HL Deb 20 October 2004 vol 665 cc831-44

(1) It shall be the duty of every local authority, being a district council, the council of a metropolitan district or London borough, or unitary authority, to facilitate the provision by Gypsies and Travellers or by registered social landlords of adequate and suitable accommodation to meet the needs of Gypsies and Travellers residing in or resorting to their area, and to exercise their powers under section 24 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (c. 62) (power of local authorities to provide sites for caravans) so far as may be necessary to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers who in the opinion of the designated authority are not able to meet their own needs once the provisions of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (c. 5) have come into effect.

(2) Where it appears to a local authority that any other authority could, by taking any specified action, help in the discharge of their duty under subsection (1), they may request the help of that other authority specifying the action in question.

(3) An authority whose help is so requested under subsection (2) shall comply with the request if it is compatible with their own statutory or other duties and obligations and does not unduly prejudice the discharge of any of their functions.

(4) The Secretary of State may, if at any time it appears to him to be necessary to do so, give directions to any local authority to which subsection (1) applies requiring them to provide, or facilitate the provision by Gypsies and Travellers or by registered social landlords of, pursuant to subsection (1), such sites or additional sites, for the accommodation of such numbers of caravans, as may be specified in the directions; and any such directions shall be enforceable, on the application of the Secretary of State, by mandatory order.

(5) In subsection (1) "accommodation" includes temporary stopping places as well as permanent accommodation, and "designated authority" means any authority designated by the Secretary of State and in subsection (3) "other authority" means any local authority, including a county council, district council, the council of a metropolitan district or London borough or unitary authority.

(6) Section 24 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (c. 62) is amended as follows.

(7) In subsection (2)(c), for "gipsies" substitute "Gypsies and Travellers".

(8) In subsection (8) for "gipsies" substitute the following definition— Gypsies and Travellers" has the meaning given by regulations made by the appropriate national authority.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I speak to these amendments, I would like to thank the Minister very much for the meeting that we had on Monday with him and with his colleague, Mr Keith Hill, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, and also for the meeting we had the previous week with the department's officials. It was useful in elucidating some of the government amendments that we are considering in this group.

As far as Amendment No. 180 is concerned, we have always acknowledged that the majority of Gypsies and Travellers would like to develop their own sites and have the capacity to do so if the land is made available to them through the planning system. We also accept that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, together with the integration of Gypsies and Travellers' needs into local authority housing needs assessments from 2005 onwards, provides the framework to ensure that from 2006, site-specific planning policies will start to mature.

The Gypsies who want to look after their own accommodation needs should then be able to go the local authority to find out where land has been designated as suitable for Gypsy sites, buy the land and develop their own sites without all the hassle of appeals and confrontation, which is the common experience at the moment.

So far, so good. Of the caravans on unauthorised sites last January, 2,000 were on unauthorised developments. It is assumed that all the people living in the caravans on those sites would move on to the land which is now to be designated as appropriate for Gypsy sites. However, there remains to be solved the problem of how to persuade those people when it means that, having already forked out the money for the land that they are occupying and for the development of that land, they will now have to spend the same amount of money, or perhaps even more, on developing a second site on the land that has been allocated by the local authority.

Has the ODPM given any thought to the idea of the land swap, which was mentioned briefly on the previous occasion? It would enable these families at least to escape paying more for the second piece of land than they receive from selling the first. That may be seen in some quarters as compensating people who broke the planning laws, but they would have done so only because, at the time, it was the only alternative to moving from one roadside to the next every few weeks. It is in the public interest, moreover, to encourage the return of land to a conforming use, particularly in the green belt. Thirdly, it would help to avoid the human disaster and expense which occurs every time there is an eviction where families could not afford to abandon their investment and start again.

