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Volume 973: debated on Wednesday 14 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will consider changing his Department's policy on not moving on gipsies from Crown property.

Successive Governments have tolerated gipsies on Government land unless eviction has been essential. We are now reviewing this policy to clarify the extent to which it is still appropriate and whether it represents the best interests of the gipsies and of local communities.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware of the problems caused to my constituents at Watton farm by gipsy encampments? But for the help of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, they would still be there. As they have been moved twice, does my right hon. Friend agree that for unsuitable sites such as this one the policy might be changed more rapidly than his review would imply?

I am aware of the problems to which my hon. Friend refers. This is a difficult issue and will continue to be so until such time as adequate designated official sites are available for gipsies. Clearly, one seeks to operate a humane policy in these matters. Successive Governments have sought not to enforce movement unless it was considered essential.

Is the Minister aware that these so-called gipsies are nothing of the sort; that they are people who escape their proper obligations and, in the process, are a damned nuisance to nearby residents?

I think that, on reflection the hon. Member will accept that what he has said is not entirely true. There are genuine Romany families, for whom provision must be made. I accept that there is also a grey area of, perhaps, the Irish tinker community and others who might fit more fully into the hon. Gentleman's category. I should not wish to see all gipsies labelled with such accusations.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that Romany families should be welcomed, but I endorse the view of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) who talked about the nuisance which these gipsy families cause to genuine families in my constituency by the way in which they batten on to the community, pay no taxes, pay no rates and, in fact—

In addition to being a considerable nuisance and disadvantage to many of my hon. Friend's constituents, they do great damage to genuine Romany families who, in many areas, are often very much better behaved and much less anti-social in their behaviour. I recognise the genuine problem of this aspect of the itinerant community.

Does not the number of gipsy families greatly exceed the number that can be accommodated on authorised sites? I remind the House that these people are human beings. Many of them have no option but to put themselves where they are a nuisance to other people. Is not the answer for the Government to take action to see that those local authorities which are not providing sites do so? Is not this also in the interests of local authorities, such as my own, Harlow, which are providing sites?

The hon. Member will recognise that part of his comment was very much in line with my remark to my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills). A statutory duty is laid upon local authorities, and it will be maintained.