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
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
life
Sport
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
football
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
News
people
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

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn