I totally agree with my hon. Friend. What information has the Minister received from Calderdale, Kirklees and Craven about their current efforts to identify suitable permanent sites? It would be idle and politically dishonest for the Minister to pretend that designation without neighbouring authorities offering permanent sites, improvements to the existing two sites, the provision of a third permanent site, more private sites, and a general overall improvement in Bradford, would provide any long-term satisfactory solution to the difficulties which have arisen for many years and which will continue unless the Government take decisive action.
The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West made the case for my last point. The parent legislation is more than 20 years old and needs to be reformed to meet current circumstances and the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman highlighted. The Committee says that, at the current rate of progress, it will take 25 years to accommodate those known travellers who desire proper permanent sites with proper facilities. I hope that the Minister will not be satisfied with that rate of progress.
The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West made the case for regional planning. It is quite wrong to leave individual district authorities to reach piecemeal solutions on the back of a variety of local circumstances. Surely the only way in which we can make progress and meet the demands of travellers and the requirements of settled residents is through a national gipsy traveller programme and regional programmes to ensure that in West Yorkshire, for example, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield and other authorities make planned and systematic provision to alleviate the problems caused to travellers and local residents.
If the Minister rejects that suggestion, in Bradford and other places, either the merry-go-round will continue and designation will prove wholly unsuitable to deal with the problems, or police and council officials will become involved in potentially dangerous confrontations between travellers and groups of local residents, with caravans being towed to the borders of authority districts and travellers seeking unofficial sites in places such as Calderdale and Kirklees where there is no official provision or returning to Bradford to occupy unofficial and illegal sites.
The Minister can easily achieve a recipe for anarchy and dangerous community unrest and conflict by presiding over the shambolic mess that this policy has caused, but I hope that he will be able to announce to the House—I sense that there is concern among hon. Members on both sides because this is not a party-political issue but one of good local government and community relations—new policy initiatives to satisfy our constituents and travellers about the future.
It is interesting to note the views of traveller children. A report in the Telegraph and Argus, headlined
We want to learn, plead the gipsy children",
The youngsters say that they want to be taught and are fed up of being moved off one site after another. 'We were born in Bradford and we want to have an education here,' said 12-year-old Mary Doran. 'It's not fair that we have to
keep on moving. We would like a permanent site so we can stay in one place and go to school. The way we are going we won't even get half an education.' Margaret Purcell, 12, said `We want to be taught but we don't even know if we'll be in school on Monday.' Mary and Margaret and their sisters, 11-year-olds Eileen and Kathleen, have been going to St. William's Roman Catholic First School, in Young Street, Bradford, for the past five months. 'We really enjoy it there, but some days we have to miss school because of all this moving,' said Mary. Before that, the children went to St. Patrick's RC First School in Wood Street, Manningham. The gipsies were served with an eviction order by Bradford Council to leave the land at Lower Rushton Road, in Thornbury. About eight caravans are now parked on an area of grassland between blocks of council flats on New Lane. Residents have complained to the council about the noise of the generators being used by the gipsy families. Richard Hoyle, 24 of Oban House said: 'My wife's complained to the council to get the generators turned down. We've got two young children and the noise at 4 am doesn't help.' Bradford Council has said shortage of sites for gipsies was a problem because the inner city Mary Street site was full. A spokesman said the council would be seeking another court order to move the gipsies on again.
So the merry-go-round goes on. The Minister told me and the people of Bradford in April when he granted designation that these problems would be resolved. They are not resolved and are unlikely to be, but I hope very much that when he replies to the debate he will be able to announce new policy initiatives that will give some hope to my constituents and to travellers that the merry-go-round in Bradford will end, that there will be a third permanent site, that improvements will be made to the Mary street and Esholt street sites, that there will be further private sites and that he will issue directions to Kirklees, Calderdale and Craven about making satisfactory progress towards permanent site provision in their local authority areas.
I hope that the Minister will begin to recognise that a national policy is necessary and a regional strategy vital if we are to reduce the problems that I am sure other hon. Members will rehearse today.