HL Deb 25 October 1994 vol 558 cc477-91

79 Clause 75, page 60, line 24, at end insert:

("( ) This section is subject to subsections (4A) and (4B) of section 152.")

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason:

79A Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate for the repeal of the provisions to which this Amendment made by the Lords relates to come into force later than the date on which the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill is passed or for those repeals to come into force piecemeal..

79B Lord Avebury to move, That this House do insist on their Amendment 79, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 79A.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do insist on their Amendment No. 79 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 79A. Like the noble Lord, Lord Carr, I deeply regret that after the consideration that has been given to the amendment moved on Report by my noble kinsman Lord Stanley of Alderley, the Government finally came down on the side of removing it from the Bill for what seemed to me to be totally inadequate reasons. I shall explain why in a few minutes.

By way of preface, perhaps I may also say that it was unfortunate that the Government took the whole of the Summer Recess to reach a decision on this matter, only revealing it to those concerned at the very last moment and giving them no opportunity of making any further representations as they might have wished to do. As a result, the local authority associations, the Association of County Councils, the Association of Municipal Authorities and all the non-governmental organisations which had expressed opinions on this matter in Committee and at Report stage, and organisations representing the gypsies themselves, were effectively deprived of making proper comment on the reasons given by the Government for disagreeing with your Lordships' amendments. Otherwise, I believe that they would have wished to make such representations and would have amplified the few remarks that I shall make on the subject.

I did wonder whether it was a tactical decision on the part of the Government not to reveal the decision that they had made until the last moment so as to get the party conferences out of the way and to present as small a front as possible to criticism. There was nothing in the decision as it was finally revealed which could have taken them so long to make up their minds. There was nothing in the arguments of the Minister, Mr. Jones, in another place on 19th October which had not been rehearsed before the Recess. Nor did the Minister betray the slightest hint of having looked at the arguments that were deployed at some length in proceedings in this House and in subsequent correspondence.

He began by stating, baldly and inaccurately, as Ministers have done all the way along: The 1968 Act has failed".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/94; col. 372.] It is not the Act that has failed but the Government's political will to make it work.

Let us consider the position in January 1994. According to the Government's figures, the number of pitches then on local authority sites amounted to 5,951 and on private sites, 3,271. The total number of caravans occupied by gypsies at that time was 13,060. So there was a shortfall of 3,838, about the same as it had been four years previously. The combined efforts of local authorities and private developers were only just keeping pace with the growth in the gypsy population although the figures for July 1994, which I have just seen, indicate quite a big improvement on the figures for the year earlier. There was a decrease in that year of 620 in the number of unauthorised encampments. It could be that we were excluding local authorities from providing any sites just at the moment when they were starting to get into their stride.

In recent years the Government began to realise that, even with the incentive of a 100 per cent. grant, some local authorities were never going to meet their obligations under the 1968 Act without being prodded— a fact which had been obvious ever since the Act came into force. Yet directions under Section 9 had been given to only four authorities. Where directions have been given, they appear to have been partially effective.

For example, in West Glamorgan a direction was given requiring the authority to provide 60 pitches in 1986. So far, 43 of them have been completed. In Hertfordshire—the worst case—directions were given in 1988 to provide 110 additional pitches. I am afraid that the authority was successful in providing only 35. As I said in Committee, one of the effects of this legislation will be that two further sites, to bring the number up to the 110 which the local authority would have provided in due course, are now to disappear from the plans.

In Surrey, directions were given in 1989 to provide for an extra 190 caravans. So far, 48 have been provided for, but there are plans for another 144 pitches, which would have been implemented in due course. Again, the result of the legislation is to cross the extra sites off the list of those that would ultimately have been provided. In Avon, directions were given in 1990 for 80 additional caravans to be provided for. Of those, 76 have so far been completed.

On the whole, the figures show that directions under Section 9 of the Act were effective, and if the Government had wanted the Act to work they could have issued further directions to other local authorities which had not done their job. On the other hand, they could have accepted the recommendation made by Cripps some years ago that government and local authorities should get together and agree a programme with target dates for the whole country. I believe, however, that the Government wanted the Act to fail. Their Tory fundamentalist ideology would never have allowed them to consider a national plan or central co-ordination of proposals by local authorities to ensure proper sharing between them of the responsibility for the provision of sites.

The Government were not even prepared to look at plans which the local authorities were already making to see whether completion of all the sites that were on the drawing board would have achieved a balance between the number of gypsy caravans nationally and the number of pitches which would have been on offer. Mr. Jones asserted, manifestly wrongly, that to delay repeal of the 1968 Act, would simply add to the problem".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/94; col. 373.] I should like the Minister who is replying to the debate to tell the House how fewer local authority sites—which is the result of this legislation—will add to the problem. Clearly, the bigger the shortage of pitches, the greater the number of unauthorised encampments will be. For perhaps two years the schemes already in the pipeline will continue to be implemented. So there will be little change in the total provision in the near future. After that, with no new council plans coming forward, there is likely to be a shortfall of about 200 pitches a year, which would have been provided by local authorities. That estimate is based on the number which have been provided by local authorities over the past four years. It is probably on the low side. As I said, from the July 1994 figures it looks as though there will be some acceleration.

I mentioned the example of Surrey where there are now 144 unauthorised caravans and where county proposals for future sites would have met that need in toto. But as the chairman of the county's gypsy sub-committee told me—I quote from a letter that she wrote— enactment of the — Bill — will seriously affect the achievement of that aim". Mr. Jones said that local authorities have failed. He says: We cannot simply turn round and say that they are likely to succeed if they have another five years".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/94; col. 373.] So the Act has failed and the local authorities have failed. But, according to him, the local authorities are entirely blameless. Undoubtedly some local authorities have done less than they might have done and some would have benefited from the pressure that a Section 9 direction would have exerted on them. But it is a plain fact, which the Government cannot possibly deny, that fewer sites will be provided over the next 10 years as a result of the provisions of the Bill. There is no structural fault in the original legislation, but there is a whopping great structural fault in the Government's logic.

Again, the Minister said: The sites are plainly not being delivered on a large enough scale under the present arrangements and satisfactory provision is more likely in the future". I ask the Government whether we are in agreement that the rate of provision of sites has been too low. If the provision of sites has only just kept pace with the growth of the gypsy population, do we therefore need to increase the rate at which sites are brought into use? That is how I understand Mr. Jones's remarks in the other place.

How can satisfactory provision be more likely when one removes from the scene the local authorities which have been responsible for providing two thirds of the accommodation which is available on authorised sites as at today? It is true that private operators have been making an increased contribution in recent years and that has to be welcomed. Over the past four years the number of additional pitches on private sites has been about the same as on council sites. It means as a matter of simple arithmetic that private operators would have to double their output to make up for the loss of local authority provision once the sites in the pipeline had been completed. But the Minister said that he wants to do more than that. He wants them to deal with the backlog as well. So the private site operators have to more than double the contribution that they have made in recent years.

Do the Government believe that Circular 1/94 is likely to stimulate private site operators and owner occupiers to that extent and that local authorities will more than double the number of planning permissions that they award as a result of the circular? Have they indeed made any estimate at all of the increase in private site provision that is likely to result from the circular? They have been very careful to avoid mentioning any figures up to now. I believe that they do not have the faintest idea of what the outcome is likely to be.

According to Mr. Tom Lee, the secretary of the Romany Guild, only one of its members has obtained planning permission since the circular—namely, Mr. Dunn of Maidstone—and even he faces an appeal against the award. Mr. Charles Smith of the Gypsy Council points out that Basildon Council is withholding the renewal of site licences for gypsies on private land pending the determination of new policies, presumably to take account of the circular and the repeal of the 1968 Act. So the immediate result in the local authority area of Basildon is to create uncertainty which never existed in the past about private sites.

