§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford)
I beg to move,That this House, recognising that the loyalty to this country of the Romany people and other travellers is in no way inferior to that of any other section of the community, is of the opinion that Her Majesty's Government in co-operation with local authorities must devise and implement, as a matter of urgency, a national policy which will ensure adequate living quarters for the gypsies and other travellers, and provide for their good health, proper education and full employment.I have been deeply worried for some time about how long it would take me to make a case which would match the tragic situation confronting gypsies and other travellers in this country today. When I saw The Times this morning, it came to me as a blessing that there was a leading article on the subject. I will quote three short extracts from it. The article is headed:Where are the Gypsies?—Gone".It begins:Mr. Norman Dodds should get a sympathetic hearing in the House of Commons today when he calls attention to 'the tragedy of gypsies and other travellers' in England and Wales … The trouble hitherto has been that few hard facts have been established about them to provide the basis of argument. This in itself is the result of official tolerance and absence of discrimination found elsewhere in Europe. There are apparently not even firm figures as to numbers. Sir Arton Wilson reported in 1959 that he could find no reliable estimates.The article goes on to say:Any further light forthcoming today will, therefore, be valuable. For example, more should be known about the evident difficulties which gypsies now encounter in looking for camping sites and exactly how the Caravan Sites Act has affected their situation.That leading article expresses, broadly, what I seek to do. Because of the seriousness of the situation in that sense, my concern today, for the first time since I entered the House of Commons, is not the convenience of 790 right hon. and hon. Members, but the welfare of tens of thousands of our outcasts. This is the deciding influence with me.
In discussing the plight of the gypsies, we are not dealing with immigrants, but with human beings whose forebears have lived in Britain for hundreds of years. We are, however, discussing Britain's outcasts and refugees. Indeed, I assert—this should make the House feel ashamed—that the segregation laws of South Africa which we so rightly despise would be a blessing to countless thousands of gypsies and other travellers in England and Wales. I shall seek to prove that point.
In the early days of my efforts to do something for gypsies in general, I was shocked at the absence of authoritative information about the size of the problem. When I went to the Library, in 1951—and it is no better today—to find out all I could on the subject, I discovered to my surprise that I could obtain authoritative information about the lesser known tribes of darkest Africa, but not about Britain's minority problem.
The only piece of information is an official report on the world gypsy problem drawn up by Arthur Thesleff, in 1900, and published in Helsinki in 1901. In that, we are told that the gypsy population of the British Isles was 20,000. There has been an absolute blank in information since that date. There are plenty of romantic books about the life of the gypsies, but there is nothing at all about this human problem. I have done a good deal of research in the past few years, and I hope, therefore, to have something on the record to which many other people who are interested will at least be able to refer and that other hon. Members will be able to add to it.
I warn the House that I shall be making a long speech, but what I am seeking to do is not to make it a boring one. For this purpose, I shall be using only a fraction of the documents and letters that I have acquired.
I said that we were talking about people who were not immigrants, and, therefore, it was with some surprise in 1951, when people generally looked upon the gypsies as outside the pale, that three hon. Members of this House 791 told me that they were descended from gypsies. One is Mr. Norman Smith, the former Labour Member for a Nottingham constituency, and we have today, sitting on either side of the House, two hon. Members who are descended from gypsies. They, today, would be known as didicois, looked down upon by the real Romanies because they have debased their Romany blood.
The two hon. Members are my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers), who sits on the Labour Front Bench, and, on the other side of the House, the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot). When I say that the gypsies have been here for hundreds of years it is interesting to mention a few words about the ancestry of the hon. Member for Dover.
The hon. Member for Dover—I have his permission to say this—is descended from Sir John Anstruther, third baronet, and Janet Fa', whose forebear Johnnie Fa' was undoubtedly, in his day, the most respected of the Scottish Romanies. He was recognised by James V, in 1540, as "Lord and Earl of Little Egypt" and was given the right to exercise justice upon his company and folk "in accordance with the laws of Egypt". So, with a little decent treatment, even gypsies can get to the House of Commons. I suggest, therefore, that we treat this subject with a little more respect than we might otherwise have done.
In 1951, what we needed was a national survey such as that carried out in so many other countries. We are dependent on guesswork and there is no authoritative information whatever about one minority problem. To provide that information seems to be beyond the capacity of a Government Department. We need a national survey if we are to have a national policy because we cannot deal with the problem until we know the facts, and the facts are just not known.
This is, I am pleased to say, a non-party matter and I hope that it will be looked upon in that way. I am greatly indebted to the hon. Member for Maid-stone (Mr. J. Wells), who has this problem right on his doorstep. He has worked with me and he has considerable personal knowledge about the problems 792 of the gypsies and other travellers both in this country and in Finland. He is very much interested in education, and the key to this whole problem is education. I am hoping, therefore, that he will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and be able to deal with that.
I want to avoid as much trouble as I can—there is plenty enough—but I have included in my Motion the name of Wales. The information I have is only third-hand, but I believe that it is good. I say this about Wales, only to show how much should be included in this subject, that I have it on excellent authority that a rural district clerk in Wales—I shall not mention the district—summed up a common attitude when, after the eviction of a band of local gypsies, he said:People feel that the gypsy is not acceptable. His way of living is an offence to everyone. He is destructive, nasty and lives on his wits.That is the opinion of many people. No exceptions are made—the gypsies are all classified in this way—but that there are plenty of very decent gypsies is something of which we should be reminded at the earliest possible moment.
My first experience of this was in my own constituency. Probably if I had known what was to follow, I should not have been in such a hurry to take this matter up. We had there one of the largest gypsy encampments in the country. It was there that I first experienced the inhumanity of man to man. Because of my experience, I formed a committee of gypsies, who, with other gypsies, told me many of their problems and what they wanted. Much that I am going to say is what they themselves feel they need. With that information, we formed what was called the nine-point charter and under the heading of "The Gypsy Crusade," on 10th May, 1951, the gypsy committee—a colourful committee—came to the House of Commons and presented a petition to the Parliamentary Secretary of the then Ministry of Local Government and Planning.
I believe that but for the rejection of the Labour Party by the electorate, in 1951, something would have been done. But there was a change. I would mention my constituency. I think that it is wise and just to do so, because there are there some very good examples of wiser 793 counsels prevailing. Some of the gypsies were given council houses and made a success of the opportunities given to them. Many people think that the gypsies do not want to live in houses, but I would point out that some of the best-kept houses and gardens in my constituency are the houses occupied by gypsies. Some of them are fortunate because they can go to school. It is the absence of education that is the key to this whole problem.
One example of housekeeping by gypsies is that of the Gumble family. The old man said straight away that he would like to be in a caravan roaming around, but his wife is wise enough to know that it is no fun in England today to go round in a caravan when there are no local sites for gypsy encampments. Those who talk to me about the gypsies wanting to lead that way of life are thirty to forty years behind the time. Mrs. Gumble hit the nail on the head when she told me that she had 14 children, but many of them had died who would not have died if they had had proper facilities sooner. One daughter won a beauty competition and another of their children is married and has recently moved into the best residential area.
There are good and bad gypsies. My complaint is that they are all bad in the eyes of the community generally. Should not we do something to try to save them; if not the adults, the children? Whether they are good or bad, they are all human beings.
I have included in my Motion, which I did not do in 1951, the question of travellers, because it is impossible to distinguish between gypsies and travellers. Some gypsies—foreign gypsies—will not say that they are gypsies, but travellers, because the word "gypsy" has been so debased. They talk about themselves as travellers because they think that that is a better name. I know four families of whom two call themselves gypsies and two call themselves travellers. Heaven help the man in pinstripe trousers who goes to that sort of family to try to get details about them or to find out whether they are gypsies or not. "Travellers" include gypsies. Didicois are half-castes—part-gypsy. There are many people who just have never seen the real gypsy blood at all.
794 I should like to see a survey made to find out how many of these human beings there are in England and Wales. Scotland had a survey in 1934. Scotland always beats us. That was the basis of the Vagrancy Act, 1936. We have not had a survey. We want to know how many of these people there are in every one of their shacks or motor vehicles or caravans, in which they live because they have no other homes. We want to find out how many Romanies there are and how many of the "travellers" are not Romanies at all, and to find out from them how many would have houses or prefabs if they could get them.
I know full well that not many could get them because we have too many other people who are normally house dwellers who cannot get them, but we should know how many of these people there are and then we should know how many we should have to deal with to bring them within the law. Then we should have to find suitable sites where they could live with the least possible nuisance to other housewives. All this will, of course, mean having a survey.
It could not be done by the local authorities. I am told over and over again that this is a matter for the local authorities. The simple fact is that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has never thought about this at all, but it cannot be dealt with by the local authorities. If it could have been, why has it not been? In the whole of England and Wales there is only one little planned site for the gypsies—at Great Chart, West Ashford—though now Eton is talking about doing the same—and that is all that has happened in the ten years since I raised this matter. In all that time this is all that has happened.
I think that there are only 12 caravan sites. This sort of thing would have to be done on the initiation of the Government. Local councillors would find it as much as their jobs are worth to do this sort of thing or to stick up for these people. In many ways it would put an intolerable burden on local authorities, who have always thought of the gypsies as strangers to them, and who are strangers to the gypsies.
What do the gypsies want? A piece of ground, with a hard course so that they are not plodding about in the mud all the time. They also want what each must have—water, sanitation, facilities 795 for ablutions. A camp site should be large enough to take 50 or 100 caravans. Such a community would warrant at least a wooden building which would serve as a school at least at the beginning.
There are children of 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 who cannot read and write. How can we put them in a class of average children of 12 or 13 or 14? How could we put them with the younger ones, even of 5? This is a problem for the Ministry of Education, which has refused to consider it. Other countries deal with it, and I will deal with the other countries shortly.
I have asked the Ministry of Housing and Local Government whether it will find out the details so that we may see if we can incorporate these people. Will the Ministry? It will not spend five minutes on the problem. I have aad infantile answers about looking at the newspapers to see what they are saying about the matter. That, instead of getting information from official sources as to what exactly has been done, or could be done. I have made inquiries, and I will give some of the results shortly.
Sooner or later these people will merge with the rest of the community for education. They must mix. They must not be segregated, but at the beginning they must be taught the social habits and customs of the rest of us, for otherwise bringing them into the schools would be unfair to the children there—all too often already overcrowded in the classes—and unfair to the school teachers, who have a big enough job to do now already, apart from having to help with this problem.
The best place for this to be done is in the encampment itself, and in the atmosphere of the encampment, and from there the children could graduate to the village school two or three miles away. We should have to find out what IQ they have. Some of them will be backward children. However, the problem must be solved. It is ironical to me that we are talking about equality of opportunity in the raising of the school-leaving age when there are these tens of thousands of children who are not getting any education at all. Unless special provision is made for them they will never get it.
796 In the encampment there should be education not only for the children before they go to other schools, but for the adults as well. There are many of those adults who cannot read or write, but who would like to be able to read and write and who are tired of being able only to put an X on a piece of paper or of having to ask somebody else to read private documents for them. We talk about this romantic life of travelling. People think of it as travelling with a horse and van, but nowadays it can be done with a long-distance lorry. Men gypsies want to be lorry drivers, but as they cannot read or write they are debarred from employment. For instance, they cannot deal with consignment notes.
I remember that when I was a P.P.S. I went to brickfields around London in 1950 or 1951 to find out why we could not get enough bricks. The answer was shortage of labour. There were able-bodied gypsies willing to work in the brickfields, but they could not get a bit of ground on which to live and were harried by the police. We could have provided hostels for them. What did we do? We brought in Italians and we provided hostels for them and that cost a lot of money. Here we had and we have our own people, Englishmen, not foreigners. Why do we not do something like that for them when we did it for the foreigners?
During the last war the Ministry of Labour, thanks to the late Ernest Bevin, had welfare officers in some of these encampments for the purpose of getting the gypsies into the Forces or, at any rate, into the war effort. If we could do that in war, why not now? Talk about patriotism. There is a high percentage of the travellers who fought and died. They were not reserved. They were the cannon fodder.
I well remember when I met in the Central Lobby a woman from Manchester who told me that her husband—she gave me a document to prove it—had been killed in the First World War when serving in the Army, and that her son had been killed in the Second World War. She was in her seventies and she had two daughters. She was willing to pay 30s. a week, not to have a house, but to have a bit of land on which to put a caravan, and she could not do so, within the law.
797 These people are willing to pay for an encampment and simple amenities. They want to be, and they can be made to be, useful citizens. They do not all want to be rag and bone merchants.
For example, Czechoslovakia tackled this subject and found that gypsies made same of the best motor engineers Czechoslovakia could get. Some of Czechoslovakia's best motor engineers and musicians came from the people who previously were regarded as outcasts. From the encampments came men who could work miracles with motors.
In this country, we find the authorities closing up their winter quarters. Some have been put in council houses or "prefabs", but have left afterwards. Some parked a lorry at their front door and the people in the neighbourhood did not like it, so the gypsies got rid of the lorry, and they lost their income and had to get out and go on the wander again, because the lorry was their livelihood. Not many people thought of that, yet it is elementary.
We also need the Ministry of Labour to give them information about jobs within a radius of 50 or 100 miles and to tell them of the roads they should take to avoid traffic. What are the reasons why these matters cannot be dealt with by the local authorities? This is about the only country that insists that the problem cannot be dealt with locally. It is because there are four indivisible factors involved. First, the Ministry of Housing is concerned about sites. Secondly, the Ministry of Education is concerned about educational facilities. Thirdly, and most important, the Ministry of Labour must be involved in helping the gypsies to obtain suitable employment.
Incidentally, on 3rd July, 1956, I asked the present Leader of the House, then Minister of Labour:what special efforts have been made by his Department to persuade gypsies to undertake useful employment, in view of the special conditions affecting this community.The Minister's reply was:My Department would be very willing to give any assistance it could in this way if its help is sought."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd July, 1956; Vol. 555, c. 1134.]It should be sought, but I should not be told, as I was told yesterday, that the gypsies can apply at the employment ex- 798 change. There must be a better effort than that to deal with the problem.
The last of the four factors is the Ministry of Health. Doctors will not go into many of these encampments and I do not blame them, but they would attend to the gypsies if there were special encampments for them. The local authorities can give the gypsies land, but they cannot give them a job and, therefore, it should be the task of the Government to conduct a survey and tackle this problem.
As for hygiene and cleanliness, when an area of Kent was flooded in 1952, gypsies had to be accommodated in church halls. The W.V.S., in a report on the situation, stressed the surprise of its members at the high standard of hygiene in the halls occupied by the gypsies. It is true that even in the most squalid quarters one finds the greatest cleanliness observed by gypsies. Their linen, their brass and china are spotlessly clean. They will not use to carry drinking water a bucket that has been used for washing. They are scrupulously clean, yet they are condemned with the dirty people with whom they are often compelled to live.
Before I go further—and I am a very long way yet from coming to the end of my speech—I would point out that the present Government came into office in 1951. This is not a party point, but a fact, and I say it to remind the House and also to remind myself. I do not know how many Members of Parliament are related to the gypsies. Possibly I shall have that information next week, but, looking round the Chamber sometimes, I cannot help thinking that if some hon. Members wore a muffler round the neck, and an old suit and went for 24 hours without a shave many of them would look like typical gypsies. I do not know whether some of them are gypsies, but some are very far removed from people who dress in that way.
In 1951, the year when the Conservative Government came into office, I estimated that there were 100,000 "travellers" of whom 20,000 were Romany gypsies. This was a guess and I cannot vouch for it. I have nothing to go on and possibly it was a bad guess, but I would say after ten years that there are thousands, possibly tens of thousands of gypsies and other 799 travellers in England and Wales. Even if there were only 500 are they to be ignored? I know of one country where there are only 76 gypsies, but the Government thinks that they are an important enough problem to be dealt with.
I said ten years ago that I was alarmed because at a conference at Blackpool, in 1950, the Rural District Councils Association made it clear that in its view gypsies were a nuisance and suggested that the police should be asked to keep them constantly on the move. I have reason to believe that the Association is now ashamed of that resolution and I am assured that it will not take that action again. I hope to address a meeting of local authority representatives before long and that with co-operation we shall secure a different attitude of mind.
When the Tory Government came into office the Minister of the appropriate Department for this purpose was the present Prime Minister. I immediately tackled him about conducting a survey of gypsies. The right hon. Gentleman is a clever man. He put me off for a long while. In the end, he would not agree to having a national survey, but a survey was conducted in Kent. Since then, Kent County Council has not done a single thing in ten years.
§ Mr. Dodds
You are human enough, Mr. Speaker, to know that some of us get carried away. I am one of the worst offenders in that respect. I shall try to keep to the rules of order.
I should like to quote one or two passages from the survey to which I have referred—"Gypsies and other Travellers in Kent". I have said that I do not know of a single thing that the Kent County Council has done as a result of the survey. I know that the county council came to the conclusion that this was a national problem and that until there was a national policy it was not much good embarking upon a long-term solution.
800 On education, the survey says:Special provision for various types of excessively or abnormally retarded, maladjusted or handicapped children must also be made within existing schools. Present provision is wholly by ordinary schools. This is because the majority of children in gypsy and travelling families start school late; they normally attend school only in the winter months and their attendance tends to be irregular . . There is little real evidence that standards of cleanliness and health differ widely from that of corresponding classes in the normal community.Therefore, in the matter of hygiene we have no reason to feel ourselves superior to gypsies and their children.
The survey adds thatEducational provision must obviously be related to the national policy for gypsies whether the sociological aim is to preserve the gypsies as a separate group or to encourage absorption into the general community.On the general problem, the survey says:It appears that a national decision as to the policy to be followed should precede the making of any long-term arrangements.Kent County Council is waiting on the Government to produce a long-term policy.
One of the greatest authorities in Britain on gypsies, Mr. W. Larmour, who has spent thirty-three years looking after gypsies, is one of the few gorgios who can speak the Romany language. One would have thought that those who conducted the survey would have got all the facts right when a man like Mr. Larmour was available. He found that many gypsies had refused to call themselves gypsies. They do so because they do not want to be registered as gypsies and so be placed in a special class which they regard as subject to persecution.
Mr. Larmour says:In my experience the fruits of education amongst gypsies is very poor indeed. The quotation cited is substantially the views I have expressed to the Ministry of Education and I endorse the feeling that the children's educational interest would be best met by the provision of special schools or classes where teachers willing to undertake the task might study their special requirements.I should have liked to give two or three more quotations about the need for schools for the gypsy children to be erected in new camps. Such buildings might be used for religious services on Sundays, because religion plays a great part in the life of the gypsy. This was suggested by Gypsy Williams, who is an expert in these matters. Gypsy teachers 801 could be provided, although this would take a long time. Emphasis has also been placed on the point that gypsies are not able to express themselves very well, and that they learn best by means of pictures. This demonstrates the need for special educational facilities to help backward gypsy children to catch up with normal children in the community.
