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Travellers: Dale Farm

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what amounts have been promised, by which government departments, as contributions towards the costs of policing proposed evictions at Dale Farm.

My Lords, the Home Office has agreed to set aside contingency funding, up to a maximum of £4.65 million, to assist with the costs of policing the proposed evictions at Dale Farm. The final grant awarded will be agreed after the operation and will only cover the costs incurred. In addition, the Department for Communities and Local Government has committed to provide up to £1.2 million to Basildon Borough Council to support the evictions at Dale Farm.

My Lords, will my noble friend comment on the decision to spend £117,000 per family on eviction of these people from the Dale Farm site considering that there are no other sites in the county to which they could be directed? Does this policy not simply mean that another £18 million will have to be spent by local authorities down the line on evicting the same families from even less suitable locations, to say nothing of the downstream costs on health, education and the social costs arising from these evictions?

My Lords, this is an extremely difficult and sensitive issue which my noble friend has worked on to good effect for decades. He suggests that this is an inappropriate use of potentially several million pounds of public money. However, there will be no need for any expensive police operation if those served with eviction notices leave within 28 days having exhausted all their appeal rights under our well developed system of justice and the rule of law. Why should one community group be allowed to flout our planning laws by suggesting disorder and thus an unaffordable police operation while a lone family or individual is easily required to comply?

My Lords, does the local authority not have a responsibility to have concern for these families? I believe there are 100 children involved. Surely there is an obligation on the council to look after their welfare: indeed, I believe there is an EU resolution on the stocks which would commit the local authority to doing precisely that. Why are these people being deprived of their homes after all the years that they have lived on this site?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. Basildon Borough Council had to make an undertaking to the High Court that the matters which the noble Baroness referred to would be dealt with properly.

My Lords, could my noble friend tell me whether Basildon Borough Council has undertaken an equality assessment of its decision to evict the Gypsies and Travellers from this site?

My Lords, if Basildon Borough Council had not carried out a proper impact assessment of all the consequences of its action, it would probably fail in the courts.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the deep concern that many Traveller children are not being well engaged in the education system, that they are being failed and that the generational impact of continued failure is being perpetuated? Is consideration being given to the education of these children and what steps can be taken to ensure that they have continuity of education and, if possible, stay in the same school?

My Lords, the noble Earl makes an extremely important point. If we carry on not properly educating Traveller children we will never break the cycle, because it is very difficult for Traveller families to engage in fully legitimate economic activity if they have not been properly educated. I referred to undertakings in my answer to the noble Baroness: the local authority has to deal with these issues.

My Lords, can my noble friend explain where these people are supposed to go, considering that there are no other sites in Essex, and no sites in the county plan?

My Lords, the local authority has obligations under the law of homelessness, as the noble Lord fully appreciates. I go back to my original point: we cannot allow people to flout our planning laws.

My Lords, the original Question was about cost. The noble Earl will know that currently we are debating the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which proposes to party-politicise our police force through the election of police commissioners. Would it not be true to say that the money being spent on those elected commissioners would be better spent on ensuring that our police forces are properly staffed?

My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord would raise the issue of police and crime commissioners; I would have been very disappointed if he had not. We do not intend to limit the influence of central government on policing decisions only to see the same restrictions imposed by PCCs. They will provide the community with a voice and local accountability that is currently non-existent.

My Lords, it is clear that this is a very complex issue. I hope that the House and noble Lords will appreciate that if this site is occupied illegally, action has to be taken to remove the occupiers. If the law is not upheld in this instance, how on earth can it be upheld in other instances which may be just as important?