With regard to tolerated sites, we have just had the draft circular issued by the Department of the Environment. That leaves matters substantially as they are. The Secretaries of State say that where gypsies are unlawfully camped on council land, are not causing a great nuisance and have no alternative authorised accommodation to go to, the authorities should continue to tolerate their presence temporarily. So in Kent, for instance, according to the survey of 1994, there were 64 tolerated caravans accounting for some 10 per cent. of the total of 693 in the county. But in the opinion of Mr. Bill Forrester, the chairman of ACERT, toleration is very much a short term expedient and not a substitute for authorised sites where proper facilities can be provided, and regulations observed which will minimise the causes of friction with any nearby occupiers.

Do the Government agree with me that no increase at all can be expected in the rate of provision of private sites until the local authorities have revised their plans in accordance with the circular? If so, do they agree that the average time to incorporate the advice of the circular in the structure plans is roughly 18 months?

If, on the other hand, the Government believe that the local authorities may be inclined to grant planning applications more readily now—for example, in consequence of the advice given in paragraph 21 of the circular—is there any evidence to that effect from the 9 months since the circular was issued, notwithstanding the experience of Mr. Lee and Mr. Smith that I quoted? Have they any idea how many pitches have been included in successful planning applications over that period and how that compares with the corresponding period of 1993? Or do they agree that what they are doing is a leap in the dark?

In a letter to Mr. Andrew Hunter MP, the Minister Mr. Jones said that the result, if my noble kinsman's amendment were to be accepted, would be that: the Department would be required, for at least five years, to continue to enforce the existing mandatory system of local authority site provision, and to support further site provision with 100% grants". I should be very happy if the 100 per cent. grants were to continue, but I see nothing about that in the amendment. I feel that the Minister was badly advised and has unintentionally misled Mr. Hunter and I am not sure how many other Members of another place in making that assertion in his letter. I should be glad if the Minister who is to reply will confirm that Mr. Jones was wrong to put that in his letter.

Mr. Jones's letter continues with two arguments that I have not heard before at any stage of our lengthy discussions. He writes: The amendments would thoroughly undermine our policy of encouraging private site provision, and would maintain a system of site provision that is long overdue for reform". In what possible manner, pray, could the temporary continuation of a role for the local authorities undermine the private operators? The gypsies will continue to buy land and apply for planning permission, just as they have always done in the past; and local authorities will continue to grant planning permission to private applicants based on planning considerations, as they have always done in the past. If they did not observe the injunction of paragraph 21 of the circular, that private applications are not to be refused on the grounds that public provision in the area is adequate, or that alternative accommodation is available on the authority's own sites, there would be grounds for the applicant to appeal. So, in my submission, private site provision is entirely independent of anything done by the local authorities. I challenge the Minister to disagree with that proposition.

The system of site provision in the 1968 Act was not long overdue for reform. It was long overdue for implementation and the Government had the means to do it if they had wished. That has been the message of every single NGO, including religious bodies such as the Quakers and those concerned with the interests of children, mothers, gypsy organisations and of all the local authority associations. On a previous occasion in this House it was also the view of a substantial majority of your Lordships and presumably it remains so, despite the strong arm methods of the Whips. The Government stand alone in their monolithic and invincible resistance to all the arguments of reason and humanity. They have forgotten the dictum of a former Prime Minister and great leader of the Conservative Party, Lord Salisbury, who said 100 years ago: By a democracy I do not mean a society in which seven men may make six men do as they please". I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do insist on their Amendment No. 79, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 79A.—(Lord Avebury.)

5.30 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I understand from the Clerks that it is correct for me to say something now rather than after the Minister. I do not intend to repeat the case put forward in favour of the amendment. Your Lordships discussed the matter fully during the passage of the Bill. However, I am sorry that the Government instructed the Commons to reject your Lordships' amendment—a decision which both I and your Lordships believe will result in unauthorised and illegal encampments remaining—as, under the Government's plan, there will be nowhere to re-site the travellers. Indeed, the guidelines mentioned by my noble kinsman recently issued by the Department of the Environment, encourage local authorities to tolerate such unauthorised and illegal encampments.

The Government decided to ignore your Lordships' views, which were supported by all the local authority councils, the Church and Save the Children Fund. But— and it is an important "but"—we are first and foremost a revising Chamber. I believe your Lordships performed that role in this case carefully and conscientiously. But your Lordships should now accede to the will of the Commons and do so gracefully. We win some; this one we lost.