That relates to 1951. If we skip ten years to 1961, we find that the situation of the gypsies is now worse. The reason is that most of their traditional camping sites—they have occupied some for hundreds of years—have been closed down in the name of progress. Two near where I live are at Belvedere Marshes and Corks Wood. The result is that many gypsies find themselves without winter quarters. Having done a useful job during the summer months, they find themselves thrown out, for instance, in Kent. There, gypsies work on the fruit farms, cherry picking, pea picking, hop picking and tree lopping, but when the autumn leaves fall there is no job for them.
Invariably, the councils in the areas in which the gypsies have been working give them 24 hours or 48 hours to get out. Otherwise, the law is invoked to throw them out. So they have to search for other camps where they can stay for the winter. The result is that the gypsies, good and bad, live in terrible squalor. The good ones complain that they have to live in such places. As I have said, they are ready to pay reasonably for a place where they can live until the spring comes and they can return to their outdoor jobs taking their dwellings with them.
Farmers in Kent have appealed to me to try to get some of their good gypsy families to stay on the land during the winter, but the local authorities refuse. I have example after example of this. The position today is that there are no winter quarters for them.
I would ask the Minister to imagine the value of caravan sites to these people. I know that where they are required for jobs, special provision is made under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act. But the difficulty arises when the gypsies have not got work, when their summer jobs have finished 802 and they have to find somewhere to live until the spring.
I can give the House a classic example of the cruelty and hopeless situation. Not long ago this appeared in a national newspaper:Gypsy mothers with babies in their arms sang hymns and prayed yesterday when police and council officials moved them and their families from a heath. … They protested that their ancestors had lived on the heath for 400 years.I wrote to the present Minister of Housing's predecessor. What was I told? I was told that it was not the gypsies who had offended the local people, but the didicois. I asked what justice there was in telling the gypsies that they must move from a heath which their forebears had used for hundreds of years because of something that someone else had done, and why we could not protect the decent people. In spite of that, a great trench has been dug all round the heath and the gypsies cannot go there. I do not know where those gypsies are today.
I asked the Minister of Education what was done to help gypsy children, and he replied that when gypsies are prepared to settle down in one place, as many of them do, during the winter, their children's education presents no insuperable problem, but when they are on the move it is difficult for the authorities to act. That view is ten years behind the times. The gypsies do not want to move in the winter; it is other people who insist that they shall move. I hope that the Minister of Education will bring himself up to date and then he will be able to answer the question.
In one instance I was able to persuade 22 gypsy children to go to a local school. But, for good reasons, they could not be admitted. However, the headmaster went to great lengths to provide for them. Not all headmasters would do that, but this man is one in a million. He asked the local vicar if he could take over the church hall, and he got it. He also asked one of the members of the parents' association to be a teacher, and she agreed.
In one week there was a tremendous change. On the Monday the children were calling the headmaster "Guv'-nor"; by the Friday it was "Head Mister". There they were, wild children from the woods—lovely children. I hope 803 that they will appear on B.B.C. television tonight. I also hope that the Minister of Education will have a word with that headmaster about the problem of gypsy children.
No matter what their parents are like, these are lovely children. I have some photographs of them. After they have washed and have their hair in ribbons and have bought new clothes, they are lovely, and indistinguishable from other children. They are all very happy now. Last week-end when I went into the woods they were sorry that on Saturday and Sunday there was no school.
These children are from 5 to 11 years of age. Many of them have never been to school before. They did not know their ages and some did not know what their names were. That is the sort of material. How will they grow up if we do not help them? There might be a juvenile delinquency problem if we left them like that. If I do not give these examples, people in general will not believe that such things exist.
I read the following in my local newspaper:Gypsies to be moved from woods. 'Force if necessary'.It was reportedthat caravan dwellers were returning to the woods in force.They were, in fact, the gypsies from the farms who lived there all the time.
It was also reported that the Minister of Housing and Local Government had approved the purchase of the land and sanctioned the expenditure for that purpose, which meant that the gypsies could be turned off. The land belongs to the Church Commissioners, but the council which is trying to force the move will now buy it.
It was further reported:It was agreed that as soon as the council became the owners of the land the caravanners would be given seven days' notice to quit, although, as trespassers, they were not legally entitled to notice. If they failed to go, court action would be taken, and, if necessary, they would be forcibly removed.That would no doubt be on the eve of Christmas. They will be given seven days' notice to quit when there is nowhere else for them to go.
I appealed to the parish council to delay this a little, because three-quarters 804 of the gypsies concerned would in the spring go on the farms again. The answer I received was:I am directed to thank you for your office to meet the Council, but to state that it is felt no purpose would be served by holding such a meeting. The Council has decided upon its action in the matter …That site is in an isolated area where it is unlikely that picnickers would want to go in the winter. Is it too much to ask that the gypsies should be allowed to stay there till after Christmas?
I approached the rural district council, which replied:For nearly two years we have sat on the problem, hoping that some action would be taken at county or national level, but we have had to take action in the face of the representations and feelings of the local residents in Darenth and the adjoining area.So the action has been taken and there can be no relief for the gypsies.
Now I have made my final appeal to the Church Commissioners at least to hold up this operation until after Christmas. The gypsies are making their preparations for Christmas, but even the little ones know that they are likely to be evicted. They do not know what is to happen. Now it is up to the Church Commissioners to decide whether the council gets its way.
I sympathise with the local council. It has been left in the cart by the county council and by the Government, and that is typical. Nearly all these problems go to the parish councils, which have them put right on the doorstep. But what do the county councils or the people in Whitehall care? But they will care—and the sooner the change comes the better. I have here a letter from a headmaster, who writes:The problem of admitting gypsies to this school has been a constant worry for several years now … I would very much like to be in a position (i.e. sufficient qualified staff and accommodation) to take in these children but unfortunately our education service is not all that efficient these days.That is a nice way of putting it, but it does not help gipsy children. A local newspaper had this to say:Monday's school-day drive was the climax of several days of feverish activity by the education authorities to escape the blinding searchlight shone on the gypsy problem by Mr. Norman Dodds. M.P. for Erith and Crayford.For the time being the children—aged between five and eleven—will all study in one special class. When their standards of learning are assessed, and they have become 805 accustomed to school life, they will be integrated into suitable classes.Commented Mr. Poole … 'They are nice children, but a little unruly. They've spent a long time in the woods.'Mr. Poole said that many of the children were attending school for the first time. Some did not know their ages, others were not sure of their names.A teacher was reported as saying:The children are generally quite well behaved. They have started to learn their A B C.Said seven-years-old Betty Smith, who before Monday had never seen the inside of a school, 'It's smashing'.On the Wednesday I saw them in the woods. They were playing banker—and what experts they are, even at the ages of 7 and 9, with money. There is great talent among these children, and it is up to us to decide whether it is to be used properly. I have stacks of letters from the Minister of Housing and Local Government. One of them, from the present Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in referring to integration with ordinary society, said:… there are more opportunities for this now than ever before, through employment, housing, education and welfare services, but the fact that the romanies are still with us after hundreds of years suggests that the pace cannot be forced.
§ Mr. Dodds
That was 5th October, 1961. The gypsies value their way of life. What they want more than anything else is to live in peace and not to be hounded. But the old Romany life has gone for ever and it should be recorded that they have faced this fact. Four out of five of them have faced it. One hears many accounts of what is happening in other countries where attempts have been made to deal with the problem. That letter from the then Minister of Housing and Local Government went on:I read recently that there are still 200,000 gypsies in Hungary despite the efforts of the authorities to reduce the numbers.What does he think the authorities are doing—shooting them? Half of the Hungarian gypsies are living in houses, but the Minister did not know that. The letter went on:… the crucial problem is to find sites—sites where gypsies can live under decent conditions, without being disturbed and without disturbing others.806 That is what I am asking for, but words are one thing and actually tackling the problem is another. I am in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman on that, but has his successor a policy? What is the Ministry doing, if he has a policy? It is no use saying that this is a matter for the local authorities.
What about other countries? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has only just taken over his job and has, I know, had quite a lot to do, but when I asked him to obtain information about conditions in other countries he replied:No formal steps have been taken but information in the Press and elsewhere about gypsies in other countries has been noted from time to time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1961; Vol. 650. c. 74.]What a statement to make. Surely no man could not be upset by such a statement. If that is the best that can be done, God help the country. I will help the hon. Gentleman out. I took the trouble to write to nearly every ambassador in London and also got in touch with the president of the World Gypsy Evangelical Mission in Switzerland, which has representatives in all countries where there are gypsies.
I have to tell the House that the conditions in England and Wales are the worst in the world. I would like to hear of a country where they are worse than ours. Yet we are a democratic and Christian country. We do not suffer from the menace of gypsies but from the menace of too many sanctimonious humbugs. These facts may not have been known, but my purpose has been to reveal them, and we shall now see what happens. I forgive people in ignorance, but not when they know what the situation is.
The French Ambassador himself wrote to me. He said:In 1949, the French Government set up an inter-ministerial commission—that is what I want here—to study the problem of the gypsies, with a view to assimilation. This commission advocated a series of social measures (educational facilities, family benefits, etc.) which have gradually been implemented. For instance, in Montpellier, a school of housewifery has been set up specially for young gypsy women and girls.In 1955, a private association was set up to study questions concerning gypsies, etc.807 The ambassador tells a lot more about the action' taken by the French. A law of 1958 requires the gypsies to choose a fixed legal domicile. I have time to give only one or two of the main points of the letter I received from the association tackling the problem in France.The condition of gypsies cannot improve until their education has been improved.The Ministry of Public Health has made grants totalling several million francs for the acquisition of camping grounds.Gypsies must be provided with permanent camping grounds, as in Holland, where central and local authorities co-operate in providing such grounds.Education is a fundamental problem. Gypsies are people who learn by oral tradition and have been known to be temperamentally difficult to teach. Thus they must be educated in special classes.Bulgaria has set a wonderful example in the provision of gypsy villages, where the gypsies are taught crafts. Greece—and I little thought that we would be worse than Greece—has wandering gypsies and established gypsies. I am informed:The State gave them ground to live on. They have their own schools with good teachers. Everything is paid by the State.The children are well instructed. After the public school they can go to the 'gymnasium', even up to university. They can become officers (higher posts) in the Government.The town of Hildesheim in Germany has adopted a project for a town school for gypsy children. The gypsies were helped to get established, and if this was not what they wanted camping ground was put at their disposal.
In another part of Germany, the town of Dortmund has provided habitations for the gypsies. There, thirty families have been able to move into apartments in new houses and flats with two or three rooms. In Cologne there exists a long-established and very good camping place where the town looks after sanitary arrangements, the supply of drinking water, and, most important, the provision of dustbins. People in this country who complain about tin cans lying around would find a great difference if dustbins were provided so that litter can be deposited.
From Hungary comes the official answer to what the previous Minister of Housing and Local Government said about the 200,000 gypsies there. He said he was surprised that they were still 808 alive. There are many skilled workers among them, and 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. have already integrated themselves into society. Among the many skilled workers there is quite a number who are State and trade union officials, teachers, engineers and doctors, all of gypsy origin. They have merged into the community during the last fifteen years.
I leave to the hon. Member for Maid-stone the Finnish Social Review of Conditions among Gypsies prepared by the Bureau of Social Research of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Mrs. Westerling, sister of a Finnish Ambassador, who was for many years secretary at the office of the Official Gypsy Mission supported by the State, writes:I know that things in England are bad, even worse than in Spain, where at least the gypsies have their camping places free of charge.Who would have thought that in this matter we would have been worse than Spain? It should be remembered that the Spanish Government also subsidised the gypsy Flamenco dancers who are a great attraction to tourists. Yet we do not give gypsies camping grounds. It is very much to the credit of the Spanish that they do so.
Finland sets a wonderful example, and I shall mention Sweden, but I have no time to read quotations about all these countries. In Norway there are only seventy gypsies. One of the reasons why so many gypsies have disappeared from parts of the Continent is that during the war Hitler was faced with a situation which he did not like. He put them into gas chambers with the Jews. He put them to rest; we give them not rest but a living death. If anyone doubts that, I should like to take him to see some of these people.
The letter from Norway says that there are only seventy gypsies there but that teachers are engaged in a special school for gypsy children in a wooden barracks. At Oslo there are special arrangements for the small gypsy community. In Sweden there are 800 gypsies whom the State is helping to find apartments and starting them in buying trailers. Stockholm has opened a special social service for the gypsies in wooden barracks where they are visited and receive professional advice in the care of their young people. 809 Many of them cannot read or write, but advice given to them is important. In other towns, many gypsies have been able to rent apartments and live as good neighbours with other Swedish citizens. Many of them are working in factories.
Belgium has a remarkable development plan. In Holland there are 200 or 300 camping grounds for gypsies who live in wagons and trailers. There are villages where much is done to help them, and in such cases there are churches and schools and good sanitary arrangements. There are fewer camps in the north of the country, but in the Catholic south there are many camps and some big schools. Accompanying the letter I have had from Holland is a plan which shows fourteen special schools for gypsy children.
I had a little trouble in getting information from the Russian Embassy. Although it had a wonderful story to tell, it did not want to put it on paper. It was suggested that I should talk to Mr. Yarotsky, Counsellor of the Embassy. He told me that gypsies in the Soviet Union have a protected status as an ethnic minority with their own schools and settlement rights.
I have mentioned the president of the World Gypsy Evangelical Mission, the Rev. Victor T. Hasler. He referred to a news item in the Guardian of 18th August, 1961, "Gypsies Defy Notice to Quit," and said:This reminds me again of the tragic situation of the gypsies in England.I suggest that there is a task here for the Parliamentary Secretary to take on to see that the opinion of us held abroad may be altered as quickly as possible. Mr. Hasler is coming to England to attend a meeting in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 13th December. I am very pleased to know that this problem is not viewed as a party political one. It is also a religious problem. The meeting will be for religious leaders or their special representatives.
I now turn to the question of what county councils are going to do about this problem and what are their feelings about the gypsies? I have to share a secretary with two other hon. Members. If I had a secretary all to myself, I 810 should be able to obtain much more information, although when next I speak on this subject I shall be able to tell the House more about it. One of the largest county councils dealing with gypsies wrote to me through its clerk saying:My own view is that a national policy for controlling the movement and general activities of gypsies presents the only satisfactory answer.Another clerk of one of the largest county councils, Staffordshire, wrote:In 1958 authorities in Staffordshire represented to their various national associations that the problem of gypsies and nomadic caravan dwellers was a national one and that the Minister of Housing and Local Government should be asked to set up a working party to examine the problem (including the carrying out of a national survey) and to make recommendations.A rural council says:In recent years, the size of the encampment has grown, but as the land belongs to the Forestry Commission, it has not been possible for the local authority to take any action to control the site or limit the numbers, for as you will doubtless be aware, the Crown is not subject to local government legislation. The site itself is considered to be unhealthy, being low-lying and damp, and whilst it must be admitted that there has been no serious epidemic in the encampment, the conditions are such that there is always a danger of disease which could easily spread to the town.The gypsies are not wanted. They are living on lands belonging to the Crown which are unsatisfactory for human beings and the rural district authority can do nothing about it. Summing up a document which was prepared in connection with points dealing with gypsies, the clerk of one of the largest county councils said:If I may say so your document seems a masterly summing up of the position with great fairness all round and yet in such a very short space.East Dean Rural District Council is of the same opinion—that this problem should be faced nationally. Another reply which I think is worth putting on the record for the attention of other county councils is from a county council which, as a result of criticism in the Press, on the radio and television, has got itself moving. It is Hertfordshire County Council, which sends me these details:The gypsy problem in so far as it relates to the County has been considered by the County Planning Committee. As a result of 811 their consideration of the problem, the Committee eventually passed the following recommendations, which were circulated to district councils for their comments:—That method has been a success on the Continent. One of the gypsies themselves becomes the warden on the large encampments.
- (a) a comprehensive study should be be carried out, with the assistance of the police if possible, and such other information as can be obtained from local authorities and the Education Department.
- (b) That when the total size and the distribution of the problem is known the requisite number of suitably located sites should be found if possible, and in these cases Green Belt requirements may have to be subservient to the main solution necessary.
- (c) When tentative sites have been noted, the local authorities concerned should be asked if they can persuade the gypsies to move to such areas where adequate provision for caravans will be made. It seems possible that if a large site is necessary, one of the more responsible gypsies should be appointed as a warden."
The letter continues:Once the tentative solution has been found, it will be important to get the co-operation in purchasing and running the site of the local authorities most closely concerned, but care must be taken that only those gypsies regularly resident, in the county should be allowed into the sites.There is the danger. Some of them are travelling about not in one county but over many counties. In Kent, we get them from Essex and from Lincolnshire. Gypsies travelling about like that will not have the residence qualification, so even a solution of that kind will solve the problem only for those who actually live in the county.
In one county not far from here, which has a lot of gypsies, yet, I imagine, has not places for camps, many of the gypsies are, in the fines they have to pay, paying out more than they would have to find for a house. This sort of thing makes it impossible for the county council to find sites. This is another reason why I say that the effort must be a much wider one, a national effort, not just restricted to the county councils.
The letter to which I have just referred ends:We have not received comments from all the district councils, but from the replies received it would appear that they are prepared to support the policy recommended.That represents a big change of heart in the last few years, and I imagine that 812 what happened at Colney Heath has made some of them think again.
This morning, I heard from the clerk to another county council:Your first question was as to the extent of the problem in this county. I am sure you will understand that this is a difficult question to answer precisely, as it is not practicable to ascertain directly the number of gypsies from time to time camping here and the extent of the problem can, therefore, be judged only indirectly from the number of complaints received.What a way to decide it. This matter cannot be left to the local authorities alone. If we want to know the extent of the problem in England and Wales, a survey must be undertaken simultaneously over all counties. If that is done, then I shall be quite happy. But let it be done.
I come now to the postcript to that letter—I must mention the county so that it can be identified; it is Buckinghamshire—In last week's issue of the local paper it is reported that Eton Rural District Council are now planning to open a permanent site for gypsies and are negotiating for the purchase of land. It may interest you to know-that it states in the report that there are 25 gypsy families who can be said to belong to the district, and that 20 of them who have been approached have expressed their eagerness"—their "eagerness", I ask the House to note—to live on a permanent site,Not all county councils and other authorities are dealing with the matter in that way. One county council tried to put a Private Bill through the House recently, but it asked for too much and hon. Members would not accept it. How did this council go about it? Did it want to solve the problem of the gypsies? Not at all. It wanted powers to reduce the period provided by the law within which it could turn the gypsies out. Whenever one looks for a pattern, one finds that it is a mixed pattern. This is why I say again that it is all the more important that the Government should take a hand.
