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Section 46B — Equal opportunities
Planning etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
Cathy Peattie (Labour)
Amendment 152 is a probing amendment. Accommodation remains one of the main problems that face Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland. In its 2001 report on the plight of Gypsies and Travellers, the Equal Opportunities Committee made a number of recommendations to the Scottish Executive and local authorities. The committee has reviewed progress since then and, although we are happy that the Executive is looking at our recommendations, we are disappointed by the lack of progress.
Things are no better for Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland. The committee hoped that the Housing (Scotland) Bill would take the accommodation of Gypsies and Travellers on board, but it did not. It is vital that planners have regard to the special needs of Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland. Planning authorities must make suitable provision for sites for Gypsies and Travellers and find ways to meet their needs.
I seek assurances from the minister and ask her to make a commitment to end discrimination and prejudice against Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland.
I move amendment 152.
Karen Whitefield (Labour)
I appreciate Cathy Peattie's concern and her desire to advance the case of Gypsy Travellers. That is, I hope, something that many of us in the chamber would support. However, at stage 2, an Executive amendment was lodged to place a duty on local authorities to promote equal opportunities. That will ensure that Gypsy Travellers' needs are taken into account in the planning process. In those circumstances, it would be inappropriate to single out Gypsy Travellers and mention them in the bill. To do so would be to the detriment and disadvantage of other minority groups that were not mentioned, such as women and ethnic minorities.
Linda Fabiani (Scottish National Party)
I am not convinced that Gypsy Travellers can be put in the same category as other minority groups, because it is obvious that they are discriminated against in all walks of life, particularly in housing, as has been discussed many times in the chamber and in committees, including during the passage of the Housing (Scotland) Bill.
It is a fact that local authorities often prevaricate about their perceived duties in relation to Gypsy Travellers. I will be interested to hear what the minister says, but in my view it cannot be stated too often that Gypsy Travellers have needs that should be addressed, that we have not addressed those needs for decades and that it should be enshrined in legislation that special treatment should be given.
Karen Gillon (Labour)
I am sympathetic to the views that my colleague Cathy Peattie expressed. The picture is patchy across Scotland. In my area, South Lanarkshire, we have a good story to tell, but that is not the case in all areas. Discrimination still takes place, and I am sure that members share my concern about—and would wish to distance themselves from—the comments that were made last week by a Conservative in Edinburgh on the Hearts website.
If the minister does not accept amendment 152, I ask her to say what steps she will take to ensure that local authorities do not discriminate against Gypsy Travellers. In the same vein, I ask her to clarify how she can ensure through guidance that new developments such as shopping centres and hospitals meet the needs of adults with disabilities who do not currently get access to proper toileting facilities or who require bed toilet facilities. I have a number of young constituents who cannot enjoy a full social life because they cannot get access to proper toileting facilities, which others take for granted.
Johann Lamont (Labour)
As Karen Whitefield said, the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill was amended at stage 2 to place a duty on Scottish ministers and planning authorities to perform their functions in a manner that would encourage equal opportunities. We cannot dismiss the significance of that step, or the challenge that it presents.
We acknowledge that providing equality of opportunity might mean treating some sectors of society differently from others. We have to understand that Gypsy Travellers have particular needs.
I acknowledge the commitment of Cathy Peattie and members of the Equal Opportunities Committee, who have highlighted issues relating to Gypsy Travellers. Our overarching equality duty must address their needs as much it addresses as the needs of any other group. I acknowledge the challenge that that will present to planning. However, I do not agree that the situation for Gypsy Travellers is no better than it was when the Equal Opportunities Committee first considered the issue. Work is going on. An awful lot more remains to be done, but we would end up with a counsel of despair if we did not accept that some progress had been made.
The package of planning reforms that we are implementing will provide greater opportunities for individuals and communities to engage in a more open and accessible planning system. As we discussed at stage 2, we have to understand that it can be difficult for some groups in the community to engage, and, clearly, that is true for
Guidance to planning authorities on housing makes it clear that local development plans should make provision for Gypsy Traveller sites where a need is demonstrated in the local housing strategy. That strategy will be critical in understanding how to meet the needs of Gypsy Travellers.
I chaired a strategic group on Gypsy Travellers and we identified several action points that will have to be addressed. Some of those action points were on housing issues.
Our significant investment in site provision has given us the opportunity to take a more imaginative and creative view of the housing needs of Gypsy Travellers. I have no doubt that, if we were to falter in that work, members of the Equal Opportunities Committee and other members across the chamber would pursue the issue with us.
Karen Gillon raised an issue that she has highlighted before. In planning policy and advice, we acknowledge the need to make appropriate provision to minimise the impact on disabled people and to give them access to services such as toilet facilities in shopping centres. The whole thrust of the planning package will ensure that, if such services and facilities are not being provided, that will be acknowledged quickly so that future development plans and proposals address those practical issues. That will be critical. The planning system cannot be responsible for absolutely everything, but it will create a context in which such specific needs can be addressed.
I hope that Cathy Peattie will not press amendment 152. The issues in the amendment are clearly in line with the Executive's equal opportunities commitments to engage with Gypsy Travellers and to understand, through that engagement, how their needs are expressed at the local level so that those needs can be met.
Cathy Peattie (Labour)
I will probably not need a full two minutes, Presiding Officer.
I thank the minister for her commitment to ensuring that the strategic working group got together. That group is very important and I look forward to its report.
The minister was right to talk about the way in which people can participate. It is not enough for people to say, "We will look at ways of consulting Gypsies and Travellers," but then not find ways of ensuring that there is real participation.
It is not all doom and gloom; some local authorities do a very good job. However, more and more Gypsies and Travellers are finding it more difficult to find appropriate places to park their caravans.
I welcome the minister's comments. It is important that we monitor the situation. People must not continue to say, "We are doing this work," when they are not actually doing it. Gypsy Travellers should not be able to say, "This is all very well, but life for us is just as difficult as before."
Division number 27
For: Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Curran, Frances, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Maclean, Kate, Martin, Campbell, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Sheridan, Tommy, Swinburne, John, Turner, Dr Jean
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Brownlee, Derek, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fraser, Murdo, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Petrie, Dave, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Adam, Brian, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Gibson, Rob, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, McFee, Mr Bruce, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Peattie, Cathy, Robison, Shona, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew