Report (3rd Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 12th March 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 9:00 pm, 12th March 2012

My Lords, I apologise for the fact that my voice has not kept up with the strength of my convictions. For that reason, I will say no more about the earlier amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke to so clearly. Amendment 77E will make a big difference to the security of place for many Gypsies and Travellers. The Bill proposes that all aspects of the Mobile Homes Act 1983, apart from those that concern possession, will go out of scope. The result will be that Gypsies and Travellers living on rented sites will be deprived of legal aid and legal advice of any sort to deal with cases that involve breach of a covenant of quiet enjoyment, succession, resiting of a mobile home, rent increases and repairs. Both the law and the facts relating to these issues can be complex. The consequences of failing to deal properly with them can be serious. They can result in homelessness-even though the intended effect is not to create homelessness-because the tenants are effectively driven out.

The further complication in the situation of many Gypsies and Travellers is that they have not always been educated to read and write, and to be able to follow the complexities of the law. Therefore, because of the situation in which they will find themselves, they will be discriminated against in all these matters. We are talking only about the continuation of the legal aid initial advice scheme for these cases. The provision of this kind of advice is quite cheap and extremely cost-effective.

These actions are not technically called "harassment", but they amount to it when the person who is on the receiving end cannot deal with them and is cast out of their home. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, said in Committee that he could reassure us that legal aid would be available for harassment injunctions in relation to the Mobile Homes Act. I was very glad to hear that. It showed that he understood the injustice that can so easily befall people who are marginalised by society, and that it is incumbent on society to reduce this marginalisation. Given his helpful response, I ask him to consider whether cases of breach of a covenant of quiet enjoyment-that is to say, Article 8 rights under the Human Rights Act-should also be included in the scope of legal aid. If he prefers, he could confirm that the Government intend that such breaches should be included under the term "harassment". It would be a small step conceptually, but it would make a big difference.