Sonic thought must also be given to the unrecorded number of caravans for which short-term planning permission has been granted for up to two years. We understand that that practice has been fairly common recently. Is the ODPM looking at the problem and, if it does not have the figures, will it consult those who have, particularly Dr Donald Kenrick? As I mentioned on the previous occasion, he makes it his business to look carefully at the numbers of people who are granted planning permission of different kinds for Gypsy sites and the number of people who are refused permission.

Here again, as I mentioned before, in the end the local authorities will have to make up their mind whether to allow these sites to become permanent. If not, what arrangements can be made for Gypsies to move on to the land now to be allocated? Will that be dealt with in the guidance which is shortly to be issued on how to extend the housing needs assessment to incorporate the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers? We greatly welcome the government amendment in this group which gives effect to the undertakings on incorporating the needs of Gypsies and Travellers in the housing needs assessment.

There remains the problem of the 1,600 caravans on the roadside. That number has remained obstinately stable since 1997, as the written evidence of the ODPM to the Select Committee shows. It is common ground between us that as far as possible, registered social landlords should be enlisted to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers who cannot look after their own needs. Many if not most of the families in those caravans probably fall into that category.

The RSLs are also in the frame to rehouse the people living on local authority sites which are in unacceptable locations such as under motorways or next to sewage works. In its written evidence to the Select Committee, the ODPM lists 62 that are definitely in that category, but says that half the 324 sites under local authority management suffer from problems associated with adjoining land or activities to some extent. If only a quarter of those people have to be relocated, that is another 1,500 caravans that have to be dealt with by the RSLs under the new scheme.

6.45 p.m.

We had a seminar in this building organised by the Novas Group to launch its Travellers Charter. The founder and chief executive, Mr Michael Wake, confirmed what I said in Committee—that is, Novas is now the only RSL providing accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers, managing nine sites, ranging from five to 31 pitches in London and the south-east. It does not know of any other RSL which is coming forward, although I understand that the ODPM has had discussions with others. It would be interesting if the Minister could tell us something about the extent of contributions it is thought that the other RSLs could make.

There is a controversial scheme in Oxfordshire where the sites, formerly managed by the county council, have been put out to external contractors without any previous consultation with residents. I hope and expect that that will not set a pattern.

It will take some time for RSLs to build up relationships with the Gypsy and Traveller communities. There may well be some parts of England where, for logistic or other practical reasons, no RSL will want to provide services. Amendment No. 180 would provide that local authorities have a fallback responsibility in those cases.

If the Government are correct in thinking that the vast majority of Gypsies will look after themselves and that RSLs will accommodate just the negligible remainder, there will be nothing for local authorities to do under the new clause. But while we agree the principle that Gypsy and Traveller needs should be mainstreamed in the housing and planning systems, there is manifestly a huge difference between those communities and the rest of the population when it comes to accommodation. For the Gorgios, rented flats and houses are provided by a large variety of private landlords including many RSLs. For Gypsies and Travellers, there is no rented accommodation because pitches are held under licence, an inherently inferior form of tenure, and in any one local authority area there is generally only one landlord. It is not a classic free market where an excess demand attracts further supply, because it is not profitable. The misguided attempt by the DWP to apply rent controls to local authority Gypsy site landlords just at the moment when local authorities will be looking to hand over their sites to RSLs is absurd.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, repeated the ODPM line that when local authorities had a duty under the 1968 Act, unauthorised encampments fell by only 1 per cent. So let me give the figures published by the ODPM's predecessor at the time, which I gave in writing to the Minister, Mr Keith Hill. A fairer test is to see what happened during the final years of the Act's operation when the 100 per cent grant was in force and the Government were beginning to use the powers of enforcement in Section 9 of the 1968 Act.

Taking the 11 years from 1986 to 1997—bearing in mind that following the repeal in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, some sites were still in the pipeline—the number of caravans on unauthorised sites fell from 3,804 to 2,591, a drop of 32 per cent not 1 per cent—while the number of pitches on local authority sites increased from 4,766 to 6,324, an increase of 33 per cent. As a matter of simple arithmetic, if the Act had continued in force and local authorities had gone on constructing sites at the same rate, there would have been 1,467 more pitches on local authority sites now and by next year there would have been enough to accommodate all the families at present camping on the roadside. I hope that the Minister will not argue the case against this amendment as he has done on previous occasions by trying to rubbish the 1968 Act.

