It is always a pleasure to speak in Westminster Hall at any time, but this issue is one that I have a particular interest in, because I have a leisure and park homes facility in my constituency of Strangford, located in the village of Ballyhalbert. It has been there for many years.
I thank Helen Whately for securing this debate. I am mindful that the last time I spoke in Westminster Hall on the issue of leisure and park homes, Caroline Nokes, was not a Minister, but she is now. She brought this issue forward in that debate, and she and I both spoke then. It is a pity that some years have passed by and we have not seen the conclusion that she and I wanted to see.
I will speak on a very specific point, which relates to some of the problems that we have had in my constituency. They may not be the issues that the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent has referred to, but they are issues that I feel I have to air in Westminster Hall today.
They relate to my time prior to coming to Westminster, when I was in the Northern Ireland Assembly, doing the job I had before this one. During my time in the Assembly, the Caravans Bill, which was a private Member’s Bill, was brought before us and I fully supported the rights not simply of those who owned holiday caravans but of those who chose to live permanently on site, of whom there were many. Caravans were a burgeoning business at that time, but from the local council to the Assembly and then obviously to here in Westminster, I have followed the issue. I was supportive of proper rights then and I am supportive of them now. The hon. Lady has put forward a very good and solid case today.
I am very pleased to see the Minister in Westminster Hall again. She seems to be in Westminster Hall almost as often as I am; this is two days running. [Laughter.] I jest.
Back in 2015, I questioned the then Minister—now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—about electricity prices for park home residents, outlining concerns about the lack of energy efficiency schemes for those living in park homes. I was ever mindful of the fact that the age of those living in park homes is from 55 upwards, perhaps up to 80, and I asked the then Minister to see what she could do to help those people, taking into account the fact that park homes cannot have electricity meters. That was just one of the many issues that I raised at that time. It was clear that there were indiscretions and difficulties, and I want to highlight some of those as well today.
We are considering another issue in this debate. The Mobile Homes Act 1983 gives protection, as do the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 and part 2 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which protects consumers from enforceability of unfair terms in contracts—the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent referred to unfair terms in contracts. In addition, there are the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. There are all of these pieces of legislation, and yet residents are not protected and are unsure of their rights. I want to air those issues today.
For the record, it is important that I say that this matter is a devolved one in Northern Ireland, and so it is not the Minister’s responsibility to respond to all of my points. Nevertheless, I want to air these issues, because the problems that the hon. Lady mentioned are happening in England—that is why all the English Members are here today—and they are probably also happening in Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, they would be under the control of the Assembly—if only we had a functioning Assembly.
I have been dealing with an issue related to the park homes in my constituency, in co-operation with the local council, and these matters are certainly not straightforward or simple. As an example of the litigation and the problems that occur as a result of it, the removal of fences was a battle from beginning to end. The owners of the park homes site are required to operate under a licence issued by the council, which is displayed on site. The licence conditions relate to amenity and safety, and are based on model licence conditions issued by the environment Department in 1992.
I had a meeting with local residents. Again, many things happen at those meetings: some local residents come with problems, and others sometimes need some encouragement to follow the rules that are laid down.