I conclude by saying that, having moved the cross-party amendment, I thank all noble Lords for their support, particularly my fellow Conservative Back-Benchers. It is never as easy as it looks to defy the Whip. But despite what The Times wrote last Thursday, all Conservative Chief Whips—even my noble kinsman Lord Denham—always allowed their Back-Benchers on this side of the House to vote according to our consciences. When I became a Member of your Lordships' House over 20 years ago I was told that I should not hesitate or be frightened to do so. I hope sincerely that when the House is reformed and I and others are no longer here to keep our Front Bench happy, that will still be the case; otherwise this House will become a sycophantic mirror image of the Commons.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Stanley whom I supported on this matter throughout the various stages of the Bill. I entirely agree that this is not the time nor the subject matter on which to insist that another place accept our amendment. I hope that your Lordships will bear that in mind.

I believe that the Government have a good Bill in many parts. I do not pretend for one moment that it is perfect in all respects; and indeed there are areas where unfortunately some pigeons may come home to roost. Nevertheless, we have done our stuff as a revising Chamber on all these matters. We asked Members of another place to think again. They have thought again and, apart from airing our views, we should not "take on" another place.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am reluctant to follow the noble Viscount because I disagree profoundly with him regarding the quality of the Bill as a whole. In many ways the Bill, most of which we have not the opportunity of debating today—and some will say thank goodness!—is an extremely bad Bill, particularly Part V with which we are concerned. I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, whose speech I much admired, to agree with me about other parts of Part V.

The issue of gypsy caravan sites and the Caravan Sites Act 1968 is, for obvious and admirable reasons, close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. He set out far better than I could the reasons why he continues to support the provisions which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, introduced into the Bill to enable that Act to continue for another five years.

I read the debate: in the Commons carefully. I read the Minister's speech and the speeches of the two Conservative Back-Benchers who took part and I was deeply unimpressed by the arguments against our amendment. If Ministers can describe what they are doing in regard to the provision of sites for gypsies as a "reform", then they can only be described as using the word "reform" in an Orwellian sense. This is not reform; it is the abolition of opportunities which have existed— we must agree that they were never adequately used and nobody denies that the Caravan Sites Act has been patchy in its success—but which are not being replaced under the new legislation by any effective alternative provision. Therefore, unless the Minister has something remarkable and new to say to me and to the House this evening on the merits of the argument, I would wish strongly to support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

I am in no way convinced that the Government put forward an adequate case to take out our amendment. However, the position to which I referred in regard to Amendment No. 1 still holds good. I believe in the primacy of the elected Chamber and, as the matter was fairly considered in another place, it would not be proper for us to seek to overturn what has already been proposed. That is not to say that that applies to every single occasion and it may not apply to every single occasion today. But unless there are strong reasons to the contrary, this is not a matter on which my colleagues and I on the Front Bench wish to go into the Lobbies with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. What my colleagues on the Back-Benches choose to do is entirely a matter for them.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend will seek the opinion of the House, and it would be presumptuous of me to make any suggestion in that regard. But with your Lordships' permission, I should like to mention a number of matters that affect that judgment.

Your Lordships' House is a revising Chamber; but it is also a constitutional watchdog. On this issue we are confronted with the way in which we treat a tiny and vulnerable ethnic minority—the gypsies. They are people who have faced hardship, adversity and discrimination in many countries. I remember the great saying of Hugh Gaitskell many years ago that the litmus test of a civilised society is the way in which it treats ethnic minorities.

The effect of the Government's instruction in another place is certain to lead to international condemnation by the UN human rights committee for failure to comply properly with the obligations imposed on this country by Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Since, under our system of government in a parliamentary democracy, there is no other way in which your Lordships can consider the matter, I apologise for taking a few moments to explain what I mean.

Article 26 of the international covenant guarantees equal protection of the law and equality before the law without discrimination. It has been consistently interpreted by the quasi-judicial body, the human rights committee, as requiring positive protection and affirmative action for ethnic minority groups. The effect of the Government's instruction in another place will be to dismantle an important means of affirmative action or positive protection by local authorities in giving site provision to gypsies.