In any case, what happened under that Act is irrelevant to this proposal. As we have said repeatedly both in correspondence and in the House, we are not seeking to restore the 1968 Act or anything remotely approaching it, nor are the Government saying that local authorities should never construct sites. The power still exists in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 and if the funding were available, some local authorities would undoubtedly use it. Once the land becomes available and RSLs get going, the proposed new duty would come into play only when there was no other way of preventing homelessness in the area. Under Section 3(1)(b) of the Homelessness Act 2002, the local housing authority already has the duty of, securing that sufficient accommodation is and will be made available for people in their district who may … become homeless". It is difficult to imagine, if there are no other providers available, how the authority can discharge this duty other than itself providing a site under the 1960 Act. We hope that the circumstances would be rare, but unless the Minister can say that they would never happen, it would be reckless and irresponsible not to provide the safety net of this new clause.

Amendment No. 181 relates to security of tenure. There is no difference in principle between us and the Government and we know that they are working hard to ensure that, whatever solution is adopted, it is in full conformity with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Connors, the details of which I summarised in the important debate on 16 September.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that a great deal of further consideration had to be given to bringing Gypsies more into line with social housing in this respect and that that could not be done within the time scale of the Bill. However, the Government have had six months to respond to the Connors judgment and have to give an answer by 29 November.

Government Amendments Nos. 185 and 186 go some way towards the objective, but it would be useful to know what further work is under way in the ODPM and whether the Government are intending to discuss the matter with representatives of the Gypsy and Traveller communities. The Minister indicated that the Government had not yet got as far as putting any proposals to the Law Commission, which I understand is to be asked to consider the problem as part of its general review of the law on tenure. When they do get that far, will they publish the proposals so that others can contribute to the debate? Are they satisfied that, with the interim measures in the amendments now to be considered and the promise of a more thorough review, we will have done enough to satisfy the European Court next month? Will the Minister say something about the possible timing of the Law Commission's report and when it might lead to legislation giving effect to its recommendations?

We did some further thinking after the previous debate and we came up with the modified version of the "protected sites" amendment that we discussed at that time which sought to bring Gypsies and Travellers into line with people living on sites covered by the Mobile Homes Act 1983. I acknowledged that part of our amendment was unnecessary because, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, it had already been achieved in Clause 186. We also reluctantly disapplied the succession rights that Gypsies would have if the whole of the 1983 Act regime were applied to them, because that was one of the grounds used by the Minister for turning down our proposal, not because we did not think that Gypsies should enjoy the same rights as other mobile home residents. I beg to move.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I would like to apologise for missing the first two minutes of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. An unexpected turn of speed in the progress of the Bill took me by surprise. I support all the amendments in this group and would like to welcome most warmly those of my noble friend. They show that the Government take the deprivation of Gypsies and Travellers seriously, and are proposing, perhaps more than any government hitherto, measures which go far to make a proper framework to redress the unequal life chances and violations of human rights experienced by our Gypsy and Traveller communities.

But there are still a few bits of the jigsaw to be done. I shall speak to Amendment No. 182, which would confer commensurate consideration—equal treatment—by housing authorities in providing accommodation for homeless Gypsies or Travellers as for any other homeless person. This is, of course, not identical treatment. It is treatment, i.e. the provision of suitable accommodation, which meets their need.

The amendment would implement the ruling in Price v Camarthenshire County Council that local authorities dealing with a homelessness application from a Gypsy or a Traveller must consider, how best to facilitate the Gypsy way of life". I should emphasise that the amendment is not intended to provide a long-term solution to the shortage of sites, which is the concern of other amendments in this group, but simply to oblige housing authorities to provide suitable accommodation for homeless Gypsies and Travellers in priority need. There will inevitably be some, even after the new dispensation. At present about 20 per cent are homeless. And over 70 per cent of councils with unauthorised camps do not mention them in their homelessness strategy.