Where is the shining example? Where has something been done during the past ten years?—in West Ashford, Kent, where the rural district council has established a caravan site at Great 813 Chart. In the report I have here, the clerk to the rural district council says:When an attempt was made to evict the gypsies, they explained to the council that their traditional sites were being closed one by one and there was nowhere else for them to go. Because they were being kept constantly on the move, they were unable to send their children to school and to share in the normal welfare facilities. Most of them said that they would like to live in a council house. … There was violent opposition to the provision of a site from the local parish council and all the neighbouring residents.That is the problem, local opposition. But in West Ashford there were people who did their job. The clerk goes on to say:At a recent meeting with the parish council the members of the council said that they had had no complaints about the conduct of the caravan and they admitted that their earlier fears had not, so far, been justified.That is a revelation. The clerk says that the gypsies use the baths, they are courteous, and the council's officers are received with cordiality. They pay their rents regularly. Here again, they have one of their number to look after the site.
There are only 12 caravans on this site at West Ashford, a mere drop in the ocean. Other councils sometimes say that they would do the same as has been done in Kent but they fear that, if they provided sites, other people would come on to them. This has not been found in Kent. It is another example of ignorance, and it is often an excuse for doing nothing. The clerk concludes by saying:On the experience of the site, I personally feel that the decision to limit the number of caravans to 12 was rather over-cautious.In other words, there might have been 24 caravans instead of 12, in which case it would have been a better economic proposition. If there were on the sites as many as 50 or 100 caravans, as I suggest, it would be possible, with very little capital outlay, to provide and maintain the sites, making them pay. It could become a paying proposition, as this site in Kent should be after seven years.
The gypsies are charged 10s. a week for a caravan. That is very modest. I know of gypsies who have to pay 30s. and more. Also, they are charged 5s. for a lorry. There is, however, one fly in the ointment here. The gypsies like 814 to have their caravan at the door so that they may keep an eye on it, but the council provides a place for it a little distance away.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)
I think the hon. Gentleman means to refer not to the caravan but to the lorry.
§ Mr. Dodds
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. That is the first bit of co-operation I have had. I hope that it will develop.
The gypsies want their lorries right beside the caravans so that they may keep a watch on them. The council wants them to have their lorries some distance away and the consequence is that they have to live in their caravans whilst separated from their lorries. Of course, all children play about and damage is done to their vehicles. There may be others, too, apart from children, who cause the damage. I can remember, from my childhood in the North of England, that, when the gypsies came to the country district where I lived, the naughty boys of the area used to do the "pinching", knowing full well that the gypsies would be blamed. In Kent today, anyone can talk to the police and ask them what happens when things are stolen and the theft is alleged to have been done by the gypsies. Often, it is found that the culprit is not a gypsy at all, but non-gypsies make use of the stigma attached to gypsies in this country.
I have already referred to employment and quoted from some of the documents. I should have liked to quote from a document I have received from the county welfare officer of Shropshire, but I cannot quote everything.
This is a problem not for Parliament alone. It concerns the churches also. In other countries, very frequently both the churches and the State have cooperated to find a soluton. If I may say so, this is God's work and, when the churches talk about doing God's work, there can be no better job than this. If anyone has any doubt about that, I would refer him to the fortieth verse of the 25th Chapter of St. Matthew, which is the basis of my submission that it is God's work.
815 I am very pleased to tell the House that I have written to the leaders of every religious organisation in Britain that I can think of and I know that they are ready and willing to co-operate. I wrote to the Baptists. I wrote to Cardinal William Godfrey, Archbishop of Westminster. In reply to a letter I sent to him, the Archbishop of Canterbury said:My dear Mr. Dodds, I am glad that you wrote to me about the gypsy problem, and you can be assured that I shall co-operate about it. I would be very glad for a representative of myself to be invited to a meeting at the House of Commons when the matter will be discussed.I have heard from the Church Army, the office of the Chief Rabbi, the London City Mission, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, and others.
I have a letter here from a vicar which I think is worth reading. He says:They always call at the vicarage and ask me down to their site to bless it for their stay. I am always asked to stay for a meal which I do. Since I have been here I have baptised about 12 of their babies, and buried three of their dead. This may seem strange, but I am sure there is a growing reconciliation between Church and Romany. … The Romany would be quite willing to pay rent and rates, provided that they had the assurance that they would not be molested or moved on. A lot of the Romany problem is caused by this discontent on their part.I have told the House about the communications I have received from the churches. A meeting is to be held upstairs on 13th December. The president of the World Gypsy Evangelical Mission will attend it. I also have it in mind to bring half-a-dozen gypsy children to the meeting so that the church representatives and others attending the meeting can see in the flesh what sort of people it is God's work to save.
What about the political parties? I asked the Labour Party what its policy was. It has not got one. I have therefore asked, and the party has agreed, that this problem should be placed before the Policy Committee. I am anxiously awaiting an answer. What about the Liberals? They assured me that they are concerned with the liberty of the individual. Therefore, the Liberal Chief Whip has been asked to attend the Meeting. I shall be interested to see how their belief in the liberty of the individual will show itself in regard to this problem. What about the Tories? 816 I have some hopes with the new Ministers that are in, but I had no hopes with the old ones.
In another place dukes, marquesses, earls and lords are ready to help. But think of the forces ranged against us. Does anybody want to be a modern King Canute? However, offers are coming in from all quarters, and I believe that before long the country will be in a very formidable mood.
I make no apology for having taken so long. I have enough material to make another speech of the same length. After a close study of the problem I have found that the hostility to gypsies in England and Wales is due largely to blind prejudice born of ignorance. If there is a menace in our midst, it is not amongst the gypsies.
We need to get men and women of good will, irrespective of party or religion, to work together and co-operate to try to solve the problem. If this cannot be done, I cannot see what hope we have of solving the problems of the European Common Market or the problems in Africa. This is a simple solution. If these people had been animals instead of human beings, and included amongst these human beings are many little children, who are caught up in this problem purely by accident of birth, public opinion would have forced the authorities to take action long before now. How I long for the fervour expressed in condemning the cruelty involved in shipping horses to the Continent to find expression here. It is one of the great mysteries of the age that such things can happen to humans but when animals are involved there is a great outcry.
Both sides of the House claim to be concerned about the brotherhood of man. We all know about that, but what does it mean? As I see it in this connection, the brotherhood of man applies to other countries and other people's problems but does not apply when they are on our own doorstep. If it does, let us get something done.
Being a Northerner I often express myself in a way which sounds abrupt and insulting to other people. I have tried to conquer this. I have tried to change since I have been here. I start my speeches with that intention. I hoped at one time that one day I should be 817 able to rise and speak rationally. I fail every time. Whatever the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may feel about what I have said and the manner in which I have said it, I am ready to co-operate. if we are able to solve this problem, it will be one of the greatest services that I as a back bencher can render on behalf of people who certainly want the help of everyone, both in the House and outside it.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
It is a matter of the very greatest regret that the House is so empty this morning and that many more hon. Members have not had the rare privilege of hearing the extremely moving, capable and thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds). It is conventional to congratulate an hon. Member on his luck in the Ballot. I do that, as, of course, we all do. His speech and his hard work over many years have borne some fruit today and we hope that we shall hear him often again on this subject, about which he feels so deeply.
The problem of the gypsies and the travelling population is very much wider than the bounds of any one hon. Member's constituency. Therefore, those of us who are interested in these problems go from one constituency to another outside our own. If I say anything today about some of my neighbours' constituencies, I hope that it will not be taken amiss.
The problem of the gypsies and other travellers is so very wide that it is a worldwide problem. In this country the problem is much too big for any small local authority to cope with. The hon. Member rightly said that the moment a rural council sets out to do anything it is assailed with enormous local prejudice against its best intentions. The moment there is a move to help the gypsy population, it is resented. Just as it is not a matter for one small local authority so it is not a party matter.
I go the whole way with the hon. Gentleman in that. Indeed, I do not in the least wish to quibble with any point in his magnificent speech except to regret his possible implication about the Conservative Party. My belief is that the Conservative Party has a somewhat better record, as I hope to show. I do 818 not for a moment suggest that the Conservative record is good, but it is possibly less bad than that of the Labour Party.
Today The Times published a leading article congratulating the hon. Member in advance, but like all matters concerning gypsies it was full of rather wide and somewhat inaccurate information. The only statistic it quoted was the hon. Member's own guess, as he has been kind enough to tell the House, of about 20,000 Romanies out of a travelling population of 100,000. I hope to show in due course—this is my guess—that this figure is a substantial exaggeration today. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House hope that the problem is smaller than that. The Times also says:There should be wide agreement that the Romanies should be permitted to continue the itinerant life as long as they choose.Of course the Romanies should, but the bulk of the people we are discussing today are not Romanies. It is desirable that these people who are not true Romanies should be—I will not say forced to settle down—given the opportunity to settle down, which I think they earnestly desire.
Again, The Times article praised the Kent County Council for the proposal of a permanent gypsy encampment at West Ashford. I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) is present in the Chamber. I am sure that he will contradict that statement, because to my mind the credit for the good work lies entirely with his local council and not with the Kent County Council.
The Times also said:Although the reality may sometimes be more sordid than the ideal, there is no doubt that public feeling about gypsies has still some of the Borrovian romanticism.Anyone who has seen a real gypsy encampment in the recent rain and in the mud will agree that George Borrow has never been more out of date than today. Therefore, although we are glad that The Times produced this article to highlight the problem, it really is, in detail, a very ridiculous article.
My hon. Friend has shown his considerable interest in this matter in recent weeks and we are glad that he has taken the trouble to inspect some of our problems and some of the sites which we 819 have in Kent. In the past, far too many Ministers have shelved this problem and regarded the matter as something which could be talked about. Second-hand information has been good enough for them. Therefore, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his personal endeavours to attend to this matter. Although, as I have said, I do not wish to quarrel with the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford regarding the content of his speech, as a member of the Church of England, I regret his slanted attack on the Church Commissioners for their action or intended action. I know that it has long been the policy of the Church Commissioners to sell off isolated blocks of land, and I am sure that—
§ Mr. Dodds
It was my object to be brief on each of the points which I made, so I was not able to say as much as I should have wished. But I should be grateful if I could correct the hon. Member now. I have no criticism of the Church Commissioners. I have appealed to the Church Commissioners to do what they can and, if possible, to see that people are not evicted before Christmas. It may be that we shall learn something later.
§ Mr. Wells
We must hope that we may learn something later, as the hon. Gentleman has suggested.
During recent weeks I have visited a large number of gypsy encampments, and tried to learn as much as possible. The greatest difficulty is to differentiate between the people we are talking about. There is the true Romany. In Scotland, they are frequently called tinkers. The scope of this debate does not embrace Scotland, but these people go to and fro over the Scottish Border and the terms "tinker," "gypsy," and "Romany" are mixed up.
The term "didicoi," as was said by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, means, to many people, a half-bred or part-bred gypsy. May I give two personal experiences of the last week of police officers using different terminology which muddles up the whole matter. I was discussing the number of gypsies in a particular area with an experienced and senior police officer who said, "Well, in my guess there are so many. But that does not include the didicois, which is what we mean by 820 house-dwelling gypsies." There he used the word "didicoi" in a completely different context and with a completely different meaning.
To another and a younger police officer in another part of the country I said, "Are many of the people in this camp Romanies?" He said, "Oh, yes. They are all Romanies. You see, they roam from place to place. But there are very few genuine gypsies among them." This sort of muddle over terminology makes it extremely difficult when one is trying to get facts and figures. As the hon. Member has said, it is useless to send out people in striped pants, whether Members of this honourable House, or civil servants, to try to get hard facts. One can get at the travelling problem only through those people who know the travellers well and intimately. So I will use the three basic terms—Romany, tinker and gypsy, which are generally accepted as synonymous.
Then there is the "didicoi," the half-bred gypsy with part Romany blood, and there is a third category of by no means praiseworthy people called mumpers. In Scotland, where they have such a delightful terminology, for three hundred or four hundred years they have been known as "sawneys." These phrases are used among other names which are not so suitable. I am not seeking to compile a dictionary, although it is important that we should appreciate the difficulties caused by terminology.
Returning to the police officer who described house-dwelling gypsies as "didicois," the gypsies themselves have a specific word to describe house dwellers whom they call "kennicks." That is not a word which is frequently heard, because the house-dwelling gypsy population has steadily lost touch with the travelling population and, as we hope will happen, they are becoming more and more integrated into general society.
It has been said that Sir Arton Wilson's Report gives some fringe information on this matter, but to my mind, it gives no information whatever. Indeed, Sir Arton himself, in paragraph 69 of his Report, said:I have therefore, seen no good reason to interpret my terms of reference in such a way as to require a prolongation of my investigation in order to deal with the problems of gypsies and vagrants in any detail in this report.821 But earlier in that paragraph he gives a fairly adequate definition, and he says that earlier paragraphs show… fairly clearly how different they are from the gypsy and vagrant classes with whom caravan-living is still sometimes identified.If we could get some accurate figures we could learn how many caravan dwellers there are today and how many are of the gypsy travelling type. When the Report was published it was indicated that there were about 60,000 reputable caravan dwellers, non-gypsy and non-travelling. But the caravan manufacturers are churning out caravans at the rate of 20,000 a year and caravans are certainly not falling to bits at that rate. Therefore, what is happening to them? They are not all used for holidays. The problem of conventional caravan dwellers is on the increase.
I will not enter into a bidding match with the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford in an attempt to guess the number of gypsy dwellers, but I have an idea that when we get a survey it will be found that the figure is about 13,000. Some of these gypsies and travellers are wealthy people and we should not lose sight of that fact. Here, we are not dealing with the dregs of the earth. It is not generally realised how comfortably off some of them are. I visited an encampment the day before yesterday somewhere north of London where there were two new Jaguars and a last year's Land Rover on the site.
This is a display of status symbol, as I think the new phraseology would call it. It is also, of course, a convenient lock-up for their money. These people do not normally operate bank accounts and instead of having large sums of money lying about in their caravans, insurable valuables such as cars—and good ones—are an extremely attractive lock-up for their money.
In generations gone by, and, to a certain extent, today, investment in a horse was an extremely good lock-up for money, particularly when one remembers that the gypsy did not pay for the fodder. He bought the horse and sold it when he needed the cash and the question of paying for the fodder did not enter into the matter. Therefore, the motive force of the family— 822 the horse or the motor car—has always been looked upon as a convenient lockup for money.
On this aspect of gypsy life it is nearly always the woman who holds the lose cash. When there is cash about it tends to be the mother of the family who looks after it. This matter of cash and wealth is one of the definite differentiations between the Romanies—the people whose traditional way of life this is—and the didicois and mumpers. It would be a fundamental mistake if, arising out of this debate, much sympathy was wasted on the mumpers or on this category of society. We have all been very moved by the speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, but he was dealing with the true Romanies and their descendants. Do I see the hon. Member shaking his head?
§ Mr. Wells
I accept the hon. Gentleman's sentiment and I am in complete agreement with him. But the parents of this third category are somewhat disreputable people and must be brought to some degree of control.
I am not saying that having a prison record is necessarily such a terrible thing, but these people are, by and large, people with prison records, often bad ones, and I was making the point that no real gypsy is ever—and I realise that sweeping generalisations are apt to be untrue, but I am sure that this is true—involved in major crime. Gypsies are frequently before the police courts, but one never hears of a gypsy being at the Old Bailey; that is, except in the case of the late Lord Birkenhead, and it has also been said that some hon. Members have been gypsies. There was no one more proud than the late Lord Birkenhead of his gypsy ancestry and, indeed, there are other gypsies in another place.
The problem of this third category and of the more wealthy people should not result in the nation or the House wasting its sympathy. They pay no taxation and 823 live substantially on National Assistance and begging and stealing. They seek to cash in on the Welfare State wherever they can. Clearly, the Welfare State is the new way of life. We have all come to accept it. But it is a great mistake for decent citizens who still regard the true Romanies as romantic people to let their sympathies be wasted on this less worthwhile section.
The first essential before we can tackle this problem of gypsies and travellers is to know their numbers. I have tried to find out from various sources just what are the figures. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford gave the world census which showed 20,000 of these people as being in Britain. I believe that that figure includes Scotland.
§ Mr. Wells
In that case, a great many are in Scotland and the islands and are, therefore, outside the scope of this debate. Indeed, the Irish tinkers are somewhat of a problem of their own. I have looked elsewhere for these statistics and have tried to get a little assistance from the various Departments. For this reason, and knowing the interest the Parliamentary Secretary is beginning to take in this subject, I deplore the Written Answer he gave to me last Tuesday. When I asked him for figures he replied that he did not think it necessary to have a census. The Parliamentary Secretary also referred to there having been the Sir Arton Wilson Report. I hope that my hon. Friend will look again at that decision.
§ Mr. Wells
It did, but, at the same time, I was seeking a broad figure. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will think again on this subject.
Equally, I deplore the Answer I received yesterday from the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, when I sought the numbers who are living on National Assistance. It was, roughly, to the effect that it would be too much trouble. That is the trouble; the Departments think that this is a small problem and a confounded nuisance. 824 But it is a human problem, as the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford pointed out, although not a very big one. A little effort will enable us to get somewhere.
In the matter of seeking to find some statistics we discover that Scotland is way in advance of the rest of Great Britain in its efforts. I urge the Minister to follow the excellent example of Scottish Ministers in the past. While realising that Scotland is outside the scope of this debate, I urge the Minister to look at all the precedents of what the Scots have done and remind him that the Scots had a Departmental investigation at the end of the last century, again in 1918 and again in 1935.
The Scots had a half-yearly police census. That continued from 1888 until 1940, when it lapsed because of the war. I have put down a Question to the Secretary of State in the hope that this will be renewed, for if we cannot get the figures we cannot make progress. What figures emanate from these surveys? The Scots, being practical men. realised the difficulty of making a survey but the 1917 examination—when the First World War was at its height and the population was fairly closely tabulated—the Scots estimated that the gross total of people who might loosely be called gypsies was 2,728. Looking at more recent figures, it would seem that there has not been much change.
It is interesting, in view of something I intend to say shortly, to note that the returns for the border counties of Berwick and Roxburgh are blank. The chief constable for that area remarked that as the descendants of the old border gypsies have settled homes and more or less have lost their distinctive characteristics, he does not think they can be classed as tinkers or gypsies.
This abandonment of gypsy ways in the County of Roxburgh, in particular, is mainly the result of education, a matter with which I shall be dealing. What was the change in Scotland between 1917 and 1936? Was there an increase or decrease? The numbers, so far as one can ascertain, on 22nd December, 1935, were 1,266, but there were those, of course, who were not strictly accounted for in the census and the Departmental Committee decided that in the midwinter of that year there were 2,500. 825 That shows, taking one thing with another, that there was no very substantial change.
It is known that in the time of Queen Elizabeth I there were approximately 10,000 people in England, and presumably Wales, who would have fallen into the category of the people whom we are discussing. It was estimated in 1929 by an amateur gypsyologist—if there is such a word—that there were about 12,000. Therefore, the growth between the time of Elizabeth I and this century is apparently only about 2,000, and in the much shorter period within Scotland for which we have figures I have also shown that there is very little growth. It is for that reason that I am hopeful of a survey showing that the figures are really very much smaller.