Last year, when the Irish Government's report on their compliance with the international covenant was considered by the human rights committee, the human rights committee complimented Ireland on the positive steps it had taken to give greater protection to gypsies. It also urged that further steps should be taken. Our Government in this country are due to report to the human rights committee this month on our compliance with the covenant and next spring the human rights committee will have to consider our record. What is said and done in this House and in another place is certain to lead to argument, criticism and, in my humble opinion, condemnation if we leave the matter to stand as it is. I should therefore be grateful if the Minister can indicate in reply whether the United Kingdom Government have considered the effect on their obligations under Article 26 of the covenant of repealing the protection in the 1968 Act, whether their report to the human rights committee will contain a summary of what has happened during the passage of this legislation, whether they will provide copies of the parliamentary debates and whether they have obtained any further advice on the international dimension of the problem.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, I want briefly to underline a point made by my noble friend Lord Avebury. In this case it is not only a question of our acting as a revising Chamber and putting forward an improvement to the proposed legislation. In this case the law which was previously passed has been flouted by local authorities which have not provided the sites which they were required to provide. Is your Lordships' House really happy to go along with supporting people who are quite blatant lawbreakers in this regard?

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley moved a cross-party amendment at the Report stage which was carried against the Government. Therefore, I am particularly grateful to him and to my noble friend Lord Mountgarret for speaking in the way that they did this evening. I understand completely the strength of my noble friend's feelings and I hope that my remarks will go some way to allay some of his fears.

Clause 75 would repeal the provisions in the Caravan Sites Act 1968 which place a duty on local authorities to provide sites for gypsy caravans. It would also repeal the Secretary of State's powers to designate local authority areas and to direct local authorities to provide sites. At the same time the Secretary of State's power to pay grant for the construction of sites would be repealed.

The amendments which this House agreed at Report stage would delay that commencement for at least another five years, until at least 1st July 1999. Even then the repeals would only be brought in piecemeal by means of commencement orders. In some areas that would mean the provisions of the 1968 Act lingering on for years. To add to that, the onerous and unwieldy nature of the affirmative resolution procedure required for each order would place an intolerable burden on the parliamentary timetable. We believe too that such orders would be hybrid.

I know that the amendments were the expression of a genuine concern which this House felt at the time— noble Lords have expressed that feeling again today— for those gypsies who might be disadvantaged by bringing the current system of local authority site provision to an end. The Government have thought long and hard about the matter over the summer. I cannot accept the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about delaying it until the last possible moment, and I shall explain why. We have had in mind the undertaking in the 1992 Conservative election manifesto to reduce the nuisance of illegal camping by reviewing the 1968 Act, and we have considered what advice we should give to local authorities about using their new powers in a responsible and humane way. Our view remains, however, that the current legislation requires extensive reform and that local authorities generally, and not just those in the so-called designated areas, should have a quick and effective means of dealing with the nuisance of illegal camping, which can strike anywhere.

I know that these provisions have been debated at great length both in this House and in another place, with each House having the opportunity to express its views on the Government's proposals. When the Commons divided on these amendments last week they were rejected with a solid majority of 39. The fact is that despite the hours of debate which have been devoted to this clause we must conclude that the existing policy enshrined in the 1968 Act has not fulfilled its objective of providing sites for all gypsies. The time has come for a new approach. Illegal camping has not been reduced. The level of unauthorised camping has hardly changed in the past 13 years despite more than £87 million having been spent on local authority sites alone. Communities still suffer from the nuisance of illegal camping, and gypsies remain without homes.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, may be surprised to hear from me that the 1968 Act has achieved a measure of success. I do not deny that. There are well over 300 local authority sites providing accommodation for 46 per cent. of gypsy caravans. That is a far cry from the pre-1968 Act days when only 10 per cent. of gypsy caravans had a legal site. But, more importantly, what is different now is that some 24 per cent. of gypsy caravans are on authorised sites on privately-owned land, often belonging to gypsies themselves. Furthermore, there is a substantial number of gypsies who have bought land on which they have sited caravans but do not yet have planning permission. Private provision has increased by 136 per cent. since 1981, twice the rate of council site provision.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, quoted figures about the provision of local authority sites and said that the number was not sufficient. I have to agree, but it would not be right to draw an inference from one year's figures alone. The net increase in 1993 was only 47 pitches on local authority sites. The noble Lord also accused the Government of failure to enforce the Act by giving directions. The direction power is one of last resort. The Government have provided 100 per cent. grants since 1978 and have encouraged local authorities in a number of ways; for example, on monitoring of performance. I believe that in almost every instance local authorities have acted in good faith.