"Suitable" will be defined by the authorities—following the Price judgment—and so will "Gypsies and Travellers". It would be right for full consideration and consultation to be given to the definition, so we do not essay a hasty one here.

I should just reassure my noble friend Lord Bassam, who expressed anxiety in Committee that broadening the definition of accommodation as the amendment does could have the unintended consequence of making every reference—some 1,000—to housing and accommodation also cover Gypsy and Traveller sites. This amendment only changes the definition of accommodation in Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 covering homelessness. Its consequence is thus entirely specific and intended.

I add in conclusion that I also welcome the Government undertaking to expand the role of the Housing Corporation as set out in Committee, and ask my noble friend to set out for the record how this will be done and if not in the Act, when.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I would also like to support the amendment. My noble friends on the Front Bench will not be surprised that what one could describe as the usual Peers are once again raising the issue of support for Travellers and Gypsy families. I am delighted that the Government have tabled some amendments and I wait to hear what the Minister has to say about them because he will be aware that the main problem that has followed us for a long time is the lack of suitable sites.

The lack of suitable sites is responsible for the fact that children of Travellers often do not have proper access to healthcare or education. For a long time I was a member of the council of Save the Children and we constantly had before us the whole issue of Travellers and Gypsy children who we thought were not being properly looked after because of the lack of suitable sites. The Government are clearly seized of the problem and the intention of the amendments is to ensure that suitable sites are provided and that local authorities perform their duty of care in relation to these families. I support these amendments. I think that this is a very good initiative on the part of all concerned.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I just want to raise one small aspect of this amendment that I think I touched on briefly when we discussed it last time. The availability of sites is absolutely crucial to the introduction of these amendments to the Bill. In my previous days as leader of the council in Kensington and Chelsea, I recall the extremely difficult problem that we had under the caravans Act of finding a site in inner London for Gypsies. We resolved it—although perhaps not entirely satisfactorily—in conjunction with another inner London local authority. My concern is that the amendment places a very heavy onus on the London boroughs.

I dare say that it is not just London boroughs that will suffer—it is possible that metropolitan areas will, too—when there is a complete lack of suitable land for either temporary or permanent sites for Travellers. I am sure that the mover of the amendment will shrug and say, "Well, she would say that, wouldn't she?", but any spare land in inner London at the moment is not only extraordinarily expensive but is probably brownfield land which may or may not be contaminated. It is certainly land for which the Deputy Prime Minister will have aspirations as regards permanent housing. I am very alarmed that the onus is so strong on the boroughs and that the proposal would create an absolute duty.

7 p.m.

I appreciate that subsection (2) of the proposed new clause says that local authorities can work with other local authorities to fulfil the duty. However, I am bound to say that the only local authorities with which one would be able to work would be outer London or out of London authorities. That is not the burden of the amendment. Has the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, given any consideration to that problem?

I am bound to say that the caravans Act was amended in the past to deal with that problem. Now here we are, rolling ourselves in again to the same stresses and strains that were put on everybody, not least the Travellers, over the requirement for inner London authorities in particular to produce those sites. I am also bound to say that I do not know where the sites are. That is not really a question to the Minister but a question to the mover of the amendment, and I would be grateful for a response.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful that I have been let off having to answer a question. It makes a pleasant change.

I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on their persistence. I am drawn to conclude from this debate and others not only on this Bill but on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill and others that my noble friend Lord Rooker and I have been involved with over the past few years that we are making some genuine progress in tackling some of the issues for Gypsies and Travellers. It makes a welcome change from the rather grim picture that used to confront me periodically when I led my local authority, when we had no powers and little jurisdiction to deal with a lot of the issues for Gypsies and Travellers. I was a recipient of fairly regular visits from Gypsy and Traveller groups into the borough, when there were no facilities that could easily be provided. We were surrounded by other local authorities that were fairly hostile to providing some strategy and way in which to cope with problems associated with Gypsy and Traveller groups.

