Tough line raises fears of a return to confrontation

RUMOURS over the Government's plans to change site provision for gypsies have been swirling around camps since the Conservatives declared their intention to review the law in a short sentence buried in their election manifesto.

Yesterday the worst nightmares of gypsies, particularly those camped illegally, appeared to come true as Sir George Young unveiled his consultation paper, which revealed a determination to adopt a hard line on the 'nuisance of illegal encampments'.

Gypsy organisations are convinced that even though Sir George was at pains to make the distinction between traditional travellers and New Age travellers, the two are inseparable in the minds of Tory backbenchers.

According to some, a number of leading backbenchers have used the public outcry over the so- called hippies to attack the problem of illegal gypsy encampments, long a source of anger among Tory voters in the shires.

Gypsies maintain that much of the problem has been caused by the lack of political will by successive governments and county councils to build sites, leaving 4,500 families camped illegally.

Even though local authorities are given full grants to build the sites under the 1968 Caravan Sites Act, the outcry from residents as soon as one is proposed has led to great difficulty in obtaining planning permission and discouraged construction.

The Government has the power to instruct local authorities to fulfil their commitments to provide sites under the legislation, but has been reluctant to do so because of unpopularity with voters.

Hughie Smith, president of the National Gypsy Council, said that citing the apparent failure of the legislation as a reason for backtracking was ridiculous as the Government was at least partly responsible.

'There has been only one piece of legislation in the past 30 years which effectively benefited the gypsies, the 1968 Act,' he said. 'To some extent it has not been working, but it could have been effective if a time limit had been placed on the building of sites to accommodate all gypsies.'

Luke Clements, a specialist in gypsy law, agreed. 'It is purely a lack of political will.

'Of course it's not a popular duty among the voters, but that's not the point. Now we have the prospect of gypsies on illegal encampments being arrested because it becomes a criminal offence for the first time.'

Such a scenario raises the spectre of confrontation with the authorities along the lines of the outbreaks of violence between gypsies and the police in the years leading up to the 1968 Act which, even though imperfect, eased tensions. Over the years the Department of the Enviroment had issued a number of circulars urging tolerance toward illegal encampments while there were not enough official sites. It also said that planning applications for gypsies on private sites should be treated favourably.

Donald Kenrick, an adviser to the Romany Guild, said that there were now about 2,000 gypsy families on private pitches which had gone some way to alleviating the shortage of sites. But it now looked as if even this status was to be withdrawn.

In its place the Government wants to encourage gypsies to settle in homes, saying that this is what many want, and may be prepared to offer cash incentives. Gypsies, however, reject the idea that settling is their desire, and say only a lack of legal sites forces them off the road.

Yet, as the prosposals were sinking in, there was a glimmer of hope.

Mr Clements believes it would be impossible to enact legislation along the lines proposed as it would contravene EC legislation. 'It would be a fundamental breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which makes it an offence to discriminate against any minority,' he said.

'Looking at this, it is inconceivable that the Government could bring in this legislation.'

The only reason the Government had managed to deflect international criticism of its provisions for gypsies was the 1968 Act and its tolerant attitude towards illegal sites, he said.

'This is simply a knee-jerk reaction to a problem which requires a lot of thought, and thought is not the greatest asset of this Government.

'If it managed to implement this it would amount to victimisation on a level only experienced in South Africa. It's like trying to enact apartheid.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before