asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will make a statement on the prospects for those gypsies and other travellers evicted from the temporary camp at Lodge Lane, Cobham, Kent, in September to the vicinity of the A.2 trunk road, and for those who have joined them on the completion of seasonal farm work; how many men, women and children are involved; what information he has on the action taken to provide a water supply and sanitary arrangements; and what action he is taking in the light of the several official undertakings given upon the closing of the Cobham camp.
The facts, if I have established them correctly, are as follows: 12 caravans were originally evicted from Lodge Lane site and have now been joined by others. The numbers vary, but the most recent estimate was that 38 families were parked beside the trunk road. This is not an authorised site and services cannot be laid on. Water is, however being carted daily to the caravans by the Strood Rural District Council. No official undertakings were given upon the closing of the Lodge Lane site, and these people were evicted by the district council in the knowledge that no alternative accommodation was being provided. So much for the facts.
I now turn to the provisions that can be made for these unfortunate people. Sites and services are matters for the local authorities. I have no power to provide them myself or to require local authorities to do so. Several sites for itinerants are being provided, I gather, by local authorities in Kent, and I have been given to understand that the claims of the people evicted from Lodge Lane will be taken into account when these sites are ready.
I know how much the hon. Gentlemen have the cause of these people at heart and I am re-examining the whole problem with a view to hastening the provision of an adequate number of sites.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has not got the facts? Is he not aware that this temporary site at Cobham was started on the understanding that it would give the authorities time to find other sites? Is he aware that while there are only 12 caravans at the moment, there were 50 on this site and that they will be coming back from the farms? Is it not disgraceful that not only men but women and children should be denied the elementary necessities? If children are to have equal opportunities, will my right hon. Friend consider having another look at this matter?
I do not think that my hon. Friend listened to what I said. I said that I was now looking at this matter to see whether we would have to have more legislation in order to find ways of dealing with the gypsy problem. I shall look at this afresh and if my hon. Friend will put down another Question in a few weeks, I shall be prepared to give him a further Answer.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that water is not being supplied every day by Strood Rural District Council and that the council is providing water for 12 caravans when there are nearer 40? Is he further aware that disturbances are breaking out about the supply of this water? In the circumstances, will he call an emergency conference of all the authorities concerned so as to be able to do something about this problem?
I do not myself think that there is much good in calling emergency conferences. Within the existing law I have very limited powers to require local authorities to do anything. We have either to leave things as they are in their very unsatisfactory state, or have a change and new proposals. I am prepared to think of the second.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because that is exactly what we have to remember. This is not just a local problem, nor even a problem with which one or two hon. Members have identified themselves. It is a genuine national, though small, problem which has police aspects. We shall look at it very thoroughly before we recommend any changes.