The travelling population varies enormously between summer and winter. If we are to have accurate figures, it is essential that we should have separate figures for summer and winter; and also, as far as Kent is concerned, it is desirable that there should be another set of figures for the hop-picking season. It is interesting to note that in 1935 an inquiry into the location of travellers indicated that in the summer more were in prison cells—not as prisoners, but as lodgers for the night—than in the winter, and there were half as many again lodging in what are lumped together in the census as "houses of refuge, hospitals and poor houses" in the summer as in the winter. I find these figures dfficult to account for and I took forward to the Parliamentary Secretary telling us in a future debate, when he has had this census taken, all the facts and figures which I am sure that he will find for us.
In Kent, we had a thorough survey undertaken in 1951–52, as the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford has said, as a direct result of the personal intervention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. For that alone let me make the party point that I consider that we on these benches have at least made an effort. It was felt that Kent had a more acute problem than any other county. It is near to London, so we have the London peripheral gypsy problem. We also have the traditional hop-picking and fruit-picking activities, and further 826 east we have other traditional activities in the county.
But we have great difficulty in interpreting the Kent census. The hon. Member has already quoted from the Kent County Council Report. In February there were 1,150 persons in this way of life in camps, but what about all the others who were not in camps? It is there that our difficulty lies. So far as can be ascertained—again this is only an estimate—there were some 1,500 in all in Kent in the winter survey. How many of these were genuine Romanies? The Report estimates there were 150—or 10 per cent. The hon. Member has indicated—and I support him completely in this—that far more didicois and part-bred gypsies have strong links with the Romany tradition, although they have left that way of life. Therefore, in the winter survey, at its very lowest, there were 150 pure-bred Romanies.
What about the summer and the hop-picking season figures? How did they vary? During the Bank Holiday weekend of August, 1952, there were 2,317 travellers in Kent, and in the hop-picking season—that is on 4th September in the same year—there were 3,090. These hop-pickers, these temporary residents in Kent during the hop-picking season, are not the traditional Londoners living in the farmers' hopper huts, but are travellers in the sense that we are debating this morning. Of these, over 1,000 were children in the summer; and in the autumn season—which is not during the school holidays, a point I wish to emphasise—1,397 were children. It is this question of getting the children to school, of educating them and breaking them of the cycle to which their parents' way of life has condemned them that we are seeking to deal.
How are we faring in Kent today? What is the population of travellers? I understand that the Kent County Constabulary has recently had a spot check for its own information, and, so far as can be ascertained, there were just under 800 travellers living in camps during this season. But, again, there is this large factor of those who are living elsewhere. Of these, 273 were in the "A" Police Division of Kent which comprises my constituency and stretches somewhat into that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, but they are 827 mostly based in my constituency of Maidstone.
As there is often the feeling that there is a greater concentration of gypsies round London, it might interest the House to know that this is no longer the case, because in the "C" Division of the County Constabulary, which is the one nearer to London, comprising Gravesend, Northfleet, Dartford and Swanley, there are only 234. Therefore, we have about 40 more gypsies in our part of the county.
I want to turn to the question of getting the numbers of gypsies who are on National Assistance. This is quite impossible to do without a vast amount of research because of the quick turnover, and, although the National Assistance Board would do its best to find statistics, it is unfair to ask the Board to do this at short notice. But it is my guess that, out of a gypsy population of 273 in the "A" Police Division, 25 families are in receipt of National Assistance at any one time.
I deplore the action of those county councils that base their estimates of the gypsy population on the number of complaints received. There could hardly be a more retrograde method of counting heads than that. I hope, therefore, that we may have some central direction about a new census. The Kent County Council is at present tackling this matter. It has suffered from a shortage of staff in its planning department, and I think that great credit should go to the county planning department for its 1952 survey and the work that it did.
Who are we really dealing with? Who are these gypsies? The romanticists will say that they are a secret people with a secret language, and all the rest of it. It is very difficult to delve into the past, but there can be no doubt that the secret language of the gypsies, the Romany language, was a genuine language and that at the time of George Borrow it was a grammatical entity. But that is 150 years and more ago. A hundred years ago, when Leland was writing on the gypsy problem, he found it no longer a grammatical language. It had fallen into disuse, and was really only a jumble of odd words. This debasing of the gypsy language is part of the falling-off of the high standards of the true old 828 Romanies, and it is for this reason that many of the good gypsy families—and there is no greater pride in birth than among the gypsies—do not encourage their children to learn or to speak the Romany tongue.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Romany language is still spoken in a very pure form in North Wales?
§ Mr. Wells
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; it is a point that I was about to come to.
It is interesting that the Romany language is spoken in a pure form, as the hon. Gentleman says, in certain parts of North Wales, but it is very debased elsewhere. Curiously enough, there was until recent times a colony of what were called in Scotland sea tinkers, who are generally accepted as sea gypsies, who spoke the Romany language, and not the second language of the tinkers, which is known as Shelta.
This second language of Shelta which has come in from the Irish tinkers, is a quite deliberately made up language of medieval scholars, very much debased now, of course. It is derived from an ancient invented language, whereas the Romany language, to which I have referred earlier, is of far greater origin and has come, or so one understands from the experts in these matters, from India, and which has had words added to it from the countries through which the gypsies have passed. In fact, the basic language would appear to be very similar to that of the Jats and Sudras who inhabited Southern India before the Hindus. The gaining and losing of odd words is a natural tendency, and it is unfortunate that people who are seeking to write off the gypsies as tiresome people should say "No, the language is just the same as Cockney rhyming slang. It is as low as that". I am grateful to the hon. Member for Anglesey for reminding the House of the purity of this language in his part of Wales.
Although I have not the time to deal with it in detail this morning, hon. Members might like to study at their leisure Appendix 8 to the Report of the Scottish Departmental Investigating Committee into the tinkers in 1918. Hon. Members who have time to read these matters more fully will find it very interesting.
829 The hon. Member spoke of the history and customs of these people and referred to the charm of the children and what happy children they are. How right he is. He did me the kindness of taking me earlier this week to see some of the children in a school in part of Kent, some way from my home, and I was extremely impressed with them. It is important to notice the youth of the parents. These people marry very young, and young people whom we in this House would think of as children are themselves parents of school-age children.
Much romantic nonsense has been written about the gypsies. I do not want to decry George Borrow and the rest, but I cannot help feeling that the writings of George Borrow have done more harm to the cause of those of us who wish the gypsy communities well than almost anything else. This is continued by modern novelists today, who are seeking, probably for their own edification, to exploit the gypsy situation. I think that the action of some of our modern novelists is completely deplorable.
The hon. Member reminded us that Johnnie Faw, in Scotland, was an ancestor of one of my hon. Friends. He was a most remarkable rogue; there is no doubt about it. The Scots are much more efficient than we are in keeping figures. Incidentally, I am delighted to see a Scottish Member, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) on the Front Bench. It is the traditional way of the Scots to keep their records beautifully, and they have recorded that the Lord Treasurer paid Johnnie Faw £7 in 1505. We may think that this is a far cry from the matters today, but I suggest that it is not, because this name of Faw, Faa, or Farr, and indeed, the equivalent of MacPhee, is one of the common Scottish names among gypsy families and tinker families, and it is widely spread through South-East Scotland and the Border country.
Where did the gypsies come from? This record of 1505 is the first written record of them in this country, but historical works tell us of the great gypsy invasion of Europe in 1417 and shortly afterwards. I contend that this vast upsurge of gypsy publicity in the 830 middle of the fifteenth century may or may not be true. If we go to a gypsy encampment today to ask which counties they travel, we find that they will undoubtedly say that they travel the whole country from Berwick-on-Tweed to Cornwall, to Dover and everywhere, and that they have been in Canada and Australia and all over the place. This is a fundamental lie, because the gypsy family unit travels a very much more limited circuit than is generally recognised.
Kent gypsies travel up and down the east of England, but one has never heard, as far as I know, of Kentish gypsies travelling into Herefordshire or Wales. There is hop picking in Herefordshire and a high gypsy population, but the gypsy families are separate communities from those in Kent. This is so for a number of reasons. First, within gypsy society the family is the unit, and it is for this reason that those who are seeking to do something for these people believe that the family must be kept together. That is essential. Moreover, this is a strong matriarchial society in which the mother frequently, or nearly always, is the holder of the family's petty cash. It is a family tradition which goes very deep, and I regret that certain writers, such as Borrow, have suggested that there is much promiscuity, and, indeed, much polygamy in gypsies. I believe that this is fundamentally untrue, and I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford agrees with me.
The gypsy of today is a loyal and faithful spouse. There may still be a number of trial marriages, and they may change partners once, but they marry very young and promiscuity is virtually unknown. Prostitution is unthinkable in this society. It is, therefore, a great tragedy that the romantic writers should try to give a salacious note to what is basically a very chaste community. More nonsense has been written about gypsy marriages and gypsy funerals than about any other subject. I do not wish to digress to the subject of gypsy marriages except to draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor—should he ever read these words—to the fact that one of the conventional methods of gypsy marriage is called "jumping the budget." I do 831 not know whether that has anything to do with the tendency of young people in other societies to marry about 5th April.
The traditional methods of gypsy marriage are still widely upheld by the courts and the traditions of various countries. It is sufficient to join hands in the presence of witnesses, and the man and woman are recognised to be man and wife.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford read part of a letter from a parish priest in the north of London saying that more and more gypsies are being reconciled to the Church. I am sure that he is right. We find work done among the gypsies by humble parish priests—people who believe in devoting their time to their cures. If we in the House and the Government can give some support to the work of the Christian Churches, possibly financially, it would be very welcome.
The gypsy population are very adaptable to the religion of the country in which they find themselves. As far as one knows, the gypsy population are never involved in major crime. Gypsy children are, I am afraid, the most spoilt of children, but in my experience they are perhaps the happiest children in this land. I was recently talking to the chairman of a juvenile court in the West Country, which covers a wide area in which there are many gypsies. This lady, who has been chairman for many years, told me that she had no recollection of ever having a case before her involving the maltreatment of children or anything of that sort. In my constituency about 18 months or two years ago a gypsy child was burned to death in tragic circumstances, but the coroner said specifically that no blame whatever attached to the parents, who were a loyal and devoted couple.
If we look at the method of differentiation between the gypsies and the didicois, the more praiseworthy section of the travelling public and perhaps the less praiseworthy section, it should be remembered that the gypsies have a higher percentage of women travelling with them than other vagrants, and this shows that according to their lights they believe in the family unit and in a settled way of life.
832 The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford said that in this country we treat gypsies worse than in any other country in the world, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. In this country they have been persecuted down the centuries, virtually for nothing. Under Cromwell thirteen gypsies were hanged in Suffolk at one assize alone for no other crime than that they were gypsies. In more recent times gypsies have been deported from Scotland to Virginia and from the rest of the United Kingdom to Australia. They have been harried and chased. We look around and we see the same pattern today. But I remind the House that even under the Spanish Inquisition no gypsy was condemned to death, whereas there was mass slaughter of other minorities.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford said that I have a particular interest in Finland. In that country they have treated their gypsy population with enormous respect and consideration, and they can look with considerable pride on their achievements. In 1955 the gypsy population of Finland was 4,000, and the Finnish Government—the Government of a small country—had them completely tabulated and organised. They knew the facts and figures and all about them. Indeed, they classify them by family and by marital status, for example. This shows how faithful they are as husbands and wives in Finland—not necessarily married according to the rites of the Church but married according to the gypsy ceremony and living together more faithfully than many other sections of the population.
There is a fundamental difference between the gypsy population in Finland and the gypsy population here. In Finland, 64 per cent. of the population have a permanent residence, 20 per cent. have a temporary residence and only 15 per cent, have no residence at all. In this country the figure is not 15 per cent. but 100 per cent., because as long ago as 1917 the chief constables of the Border counties recognised that once they were house dwellers they were no longer gypsies. In Finland there is a higher percentage of the total population; 4,000 out of perhaps as many millions. Therefore, they should treat them with some attention, and indeed they do. The Gypsy Mission in Finland 833 was officially founded in 1920 but it had been operating sixteen years before that.
What have we? We have no nationwide gypsy mission—nothing of the sort. We have a few extremely good local authorities and a few extremely good people who have done their best to help the gypsies. In Finland, a very small country, 10½ million Finnish marks are spent every year on social work for this section of the population. This is a substantial figure in the budget of a small country. There is a social Ministry with a special council on gypsy affairs on which there are representatives of the gypsy population. The Churches subscribe generously to gypsy work. To ensure that there is no misunderstanding, I should remind the House that in Finland there is a church income tax and that every citizen must therefore pay his dues to the Church. The churches are therefore in a much stronger financial position than they are here, and they subscribe generously to this work.
The hon. Member said that virtually no gypsies are left in Norway because they were largely put down under the Nazi persecution. I believe that he is substantially right, but I also believe that a number of gypsies have gone to Finland from the neighbouring Scandinavian countries because of the extremely high social consciousness of the Finnish Government. The hon. Member also mentioned Holland. When I was recently travelling that country for two or three days with a number of Dutch Government officials I put the question, "What do you do about gypsies in your country?"
Every one of those officials—civil servants of high standing, none of whom had anything to do with gypsies—said "we are proud of the reservations and camps we have made, because in this day and age, when we are all being treated like peas out of a pod, it is a great thing to have some individuality cherished and protected." Again, they referred to the work of the Christian Churches.
What are the causes that tend to perpetuate this vagrancy and travelling? I believe that first and foremost, it is the inaction by the Government in not finding out the problem: secondly, a lack of education; and thirdly, the action of 834 the planning departments of the county councils. Planning is the nightmare of the gypsies.
With the use of land becoming more closely prescribed, it becomes extremely difficult for these people to maintain their existence in their traditional homes. Every year, they find it more difficult. Sir Arton Wilson told us in paragraph 151 of his Report that:It is worth remembering that the caravanners' lack … any secure tenure.…This lack of security of tenure is the problem that perpetuates the gypsy menace.
I turn now to what I consider to be the key to the solution—that is, education. The House may remember that it is just 100 years since the death of the Rev. John Baird. The Rev. John Baird's name may well be unknown to many of us, but he was a man of great courage and determination who was a minister in a small remote village called Yetholm. Mr. Baird went to his parish in about 1829 and found that Yetholm had an almost gypsy population who were little better than savages. With an enormous uphill task, he set out to educate the people, and this he did. By concentrated effort, with much hostility from the local inhabitants, he gat the gypsies settled and educated.
A hundred years after that fine man's death, what do we find the situation to be in that part of the country? The bulk of long-distance transport is organised by people of gypsy descent. That is the result purely of the work of one man, followed, I must admit, by a distinguished and hard-working successor, a Mr. Adam Davidson. It was, however, the pioneering work of John Baird that reclaimed those people, who were virtually savages, and educated them and got them settled into various ways of life, in agriculture, and so on. Agriculture, however, and in particular horticulture in the settled sense, does not suit the temperament of the gypsy.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford has said that the motor vehicle might be described as the new horse and has indicated that whether it is a car, a van, a lorry or anything else, in the gypsy's mind the motor vehicle has supplanted his horse. For this reason, it is the ability to be good motor 835 engineers that has given the gypsy community a new lease of life in those areas. But without education, without the ability to read and write and to deal with the necessary paper work that falls to the lot of every one of us today, even if it is only dealing with a consignment note, how can a man change his way of life from wandering?
In 1861, when Mr. Baird died, thirty children were attending his school in the village. In the past week, in a school in Kent, I have seen a small number of children coming to school for the first time. It is a magnificent experiment and it is well worth while, but there are certain fundamental things which lie behind the need for provision of suitable schools.
First, we cannot send children to school and expect results unless the headmaster or headmistress can reasonably expect continuity of attendance. Children cannot be chopped and changed from one school to another. They must go to one school and get the confidence of their teachers. I have seen the terrific progress that has been made by twenty children in a week. When, however, they applied for free school dinners and had to sign the necessary forms, the parents of ten of the eleven families from which those children came could not even sign their names. Some of those parents were in the age group in which we might consider them to be children themselves or just grown up.
Therefore, it is essential to have continuity of education, which must depend upon having firm sites for the caravan dwellers. Not only must we have continuity of education, but we must have suitable teachers. In this connection, I should like to add my tribute to what has already been said of the great work of Mr. Poole and of the lady school teacher who helped him, Mrs. Woolven. It may be that in 100 years' time, the name of Mr. Poole may be as well known and as highly respected as that of the Rev. John Baird, I hope.
Continuity is essential if we are to have success. I am told that it is much more easy to integrate the infants. Clearly, the child who knows nothing can start from scratch. It is, however, desirable that such a child should start from scratch with children of his own age and 836 should not be regarded as a retarded child. It is essential to get these children as young as possible. That is my second main point on the educational aspect—continuity and getting them young.
The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford said that painting had formed a valuable method of gypsy children's education through self expression. He is absolutely right. But they must have had to have some discipline of the mind first. If one considers a gypsy child who has never been to school, it will be found that he scrawls and scribbles away in the most loose and unco-ordinated manner, whereas those of us who are parents of small children know only too well that they normally execute the most capable drawings of motor cars and other modern machinery at a quite early age.
The fundamental loose thinking of the gypsy child is, therefore, a great problem For instance, when tiny children go to school for the first time, it is perfectly normal for their first teacher to tell them to make a straight line and they know roughly what is wanted of them. Gypsy children, on the other hand, do not understand that sort of thing. The kind of language which they understand is "Shut up" and even stronger terms. Simple rules and disciplines of the mind are unknown to them.
The parents of these children who have had education themselves naturally want their children to have a good education. The parents who have had only the slightest smattering want their children to have more. But the parents who have had no education themselves are a much tougher nut. Therefore, I make the definite point on education that I hope local authorities will get tougher about school attendance. There is, however, no point in them getting tough unless they can be sure there will be the vital continuity.
That brings me to my next point concerning more permanent sites, homes and houses. Gypsies cannot be put as they are straight into homes and houses. To do so would be unrealistic. They must be given camp sites in proper blocks. The West Ashford experiment is one of the finest things we have in this direction. Other places have tried it before, but it has always been a here-and-there, piecemeal business. There has been no co-ordination.
837 I implore my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, when he has counted the gypsies, to get his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education to educate them. Then, will he give direction to local authorities to attend to the matter of housing them, which can best be done by grading through camp sites to homes in time.
I will say nothing much today about the health and gypsies. By and large, their health is more satisfactory than is generally recognised.
One is reminded of the old story of the woman medical officer of health who was visiting a gypsy family and said "How many children have you got?" The woman said, "Three." The medical officer of health, suspecting that there was another one or had been, said, "I thought you had four". The answer was, "Oh no, that one was rather weakly, so Donald knocked it on the head". I am speaking of the days before the First World War. It was the survival of the fittest then, and it is the survival of the fittest today. But the gypsies are fit and clean. I have no time this afternoon to deal with their various customs, cleanliness and so on, but it is widely known by all hon. Members and people outside that a true gypsy is extremely clean in his personal habits. The pikies and mumpers may not give that impression to the nation as a whole, but it is the bad people who are not true gypsies who land the well-meaning gypsy population into trouble.