Private provision is, I believe, the pointer to the future. There is a desire among many gypsies to take charge of their own arrangements for accommodation. Our planning guidance, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—Circular 1/94 issued in January of this year—aims to promote that process by putting gypsies in the same position as other developers under the planning system. Local authorities are advised to include policies in their development plans to meet the accommodation needs of gypsies and to offer practical help and advice to gypsies making planning applications. We are determined to see that the planning system works fairly for gypsies both now and when the local plans are adopted.

During the debates in this House I have been struck by the concern expressed by noble Lords for the plight of those gypsies who may genuinely find themselves without a legal site to go to and who might therefore fall foul of the new power in Clause 72 of the Bill. That concern was expressed again this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. The noble Lord asked me whether we had considered Section 26 of the international convention on human rights. The Government have considered their human rights obligations and do not believe that our proposals infringe international law. So much so that Ministers in both Houses, responding to the anxieties also outlined by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, have given a commitment that the Government will issue advice to local authorities recommending a policy of toleration towards gypsies on unauthorised sites.

My noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley may have seen the circular which has been provided. It will advise local authorities that they should not use their powers to evict gypsies needlessly. I believe that he said that they would continue the siting of these gypsies on illegal sites. However, in those cases where gypsies are causing no great nuisance the local authorities should exercise tolerance. Local authorities should also look at ways in which they can minimise any nuisance or hazard to public health, and that of the gypsies, which the site may cause. We go on to advise that in the longer term authorities should try to identify emergency stopping places in areas close to the gypsies' transit routes where they could camp for a short period.

I know that another particular anxiety among noble Lords and others has been the effect which the nomadic life has on the welfare and education of gypsy children. I believe that that has been recognised from the very beginning on both sides as a persistent problem which the Government have addressed in various ways, and the local authorities; have done so as well, and which they will continue to address. Local authorities have their part to play and our advice will draw to their attention the need to take into account their statutory responsibilities towards these families under the Children Act, the Housing Act and the Education Act.

The Department of the Environment has already consulted about this advice in a draft circular issued in September which many of your Lordships may have seen. We are currently considering the responses which we have received, not only from gypsies' own representative organisations, but also bodies such as Save the Children Fund and the Maternity Alliance. These latter bodies are particularly concerned about the health and welfare of families with young children. Both have said that they welcome our advice, which the Save the Children Fund say "goes a long way to addressing our concerns". The Maternity Alliance remark on the "generally sympathetic tone and approach of the circular".

Local authorities have much experience in dealing with the problems that can arise when gypsies have nowhere to go. We consider that local authorities are in the best position to judge the nature of any encampment and whether eviction is warranted for the good of the community as a whole. But the draft circular makes it clear that gypsies—that is, the traditional and genuine nomadic people—should be treated tolerantly. At the same time we believe that it is in the public interest that private land should be better protected against unlawful intrusion by trespassers, and we have given local authorities a quick and effective power to tackle unauthorised camping where necessary.

I believe that it would fly in the face of reason and experience to continue with a system which can only produce ever diminishing returns. There has been a duty on local authorities to provide sites for some 24 years, and for the last 16 of those gypsy site grant has been available, too. And yet the job has still not been completed. For the past two years—since we announced our proposals to reform the 1968 Act—one might well have expected local authorities to deluge the Secretary of State with applications for grant for sites. That has just not happened, and I see no evidence that another five years of the current regime would result in accelerated activity on the part of local authorities. It is time to look to another solution to the problem, building on what has been achieved so far but recognising the very different situation that faces gypsies and local communities today than when the 1968 Act was drafted. In 1968 only 10 per cent. of gypsies were on authorised sites. Today that figure is nearer 70 per cent. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Government chose to look at that legislation—now nearly a quarter of a century old—to see if the statutory foundation for our policy on gypsy site provision was still valid.

