West Ashford Rural District Council took a “brave initiative” to open gypsy camps, and is a “pioneer in this throughout the country”


Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)I make no apology for raising once again the subject of gipsies and travellers, although I am sorry to have to bring the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to the House on a Friday afternoon.

Numerically, this is a very small problem; administratively, it is rather a big one. That it should be a big problem may be in one sense a reflection of our times. In this very well-organised age we have nearly everyone so tidily arranged that a tiny minority of bold spirits who elect not to conform to residential standard patterns cause undue disturbance. I am not sure whether this is a reflection on them or on us. But I do not want to philosophise about the right to roam.

The centre of the problem is Kent, and that is what I want to discuss briefly. We have tried hard—harder than most other places—to deal with the problem sensibly. When I first raised the matter some years ago in a debate of this kind, the difficulty was of a rather different kind. The West Ashford Rural District Council had taken a rather brave initiative and had provided a camp for gipsies and travellers, though not without a good deal of local protest and pressure. Because at that time little else was being done in the county of Kent, this proved a magnet to travellers over a wide area, and the rural district council found itself in difficulties. I shall return to the result of that experiment.

Today the position is almost exactly the same, except on a different scale. The county is now taking action, or has taken action, and, because very little, if anything, is being done in the surrounding counties, Kent is suffering the embarrassments which formerly befell the West Ashford Rural District Council.”

“It will not be easy, but I should like to mention one factor which I think is helpful and encouraging. It should be made clear to local authorities that they will not be asked to provide these sites in perpetuity. These sites ought to be regarded, if not short-term, then as medium-term policy. The long-term policy must be to rehouse all these 1043people and eventually to integrate them, to use the abominable word, into the community. The Minister is aware of this, because he limits planning permissions to 14 years. Local authorities should be made aware of it and encouraged to realise that they will not be landed with permanent sites for caravans through the years.

What has been done by my own rural district of West Ashford, which was the pioneer in this throughout the country, is an illustration of what can happen. On its site, at one time or another, something like 20 families of gypsies or travellers had to be dealt with. Today, all but one family have been rehoused, and the site is about to be closed down.

This is not a wealthy authority, it is a rural district council of rather smaller than average size. So, given a start the sites, this problem is not intractable. But we must get a start, and it is only the Minister who can achieve it. Can he do it by persuasion? I shall be glad to have his views about this. If not, how else will he do it? What he must not do—and this is the reason why I have asked for this short debate—is to rely on the good will of the county of Kent to solve this problem not only for itself but for everyone else as well. Up with that we positively will not put, and I look forward to hearing the Joint Parliamentary Secretary’s plan of campaign.”

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