I must turn to my immediate constituency problem here. I would not want you to think me to be parochial, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but in Maidstone we have long had visiting gypsies to and fro. The advent of hop picking machines has now had a very adverse effect on their livelihood. In the past, they expected to make a substantial sum of money in the autumn from hop picking. With the advent of hop picking machinery in Kent, this is going. Other traditional livelihoods of the gypsies are somewhat on the decline. One thinks straight away of clothes peg-making, one of their great standbys. That is on the decline because of the advent of the plastic clothes peg. Again, the logging trade is not what it used to be. At this 838 season of the year one sees Christmas decorations being painted and so on, but that is for only a few weeks. Their traditional methods of livelihood are past. What can we do and why do they come to us in Kent?
I believe that in Kent we have a particularly fine record of action on behalf of the gypsy population. We have the West Ashford experiment and, in my own constituency, Hollingbourn Rural District Council is going to follow that. Chislehurst and Sidcup have housed a vast number, some ninety-seven families between June and September of one year. It is a terrific achievement. Again to come back to my political point, I believe that they have all been Conservative councils which have undertaken this terrific work.
In Maidstone we have the happy hunting ground of all travellers—vacant land adjoining the new housing sites. Every traveller wants to put his tent or caravan on a site near to a centre of population where he can reasonably expect to get his livelihood quite simply. I met an old lady this week whose husband told me that she had had the same round for forty years.
The gypsies stay in their little areas and have their little rounds. They cannot read or write and they want to pitch their tents and their caravans near a centre of population. That is why they come to us in our part of Kent. We have vacant plots which are to be built upon. But they are a great nuisance to the local residents. My town council has treated them as humanely as is possible. It has removed them from its property and has been advised that if it puts them on the hard road the travellers will move themselves.
It is a scandal to this country that a local authority has no other practical solution offered to it than to put people with caravans and small children on the hard highway in the hope that they will move themselves. I believe that my council has acted from the best of motives, but it is a great tragedy that people should actually be put on the tarmac, not even on the verge, of an A road and be told, "If you get run over, this is too bad." It really is a problem. What can be done?
839 I do not believe that it is right to expect town councils, county boroughs or non-county boroughs, or even urban district councils, to provide sites. I believe that the rural district councils must provide the sites, and then it will be said, "Why should we have a lot of gypsies coming into our area from outside?" There must be some national integration, some national plan, because local rural councils will naturally apply fundamental rules of good council housing management, that is to say they do not allocate houses or sites to anybody not living, working or having very close connections within their council areas.
As the hon. Member has said, gypsies travel. My borough council has housed one gypsy family, and the father of the family has maintained his work qualification. This is a great achievement. I believe that in other councils' areas in my part of the country 20 to 30 families have been housed by different councils. This is done and it can be done, but there should be some broader plan.
If the gypsies who normally travel Kent, Essex and Lincolnshire, which is one of the well-established rounds, could be offered accommodation—I mean only site accommodation in the first place, not housing accommodation—by the rural districts in one of those areas which they travel, then I believe the councils would be doing a great job. No rural council is going to do that on its own, unless it gets a directive from the Ministry.
Again to hark back to Scotland, this excellent neighbour of ours, as long ago as 1918 it was recognised there that councils which provided special gypsy sites or tinker sites needed special financial assistance from the central Government. I am not standing here this morning asking for expenditure of any more money out of central taxation, but I would remind the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that this real problem costs money. No doubt other hon. Members will deal later with the West Ashford situation and the figures and facts which I know the Minister has himself already, but this all costs money.
Therefore, I would ask the Minister to do these things for us—to recognise 840 that we must count them; to recognise that we must educate them; that we must give them the chance of getting into jobs such as long distance transport. I would ask him to bear in mind the whole time that England and Wales have got a worst moral record than any country in the world.
This is not a big problem. It is quite a small problem. The expenditure of a few hours of effort—of days, weeks of effort—the expenditure of a few thousand pounds, not millions, would solve it. It is something which is within the compass of the minds of all of us. It is a human problem. It is a big problem to the gypsies and it is an insuperable problem to those local authorities who have got saddled with it. In my own area it gets worse every day. I heard that only this morning we had four new arrivals—four new arrivals this morning. It is a fearful problem. Therefore I ask the Minister to do what he can to help us in all these different ways and to remember throughout, as was said by the hon. Member, that this is real Christian work. We look to the Minister to give us a lead.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Irving (Dartford)
After the two very long and impressive speeches which we have just been delivered I think that the House will be very relieved when I say that I want to intervene only very briefly. I should like, first, to support the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) in what he said about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) and to thank my hon. Friend for the opportunity we have had of discussing this matter this morning.
I intervene because Darenth Woods, which have been mentioned more than once this morning, are in my constituency. This was once a most attractive stretch of woodland, but it is now in an appalling state. Conditions there, because of the increasing number of travellers from all parts of the country who come to squat there, are indescribably bad.
The activities of my hon. Friend—I have no doubt he realises this—in my constituency have aroused considerable feeling and concern, and, indeed, opposition to the things he has been saying 841 and doing. I hope that Members of the House will not think that this opposition springs from any lack of humanity. It is indeed because the local people and the local authorities are afraid, and not without reason, that the only certain result of my hon. Friend's publicity of this site will be to increase the number of travellers coming into the area, and to perpetuate the appalling conditions which already exist on that site. The local Press last week indicated an increase, because of this publicity, in the number of travellers arriving there in the hope that they may get some permanent accommodation there.
I realise that what my hon. Friend wants is a national plan and legislation to enforce it, and, of course, with this I am in agreement. Without legislation and without a national plan there can be no long-term solution, and I hope that the Minister will consider this matter with a proper sense of urgency so that such a national plan, following on a survey, can be brought into existence. I am convinced that given a national plan the district councils in my area would gladly co-operate and accept their responsibility, with others, for a small number of families on properly selected sites. But this is not the problem which faces them at this moment. It is that of the increasing number of people coming each year, crowding into Darenth Woods, and the progressive worsening of the conditions there.
It is possible to be romantic about the gypsies, and the two hon. Members who have spoken this morning did their share, although I find it very difficult, without a very big stretch of the imagination, to get the connection between the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) and some of the people I see in Darenth Woods. But whether we can be romantic or sentimental about it or not, we cannot be sentimental about the things which are happening on these sites.
The hon. Member for Maidstone pointed to the complexity of this problem and the great variety of people involved in it and the problem of defining the different sections, because these are not only gypsies. To my knowledge there are some problem families there who have been given 842 many chances by the local authorities but have been finally evicted with large arrears of rent owing.
The local authorities, of course, have a very difficult task in this matter. Regrettably, there has been some violence, and there is the continuing threat, from epidemics, of danger to health. Indeed, when education and welfare officers have gone up into the woods their difficulties have been increased by the fact that both families and children have made themselves scarce until my hon. Friend has winkled them out again. The local authorities have tried desperately hard in very difficult circumstances to fulfil their obligations in these respects.
What, in these circumstances, can a local authority do? Because of the failure to legislate, they are faced with no alternative but to give these people notice, and that is what Darenth Parish Council proposes to do, and I must say that, in the circumstances facing this authority, I cannot do anything else but support the authority in this move.
The Government cannot escape their responsibility in this respect. We have heard talk about the Prime Minister, but the plain fact is that, knowing the problem, because he commissioned a survey from Kent County Council as far back as 1954, he proceeded to do absolutely nothing about it. West Ashford has set an example of what can be done, but without some legislation, without some sanctions, other authorities cannot be compelled to accept their responsibilities and, therefore, the whole burden is thrown upon such authorities as Darenth Parish Council, which has a grievous problem to face.
I do not think that the people in my constituency, or, indeed, this authority, ought to be expected to carry this burden. While I support the proposal for a national plan, and urge the Minister to take action, I cannot agree that we should have to put up with the burden of the increasing number of people coming into these areas and squatting there and making the situation worse week by week. While I support the action of the parish council, I hope that my hon. Friend will also understand the grave problem that faces it and will not do anything to embarrass it.
§ Mr. Dodds
I should like to give my hon. Friend that assurance. I think that the parish council is "holding the baby," but what I condemn is action on the eve of Christmas to send these people out into the open where there is nowhere for them to go while knowing full well that in the spring three-quarters of them will go on to farms. I ask only for time until after Christmas.
§ Mr. Irving
I do not think that any time has been fixed for this eviction and I doubt whether it is likely to take place before Christmas.
§ Mr. Irving
I must leave the decision to the parish council, but I shall be surprised if the eviction takes place before Christmas.
The parish council is anxious for a long-term solution, but it knows that if something is not done soon the problem will become completely unmanageable. In supporting my hon. Friend's Motion, I urge the Minister to do something about the problem quickly so as to obviate the growth of difficulties in areas like mine and in other parts of the country.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
Like the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Sydney Irving), I do not wish to speak overlong on this subject, at the risk of appearing mildly eccentric. I am sure that we all wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) on the excellent use to which he has put his fortune in the Ballot. It is an admirable example of the use of private Members' time to illuminate a tiny subject which otherwise I do not suppose would be discussed in the House at all. I do not think that any will lack sympathy for the cause he raises. To that extent all hearts are with him. Whether all hearts everywhere will be melted by all the things the hon. Member said, he himself may have some doubts, but he is one whose motto is fortiter in re, and indeed fortier in modo, and none the worse for that, and I think that his concluding apology was quite unnecessary.
844 I have only a fraction of his knowledge of the subject. We all respect his knowledge and strong feeling, and my excuse for intervening is that in my constituency there is on local authority, the West Ashford Rural District Council, which has been frequently mentioned today, which has made a modest, practical and I think after twelve months a not unsuccessful attempt to face this problem on its own ground. The result of this experiment, one of the earliest if not the first in the country, deserves attention and it shows that it is not absolutely essential to have a national plan before anything can be done. A contribution can be made, however small, without the intervention of the Minister.
§ Mr. Deedes
It is quite true that the changes around us have made the lot of these people very much harder, but these people have changed too no less than the society in which they now find themselves. These gypsies are not human coelacanths. They evolve like we all do. If we are to avoid the social segregation of these people, we must see them not through a romantic mist but as they really are. They must be realistically assessed.
The day has gone when these people were mainly Romanies living by rural arts, supplemented by seasonal agricultural labour. Since the war most of the old gypsy crafts have been increasingly superseded by other modern forms of getting a livelihood. The principal one is trading in scrap. Many of these characters are not simple pastoral folk. They are dealers. Their dwellings are not always the ageless symbol of the nomad, that is, the horse-drawn caravan, but increasingly modern appliances with all mod. cons.
Socially there is probably much less gap between these folk and the rest of us than there has ever been. Administratively their accommodation offers a bigger problem than ever because circumstances conspire against their way of life. Seasonal agricultural work, fruit-picking and so on, is harder to get with the advance of mechanisation and the falling labour force. Land near towns where they like to settle is at a premium. 845 Planning authorities have induced a more orderly state of mind and they are more adamant about planning conditions, and urban sprawl frequently disturbs their habitat.
I think that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford is right in saying that we are the least sympathetic people in Europe towards these fellows, but there is good reason for it. Our feelings are partly the consequence of physical circumstances. Ours is one of the most heavily urbanised and increasingly overcrowded countries in Europe. Our feelings towards them do not arise entirely from a desire to make them social outcasts. It is this fearful sense of physical oppression which surrounds us all that makes it physically, not socially, harder to tolerate them.
This has a great bearing on the practical solution. These gypsies are by no means invariably penurious. Some have considerable sums of ready-money and some have regular incomes above the industrial wage. Nor are all still truly nomadic, in the sense that they cannot conceive any other kind of life but the one which they are now enjoying. I think that many would gladly suffer habilitation if the gap were bridged between homelessness and home. Many of their wives were born in ordinary dwelling houses and not in caravans. In other words, though the physical problems are great they can be understood and they can be met and I think that there is a way round what has become a tragedy of social ostracism.
Not only is the experiment started by the West Ashford Rural District Council a success in itself, but already news of it has encouraged other local authorities to make their contribution, the last being Eton Rural District Council on the West of London which is starting something on the same lines. I should like to outline how the situation has existed in West Ashford and how it was met, and then offer one or two conclusions which might be of value elsewhere.
Up to a year ago the West Ashford Rural District Council faced a situation confronting several areas in Kent and elsewhere. One particular open space, Hothfield Common, possibly known to travellers on the A20 as a place of 846 great natural beauty, drew like a magnet these people from all over the country. They were a mixed bunch. Many had grown up in this life and were reluctant to change it, but they were suffering from a rapidly urbanising county. They posed a special problem which could hardly be blinked.
The council decided that their conditions were worse in many cases than those of occupants of unfit houses and they decided to offer a permanent site. This was a much braver thing to do than it sounds. The site chosen was a disused quarry about three-quarters of a mile away from the village of Great Chart. It was not to be expected that the village would greet the idea enthusiastically. Nor was it surprising that the planning authority, Kent County Council, was disposed to take a cautious view.
So, on one flank the rural district council had a reluctant, indeed an angry village, and on the other flank an anxious planning authority. Nor did the Member of Parliament strike a particularly heroic attitude. It seemed to me an occasion on which it would be improper for the Parliamentary representative to enter into a dispute principally between local authorities. That is a rule which we all observe at the right time. So the Member of Parliament adopted on attitude of benevolent neutrality, and the rural district council is entitled to feel that he gave it very little encouragement. Indeed, there was no encouragement except its own conscience.
The county council imposed strict conditions, which I think were justified, but these did not make the task any easier. It laid down that no trade or business was to be carried on from the site except what could be done inside the vehicles. Also, there was to be no dumping of material. That is a particularly hard point because most of these people trade in scrap and wood; indeed, those are the principal items involved in their livelihood.
Further, the number of caravans was limited to twelve. Here I question the point made by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford—that he would like sites to be for forty or fifty caravans. I am not sure whether that should be the optimum figure.
§ Mr. Deedes
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, but I feel that smaller sites represent the road to success.
The authority has fenced in the site and provided it with the minimum amenities demanded by the hon. Member—main water, an ablutions block, hard standings, a lorry park and a cesspool. There was no development value in the land, and so the authority purchased it at existing use value. The capital cost—the money side of this is interesting—was £3,000, and this is being written off during the seven years of initial planning consent. The running expenses are the rates, repairs, cesspool emptying, and administration, which is not light. The rent sought from the occupants is 12s. per week per caravan plus 5s. per lorry.
The annual loss to be charged to the rate fund for the first seven years will be about £400 a year. I am talking about a local authority where a penny rate brings in £400. Consequently, it is not among the wealthier of the communities even in a rural district. The £400 loss a year is subject to rate deficiency grant. Thus, after seven years the receipts from the tenants will exceed the running expenses, and there will be a credit going to the rate fund. Therefore, economically, the plan will work.
One of the caravanners has been appointed resident warden, and he has helped the housing manager and the council to exercise control. The rent has been paid promptly, and the planning conditions have been adhered to. The power of the housing manager to evict tenants if the rent is not paid or if the imposed condtions are broken has been enforced once. The occupants of the site are courteous, and the council's officers have been well received.
It was widely predicted—this is an important point, because this is what many local authorities think—that the site would act as a magnet to gypsies and travellers all over Kent. This has not 848 occurred. The council has been careful to admit only families which have a local connection with or have worked in the council's area. In reality, it has been found that distant migrants are not tempted into the site. For the purpose of trade in scrap and the like, local connections are very important, and it is not easy to lift one's tent, as it were, and do business 100 miles away. Consequently, there is a local element here In this respect, the council's guess was exactly right. Also, there is an unwillingness to leave one's home locality. That is a factor to be borne in mind when considering where such sites ought to be.
It is widely expected that the behaviour at the camp would offend. This, emphatically, has not occurred, and that is conceded by the residents of the adjoining village. There have been no complaints of thieving, damage or mischief.
It must not be supposed that these conditions have been obtained without trouble. The council, anxious to prove its point, has been very conscientious about inspection. This has meant that a fair proportion of the time of the housing manager, the sanitary inspector, the education inspector and the surveyor has been taken up. That has to be taken into account when the costs and the trouble involved in such a scheme are considered.
There is an outstandingly sore point which will arise wherever these people are given a permanent site. It concerns lorries. Under the planning conditions the council stipulate that the occupants must put all their lorries in a lorry park. The tenants do not understand this and do not like it; they cannot see why they should not park their lorries next door to themselves.
§ Mr. Deedes
I think that the horse problem will decrease rather than increase with the passage of time. The fact is that the trade of these people, although honourable and lucrative, is not a very tidy one. That is something which those who wish to run a scheme of this sort must bear in mind.
I now want to say a word about the future. Not all these people are inveterate gypsies and travellers. The 849 majority would like a house. Indeed, the council has housed twenty of the families in the past, and two more families are to be housed this winter.
The most important part of this scheme is in its wider implications, because it offers possibilities of bringing the people closer to, and not putting them further from, the community to which they belong. It may seem less romantic than the conception that we have of gypsies, but, emphatically, it must be social sense. The more they are chivvied from pillar to post, the greater the sense of isolation, and the greater the nuisance they become. Treated as responsible members of the community, they increase their own sense of responsibility. That is one reason why—this must be accepted everywhere—the sites must be married to a village. It is not the least good trying to set one of these places out in the middle of a moor or in some other remote part of the country. It must be near to a village, which can bring influence to bear on the life of these people.
There are other factors besides housing which now help. For example, two families have television. They have no electricity supply, but they have electricity generators and run their television by that means. Television may well prove a good influence in their lives.
More important is the work done by the local schoolmaster and the police. I do not think the education of all the children is 100 per cent., but it is vastly better than it was before the scheme began. The police deserve a word, for they have a most important rôle. They have exercised their most ancient and valued right, that of helping, guiding and advising this small community, and not simply gone into action when things have gone wrong. They have behaved admirably.
I should not hesitate to say that a site of this kind is really a halfway house to something better, a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone.
There is the remaining difficulty of finding the adult men suitable local employment. There is a tendency to think that they have their own trade and are unemployable in any other. That is not true, and I hope that this attitude will change with time.
850 The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford wants a larger degree of Government responsibility in this matter. There is something to be said for that view, but it seems to me that we shall increasingly have to meet the problem by means of local plans on local sites arranged by local men. One thing which is certain is that if the rural district council finds it difficult to get a site, the Government will find it ten times harder. If any hon. Member doubts that he should consider what happens locally when a site is sought for a detention centre or some form of prison. The Minister may spend a year chasing a site. Every hand will be against him—every local authority's hand and everybody else's hand as well. The result is that very long delays will be occasioned. However, if there is a sense of local responsibility, some of this disappears.
Some would ask: Is this sort of thing within the resources of a small local authority? I think I have dealt with that question. The authority which I have referred is one of the smallest and poorest. But it has carried out this plan. Therefore, no other local authority can say "Without the help of the Minister, we cannot do it".