For these reasons, I commend Clause 75 in its original form to the House and not as amended by your Lordships at Report stage. I therefore ask the House to vote against the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, if he intends to press it.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I am sorry to say that that is a grossly unsatisfactory reply. I do not believe that the Minister has listened to a word that I said. I am reinforced in that opinion because I notice that he did not depart from his brief for the whole of the 10 minutes or so that he was addressing your Lordships. I asked him a number of specific questions and he did not have the courtesy to reply to one of them.

I asked him whether he thought that more or fewer sites were going to be provided as a result of the insistence by the Government on removing the amendment. The noble Viscount did not answer that or any of the detailed questions on numbers which I put to him. I suggest that is because he knows the truth; namely, that removing local authorities from the equation is going to result in fewer rather than more sites being provided for gypsies and more gypsies having to camp on unauthorised sites which is what the Government say they are trying to avoid.

He gives local authorities the power to move the gypsies on, but he knows perfectly well that that simply shoves them over the border into somebody else's area for them to pick up the pieces, which was the procedure before the 1968 Act came into force. The Government have no reply to the question why it does not use Section 9 directions. The Minister ignored that totally in his remarks. I asked him why only three local authorities had been the subject of directions and why, as the experience was that local authorities which had been the subject of Section 9 directions had accelerated the provision of sites in their areas, they did not use the same mechanism in other areas.

The Minister has no reply to any of the arguments put, including those of my noble friends, that the Government were abdicating all responsibility by failing to comply not only with Section 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but also with their obligations under the Copenhagen declaration of the CFCE which imposes a positive and affirmative duty on governments to take action in support of the preservation of the rights of minorities. The Government failed at the Warsaw seminar of the CFCE on gypsies to make any comment at all. They kept their heads down in the hope that nobody would notice what was happening in your Lordships' House although I sent a copy of the Official Report of the Committee stage. The Government probably hope that nothing will be said about their policy on gypsies at the present human dimension review meeting which is taking place in Budapest where the performance of states and their obligations under the Copenhagen declaration of 1990 is being examined. I shall make sure that somebody else raises the matter if the Government do not wish to present their policy on gypsies at that meeting.

We are not now talking about the circular on which the Minister spent some time, although I agree that it contains some good things. The issue is whether or not we insist on the amendment which retains the duty of local authorities to provide sites for gypsies. That is a plain question which your Lordships now have to decide. I do not accept the arguments which have been put forward about the constitutional issue. I know that there is a particular argument which appeals to the Opposition; namely, that they will soon be in government and they will have to face the Conservatives on the opposite side of the House who may play the same trick on them. That is the reason and it has nothing to do with principle or the constitution.

As far as I am concerned this is a matter of principle. I believe that the rights of gypsies need to be safeguarded and that your Lordships' House is the only body to which they can look to safeguard their position in the country which they have enjoyed for the past 17 years. Therefore, I ask your Lordships to insist on the amendment.

5.59 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 71; Not-Contents, 208.

