The Bill proposes the same restrictions as apply to other mobile homes, but I agree that such matters need to be considered in detail.
The present lack of security of tenure means that site residents can be evicted even when they have done nothing wrong. The Caravan Sites Act 1968 provides that, to gain possession of a pitch on a Gypsy site, a local authority need only provide 28 days' notice of termination of a Gypsy's or Traveller's licence, after which it can obtain a possession order from the court. However, resident Gypsies and Travellers have no opportunity to put any defence against such an order and thereby to prevent their eviction.
In May 2004, the European Court of Human Rights decided the case Connors v. United Kingdom, in which the claimant had been evicted from an official local authority Gypsy site on which she had lived for many years. The ECHR decided that the lack of any procedural safeguard was a clear breach of the occupant's rights under article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which provides a right to respect for a person's home, private life and family life.
An amendment to the Housing Act 2004 gave judges the discretionary power to suspend possession orders, but it did not address or remedy the incompatibility found by the ECHR in the case to which I referred. That point was also made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its 13th report.
In November 2004, the Government sent a memorandum to the Council of Ministers indicating that they accepted that security of tenure would have to be introduced on local authority sites for Gypsies and Travellers. The delay in introducing that led me, in July 2006, to sponsor the Caravan Sites (Security of Tenure) Bill. Clause 272 of the Bill under discussion today provides most of what the earlier Bill sought to introduce, but I remain concerned about Gypsy and Traveller families currently facing eviction from local authority sites. They are not protected at the moment, and that is causing them a great deal of stress and difficulty.
I understand from the Minister that local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites will not constitute social housing under this Bill. I hope that the Government will reconsider that, and ensure that such sites fall under the authority of the social housing regulator. I welcome the fact that the regulator's objectives ensure that
"actual and potential tenants of social housing have an appropriate degree of...choice, and...protection", and that they
"have the opportunity to be involved in its management."
Placing Gypsy and Traveller sites under the authority of the social housing regulator would fit in with the Government's planning policy statements on housing. Paragraph 37 of the document published by the Department for Communities and Local Government in May and entitled "Local Authorities and Gypsies and Travellers: A Guide to Responsibilities and Powers" states:
"Gypsy and Traveller sites are considered as affordable housing where they are owned and managed by a local authority or Registered Social Landlord."
Considering Gypsy and Traveller sites to be a form of social housing would help to mainstream provision, and could therefore contribute to the creation of the mixed communities that are part of the aim of the Bill.
If local authority-run Gypsy and Traveller sites were to constitute social housing, as defined by the Bill, the social housing regulator's objectives would cover most of the matters that are included in the Caravan Sites (Security of Tenure) Bill but which are not covered by clause 272 of this Bill.
My main purpose in focusing briefly on clause 272 is to welcome it and to tell the House what a difference it will make to the lives of so many people. The provision will not give residents of local authority Gypsy and Traveller sites special rights; it will simply give them the same rights as other residents of caravans or mobile homes. The disparity until now has been grossly unfair.
The clause will not prevent residents who break the conditions of their secure tenancy from being evicted. It will mean that, like tenants of other forms of accommodation, they cannot be evicted without good reason and without proof of an infraction of the rules. It is important that they have the same opportunities as other site residents.
The clause will not give security of tenure to anyone on an unauthorised encampment or development. The grave shortage of legal sites, which forces about a quarter of Gypsies and Travellers in caravans to park illegally, is addressed by the implementation of other legislation. I hope very much that local authorities will provide sufficient sites for those who need them, but it is too soon to say how successful that legislation will be.
Clause 272 will undo a serious injustice that has afflicted Gypsies and Travellers for too long. I am pleased that the Government have finally recognised that, and that they are implementing such an important clause. I hope the provision will be taken up by the Welsh Assembly and that it will apply to Gypsies and Travellers living in Wales.
A decent home is one of the most important things for all of us. One section of the population has suffered badly in that regard and I am pleased that the Government are addressing the problem.