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Caravan Site Licensing (Exemptions of Motor Homes) Bill

Volume 727: debated on Friday 3 February 2023

Second Reading

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

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) on the success of his important Bill completing Second Reading, and I thank him for giving me time to say a little bit about the Caravan Site Licensing (Exemptions of Motor Homes) Bill.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be familiar with the expression—I think it is an old Arabic proverb—“The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on”. The issue here is that a lot has happened since the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act was introduced in 1960, because motor homes and campervans are increasingly used as a substitute for static or towed caravans. The latest information I have from the National Caravan Council is that there might be more than 500,000 towed touring caravans and some 365,000 caravans used as holiday homes, many of which would be park homes. I am pleased to say that earlier today the Mobile Homes (Pitch Fees) Bill received its Second Reading in the other place, and that legislation is now due hopefully to get on to the statute book before the end of March.

There are 225,000 motor homes in this country, apparently, and some 16,000 new registrations in the most recent year for which there are statistics. It is in that context that I have tabled this Bill, which would amend the provisions in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. That Act was based on a 1959 report by Sir Arton Wilson on the problems of people living in caravans, which found that the principal problem was unclear and insufficient legislation that gave neither local nor planning authorities power to deal with caravan housing. The Act came into force on 29 August 1960, and section 29 of that legislation defines a “caravan” as

“any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another (whether by being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer) and any motor vehicle so designed or adapted, but does not include—

(a) any railway rolling stock which is for the time being on rails forming part of a railway system, or

(b) any tent”.

and adds that

“‘caravan site’ has the meaning assigned to it by subsection (4) of section one of this Act”,

obviously relating to the same definition of caravans.

Since 1960, what we now know as motor homes have come into the marketplace. The earliest camper vans in Europe were introduced by Volkswagen in 1947, and were essentially motorised trollies, but we now have purpose-built, carriage-built motor homes in large quantity.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Mobile Homes (Pitch Fees) Bill having its Second Reading in the other place—I am delighted that that Bill is making such good progress, and look forward to its remaining stages.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend’s definition of a motor home just now, and the exclusions, including a tent and so on. Is he aware of whether houseboats qualify as motor homes or park homes? They are homes that are capable of moving from one place to another, so it would be interesting to hear my hon. Friend’s view on that. I raise that question in the context of the Government’s commitment to support homes that receive their energy off-grid with their energy bills. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that that money could be made available to people living in park homes and houseboats rather quicker than it is at the moment?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I hope that the Mobile Homes (Pitch Fees) Bill will make progress. I share his disappointment that the 100,000-plus residents of park homes will have to wait until 27 February to be even able to register in order to qualify for help under the energy bills support scheme. As a member of the all-party parliamentary group on park homes, my hon. Friend knows how hard we have lobbied to try to get that money brought forward sooner, and it is a great disappointment that it has not been. As far as houseboats are concerned, I do not think a houseboat is a motor vehicle, which is the essence of what we are talking about here. In order for something to be a motor vehicle, its owner has to be able to register it with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and I do not think that houseboats can be registered in that way.

Getting back to the point, the Bill would change the definition of “motor home” so that motor homes, alongside tents and railway sleepers, would be excluded from the definition of a caravan, and would thereby be excluded from the site licensing arrangements that exist for caravan sites. The consequence of that would be to give a big boost to the motor homes sector, and to all those who travel in motor homes and have staycations in them—indeed, quite a lot of people come to our country in motor homes. At the moment, those people are discriminated against: they find it very difficult to park their vehicles overnight in council car parks, for example, because those vehicles are regarded as caravans, and the council may quite reasonably have a prohibition on caravans or say that the site is not licensed for them.

However, a motor home nowadays is essentially a self-contained unit which does not need access to fresh water, waste water, chemical toilets and other elements that we would regard as essential on a camp site or caravan site. Because all that equipment is already on board—tanks of fresh water and waste water, as well as chemical toilets—motor homes should surely be given the flexibility to operate more widely and with less restriction.

The current legislation prevents us from treating motor homes in this country in the same way as they are treated on the continent. As those who use them may know, on the continent there are a great many “aires” where people can stop overnight in their motor homes, with few restrictions, and go about their business. We do not have an equivalent provision in England, although many more aires have been developed in Scotland, for different legislative reasons. There is a real opportunity here for us to deregulate the sector and bring it up to date. We can do that by redefining what we mean by a motor home, and making it clear that it is excluded from the provisions of the caravan site licensing legislation.

My hon. Friend has talked about councils’ ability to license, particularly on land that they own. In constituencies such as mine, that has been very effective in enabling them to move on certain people who are taking advantage of council-owned land with their caravans. If motor homes are exempted, how does my hon. Friend see that loophole not being exploited by certain sectors of society?

I think my hon. Friend—whom I congratulate on securing a Second Reading for her Bill—is trying to talk around the issue of what I would describe as Gypsy encampments. Let us call a spade a spade, rather than beating about the bush. Obviously there is specific legislation dealing with Gypsies and Travellers, and nothing in the Bill would impinge on that.

