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Travellers (Local Authority Powers)

Volume 513: debated on Thursday 15 July 2010

10. Whether he plans to bring forward proposals to facilitate local authorities in moving Travellers on from private and public property. (8509)

15. If he will take steps to accelerate the process for local authorities to gain possession of public land upon which there are unauthorised Traveller encampments. (8514)

The Government will ensure that, where local authorities have made appropriate provision for authorised sites in their area, reflecting genuine local need and historic demand, they will have stronger enforcement powers to deal with unauthorised encampments. We are reviewing how this can be achieved.

Under the last Government, illegal sites and caravans were increasingly tolerated, with councils deciding not to seek their removal. Will the Secretary of State please reassure me that Travellers will no longer be allowed to breach the planning rules that law-abiding home owners have to abide by?

We have to remember that a significant number of Gypsies and Travellers are themselves law-abiding citizens. What we want to see is fair play within our planning system. The overwhelming majority of Travellers abide by the rules, but we will ensure that those small minorities that do not are no longer encouraged to do so by the law.

Twice in the last year, Travellers have smashed through gates to invade Plock court—an important green space on the edge of my Gloucester constituency. The process for moving Travellers on from public land is much longer than for moving them on from private land. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this disruption could be significantly reduced if the law for both were aligned?

We shall look towards speeding up the process, but it is important to understand that the operation of the law at the moment is predicated not on seeking easy resolution, but on conflict. What we are threatened with as a result of the planning laws having been allowed to slip is a genuine attack on social cohesion. Doing something about that is a priority for this Government; that is why we seek to ensure fairness for all.

Where are these families to move to, given that the Government are cutting funding for public travelling community sites by £30 million?

It was never intended under the previous Government and nor is it intended under this Government that all provision for Travellers should come out of public funds. I am more concerned, I have to say, about health and education issues relating to Gypsies and Travellers, which have been allowed to lapse so woefully under the previous Government.

The Secretary of State said that many of these Travellers are law-abiding people. That may well be true, but many of them are not. I am not worried only about Travellers on illegal sites. What about the so-called Travellers—even though they stay in the same place all the time—on legal sites who still create a huge menace to the local community? What can my right hon. Friend do to make sure that local authorities have the power to deal with these people, rather than pussyfooting around with them as they tend to do?

It is certainly our intention to ensure that planning regulations are properly enforced, but we are also seeking to increase social cohesion so that people, no matter what their background, are welcome in all communities. A deal has to be struck whereby we can assure the public that everyone is going to be treated fairly, in return for which we expect people to be treated fairly.