Gypsy Traveller Law Reform (Scotland) Bill

 

Submission to the Scottish Parliament Equal Opportunities Committee on 21/6/2005

The Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition wishes to bring the following information on a Scottish Traveller Law Reform Bill to the attention of the Equal Opportunities committee of the Scottish Parliament in its review of its ‘Inquiry into Gypsies and Travellers and Public Sector Policies’.

 

Aim of Project

The G&TLRC supporting Gypsy and Traveller groups in Scotland aims to draft a Scottish Traveller Law Reform Bill for the Scottish parliament to increase the number and quality of Gypsy/Traveller sites/accommodation and raise the social inclusion of this community.

 

Background

The Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition (G&TLRC) is an alliance of Gypsies, Irish Travellers, New Travellers and other travelling groups who have come together to promote the Traveller Law Reform Bill and policies to increase and improve site provision. The G&TLRC Was awarded the Liberty human rights award in 2004.

In May 2004 the G&TLRC held a conference in Birmingham at which a workshop was held on Scotland and Gypsies and Travellers. At this workshop interest was expressed in forming a Scottish G&TLRC and drafting a Scottish Traveller Law Reform Bill.

As a result of this decision an application was made to the Rowntree Charitable Trust for funding. The award of a grant was approved in December 2004.

A Scottish Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition has now been formed and it has formulated a consultation questionaire, which will feed into a Scottish Traveller Law Reform Bill (see annex). The Scottish Commission for Racial Equality has given its support to this consultation.

Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre has agreed to draft a Scottish Traveller Law Reform Bill for the Scottish Parliament.

 

What People Say About the G&TLRC

Ken Livingstone - Mayor of London

“Gypsies and Travellers are one of the most marginalised groups in our society. The G&TLRC has worked hard to increase the dialogue between the Gypsy and Traveller community and those in charge of the policies and services that directly impact upon the lives of this community. Only by consulting with Gypsies and Travellers can decision-makers ensure that the policies and services they develop will work to address the issues adversely affecting this community. The G&TLRC has made a valuable contribution to this process”.

Trevor Phillips - Chair Commission for Racial Equality

"The Commission for Racial Equality firmly supports the work of the Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition, which is playing a critical role in driving improvements for Gypsies and Travellers, and providing a powerful voice to lobby for change. There are clearly huge challenges ahead - and we hope to work closely with the coalition in taking this and our own Gypsy and Traveller strategy forward."

 

The Situation In Scotland and New Opportunities

In a survey undertaken in 1999 15% of the Scottish Traveller community identified themselves as Gypsy Traveller, 49% as Scottish Traveller, 8 % as Romany, 5% as Irish Traveller and 23% as other.

A number of reports indicate that Gypsies and Travellers suffer from extreme levels of exclusion and discrimination in Scotland.

Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland suffer from a shortage of sites, sites that do exist are often located in marginal space and have poor access to services and amenities. Furthermore, Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland have little sense of ownership in their homes due to a lack of security of tenure and the limited if non-existent input into the management of sites that they are afforded.

In 2001 the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament put forward 37 recommendations in its ‘Inquiry into Gypsy Travellers and Public Sector Policies’. Disappointment has been expressed by the Gypsy and Traveller community as to the scope of some of the recommendations and the progress made.

However, several important opportunities now exist which make new progress possible:

The Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament is to review the progress made on its 2001 report and draw up new recommendations.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in England has introduced a number of new reforms as part of its Gypsy and Traveller policy review, which may have policy implications for Scotland.

Some, including policy makers, feel that progress in Scotland has been hindered because of a lack of unity amongst the Gypsy and Traveller community, which has impeded effective lobbying. However, the formation of the STARS project (Scottish Travellers Against Racism) shows that a range of groups can come together and devise imaginative and relevant projects (STARS was an awareness raising programme to be run for local authorities and other service providers by Travellers).Many still hope that the Scottish Executive will fund this project and allow Travellers to have a principal role in the management and delivery of this project.

The Scottish Parliament is considered to be inclusive and responsive to grass roots initiatives.

 

Some Possible Policy Positions In A Scottish Traveller Law Reform Bill

Recommendation 6 of the Equal Opportunities report in 2001 states “The definition of home for the purposes of future amendments to housing legislation should be reconsidered to include sites, which are homes to Gypsies Travellers. Such recognition would facilitate a review of alternative management and ownership arrangements for local authority sites, which could include options for community ownership, tenant management co-operatives and registered social landlords and the development of model tenancy agreements for Gypsy Traveller sites managed by local authorities and RSLs.

The introduction of such a legislative amendment would have a major impact on Gypsy and Traveller accommodation in Scotland.

Many Travellers living on local authority sites have limited security of tenure, some can be given as little as 7 days notice to leave a site. The European Court of Human Rights decreed in 2004 that the UK Government had infringed the human rights of the Connor family who were evicted off a site in Leeds. As a consequence the Westminster Parliament has to address concerns over security of tenure and is to introduce a draft bill on security of tenure, which will make reference to Gypsies and Travellers, this could well place pressure on the Scottish Parliament to make similar steps.

The Scottish Executive is considering a major review of the planning system in part to take note of the new regional spatial strategies to be introduced in England. A new planning system could provide scope for more Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland to be assisted by local authorities to buy land and develop their own sites. Councils in England are to have an obligation through a new planning circular to identify land for Travellers in development plans.

 
Andrew Ryder
Coordinator
The Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition
Tel 07 985 684 921
[email protected]

http://www.travellerslaw.org.uk/index.htm