerned with more peripheral matters. In the main, I was not convinced that all the practical details of the Bill had been fully thought through, although I should add that I myself was far from able to produce final answers to the sorts of questions which occurred to me. For example, I suspected that extension of the jurisdiction of the county courts could provide perhaps not an ideal but probably the best available means of settling disputes between site owners and residents if private arrangements set out in particular agreements did not prove sufficient. On the other hand, I could not be confident of the precise way in which this jurisdiction should be framed, and I certainly had not been into the many ramifications which we were able to explore in Committee.

I was also anxious to ensure that even though the Bill was essentially an interim measure sufficient reserve powers should be left to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to deal with unforeseen contingencies which might occur in the interval before comprehensive legislation could reasonably be introduced.

My initial suggestions as to the way in which this should be done received a mixed reception from the sponsors of the Bill. There was general agreement about the desirability of providing reserve powers, but no clear-cut unanimity at the outset on how widely these should be drawn. The balance which we have now achieved in Clause 6 reflects, I think, the recognition that there may well be circumstances in which Government intervention could be justifiable. If, for example, it became clear that totally extortionate levels of discount or premium were being levied on occupiers reselling their caravans on site, my right hon. Friend would be able to check the spread of abuse.

On the other hand, the useful work we were able to carry out in Committee resulted in a pretty clear majority opinion as to just where the Government reserve powers should stop. I frankly acknowledge that my own preference was for some extension of these powers beyond those now embodied in the Bill. But this Bill, as I made clear at every stage, is not, after all, a vehicle for the Government either to drive or to clamber onto. For that reason, we have made every effort to help improve it, if necessary by arguing out particular points in considerable detail. But I am sure that the hon. Member and his sponsors recognise that we have never attempted to impose any Government line, and that we have respected the fact of this being not only a Private Members' Bill but a Bill whose hacking comes from all parts of the House.

I have already, on Second Reading, paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), whose efforts have ensured that the provisions of the Bill will cover Scotland as well as England and Wales. But it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that my hon. Friend has managed to do considerably more than that. He has seen to it also that the Bill extends to Scotland the Caravan Sites Act 1968, another Private Member's measure, and has thereby achieved two results. He has, firstly provided mobile home residents in Scotland with the protection afforded by the 1968 Act, notably against harassment —and that in itself is a thoroughly worthwhile step. Secondly, his industry has ensured that once the Bill has been enacted and has come into force the law on mobile homes will be on the same footing throughout the whole of Great Britain.

From the moment I was appointed to the post I now hold my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West, even when a member of the Government, never ceased harassing and harrying me to get further legislation on this subject. One fortunate consequence of the otherwise perhaps not so fortunate fact that he is no longer a member of the Government is that he has been able to play an active part in achieving for Scotland the legislation that he sought from me more than a year ago. What we have achieved in the Bill will certainly facilitate the work that I am conducting in my review when I shall be consulting fully my Scottish colleagues, among others.

It would be rash for anybody to claim that the Bill as it now stands is perfect and complete. To say this is not to deny the immense amount of work which the hon. Member has devoted to the Bill or the searching scrutiny which it received in Committee.

At one point after Second Reading, I recall that there were optimistic hopes in the air that one day would be more than enough for the Committee stage. The fact that four sittings were required is ample testimony to the kind of examination which the Bill properly received. Even so, preparation has necessarily been short, and it may well be that further scrutiny in another place will result in more improvements. I trust, if we can send this message along the corridor, that the main shape of the salient proposals in the Bill will not be seriously called in question.

There is one perhaps unfortunate but regrettably inevitable by-product of the process of improving the Bill. The initially simple provisions were seen to be insufficient, and the closing of loopholes unerringly leads to greater complexity. I imagine that the Bill as drafted would defeat the efforts of many non-lawyers readily to grasp its effects. If the Bill is to have its proper effect it has to be understood, and well understood, by both site residents and site owners.

If the Bill remains a closed book to them, they may too easily fail to take advantage of its provisions or to comply with its obligations, and I readily foresee alarmist and misleading rumours circulating about its purpose and effect. I have already offered such Government assistance as I can to the hon. Member for Bridgwater to facilitate the passage of his Bill through Parliament, and I hope that I have so far fulfilled my offer. I shall ensure that it applies to the Bill as it progresses in another place.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward) that he has shown to his constituents how speedily he has taken on board their problems during the time that he has been in the House. It would be only reasonable for me to extend a promise of Government help in explaining to the world outside Parliament what this Bill does and how it does it. I imagine that the organisations representing site residents and operators will be preparing their own guidance for their members. I am sure that the Government will be only too glad to discuss with them the factual context of any material which they devise. It would no doubt be timely also if the Government could provide some form of assistance and explanation to, say, citizens' advice bureaux, which are so frequently a source of local information and help.

The hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), whose kind words I particularly appreciated, bearing in mind the relative roles we have occupied at one time or another, referred to the review which I am conducting. Naturally we have had to wait to find out exactly how this Bill would turn out. Now that we see the form in which it will, we trust, reach the statute book, we can proceed with the review and to the much more definitive and far-reaching legislation to which we are committed. I am sure that I have said enough to show that we shall continue to take a benevolent interest in the Bill in the same constructive way as has prevailed up to now. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.