§ Mr. Deedes
Yes, I do. But stronger, I believe, than any national plan which the Minister can offer is local conscience. That is the decisive factor. It springs from those who see these people and know them and their problems. This will be quicker settled in the villages than in the Ministry. I say that with all respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford. I do not want to make this solution sound easier than it is, for to do so would be to defeat its value as a pilot scheme. Everybody has to make a little sacrifice.
It has put the local authority in the rural district to considerable trouble. If it had sat back and regarded this as somebody else's job, it would have saved itself much trouble. Such a scheme is also bound to create anxieties for any 851 villages nearby. I warn hon. Members about that. The instincts of xenophobia are present in every village. This scheme will give county authorities a lot of worry, and for many of them will set an awkward precedent—and they are always worried about precedent.
Not least does it impose a degree of discipline on people who do not like it, are not accustomed to it, and are inclined to resent it. Lastly, it requires the co-operation of many others—schoolmasters, policemen, social workers and people living in the villages. It is none the worse for having to evoke some such response from all concerned. But this will work—that has been proved, and it is something which should be more widely known and recognised.
§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
May I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) upon his Motion and upon his speech? He has given us a mass of valuable information. Some of the things he said certainly shocked me, and I hope that they will shock the Government into taking some action. I would also pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on behalf of the gypsy community during the last twelve years. The gypsies of England and Wales have a worthy champion in him, and I hope that his crusade will he successful.
The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) also made an interesting contribution. He has obviously gone to a good deal of trouble and has done a lot of research. George Borrow has been mentioned on more than one occasion. More than a century ago, Borrow made a study of the gypsies and of the Welsh. Since then, Wales is less wild but the position of the gypsies seems to have deteriorated. In the gypsy community—that is, the true Romanies—we have a minority racial group in our midst, a group which has its own customs, way of life and language.
As a welshman who speaks the Welsh language, I find myself in considerable sympathy with a group of this kind, but the difference in this case is that they have no country, and that they have led a nomadic existence since they first came here more than four centuries ago. Without doubt—and this has been im- 852 pressed on me during the speeches today—it is the itinerant life which has, during this century, created increasing difficulties for the gypsy community.
It should be stressed as strongly as possible in this debate that the gypsies are British people. That must be constantly borne in mind. They have the same rights and privileges under the law, and the same claim to the protection of Parliament as any other person in these multi-racial islands. It is against that background that we have to consider their plight. I am deeply sorry to think that our treatment of the Gypsies is not one of the best chapters in our history. They have never been treated on a basis of equality in this country.
The hon. Member for Maidstone told us of the persecution they have suffered during the centuries—how they were hunted, hauled before magistrates, hanged, deported, treated like animals—just because they were gypsies. We have also been reminded that they were subjected to appalling atrocity during the war by the Nazis. All in all, it may truly be said that until fairly recent years, the gypsy race has been one of the worst treated in the world.
What my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford has succeeded in doing is to bring home forcibly to the House what a poor record our own Government have in this matter. It has been said that our record is the worst in the world. I do not know about that, but it seems to me, from what has been said by my hon. Friend, and from the facts he quoted, that we certainly have the worst record in Western Europe.
My hon. Friend has told us of what has been done in France, Germany, Greece, the Scandinavian countries and elsewhere. They have gone into the problem and have provided proper services—camping sites and educational and medical facilities. But they have also done something else, where we have failed. They have extended sympathy and understanding to these people. That seems to be lacking in this country. There has been no clear policy of any kind in Britain and that is something we must all deplore.
Changing conditions have made it far more difficult for the gypsies to earn 853 a living. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), in a valuable speech, reminded us that the gypsies were traditionally horse dealers, farriers or veterinary surgeons of a rough kind, and metal workers. These are the traditional gypsy jobs. They went around the fairs which were once held widely in country districts but which have diminished in importance. The emergence of the qualified vet has driven the gypsy horse doctor out of practice, and the coming of Woolworths and other multiple stores into the country towns has also made the gypsy's job as a metal worker more or less redundant. The gypsy is thus finding it increasingly difficult to earn a steady living.
I now turn to the local authorities. Of course, the statutory duties of local authorities during the past half-century have increased so tremendously in the fields of health, education and housing that they have been unable, during the last few years, to cope with travellers. I think that there is not so much a lack of sympathy between some local authorities and gypsies and other travellers, but simply that gypsies and other travellers do not fit into local authorities' schemes of things. They have difficulty in coping with them, and unfortunately lack of understanding and hostility have grown.
I sympathise with the problems of local authorities in this context. For a short time I was the acting clerk of a local authority and came into contact, not with a large, but with a small problem of this kind. I know of councillors who are sympathetic and of officials who do everything they possibly can do to help. Nevertheless, there is often an element of suspicion between local populations and the travellers in question which make it extremely difficult to create the right sort of atmosphere in which a permanent camp could be established.
Whilst sympathising with local authorities and having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford, I find the attitude of some of them inexcusable. My hon. Friend quoted a case from Wales, which I was extremely sorry to hear. There are, of course, admirable examples of local authorities which have done a great deal 854 to help. The case of the West Ashford Council, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ashford, is an outstanding example of a local authority which has taken an initiative and has succeeded. I hope that will be an example which other local authorities will follow.
The hon. Member for Ashford said that in his opinion fundamentally this was a matter for the conscience of local councils. That, of course, is true, but who is to arouse the conscience of the councils? Who will see to it that there is a uniformity of policy between one council and another? Possibly that is where the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend can come in.
To sum up, the position appears to be this. First, there is an acute and growing shortage of suitable sites with proper foundations. It may be that some of the older gypsies will wish to travel around and retain their old itinerant way of life. Their wishes, of course, must be respected. On the other hand, we know that there is a younger generation of gypsies who more and more wish for facilities to live permanently in the same place and to find secure employment. They should be encouraged to do so.
We have heard a great deal about the Kent survey. My hon. Friend was good enough to lend me a copy. It says one very interesting thing on this matter of settling permanently in one locality:individual gypsies … who do achieve the necessary skill and experience, almost certainly cease at the same time to be nomads or camp dwellers.That is to say, that as soon as they have a secure job and a secure wage they want to settle down with their wives and children and live permanently in one place.
In the long term, one has to admit that the only real solution is to hope for at least partial integration into the community. I do not want them to lose their language. When Welshmen come to London and elsewhere outside Wales I want them to keep their language and to remain Welshmen. I want them to play Rugby football for Wales, not for England! Nevertheless, partial integration is the answer. Let them keep their customs and language, but let them be members of a permanent community.
855 I understand from all I have heard that gypsies are excellent workers, especially on farms, and there is little doubt that a large number of them would like to take a secure job with a permanent home.
One of the difficulties, and this is our basic difficulty in this debate, is that we have no comprehensive accurate picture before us. During the last few days I have been trying to find as much information as I could about the gypsy community, didicois and travellers. I found it enormously difficult to get at the facts. There are no books or statistics. The Library, we have been told, cannot help us. There are a few newspaper articles, and, of course, the very valuable contribution made by my hon. Friend by way of Question and Answer in this House. But there is no specific information to which one can refer, no authoritative statement and no reliable statistics of any kind. As The Times said this morning in its editorial:a comprehensive picture is still missing.To sum up the debate so far, that is all for which we are asking today. We are asking the Parliamentary Secretary if he will see to it that the Government do something to get us a comprehensive picture. We had the Arton Wilson Report and then our debates on the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Bill last year. As has been pointed out, that Measure dealt with the caravan problem in England and Wales, but excluded the gypsies.
Local authorities, including many county councils, are now asking for a national plan. They are coming to realise that they cannot take effective action without an overall policy. That is not to say that the hon. Member for Ashford did not make a valid point when he said that many things could be done in the interim period between now and the emergence of a national plan. Of course things can be done. Councils can follow the example of West Ashford. I hope that they will find themselves sufficiently conscience-stricken to take a stand on behalf of the gypsies.
I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary, what are the Government's objections to a national survey? I hope he will tell us. For years now successive Ministers of Housing and 856 Local Government have been telling my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford and others that this is a matter for individual local authorities and the Government can do nothing at all about it. If that is to be the answer today—I hope it is not—we shall never have a unified policy. We shall drift as we are, doing now.
§ Mr. Hughes
Unless they all do it at once. A directive from the Ministry, appealing to them to act in unison in this matter, would certainly help. I should like to see a Government policy which would lead to a uniform action by all local authorities. If one provides a decent camp site and the children begin to attend the local school, that news will get around and others will tend to come in. It will as has been said become a magnet. The point made by the hon. Member for Ashford about scrap metal contacts in a locality is something to be taken into account. Nevertheless, the problems of a sympathetic council will become increased if the site it establishes becomes a magnet.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary answer these specific questions when he replies to the debate? Can he tell us what estimate his Minister has of the number of gypsies, didicois and travellers in England and Wales? That is a question which I think the Government should be able to answer. Secondly, will he say how many satisfactory permanent camp sites there are for gypsies in England and Wales? That is a question he ought to be able to answer if he has been well briefed for the debate. Thirdly, how many more camp sites with hardcores are needed to satisfy the demand in England and Wales? Fourthly, can he say how many gypsies now live in permanent dwellings in England and Wales? Lastly, how many gypsy children are attending school (a) whole-time, and (b) part-time in England and Wales? We would much appreciate this information. This is the sort of information which we should have before us and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give it to us.
It occurs to me that this may not be a problem for the Ministry of Housing 857 and Local Government. Other Ministries are almost as closely involved. The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance are all affected. When the British Government have dealt with questions affecting ethnic and racial minorities hitherto, the Ministry handling them has been the Home Office. For Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands the responsible Ministry is the Home Office.
The problem we are discussing today may well be one for the Home Office. I suggest that it should be for the Home Office to conduct the survey and coordinate the activities of all the other Ministries affected.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Does not my hon. Friend think that the association of the Home Office with aliens would be rather unfortunate in this case? Would this country congratulate itself on its policy generally with regard to aliens in the past? Does my hon. Friend suggest handing over these people to the great defeater of all generous emotions, the Home Office, rather than leaving the matter with the Ministry which looks after local government?
§ Mr. Hughes
I was trying to deal with the problem as objectively as I could. My hon. Friend has made his point. This is a serious matter, and, although it is true that the Home Office has dealt with aliens, it is true also that it deals with Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, and it has dealt with Wales in the past. I suggest that it would be the appropriate Ministry to deal with the gypsies and to conduct the survey. The Home Office is also responsible for the census in this country.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
Has the hon. Gentleman in mind the importance in this matter of what might be called sub-standard housing and the kind of staging methods which come into it? In the circumstances, is it not much better to regard the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as the responsible Ministry?
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not suggest that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has no responsibilities. 858 Clearly, it has considerable responsibilities in relation to housing and in relation to the local authorities which, in their turn, will have considerable tasks in relation to these groups. What I do say is that other Ministries are concerned and, therefore, a senior Ministry such as the Home Office might well co-ordinate the whole thing. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that the Government intend to conduct a comprehensive survey at an early date.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
I think that the hon. Member has made a very valuable point in discussing which Ministry should deal with the problem. Has he turned his mind to the question—I think he almost touched on it, though not quite—whether there should be a completely new Ministry set up to deal with it as a temporary problem so that a solution might be reached rapidly?
§ Mr. Hughes
It is for the hon. Gentleman to discuss that with his hon. and right hon. Friends in the Government. I shall not advocate the setting up of a new Ministry, and I do not think that that idea would find favour at this time of national stringency with the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No doubt, what the hon. Member has said will be borne in mind by his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Hughes
It is, I believe, the opinion of hon. Members in all parts of the House that the holding of a survey is the least which could be done. If the Government continue to neglect the problem, the good name of our country will, in the long run, be brought into disrepute. I warmly support the Motion introduced so ably by my hon. Friend, and I hope that we will have a favourably reply from the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)
I have no wish to close this interesting debate, but I think that it may be helpful if I try to answer some of the points 859 which have been raised. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) has certainly shown himself a good gorgio today. As the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) said, he has conducted a vigorous campaign by Parliamentary Question on behalf of the Romany people and the other travellers to whom his Motion refers, but this is a subject much better dealt with in a debate and I congratulate the hon. Member on his good fortune in the Ballot.
I am sure that the hon. Member did not, on this occasion, have to cross your palm with silver, Mr. Speaker, to achieve success. With reference to our Ballots, if I may say so without disrespect to those who draw the numbers, I recall the words of the once famous Victorian poet, Praed:Dame Fortune is a fickle gypsy,And always blind and sometimes tipsy"—though not, of course, on this occasion.
I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) about the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford deserving his good fortune, and I echo the words of the hon. Member for Anglesey in saying that he has made very good use of it.
To go winding along an English road where gypsies are encamped is to be immediately reminded of a people with traditions in English and Scottish history going back for at least 400 years. I think that it is generally accepted that the Romanies, the true gypsies, came to this country about the year 1500 via Germany and France, having left India 1,000 years before and having travelled through Persia until they spread over most of Europe.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone pointed out, in an extremely erudite speech, their language derives largely from the language of tribes in India. As hon. Members have said, they were greeted with repression. They were threatened with deportation and they were subject to early and unsuccessful immigration control. They stayed, being accepted as being part of our community, regarded by some as picturesque and by others, of course, as a nuisance. I confess that I have a good deal of sympathy with the gypsy who claimed 860 that his race had something in common with the cuckoo—"everybody speaks ill of us both, and everybody is glad to see us back again".
In fact, as hon. Members have said today, the true Romanies are a highly individualistic group of people who have won the respect and, very often, the affection of those who have taken the trouble to get to know them. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, who speaks from the heart in these matters, will confirm that. They have a pride in their race and a high code of honour. They are by nature kind not only to their own people, but to anyone in genuine need. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone was quite right when he said that family ties among the gypsies are strong. Divorce is virtually unknown among them, and special care and affection is given to their children and old people.
I was sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone decried George Borrow—or, rather, he said that he did not decry him but then proceeded to do so. I, of course, have a constituency interest here. George Borrow was a Norfolkman who lived and worked in my constituency. I have been re-reading his "The Romany Rye" only recently, prompted by the interest which the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford has aroused in this matter. There will, I think, be general agreement with Borrow's declaration:A person in seedy raiment and tattered hat, possessed of courage, kindness, and virtue is entitled to more respect from those to whom his virtue is manifested than any cruel profligate emperor, selfish aristocrat, or knavish millionaire in the world.Therefore, I readily accept the declaration in the Motionthat the loyalty to this country of the Romany people … is in no way inferior to that of any other section of the community.…
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The Parliamentary Secretary keeps on referring to the hon. Member for Erith, pronouncing the word with a short "e". I was once mayor of that borough. It is pronounced with a long "e" and is not to be confused with a place in Suffolk which is pronounced with a short "e".
§ Mr. Rippon
I apologise to the hon. Member for my mispronunciation. I 861 have had a good deal of difficulty with the pronunciation of some of the words used in the debate. I readily accept the reproof.
The true Romanies, indeed all the people of whom we have been speaking today, are not in any sense second-class citizens. They have all the rights—and I may add, all the obligations—of the rest of us. What many of them value most is their freedom to wander as far as they are able unmolested and unencumbered, particularly by officials. They are eligible for all the benefits of the National Insurance scheme, but like other self-employed people they are not entitled to unemployment benefit. In these circumstances they are not always enthusiastic about making the contributions. Wherever possible some of them avoid it.
Equally, they are entitled to all the advantages of the National Health Service. The hon. Member for Crayford—may I refer to him in that way it might be safer—said that many doctors would not go to the camps. I cannot believe that this is true, because doctors have obligations in this regard. However, with all due apologies to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, in his personal capacity, gypsies are not altogether keen sometimes on the services of doctors. They seek to cure their own illnesses by using their own herbal remedies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone said, their health is not too bad. Indeed, I am told that gypsies forced to enter hospital consider themselves as good as dead.
We appreciate that one of the difficulties about this whole question is that in changed times the traditional occupations of gypsies have become to a large extent outmoded. This point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). Borrow's hero Lavengro alternated between tinkering and smithying—that is to say, mending kettles under hedgerows and making pony and donkey shoes in a dingle. This was not an ideal occupation but, as Borrow said, if one asked a respectable casuist such as the Bishop of London it would be agreed that it was better than having recourse to vice in running after milkmaids, for example. 862 Not, as Borrow also pointed out in one of these salacious passages to which my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone referred, that running after milkmaids is by any means an ungenteel rural diversion.
Other ways in which gypsies have commonly earned their living—by casual agricultural work, by making clothes pegs and artificial flowers, and cutting and selling firewood—are dying out. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone said, plastic clothes pegs can now be bought in the little shop at the corner of the village. Casual agricultural work is perhaps harder to find as farming becomes more mechanised, although activities like fruit and hop picking create a demand for labour in certain areas. It is true that today economic circumstances make it less necessary for the gypsy to move about in search of work and easier for him to settle down.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Before the Parliamentary Secretary leaves the subject of agriculture, can be tell us how gypsies would fare under the Common Market?
§ Mr. Rippon
Much as everyone else.
The modern caravan has brought higher standards of living within reach of the gypsy and, perhaps, a greater appreciation of domestic comforts. Moreover, other more lucrative and more static occupations are now available, notably dealing in scrap metal, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said.
We are not dealing, as speaker after speaker said—perhaps as four Members representing constituencies in Kent spoke for three hours I should not say "speaker after speaker", but those speakers who have participated in the debate have pointed out that we are not dealing with gypsies properly so called. The Motion refers to "other travellers". As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone said, it is difficult to distinguish between all these travellers.
The two factors I have just mentioned—the livelihood to be made from such occupations as collecting scrap, and the advent of the modern caravan—have no doubt been responsible for increasing the number of people of all sorts who have joined the gypsies, to such an extent, as 863 the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford pointed out, that gypsies do not altogether like to be called "gypsies" any more. Some of them are described as didicois, some as vagrants. Some as we well know, keep carefully out of the way of the police. There are many other people who live in caravans and many others who travel.
Much valuable information about the 150,000 people in England and Wales—not, as has been pointed out, the gypsies and vagrants—who are at present living in caravans can be found in Sir Arton Wilson's Report entitled "Caravans as Homes", published in 1959. Not all caravan dwellers and caravans can be regarded, as the Motion perhaps suggests, as victims of tragedy. Not all of them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone said, deserve our sympathy. One rural district council from which we heard recently spoke feelingly of a certain group of Irish travellers, who, it said, weredoing the country and will return when it becomes too hot for them, leaving a trail of police warrants behind them.I am told that they live in luxurious modern caravans and have large American cars. They are not the people with whom the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford is concerned.
I have been asked for statistics. Of those with whom we are concerned this afternoon all the evidence shows that true gypsies or Romanies are only a small minority.
§ Mr. Rippon
The report of the survey carried out by the Kent County Council in 1951–52, for example, suggested that only about 10 per cent. of the people living on the so-called gypsy camps or winter quarters in the county at that time were Romanies. The 1961 Census figures will produce some evidence to supplement that given in the Arton Wilson Report of the number of people living in caravans and with no permanent homes, but it will not be possible to distinguish gypsies.
