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Gypsies and Travellers

Volume 735: debated on Thursday 16 February 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will consult on a fresh definition of Gypsies and Travellers which would entitle all persons with a cultural tradition of nomadism or of living in a caravan to Gypsy status for the purposes of planning policy and legislation.

My Lords, the Government published their new draft planning policy for Traveller sites for full public consultation last year. The consultation included a question about whether the current definition of Gypsies and Travellers for the purposes of planning policy should be retained. The Government are currently considering all responses to the consultation on their new draft planning policy.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer as far as it goes. However, does he agree with me that the current definition forces ethnic Gypsies and Travellers who want to live in caravans according to their traditional way of life and seek planning permission for that purpose to demonstrate that they pursue a nomadic way of life, when current legislation and the lack of authorised sites makes it almost impossible for them to do so and consigns them to low-paid and erratic employment? For instance, a Gypsy who practised a profession that required living in one place—such as a doctor or an architect of my acquaintance—could not get planning permission for a caravan site on land that he had bought. Does the noble Earl agree? Secondly—

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s description of the current definition is right. Some of the responses to our consultation on our draft new planning policy for Travellers’ sites suggested that there should be a separate consultation on the definition. The Government are considering all the responses to the consultation. We shall have to wait to see what emerges from that.

My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that one of the greatest challenges in respect of those who live a nomadic life is to secure continuous and proper education for the next generation—the children—so that they can have not only a choice in their lifestyle in the future and settle into society but fulfil their potential as human beings?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right, which is why I saw a separate briefing from officials at the Department for Education.

My Lords, can we now assume that there will be a further consultation on the revised national planning policy framework that incorporates a version of the Traveller document, as recommended by the CLG Select Committee? If so, will the new composite document include a revised and more inclusive definition of Gypsies and Travellers for the purposes of both housing and planning which is based on the Housing Act 2004?

My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful to my noble friend but we will have to wait to see what the Government’s response is. However, we will not have to wait too long.

My Lords, should there not be an assumption that those of us who live at a fixed abode cannot have the advantages of also living in a caravan and wandering around? Equally, should not those who want to wander around and live a nomadic life accept that there are disadvantages to it and not expect us to divvy up in some way or another to subsidise them?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point. However, we all know what the problem is: poor education among Travellers; poor health outcomes; low life expectancy; and severe discrimination. We have policies to mitigate all these. However, at strategic level, successive Governments do not appear to understand what legitimate economic activity consistent with their culture Travellers should be engaged in. I will be taking up that matter with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

My Lords, does not the problem go rather deeper than the way in which the Minister seems to be approaching it? The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, put his finger on one of the issues. Is not the fact that there are not enough sites in this country the real reason why so many people who want to live a nomadic life cannot do so? Therefore, they have to go into static accommodation, which they probably do not want to be in anyway, and which no doubt has planning problems and upsets the neighbours. However, the real problem here is that there are not enough sites for nomadic peoples to go to.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right in his analysis. The problem is to find a long-term solution, which is why I referred to the problem of economic activity. Without legitimate economic activity for Travellers, local communities will not be keen on having Traveller sites near them. That is the nub of the problem.

My Lords, during this period of consultation, will the Government look further at the apparent ease with which foreign Gypsies and Travellers enter the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I am not sure exactly which problem the noble Lord refers to, because there are a few, but I will communicate with him outside the Chamber.

My Lords, as a matter of equitable treatment, is it not reasonable that if we are asking Gypsies and Travellers to meet their obligations under the law we should at the same time devise the most sensitive and comprehensive measures of their nature and definition, so that they can avail themselves of their proper rights as a minority—and they should receive those rights as well as meet their obligations?

I broadly agree with what the noble Lord is saying. Everyone has rights but they also have obligations—and the obligations are to comply with the law.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister could return to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Laming. The noble Earl said that he had received a briefing from the Department for Education on the issue raised by the noble Lord. Is he prepared to share with the House what the briefing says?