Division No.1
Addington, L. Birk, B.
Airedale, L. Bottomley, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Avebury, L. [Teller.] Bruce of Donington, L.
Barnett, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Bath, M. Clifford of Chudleigh, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Meston, L.
Diamond, L. Monkswell, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Monson, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. Morris of Kenwood, L.
Falkender, B. Mulley, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Nicol, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Ogmore, L.
Gladwyn, L. Portsmouth, Bp.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Rea, L.
Gregson, L. Ripon, Bp.
Grey, E. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Hamwee, B. Rochester, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Haskel, L. Russell, E.
Seear, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Sefton of Garston, L.
Jeger, B Shepherd, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Skidelsky, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Stallard, L.
Kagan, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Kennet, L. Strabolgi, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. [Teller.] Taylor Blackburn, L.
Listowel, E. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Lockwood, B. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Longford, E. Tope, L.
Mallalieu, B. Varley, L.
Mason of Bamsley, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
McCarthy, L. Whaddon, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Wigoder, L.
Addison, V. Cochrane of Cults, L.
Ailesbury, M. Coleridge, L.
Ailsa, M. Colnbrook, L.
Aldenham, L. Courtown, E.
Aldington, L. Cox, B.
Alexander of Weedon, L. Craigmyle, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Cranbome, V. [Lord Privy Seal]
Annaly, L. Cross, V.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Cumberlege, B.
Arran, E. [Teller.] Davidson, V.
Ashboume, L. Dean of Harptree, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Denham, L.
Astor, V. Denton of Wakefield, B.
Attlee, E. Derwent, L.
Balfour, E. Devonshire, D.
Barber of Tewkesbury, L. Digby, L.
Bathurst, E. Dixon-Smith, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Dormer, L.
Biddulph, L. Dudley, E.
Blake, L. Dundonald, E.
Blaker, L. Eccles of Moulton, B.
Blatch, B. Eden of Winton, L.
Blyth, L. Ellenborough, L.
Boardman, L. Elles, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Fairhaven, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Ferrers, E.
Bridgeman, V. Flather, B.
Bruntisfield, L. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Burnham, L. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Burton, L. Gibson-Watt, L.
Butterworth, L. Gisborough, L.
Cadman, L. Glenarthur, L.
Caldecote, V. Goold, L.
Camden, M. Goschen, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Grantchester, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Gridley, L.
Carnarvon, E. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Hacking, L.
Carnock, L. Hambleden, V.
Carr of Hadley, L. Harding of Petherton, L.
Cayzer, L. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Harmsworth, L.
Chelmsford, V. Harrowby, E.
Chesham, L. Harvington, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Hayhoe, L.
Clinton, L. Henley, L.
Hives, L. Parkinson, L.
Holderness, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Pender, L.
Hood, V. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Hooper, B. Pike, B.
Howe, E. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Huntly, M. Poole, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Porter of Luddenham, L.
Inglewood, L. Pym, L.
Ironside, L. Rankeillour, L.
Jeffreys, L. Rawlings, B.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Rees, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Renton, L.
Kimball, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Kirnberley, E. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Kindersley, L. Rodney, L.
Kinnoull, E. Roxburghe, D.
Knutsford, V. Sandford, L.
Lane of Horsell, L. Savile, L.
Lauderdale, E. Seccombe, B.
Leigh, L. Shannon, E.
Lindsay, E. Sharples, B.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Lucas, L. St. Davids, L.
Lyell, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Macfarlane of Bearsden, L. Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Stockton, E.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Stodart of Leaston, L.
Chancellor.] Strange, B.
Macleod of Borve, B. Strathclyde, L.[Teller.]
Mancroft, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Manton, L. Stiathmore and Kinghorne, E.
McColl of Dulwich, L. Sudeley, L.
Merrivale, L. Suffield, L.
Mersey, V. Suffolk and Berkshire, E.
Miller of Hendon, B. Swinfen, L.
Miller of Hendon, B. Tebbit, L.
Milverton, L. Teviot, L.
Monckton of Brenchley, V. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Monk Bretton, L. Thurlow, L.
Mottistone, L. Torphichen, L.
Mountevans, L. Trefgarne, L.
Mountgarret, V. Trumpington, B.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Tryon, L.
Moyne, L. Tugendhat, L.
Munster, E. Ullswater, V.
Napier and Ettrick, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Nelson of Stafford, L. Vestey, L.
Nelson, E. Vivian, L.
Norfolk, D. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Northbrook, L. Watkinson, V.
Northesk, E. Waverley, V.
Onslow, E. Wharton, B.
Oppaaheim-Barnes, B. Whitelaw, V.
Orkney, E. Wise, L.
Orr-Ewing, L. Wynford, L.
Oxfuird, V. Yarborough, E.
Palmer, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.

6.11 p.m.