We are now in a much happier position and are approaching the matter stage by stage and step by step. It may be worth reminding ourselves that while we are moving amendments today that have been broadly seen as helpful, the ODPM itself continues to carry out its review of Gypsy and Traveller policy, so that progress can be made in matching their needs and aspirations and ensuring a more comfortable fit between those aspirations and those of host communities.

I shall deal with the amendments in turn, before speaking to the government amendments. Amendment No. 180 is designed to facilitate the provision of Gypsy and Traveller sites by registered social landlords and Gypsies and Travellers themselves. We had a long discussion on this issue in Committee, and I made it clear that it was not our favoured option, which is still the case. We want to see progress made in a rather different way, which is why we have approached the matter by trying to mainstream Gypsy and Traveller issues within the wider housing and planning systems. That is recognised as being the way forward.

As a consequence of our amendments, in future the needs of Gypsies and Travellers will have a more strategic and accountable approach put in place. Land for sites and a fair sharing of responsibilities, which was certainly one of the issues that I had to deal with, will be delivered through the new planning system. The revision of Planning Circular 1/94 will provide greater clarity on planning permission issues. Registered social landlords are being brought into the market as providers. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said on that point. It is worth saying that we recognise that there will be a difficulty in seeking to develop more interest among registered social landlords. We know that that is a challenge, but we are talking with potential RSLs in the field. We must work away at the matter, as it is not something that can be easily solved, although I wish that were the case.

I am confident that these and other changes that we are making will lead to the increases in provision, although I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said. There is a particular difficulty in inner urban areas—I have seen that for myself. It is right that we try to create a situation in which local authorities work constructively together, rather than what has happened in the past, whereby—I am afraid to say—Gypsy and Traveller groups have been pushed from one local authority area to another by using enforcement powers to evict them.

I am grateful to those who have been involved in the discussions on the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked some other questions in moving Amendment No. 180. He asked about land swaps. There are problems here because of the differential in costs. However, we are of the opinion that it is up to local authorities to decide how to proceed, and if there is to be good co-operation, it is up to the local authorities to sort that out for themselves. We do not need legislation to do that; in fact I would suggest that this is an area in which voluntary agreements and arrangements are best developed.

The noble Lord also asked about needs assessments for Gypsies and Travellers. We shall issue detailed guidance on our strategy and shall consult widely; we are happy to consider a range of issues, and will contact experts in the field. No doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will make available their expertise in this field, which we greatly welcome. We expect local authorities, in exercising their consideration of Gypsies and Travellers, to evaluate sites carefully and determine those that are unsuitable. We appreciate the point often made about Gypsy and Traveller groups being forced onto the margins and not having access to good facilities on the land that has often, in the past, been made available to them.

Amendment No. 181 would widen the definition of protected site in the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to include local authority-owned and/or managed Gypsy and Traveller sites. That would bring the status of those occupying local authority sites into line with those occupying park home sites. That is something that we debated in Committee. We do not believe that that change is the right way forward; we accept that tenure on those sites is inconsistent with mainstream social housing—perhaps the nearest comparator—and with private sites, but we are fully committed to a careful consideration of how the problem could be resolved. To move in the wrong direction in the short term will not offer a solution.

Subsection (2) of the amendment seeks to get round one of the problems that I identified in Committee—that occupation could be assigned to others. However, we do not see that as being the only problem. The balance of rights and responsibilities between landlord and resident is crucial in enabling proper management of sites and proper protection of residents. One cannot simply lift a regime from one situation and impose it on another, which is different in terms of landlords, residents and management issues. There needs to be more proper and thorough consideration of who might be affected by the changes and how they would be affected. So any changes that are made could have very major and long-lasting consequences. We prefer the approach of getting it right rather than doing it quickly.