The Kent County Council intends to conduct another survey next year. The survey needs to be made both in the winter and in the summer in order to get a true picture. It may well be that 864 other areas which have this problem ought to carry out similar surveys in their own areas. I do not think that it is possible to have the sort of census for which hon. Members have pressed. I do not believe that a census of gypsies over the country as a whole is practicable, if only because of the difficulty of definition and identification.
§ Mr. Dodds rose—
§ Mr. Rippon
May I finish this point? Then I will give way.
It is the crux of many of the questions which I have been asked. As the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford said, heaven help the men in pinstripe trousers. Suppose we send them all over the country trying to identify who are gypsies and who are not, who are caravan dwellers by choice and who are not, and who are holiday makers and who are not. It would be extremely difficult.
§ Mr. Dodds
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with this point? I have called for a survey of all the people living in shacks, caravans, etc., who have no other houses. They are living in these temporary places. It should be possible to find out whether they are Romanies or travellers. Surely this information can be obtained, as it has been obtained in other countries.
§ Mr. Rippon
I am not satisfied that they really obtained a census of this kind in other countries involving not merely, as Sir Arton Wilson did, identifying, so far as possible, the number of caravan people living in temporary dwellings, but also the number of gypsies and travellers with which we have been primarily concerned this afternoon.
§ Mr. J. Wells
Surely it is possible, at practically no cost, to have a crude police survey. It could be done on a county basis by the county police forces. It might be crude, but it would be something to start with.
§ Mr. Rippon
I think that there is a great deal to be said for that, and that is what Kent propose to do. It would be a good thing if every county council which was faced with the problem followed that example.
In practice, what we are considering is not the quantity of the problem so 865 much as where it is. and I believe that this is information which we can obtain, albeit even then, only in some kind of crude fashion by local knowledge and local action.
§ Sir E. Errington
Does my hon. Friend realise that a considerable amount of work has been done in this connection in Hampshire, where information has been obtained of the number of families in the county and the family allowances of families with school children, and in respect of employment, permanent, temporary and casual? The Hampshire authorities consider the information as reasonably exhaustive. Does my hon. Friend realise that it is useless for one county to do this unless information is co-ordinated from other counties? Will he reconsider this matter, because it is vital in view of the itinerant nature of the problem?
§ Mr. Rippon
Although there is a good deal to be said for considering this matter on a county basis, where necessary, there is a wider basis. I shall have something to say later about the way in which we can secure perhaps a greater degree of co-operation between the local authorities concerned. I am now saying that I do not think that there is a case for a national census conducted on national lines in the way advocated by some people.
§ Mr. Rippon
It is, of course, no part of our policy to discipline and dragoon gypsies, or to stop people from travelling about or working on their own. We should not be attempting to get figures in order to achieve that objective. Our policy is that such people should have every opportunity and facility to settle down, take regular employment and live as ordinary members of the community. Many of them already do so. The hon. Member for Anglesey asked how many, but it is quite impossible to ascertain a figure of that kind. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford referred to his own constituency and said that many had settled down there. My hon. Friends the Members for Maidstone and Ashford emphasised that here we are often dealing with people 866 of considerable means with money and resources of their own.
If we cannot get precise figures about the total number of true Romany gypsies of the kind that this Motion is intended to cover, I think that we know that they are to be found mainly in areas where there is seasonal work readily available, such as Kent, the Vale of Evesham, the traditional camping areas in the New Forest and other parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone said that they tend to travel a limited circuit and that is one of the reasons why I suggest that this could possibly be clone on a local basis; although the basis might have to be wider than the area of one county council. Listening to this debate one might think that this was only a Kent problem, but it covers a wider area than that.
§ Mr. J. Wells
I thought that I indicated in my speech that what might be called the Kent circuit embraces Essex and Lincolnshire, and Lincolnshire is several hundreds of miles away.
§ Mr. Rippon
—to the question of sites. It is obviously important that all such people should have proper sites on which they can live in their caravans under decent conditions, without fear of disturbance and without disturbing others, either for the whole year round or as many of them wish, during the winter season. This is one of the objects which the Government had very much in mind when the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act was passed last year. The main purposes of that part of the Act dealing with caravans was to provide for some effective control over established caravan sites and bring about improvements in conditions on those sites.
§ Mr. Rippon
The House will remember that it requires caravan sites, subject to certain exemptions, to be licensed by local authorities. One of those exemptions relates to travelling showmen, such as members of the Showmen's Guild. I think that this will help many gypsies and other travellers engaged in 867 that line of business. There are also exemptions for people for seasonal work and agriculture and forestry.
§ Mr. Rippon
The Act also makes it an offence for an occupier of land—not, it should be noted, the caravanner, but the landowner—to allow his land to be used as a caravan site without a site licence. I think it important to make that point because sometimes an attack is concentrated on landowners, whoever they may be. In fact, in turning caravanners off their land, landowners are complying with the law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone thought that planning was the gypsy's nightmare. It may, therefore, be helpful if I try to give some further indications of the planning provisions of the 1960 Act as they affect gypsies and other travellers. It is true that site licences may be issued under the Act only if the sites have planning permission, but given planning permission, the licence may not be refused though, of course, licences may impose conditions regarding layout, equipment and maintenance.
My right hon. Friend now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made plain at the time on more than one occasion that the Act represents a positive approach to the problem of caravans.
§ Mr. Rippon
In the Circular No. 42/60, to local authorities, it was emphasised that these new powers given to local authorities should be used in a positive way. In paragraph 3 containing the Minister's views, it states that the aim should be to secure that all caravan sites are properly equipped and run; that sites are not allowed in the wrong places but are allowed in suitable places and that planning permission is not withheld on principle, but only where there is some definite planning objection; that permission is given on a long-term or permanent basis unless there is some definite reason against this, and, where sites have to be run down or numbers have to be reduced, that this is done with due regard to avoiding hardship.
I think that that is a matter which a number of local authorities dealing with 868 these cases should bear in mind. If planning permission is not granted there is in every case a right to appeal to the Minister.
§ Mr. Walter H. Loveys (Chichester)
I agree that the 1960 Act has been of great assistance, but one of the big problems relates not to future sites but to unsightly dumps of old car bodies and other rubbish. According to Section 23 of the 1947 Act, if there has been use for four years existing use rights can be claimed. Is my hon. Friend prepared to consider that?
§ Mr. Rippon
I am not sure that this is the moment at which to consider increasing the enforcement powers against existing sites. I think that the Act went a long way to bring bad sites under control as far as possible, but it was not simply designed to deal with the bad sites. Its main provisions were for the setting up of new sites under proper conditions and subject to model standards. It was primarily concerned with the needs of ordinary caravan dwellers of the sort dealt with in the Arton Wilson Report. The majority of them live on sites managed by private site operators. The process of improving those sites, where necessary, to make them comply with the regulations of the Act has been going on during the past year. We have, therefore, to consider this problem as part of a wider question.
I do not dispute that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford has raised a subject which poses very considerable problems to which we should address our minds very seriously. There is no doubt that gypsy caravanners have real difficulty either in getting licences for their customary sites or gaining admission to other licensed sites. They are, therefore, reduced to trespassing on private property or squatting on waste land or roadside verges. Then there is the familiar sequence of events; complaints followed by eviction—and I agree that it is no good trying to judge this problem by complaints. After eviction the families move perhaps to another unauthorised site and, in due course, are evicted once again—and the dreary procession moves on.
This all leads to hardship, often very acute, for these caravan families and it also means continuing trouble for the 869 local authorities, the police and the land owners and the real problem is never solved. I suggest, however, that there is a remedy. It is contained in Section 24 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act, 1960, which gave local authorities, including county councils, general power to provide caravan sites, where necessary, to meet the needs of their areas.
The hon. Member for Angelsey said that the Government were increasing the statutory duties cast on local authorities. Nevertheless, within eighteen months or so, Parliament has specifically entrusted to local authorities this power and responsibility. It is their duty to exercise it and that is in keeping with the views expressed in the survey "Gypsies and Other Nomads" produced by Staffordshire County Council—which the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford quoted—and which suggested that the best hope lay in the provision of controlled sites by local authorities.
I feel sure that hon. Members will agree that if the immediate problem of sites is solved then, in time, we will solve the other social problems by bringing caravan dwellers in touch with the housing and welfare authorities and by giving them better opportunities of taking up regular employment. Most important, this would make it possible for the children to receive regular schooling. I believe that there really is a growing realisation among local authorities that this is the right way to tackle the problems which these floating caravan communities present. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford gave evidence of a change of heart he had happily found in recent months.
§ Mr. C. Hughes
Can the hon. Gentleman say what steps his right hon. Friend will take to bring it home to the local authorities that they can and should use this power under the 1960 Act to provide permanent camp sites for these people?
§ Mr. Rippon
I am doing my best to emphasise that local authorities have this power and that it gives them a corresponding responsibility which Parliament has laid on them.
870 The West Ashford Rural District Council—not one of the wealthiest of our local authorities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford pointed out—has taken the initiative to launch a scheme on these lines which has so far proved really successful and which, over a period of time, may not prove any burden on the rates. That council has established a special site for gypsies and although it gives accommodation for only twelve caravans it has proved what can be done successfully. It is a site equipped with water supplies, sanitary facilities, drainage, hard standings for the caravans as well as a lorry park. It may be that in the early stages one must have regard to the desires of these people, such as their being able to put their lorries just outside their front doors—I know not for what reason, but that is the case.
I visited this site and talked with the chairman of the parish council and the councillor who represents the rural district council for the area in which the site is situated. I was glad to hear that the original local opposition had been largely dissipated. There has not been the trouble that was expected. A warden was appointed and the arrangement has worked very well. The caravanners are appreciative, the rents are paid punctually, the children are going to school, and the families are hoping to have council houses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, 20 families found housing last year and it is hoped to find housing for another two families next year.
I cannot pay too high a tribute to the officers and members of the West Ashford Rural District Council for the interest they have taken in this scheme. They have made it a success. The local headmaster, too, has co-operated. I was not in the least surprised that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford should have paid tribute to another headmaster in another part of Kent. I believe that when these children go to school they are well received by the schools and by the local education authorities.
All this proves to my mind that this is essentially a problem which requires local action. In this case the members of the council, the officers and all those responsible have made friends with the people on the site. They have played 871 their part in helping these people to become full members of the community. We have had a report from the West Ashford Rural District Council about the way in which it has operated 'is scheme and the difficulties that the council overcame to get it started, and I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Library for Members who are interested. I sincerely hope that the West Ashford example will be followed in other areas where similar problems arise.
There are, of course, difficulties. The hon. Member for Dartford referred to some of the difficulties that have arisen in the case of Darenth Woods. But I say that the local authorities responsible do not require any more powers. What the West Ashford Rural District Council can do so can the Dartford Rural District Council if it is so minded.
§ Sir E. Errington
Can my hon. Friend say whether the Ministry has considered the question of a simplified housing scheme involving a cost, say, of £900 for a house, instead of a caravan site? Does the Ministry approve of that sort of sub-standard housing?
§ Mr. Rippon
I think we would do well to leave it to the responsible housing and welfare authorities to deal with the problem in the best way. I am inclined to support my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells). The first thing to do, as a sort of halfway house, is to find sites so that the caravanners can be established in their own dwellings.
§ Mr. Sydney Irving
We appreciate what West Ashford has done and what an example it can be for the future, but does the hon. Gentleman expect the Dartford Rural District Council to accept a burden much greater than Ashford has been prepared to accept in connection with the problem of Darenth Woods? Is he not aware that some sanction is needed to make other authorities in the area take their responsibility? Unless some sanction is provided, they will not do so and Dartford will be left with this problem.
§ Mr. Rippon
I do not think that this is a case where one puts into the Statute "must" when "may" is perfectly suffi- 872 cient. It is a problem which is not as great in every part of the country, and I do not think the responsibility can be escaped by people saying "We have not got a sanction."
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
If certain councils are to make sites available, I think that we must expect those sites to become a magnet. That is an argument for a national survey so that we can assess the size of the problem.
§ Mr. Rippon
I do not think that the evidence supports the suggestion that if we provide a site it will act as a magnet for other people. That has not been the experience of West Ashford.
There is a point that I should like to deal with while on the subject of Darenth Woods, and that is the action of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford in taking 22 children to school. That was an admirable initiative. He pointed out that it was quite right that they were refused admission on that occasion, and it was not unreasonable that a small local school should have some notice. I am sure that he would acknowledge that new arrangements have been made; indeed, they must he made. But there are two duties here. The parents have a duty to send their children to school, and the local education authority has a corresponding duty to provide the places, but there some notice must be given.
§ Mr. Rippon
I am not disputing that. When they were there, and taking their children to school, the local education authority was not in any way evading its responsibilities, a point which seemed to be implied in some of the remarks which the hon. Member made.
On 28th June last, my right hon. Friend's predecessor in office, who is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, wrote to the Dartford Rural District Council saying that in his view the problem could be solved in the long term only by integrating them into the community, and that the best solution in the short term would be by providing special sites where these people could be given a sense of security and a more settled way of life. He also referred to 873 the West Ashford scheme. I know that some authorities fear that the provision of special sites will attract more people, but I do not believe that that is a reason for holding back in the sort of circumstances which we know exist in some areas.
Another objection is that the caravanners want to use these sites for their businesses of scrap collecting, car breaking, and so forth. I believe that that can be dealt with either by planning control or by tenancy agreements, and that it should be possible to ensure that these sites are kept in reasonable condition.
We have heard a lot of evidence this afternoon on how numbers of local authorities are following the West Ashford lead and are accepting their responsibilities under the existing legislation. They are considering whether they can earmark sites for this purpose. Kent County Council has been investigating the possibilities throughout its area. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone told how in his constituency the local authorities are getting together, and he also spoke of how Chislehurst and Sidcup have made arrangements. We heard also of the action taken by the Hertfordshire County Council in consulting the district councils. The Eton Rural District Council is also making provision.
The Government's policy in all this is quite clear. We expect the local authorities to deal with the problem, if they have it in their areas, under the powers of the 1960 Act. We for our part will do all we can by persuasion, encouragement and help. The hon. Member for Anglesey said that there might be a survey and that some action should be taken to co-ordinate these efforts. I think that there is much force in what has been said today about that. We will communicate with the county councils and with the local authority associations, encouraging them, if they have the problem in their areas, to consider whether and how they will use the powers available.
Possibly it would be helpful for the local authorities most concerned to meet and to discuss a solution over a wide area. I see the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone that although it is a narrow circuit the 874 gypsies may travel hundreds of miles, and we have to find a way of linking Lincolnshire, Essex and Kent, for example. It may be that a good deal of progress could be made by a survey by the county councils most concerned, cooperating where they feel necessary, and perhaps holding their surveys at the same time of the year. But, in the long run, it must be a matter for local rather than national decision whether there is a need to provide a site. That is what we mean by responsible local self-government.
We must also recognise that a policy of integrating gypsies into the community cannot be forced. I know that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford rather laughed at the suggestion that the pace could not be forced, but we cannot bring about the integration of these people into the community without local action and above all, local good will. I believe that that is what helped most in West Ashford. I am sure that the local authorities concerned will recognise their responsibility. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, it is a matter of local conscience, and I believe that it exists.
We have had an extremely useful and a very interesting debate. I think that out of it action will come. We shall certainly play our part in the Ministry in trying to co-ordinate more effectively what the county councils and the local authorities are beginning to seek to do. At the national level there is already a national policy hacked by the necessary legislation. I am in some difficulty, therefore, in suggesting to the House that we could accept a Motion framed in exactly the terms which the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford has set down, but I believe sincerely that he has performed a great service to the House and to the people whose cause he has argued so eloquently by all that he has said today.
The hon. Member ended in a charming, modest and wholly disarming fashion. I hope that he will agree that the best thing we can all do to help the gypsies and the other travellers he has in mind in his Motion is to work together to secure effective local action. In that spirit, I hope that he will not so much press a particular form of words upon us, but will take the view 875 that out of the debate which we have had today good results should emerge.
§ Mr. S. Silverman rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
A sense of duty brings me here today. I am a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds). I do not want to attempt to under-stress the importance of the Motion on Civil Defence which is on the Order Paper to follow this Motion. Indeed, I probably have far more practical experience of civil defence than has the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) who has put that Motion down, because during the war I was responsible for dealing with civil distress following enemy action and it is not necessary for me to be reminded by any Motion how important this is at the present time. But, of course, within the context of Home Office Votes and other such business we can discuss Civil Defence. Under the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford, however, we are discussing a minority, and I have often said that the civilisation of a country is assessed not so much by what it does in the great things such as nuclear bombs, arms and defence; its humanity is judged by how it treats the poor and defenceless in its midst.
We have legislation which protects sick ponies and legislation which protects children—all those people and things who cannot answer for themselves. I agree with my hon. Friend that whereas there are about seven national societies, with large funds, which look after animals, there is only one society which looks after children. It is a standing reproach to us that although the income of one of the societies for the prevention of experiments on animals, so I am told, is at least £40,000 a year—and as a diabetic and knowing the benefits which have been derived from various experiments, I am hardly likely to support it—we all know that children's societies are short of money.
876 My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford and I first met when he got the Dartford constituency and I did not.
§ Mr. Pannell
He has been a friend of mine ever since. I was mayor of a borough of which his constituency is part. I remember that selection conference, for it illustrates a point which I was about to make. After I had finished my speech—I was divisional chairman of the Labour Party at the time—a lady said that she wanted to ask a question. I expected that it would be about equal pay, but she said, "If Mr. Pannell is our candidate, will he undertake to secure the repeal of the Witchcraft Act, 1647?" Of course, she was a spiritualist. This is a matter of minorities and that is one of the charming things about it all.
I was not only Mayor of Erith, but a member of the Kent County Council for a great deal of the time. In the Borough of Erith, there was the worst caravan site in the country. When my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford came on the scene, there were 800 people lumped together there in the days immediately following the war, with all the housing difficulties. At this time of the year, one would be up to one's neck in mud. There were not only genuine Romanies, but mixed gypsies. The place had been affected by bombing. We had even seen the problem during the war years.
I remember going on a deputation to the Ministry of Health in 1943 on this subject. I am inclined to suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary had better get up to date on it. Bearing in mind the case I was putting in 1943, I rather think that not much progress has been made up to the present, not even including the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act. When the Parliamentary Secretary made his charming speech—because he is the nice and intelligent sort of man he is and because he is the good sort of local authority man he was—we saw how threadbare was the departmental brief. So the hon. Gentleman did some steady reading from George Borrow to make up in poetry what he lacked in fact.
877 Next, the question of behaviour. At lunch time, I was having lunch with my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who told me of a farmer who lived near him. This farmer hated the name "gypsies" and all that, but in the bad and inclement weather his machines were unable to do the job and he hired gypsies at a price to do it. They did it effectively. In effect, they won a friend, because he has now allowed them a site on his land merely to set an example. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby referred to the site behind his house at Bletchingley which the Romanies use. He says that the way they leave the ground when they have finished would be a credit and example to many middle-class motorists.
