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Traveller Sites

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2009

7. What planning guidance and circulars have been issued relating to the provision of Traveller sites since 2005. (259890)

Planning policy for the provision of sites for Gypsies and Travellers is set out in Office of the Deputy Prime Minister circular 01/2006, which is helpfully called “Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Caravan Sites”. There are additional publications that supplement that planning guidance and are part of the overall planning framework for Gypsy and Traveller sites. All those publications are available on the excellent DCLG website.

I represent an area that already has quite a large number of Traveller sites in it, and the Government are asking us to take more sites. Most of the Travellers in my area are foreign nationals from other EU countries, which make virtually no provision for foreign Travellers in their own countries and do not even make provision for Travellers from those countries themselves. Can the Minister explain to my constituents why the United Kingdom seems to be rather out of step with those other countries in this matter?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his supplementary question. The basic principle is that it is for local authorities to decide the needs of the local community. They identify where there is a need and make plans and provision to meet it. [Interruption.] The problem with the alternative is more and more unauthorised sites. From his own example, and from his colleagues’ experience, too, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate the cost in human misery that those cause.

As chair of the Gypsy and Traveller law reform all-party parliamentary group, may I ask my hon. Friend what discussions he has had about the 90 Gypsy and Traveller families who are due to be evicted from Dale farm, and who include many young children and elderly people? I gave notice to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) that I would raise this question.

Again, this may not please hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, but it is for local authorities to decide whether enforcement action should be taken, what enforcement action should be taken, and how it is carried out. The example of Dale farm is one in which enforcement action is being taken by Basildon district council. I know that my hon. Friend has highlighted the fact that vulnerable people—the very young, children and disabled people—are involved there, and I hope the council will take on board the concerns that she has expressed and make sure that it deals sensitively with the people affected.

Returning to the subject of Dale farm, the Minister will be aware that some Travellers are reported to be preparing to resist an eviction, despite having exhausted all their arguments in court. No one wants to see a forced eviction and the sorrow that that would bring, so will the Government do what they can to use their influence to persuade Travellers to move on peacefully? To this end, will the Government help to identify transit sites, so that families are not made completely homeless?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is for the council to consider what to do. He will be aware that the Travellers have sought leave to appeal to the House of Lords, so we will have to wait and see what the House of Lords decides to do. As he knows, if there are authorised sites available, the police have more options for moving Travellers and Gypsies on. One of the incentives for Basildon to try to find authorised sites is that that gives the police even more powers to take action against the Travellers and Gypsies to whom he refers.