One of the big complaints made by many people about Gypsies and Travellers is that there are spaces where they could go, but they do not want to go to those spaces because it often involves their actually having to part with a few pound notes—or pound coins. The Bill would enable local authorities to charge motor home residents for overnight stays, while the category of people to whom my hon. Friend was referring have not really shown in the past—I speak in generalities—a propensity to part with their money to pay for parking, wherever that might be.

This is now a big issue for our country. What can we do to help promote the motor home industry and domestic tourism, and show a bit more flexibility? As one who has been committed to deregulation—to the removal of unnecessary regulation—for a long time, I think that this is a relatively unusual Friday Bill, in that it is a deregulatory Bill. I hope that it will have the support of the Government, and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Minister, who I know is a kindred spirit in wanting to reduce the burden of regulation from the citizens of our country.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) for introducing the Bill and for the important points that he has made. As he said at the beginning of his speech, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since 1960, when the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act was passed following the 1959 report to which he referred.

The Minister is, as usual, giving an excellent summation. He has just mentioned the time that has elapsed between the initial legislation and this Bill. Does he agree that we should continue to look back at historical legislation to ensure that it is fit and proper for the present day?

My hon. Friend is correct: we should always look to update our legislative canon. We should always seek to ensure that it works for the challenges and the opportunities that face us at the current time. To the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch: we should always look for opportunities to deregulate and remove legislation where we are able to so and where it is no longer relevant or proportionate.

With regards to the 1960 Act: I do accept that it has been around for many years—for much longer than I have been alive—and that it has worked in many instances. Equally, though, things have moved on. As my hon. Friend knows from his tireless work as chair of the all-party group on park homes, of which that is an element, there has been a need to move the regulation on in recent years, especially with the Mobile Homes Act 2013 and then the work that has been done in relation to park homes since then.

Before I come on to the specifics of the Bill in front of us today, let me just say that, at least on park homes, there has been a significant change in operation, in activity and in how owners of park homes work. It is fair to say—I hope my hon. Friend will agree—that the operation of park homes has got ahead of what the historical law said, which is why changes need to be made.

The Minister is right that the operation of park homes has, in a sense, outlived the legislation. One thing that has not changed is that most of these homes still receive their energy off grid. Can he respond to the point that we discussed earlier about the arrangement for supporting homes, including houseboats—particularly those on the Kennet and Avon canal that runs through Wiltshire? We want to see those homes receive the subsidy that has been promised to them as soon as possible. I understand that there have been some significant delays in implementing the new scheme, which is not the Government’s fault. Can he give us any update on that?

Like my hon. Friend, I also want to see the money that was announced some months ago to go to residents of park homes and to others who are off grid at the earliest possible opportunity. I know that my colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are working hard to do that, and they have recently made information available to us all, and I am passing that back to the residents of my constituency who live in park homes in Clay Cross, Old Tupton, Staveley, Marsh Lane, New Whittington and elsewhere. They are as keen as my hon. Friend’s constituents in Devizes are to make sure that progress is made on this payment and that we can support them during this difficult period with regard to energy.

In the short time that I have left, I wish to do two things, the first of which is to respond to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch about the Bill itself. Secondly, I must say that I was the duty Minister back in November when my hon. Friend’s initial Bill on park homes was introduced. It was so universally supported in this place that, for the first time since 1997 or 1998, there was no need for anybody from the Treasury Bench to stand up and even argue why we thought it was a good idea. It is immensely pleasing that, where we can make collective progress on such issues as park homes, we are able to do so. I congratulate my hon. Friend on both introducing the Bill and on the progress that it has made—particularly today, when his Bill saw its Second Reading in the Lords.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch also spoke about the support for the motor home sector. Does he agree that part of this change of legislation will benefit the wealth creators, including that particular sector?

That is an excellent opportunity for me to pass very quickly to the actual Bill itself. My hon. Friend highlights the important point outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch about supporting the domestic tourism industry, the importance of setting people free, the importance of ensuring that regulation does not stand in the way of allowing people to make choices about what they want to do, how they want to do it, where they want to go on holiday and how they want to find places to do that within the United Kingdom. At the same time, as with all legislation—I speak as somebody who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch kindly points out, is very keen on deregulation—

I will not, if my hon. Friend does not mind.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, I am also very keen on deregulation. The question is always how to do that and how to unpick the legislation that is in place, which, in some instances, can be 60-plus years old. While I have a lot of sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point, and he raises immensely important questions about where it is proportionate for the law and regulation to start and to stop in these areas of economic activity, the Government are not today supporting the Bill. However, I and colleagues responsible for the portfolio in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities are extremely happy—

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 24 February.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I forgot to make a declaration of interest. My wife works for a travel company and, as there was talk in the debate about staycations, that may be regarded as a conflict of interest. I want to make the House aware of that.