Thursday, January 26, 2012

Travellers and legal aid

The Legal Aid Bill prevents Gypsies and Travellers from getting legal aid in circumstances where they may lose their homes. With 2,000 Gypsies living in caravans on unauthorised sites from which the landlords are being given stronger powers to evict them. they will not qualify for legal advice on how to contest orders for their removal when they are trespassers, as so many of them are when it is made as difficult as possible for them to acquire land of their own, and there are no spare pitches for rent. But we did get assurances from the Minister who replied,Jim Wallace, that injunctions under S 187B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and orders under Sections 289 and 290 of that Act, which lead towards the loss of a Traveller's home, would still be subject to legal aid.

The amendments attracted a gratifying number of supporters and I think we have the ammunition to ask for discussions with Ministers before the Bill gets to its final stage of Third Reading.

At the end of his speech, Jim Wallace took credit for the recent Government annoiuncement that £60 million was being made available for local authorities and registered social landlords to provide Traveller sites for some 600 caravans. I happened to have telephoned five of the successful applicants for this money and was able to point out that none of them had even identified the necessary land, let alone applied for planning permission. And if by some miracle all of the planned schemes were implemented overnight, they would still cover only a third of the technically homelss Travellers.

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