The noble Lord, in moving the amendment, asked a question about the Law Commission which was also asked at an earlier stage. The Law Commission has not been asked to look at tenure issues for Gypsies and Travellers. Rather, we want to review the site security issue in the context of that work. The Law Commission tells us that we will have a draft Bill early next year. It is then up to Ministers to decide how to proceed. We are also considering the security of tenure issue in the policy review being conducted of Gypsy and Traveller issues.

We will respond to the Council of Ministers on Connors v UK in November. We think that the government amendments will go some way to meeting the concerns raised in that judgment.

Amendment No. 182 seeks to amend Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 so that every reference to "accommodation" is taken to include accommodation to meet the needs of Gypsies and Travellers. I fully understand the aim of the amendment—to ensure that the particular accommodation needs of homeless Gypsies and Travellers are taken into account by local housing authorities—but we do not think that the amendment is necessary. Section 175 of the 1996 Act already provides that a person—including a Gypsy or Traveller—who has a caravan but nowhere lawful to place it and live in it is homeless.

Moreover, Section 206 of the 1996 Act also provides that where a duty to secure accommodation is owed to an applicant, the authority can discharge the duty only by securing accommodation that is suitable for the applicant and their household. So we feel that that is already a requirement in legislation.

The noble Baroness raised the issue of expanding the role of RSLs. It is our intention to extend the permissible purposes of RSLs by secondary legislation to allow them to provide managed Gypsy and Traveller sites. We have not yet set a time-frame on that, but we hope to act on it early in the new year.

I should like now to speak to the government amendments in this group and explain their effects.

Amendment No. 185 addresses the anomaly that county council-owned sites that provide accommodation for Gypsies are not protected sites under Part 1 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 whereas other local authority residential sites are. This amendment will ensure that county council Gypsy sites fall within the definition of protected sites in Section 1 of the 1968 Act. The amendment will also ensure that security of tenure for those occupying county council sites is the same as that for those occupying other residential sites; that is, that possession can be obtained only by seeking a court order.

Amendment No. 186 will have a very important effect. Section 4 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 already gives discretion to the courts to suspend eviction orders made in respect of most privately owned caravan sites, but until now that discretion has not been available for eviction orders made in respect of local authority-owned sites, including Gypsy and Traveller sites. The new clause amends Section 4(6) to remove the limit on the discretion in that subsection so that judicial discretion will in future be available in respect of eviction orders relating to local authority sites.

7.15 p.m.

Amendments Nos. 215, 216, 239 and 243 are aimed at mainstreaming the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers, provision that has already been welcomed in the debate. Amendment No. 215 will require local housing authorities to take a strategic approach to assessing and meeting the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers, as we are very concerned to do. Local housing authorities already have duties to assess the housing need of their population and to prepare strategies. We want to make it clear that that extends also to Traveller and Gypsy groups and communities. The amendment also requires local authorities to take the needs of Gypsies and Travellers into account when exercising their other functions including planning, education and social care as well as housing functions. So it has that beneficial effect as well.

The definition of "Gypsies and Travellers" is one on which we want to consult further. As such, we have allowed for a regulation-making power to allow us to consult on the definition. Regulations will also allow for the possibility of the definition to change over time if necessary.

Amendment No. 216 allows the Secretary of State to issue guidance on carrying out needs assessments in preparation of housing strategies for both Gypsies and Travellers. Amendment No. 243 allows the National Assembly for Wales to have separate commencement powers in respect of the above.

Amendment No. 239 amends the section of the Local Government Act 2003 covering housing strategies to ensure that the definition of housing includes Gypsies and Travellers.

The two other amendments in this group, Amendments Nos. 240 and 244, are minor and technical. Amendment No. 240 provides the commencement date, and Amendment No. 244 provides a minor and technical amendment to the Long Title of the Housing Bill.

I hope that that package not only meets some of the concerns of noble Lords who have been particularly enthusiastic in pushing housing and related issues for Gypsies and Travellers, but endears itself to all Members of your Lordships' House.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, we very much welcome the Minister's explanation of the government amendments. Having had previous discussions with him and with the officials, I think I can say on behalf of the movers of our amendments that we very warmly welcome what the Government have done.

We also warmly welcome the context in which the amendments have been proposed—the package which the Minister described, including the long-term policy review that began at the end of last year, the results of which we had hoped to receive by now. The Minister, Mr Keith Hill, said that they would be available by the end of the summer. The icy winds are whistling round Westminster and the leaves are falling, but the clocks have stopped and summer has not yet ended at the ODPM.

We look forward to the results of that policy review, particularly when parts of it dovetail so closely in with the rest of the strategy being followed: the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, which for the first time creates a framework in which adequate land will be available for Gypsy sites; the revision of Circular 1/94 to create an interim regime in which we hope planning permissions will be more readily awarded by local authorities; and the review of security of tenure, in relation to which we are grateful to the Minister for giving us more details on timing.

I had understood that the Law Commission might complete its review by the beginning of next year, but not that it would have produced a draft Bill as part of that. If I understood the Minister aright, the Law Commission will produce the final answer to the Connors judgment in the European Court as part of that strategy. I hope that he will satisfy the European Court that this is an adequate answer to the judgment when he comes to make a reply on 29 November.

I cannot, however, avoid expressing a certain amount of disappointment that, after all this time and the many discussions we have had, the ODPM still has not understood what we were trying to do in Amendment No. 180; that is, to provide them with a fall-back solution to the problem that will arise if the RSLs do not come forward in sufficient numbers or with sufficient energy to deal with the very large problem which we have agreed exists—not only the 1,600 Gypsies who are on the roadside, but, as I said, those who are on the 62 sites enumerated by the ODPM in its written evidence to the Select Committee, which all sides have acknowledged to be totally unsuitable because they are next to sewage works, on the motorways or in locations of that kind. The Minister did not respond to my invitation to tell your Lordships what will happen with those 62 sites. Will they be closed and will the inhabitants of those sites be candidates for the new ones that are to be provided by the RSLs according to their scheme?

However, I think that we have taken this matter as far as we can. I shall not undertake on behalf of my noble friends that we shall not consider with our advisers between now and the next stage and perhaps bring forward some modified suggestions. However, for the present I again thank the ODPM for all the work that it has done so far.

I have not responded to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I saw her getting to her feet and that reminded me. I do not think that she listened to my speech. I have said on more than one occasion that we do not propose a return to the 1968 Act duty and that therefore although, as she said, there were particular difficulties in meeting the targets set under the 1968 Act for the London boroughs, that is not the issue at the moment. I also think that the noble Baroness did not read the Mayor of London's letter of 11 October that was sent to her in which he sets out a policy for London which goes a long way towards what we are asking for. I shall not read out the whole letter as I am sure that it is in the noble Baroness's in-tray. However, I shall read one out one paragraph which states: I have undertaken to investigate the feasibility, depending on the availability of data, of setting targets for site provision for Gypsies and Travellers in London to form part of the next review of the London Plan in 2006. In the meantime I will ensure that the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers are considered for the unitary development plans, and now local development frameworks, of London boroughs in the context of the existing London plan". The noble Baroness might like to have a discussion with the Mayor and see what contribution she can make to the success of the plan which he has announced and which makes it clear that London is not exempt from the responsibility for the provision of accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers that applies to the rest of the country.

Obviously, we agree that there is greater difficulty in metropolitan areas and in London to make this contribution but we very much welcome the Mayor's undertaking that these matters will be fully considered in the plans of the local authorities within the metropolis. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 181 and 182 not moved]

Baroness Wilkins moved Amendment No. 183:

After Clause 186, insert the following new clause—