These people can, and must, be integrated. What we must appreciate is that under the general urbanisation that is taking place everywhere, their way of life has become completely impossible. I would not say that the Parliamentary Secretary made an exactly irresponsible speech, but it was not all that helpful and I hope that he will think of it again. The hon. Gentleman tended to suggest that the counties could do all this work. I do not know the statutory authority for the counties to do it all and to do the sort of survey on the scale of which we have been speaking.
When the Parliamentary Secretary talks about a survey being done local authority by local authority or county by county, in view of the nomadic character of these people he may well get the same people counted twice. What we are speaking about is, where do these people stay in the close season? The Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act allows planning where there is a job for the person in the vicinity. We are speaking not about jobs in the vicinity, but about where these people can stay in the close season.
I appreciate that other hon. Members opposite wish to speak and it is a good thing that so many people should want to speak on this subject today. I do not want to delay them unduly, but I hope that it will not be enough for the House to give its praise, which was so much deserved, to my hon. Friend and my Member for the speech he made today. If he spoke for 1½ hours he 878 did not waste the time of the House. He bore down on the House and it was a speech of great force. Not the least endearing thing I have learned about him from past experience, having had to deal with him on other matters, is his noble rage of interest in the things which he takes up. He brings to this subject, to which he has given at least sixteen years' research, wide knowledge and a great deal of sympathy and thought. What is more, he did not make his speech as a pious exhortation but to bring action, and I hope that action will follow. But it really rests with the Government.
§ Mr. Rippon
The hon. Member called for action and suggested that the county councils had not the powers to take the action. They are, of course, as he knows, the planning authority, the welfare authority and the education authority, and they have the powers to provide the sites under Section 24 of the 1960 Act.
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not want to go back to the lectures that I received when I first went into local government on the difference between may "and shall", the permissive powers—
§ Mr. Pannell
I am speaking about exhortation, and quite recently my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) roasted the Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor on the question of turnstiles in lavatories and started an uproar throughout the country. Even that most obstinate occupier of his present office as Chief Secretary to the Treasury got a move on—presumably he consulted his wife—and something was done on the subject. I think that it is a fair enough point.
I must say that I think that the Minister's reply was thoroughly unsatisfactory—charming but unsatisfactory; poetic but unsatisfactory. We are asking now for some sort of action. If the Minister would send out a national circular, such as was often sent out in wartime, saying that Parliament had considered this matter and that the whole general tone of Parliament, as it has been, was behind my hon. Friend, there would be no need to argue about 879 every dot and comma. The Government should ask the local authorities for reports, and there is no reason why they should not secure them within a reasonable time.
I have been on the receiving end of a local authority in my time, and I know what can be done. Probably any number of county councils do not even know that they have these powers unless the Minister reminds them. There is no question that most of them will still look on the gypsies as a nuisance and to be moved on. They will look upon them, as people have been looking on the West Indians, as strangers whose mode of life they do not understand and whom they are afraid of because they do not understand it. But let us leave the question of immigrants on one side; we have the Immigrants Bill and we can deal with that matter next week.
Let it be remembered that the gypsies are fellow-citizens in our midst, that many have served in the British Forces, and that they are entitled to the same social benefits as the other members of the community. These people are underprivileged and are not getting their fair crack from the affluent society. They are the people who are not having it so good; they have never had it so bad.
The Government will be judged on this test—not on how they treat the great estates of the Realm, the great Trades Union Congress, which can make or withhold supplies, or on how they gave way to the electricity people on the pay pause, for it cannot be imagined that anyone would go without his Christmas dinner. Our treatment of these people is an outrage in our midst. This is something in which we fall behind every other civilised nation, and we hope that some action will be taken at local authority level.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Sir Hubert Ashton (Chelmsford)
I should like to make a brief intervention as Second Church Estates Commissioner, on behalf of the Church Commissioners, in respect of Darenth Woods, to which a number of references have been made, and I propose to confine my remarks to that.
However, before coming to that point let me just say to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) how 880 much I appreciated his speech. We must all have been immensely impressed by his sincerity, by the great amount of hard work that he has done, and by his obvious desire to help in what is clearly a difficult problem. He finished by saying that he was glad to co-operate with anybody to achieve his object.
Darenth Woods, which extends to just over 16 acres, was part of our old Canterbury estates. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) said, it has been the policy of the Church Commissioners for many years now to sell isolated bits of their estates which are separate from their main estates. I think that that is a perfectly sound policy. We have, in fact, been trying to sell in the open market Darenth Woods since the early 1950s.
It was about midday last Wednesday that the hon. Member was good enough to get in touch with me by telephone, and he expressed certain anxieties about developments in Darenth Woods and the gypsies in that wood at present. I told him that I would acquaint myself with the facts, and this I have endeavoured to do as rapidly as possible, although I had to go to Peterborough on the business of the Church yesterday.
It is clear from a study of these papers that both our officers and our agents throughout have paid very full regard to the problems of the gypsies. I shall quote here from a letter of 17th February, 1961, which was addressed to the Clerk of the Dartford Rural District Council. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Sydney Irving) has returned to his place. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford mentioned in his speech that nobody wished to use force in dealing with the gypsies.
I quote very briefly from this letter:Our clients"—that is, the Church Commissioners—have intimated that they would not concur with force being used against the gypsies".Later in the same letter it is said:Once proper arrangements have been made for accommodating the gypsies and their caravans on alternative sites following the example … at Great Chart we have no doubt our clients would gratefully co-operate in every way with speedy transference of the gypsies from their woodland.881 I am sure that the hon. Member will accept it from me that this file of letters bears out that the attitude of our officers and agents towards this problem has been most humane.
The position is that on 8th December, 1960, it was decided in principle to sell Darenth Woods to Darenth Parish Council for £800. The contract of sale of the land was signed on 23rd October, so Darenth Woods has been sold. I believe myself that the hon. Member for Dartford would agree that in the light of developments it is right and proper that this area of about 16 acres of woodlands should be sold to the local authority which, as the debate has shown, has the responsibility and is doing its best to deal with this very difficult problem.
However, in the light of what the hon. Member told me on the telephone—
§ Sir H. Ashton
—and in all the local newspapers—we were under the impression that there was some grave anxiety that some precipitate action might be taken. I therefore arranged for a message to be sent to the parish council yesterday saying that while the Commissioners had now no legal standing in this matter we would hope that no precipitate action would be taken. I was very interested to hear from the hon. Member for Dartford that apparently there was some doubt whether or not any such action was to be taken precipitately. However that may be, I am quite sure that the Church Commissioners and anybody concerned with their work would be most desirous to continue to help in every way to try to solve this problem.
Having regard, therefore, to the way this position has developed I am very pleased to inform the House that the Church Commissioners will make a gift of £800 towards the cost of the resettlement of the gypsies in Darenth Woods. They do this in the confident belief and hope that no precipitate action will be taken by anyone.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter H. Loveys (Chichester)
I am sure that the whole House is relieved to hear that there is to be this gift of £800 from the Church Commissioners to 882 help the caravanners at present living in Darenth Woods. I am sure that precipitate action will not be taken, because of this act by the Commissioners, the action of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir H. Ashton) and, not least, because this matter has been raised on both sides of the House today. I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds). In his opening remarks the hon. Member said that he would try to make a long speech but he would also try not to be baring. He succeeded admirably in both tasks and had the full sympathy of the whole House.
The reason for the absolute need for this problem to be considered at present is surely not the increasing number of gypsies and other travellers in this country but the reverse. There is a large number of people with Romany blood in West Sussex. They came from Southampton and the New Forest area two generations ago and they were of great assistance on farms during harvest times and in doing other agricultural work. They are now being gradually absorbed very satisfactorily as normal citizens, if that be the right expression, living in houses and pursuing various trades.
The reason why this problem should be considered today is that it is right that these people should share in the enormous benefits which the majority of the community have enjoyed over the last few years. In addition, the time is overdue when some of the nuisances caused by certain types of gypsies and itinerant people must be dealt with. The Motion refers to Romany people and other travellers. The origins of the Romanies are obscure, as we have found out today. There are few full-blooded members of the race left, though many who live in tents and caravans show considerable signs of Romany blood.
It is believed that the Romanies left India during the early Middle Ages and gradually, by way of Persia, infiltrated through Europe and reached England at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Immediately they came into this country dire penalties were imposed on their very existence, including the death penalty, transportation, scourging and branding. It may be said that it is to the credit of the gypsies that these laws 883 were not effective and that they were able to continue their traditional way of life.
It was not until the early nineteenth century that some philanthropic interest was taken in gypsies, some attempt at education being made on the Scottish border and in the Southampton area. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) wondered whether there was such a word as "gypsiology." I can assure him that there is, and his own interesting speech was pure gypsiology from beginning to end.
I should like to touch on some of the nuisance values of gypsies. This side of the subject has not been discussed very much today. If we who are in sympathy with the Motion consider the nuisances caused by gypsies and other travellers we might be able to do something to overcome the difficulties which arise as a result of these nuisances.
I would place the nuisance in three categories: first, general lawlessness, which is prevalent among some gypsy families, which lets down the whole race; second, the manner in which gypsies are able to disregard the intention, if not the letter, of the planning Acts; and, third, the desecration of the countryside and loss of amenity to the public which sometimes occurs.
On the first point, I do not believe—this opinion has rightly been expressed—that gypsies are worse offenders, on the whole, than other members of the public in respect of the majority of crimes. But in some families there is a high proportion of stealing, and the illegal sport of poaching is high on the list of offences for which gypsies are brought to the courts. I think that on the whole existing legislation in respect of these offences should be tightened up.
I have here a copy of the Farmer and Stock-Breeder of 31st October in which there is an article about trespass generally. I think that the law of trespass and the law of assault should be tightened so that the worst offenders are not allowed to let down the race generally.
The article states:There are reports of sheep being riddled by shotgun pellets, of a youth pulling a knife on a cowman, of two youths wounding fourteen milking cows with airguns, of damage to 884 irrigation systems, of fence posts and rails being taken down and used for firewood.That does not apply only to gypsies, but is the result of reports from N.F.U. county branches to headquarters. I do not say that the gypsies are responsible for all that damage, because they are not, but it is right that legislation should be tightened up in respect of the penalties for crimes of that sort.
Education is a most difficult problem. If we can have camps, as suggested by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, on a fairly large scale, we might later have the opportunity to build special schools to deal with the children. Gypsy children are not naturally backward. From my experience, I consider they are well up to average intelligence. But they lack education in the early infant stage, and because they have lost opportunities many have to be put in schools for backward children for a while but afterwards they very soon catch up with other children. Also, they lack any incentive towards education, and that is because they know that their fathers had very little, if any, education but seem to be getting on well in life.
The second point on nuisance value is the crux of the matter and the reason why I wanted to speak. This concerns the manner in which undesirable types of gypsy are able to flout planning legislation. I am very much in favour of properly controlled caravan sites. I feel that some local authorities are too hard in their regulations in this respect, but I also feel that they should have much more power to deal with or to prevent undesirable sites.
It is true, as my hon. Friend said, that the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act, 1960, has been of great assistance in closing many of the loopholes which previously existed, but it is equally true that certain loopholes still exist. In an intervention, I endeavoured, not very successfully, to suggest that what happens, broadly speaking, under Section 23 of the 1947 Act, is that where development has been going on for more than four years, the planning authority is prevented from taking enforcement procedure without having to pay compensation.
What can happen, and has happened in some cases, is that a caravan is put in a field in the country, possibly 885 hidden from view, and the owner is entitled to leave it there for 28 days without seeking planning permission. If he happens to be a member of one of the recognised organisations, such as the Caravan Club, he can leave it there for longer.
This may happen from time to time during the year. If the change of use of a plot of land has not been noticed by the district council over a period of four years, a number of caravans may appear in the field and the owner can claim that as no enforcement order has been made he has therefore established the right to use the whole field as a caravan site. That is one of the great difficulties facing local authorities.
My final point about the nuisance value of gypsies is the important one of desecration of the countryside. One sees this taking place at many sites—the appalling mounds of car body parts, the scrap iron, the old sheds and the rubbish of all sorts. Added to this is destruction of much woodland and flora and loss of amenity to the general public. The answer to that problem—which I am glad I have not got in my constituency but which I know is difficult—obviously lies in the kind of solution found at Ashford. Alternative sites must be found for these gypsy encampments and the sites themselves must be compulsorily purchased and made use of as public places.
So much for the nuisance value of gypsies. I will not discuss now, in view of the time, the many things on the credit side, about which hon. Members have spoken and with practically all of which I agree. There is no doubt that there is still demand for the services of gypsies as casual workers for such jobs as hop-picking, potato harvesting and sugar beet hoeing.
Over and above all that on the credit side, although they have, as has been pointed out, been persecuted and harried over the centuries, they have still remained loyal British subjects. I feel that in future their numbers will naturally diminish, but let us see that it is a natural process, caused simply by mechanisation which will continue to replace them in the jobs which at present claim their services. Let us, however, see that those who remain are able to obtain decent living conditions 886 commensurate with the remainder of the community, and so avoid the damage to the countryside and loss of amenity which are the results of conditions which some gypsies are forced to adopt.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I am glad that I have managed to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, towards the end of the debate, not because I may be able to contribute something fresh to what has been said but because I would like to add my congratulations to those already given to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds).
The hon. Member has gone a great service by his sincere and illuminating speech, which I enjoyed very much. I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), that in this place we often talk about what we are pleased to consider the big things in life—nuclear weapons, Berlin, or the Budget. But I am sure that very often we are inclined to get our values wrong. I am glad to turn from these things, where one so often feels that one cannot do very much, to a matter where it may be possible to do something.
In my constituency I have not got this gypsy problem. Perhaps that is rather surprising, because it joins Epsom Downs. The problem was in my constituency a few years ago, but is no longer there because the gypsies have been chivvied out of the area on to somebody else. I have no great knowledge of this problem, but I suppose that most of us have some affection for gypsies, and perhaps other travellers. They seem a little less overborne by the cares and responsibilities of the rest of us, and to many of us an open-air life has its attractions, but increasingly these nomadic people in Britain are becoming out of place. They may have a place in a less crowded country, or in a warmer climate, but in Britain today spreading towns and motorways inevitably lead to more stringent control over what countryside is left.
As has been mentioned, when the West Ashford Rural District Council made an attempt to move the gypsies from where they were camping there was a complaint that they had nowhere else to go. I can well understand that. No doubt that kind of thing is happening all over the country. I suppose there 887 have been times, probably as recently as between the two wars, when the sort of living picked up by these travellers as they went about could be compared with the average living of the ordinary person who remained in one locality.
I am sure that is not the case today. I certainly would not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that the gap between these nomads and rest of the population has lessened. I think that probably it has increased. The rising standards of the great mass of the population since the war has meant, that, instead of being a picturesque part of our countryside, these nomads have become rather pathetic.
In these modern times they should share more fully in the material comforts of life. It looks as if the gypsies think that, too. As has been mentioned, when they were asked if they would like council houses they said that they would if they could get them. That indicates that behind this picturesque façade and romantic story there is a great deal of human suffering and frustration. We should do what we can to remove it.
There are two parts of this problem, first, the nomads of working years and secondly, the children. It is not possible, nor would it be kind, to attempt to separate parents from children. The problem must therefore be dealt with as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) made a point in stressing the importance of the family unit in this gypsy or nomad world. The first thing to do is to try to cure their nomadic habits, and not, of course, by compulsion. We must persuade them to stay in the same place. We have heard today that if sites are allocated they may act as a magnet. I think that they undoubtedly will.
When we consider the selection of sites we must take that into account. We cannot provide them with council houses quickly, but we can at least endeavour to find them sites. When we have found them we must make them attractive, sanitary and convenient. The West Ashford R.D.C. found a site and, in the words of its report, the council thenfenced it and provided it with minimum amenities.888 I do not know why it stuck to "minimum amenities." Perhaps that was because of lack of money. It seems to have provided main water, ablution facilities and one or two other things. I am not criticising that venture. The rural district council deserves the greatest credit for doing something about the problem. It was the first to do so. Nevertheless, I cannot help comparing it with what was provided by a council in my constituency when it permitted land to be used as a caravan site.
Admittedly, this caravan site was provided for a different type of person, and it was not a charge on the rates. But in both cases the same basic amenities are needed. There are four pages of rules for the maintenance and management of the caravan site to which I am referring. I shall not weary the House by going through them all, but I wish to refer to some of them to illustrate what I mean. There are, of course, strict rules about the spacing of the caravans and the distance of caravans from the roads, about the upkeep of the roads and paths, properly laid, cambered, and so forth.
One rule is of particular interest in the light of what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone told us about a gypsy child being burned to death. I do not know whether that child was at the time in a place where there should have been fire-fighting equipment. The rule I have in mind governs the provision of fire-fighting apparatus, a water stand pipe, hoses, suitable connections, and so forth. There are rules governing the provision of a solid fuel boiler situated in the men's part of the toilet block. In suitable and accessible positions on the site, laundry facilities have to be provided in separate rooms according to a scale of not less than one deep sink to 13 caravans, each sink being provided with running water taps, proper waste pipes and so on.
Satisfactory artificial lighting has to be provided internally and externally over the entrances and at all the existing toilet blocks and buildings containing laundry facilities. Another rule requires the provision of suitable arrangements for a telephone in case of emergency.
That caravan site, of course, is run by a private individual. Sometimes we expect more from a private individual 889 than from a publicly-run establishment. I do not know why that should be. I have been to the site. It looks attractive, permanent and well organised, and the inhabitants stay there permanently.
If we can achieve this permanence for the gypsies, we can move on then to the second part of the problem, the provision of work for those of working age. I notice in the Report of the West Ashford Rural District Council that the planning authority said that no trade or business could be carried on at the site, although at the same time it allowed the normal crafts to be carried on within the caravans themselves. I do not see why that restriction should be imposed. There may have been very good reasons, but I do not quite understand why the caravan dwellers, after they had made their brooms, baskets, pegs and so forth—
§ Mr. J. Wells
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend at this late hour, but I understand that this was a condition laid down by the county planning authority. It was for that reason and similar reasons that I said in my speech that I regarded the planners as, perhaps, one of the greatest bugbears of the gypsies today.
§ Captain Elliot
I was about to say that, without wishing to be unkind to the planners—there may have been very good reasons—that the restriction struck me as typical of the approach of the planners, which is usually very cautious.
I suppose that the better way would be to try to pitch the sites somewhere within reasonable range of more paying work. This may not be possible in the areas of many councils. In any case, I think that it would probably be best to arrange for a fairly high concentration of gypsies on any site which is established. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford will agree, but it seems obvious to me that small groups of five or six caravans would not be very easy to handle. Also, I do not see how we can avoid someone making a national survey if we are to ascertain—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.