By Lord Avebury
Delighted to be with you once again and to have this opportunity of discussing with you some of the human rights issues that affect the Gypsy Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities; what developments there have been over the last 12 months, and what are the prospects for change, either for better or for worse, over the coming year.
Progress Report on Gypsy and Traveller Policy
Ever since I first became involved in the needs of Travellers more than 40 years ago, the shortage of sites where Travellers could stop lawfully has been at the same time their main preoccupation, and the principal reason why they experience greater disadvantage than any other ethnic minority in accessing all other public services and health and education in particular. For the time being, the effects of the legislation of five years ago have yet to be visible on the ground. The assessments of need have been completed, draft strategies have been published, and some of them have been consulted upon, leading finally to detailed lists of the number of additional pitches that are to be provided in each District by 2011, for which the local authorities are supposed to allocate the land in a development plan document. The two regions that have got this far already are the East and the South West – and in retrospect it was unfortunate that in the legislation there was no schedule of dates by which the various stages had to be completed, with the result that some regions are far ahead of others. But even in the regions where they have got as far as the allocation of pitches to Districts, being realistic there isn’t a chance of getting the numbers that are wanted by 2011. The Government’s first annual Progress Report on Gypsy and Traveller Policy in July found that the proportion of caravans on unauthorised pitches decreased from 22% in January 2007 to 20% in January 2009, so at that rate of progress it would still be 18% in 2011.