Thursday, January 28, 2010


Act of Compassion

Not all legislation has been designed to wipe out Gypsies and Travellers. Forty years ago, the Caravan Sites Act made sites for Gypsies a legal duty. Damian Le Bas meets the man behind it, the campaigning Lord Avebury.

In Britain, like the rest of Europe, laws affecting Travellers have almost always been designed to destroy their way of life.

In the 20th Century it can sometimes look like not much has changed. But we should also remember the people who have fought for Gypsies and Travellers. Eric Lubbock was MP for Orpington in Kent in the 1960s. Life was hard for Travellers then, but Eric Lubbock worked tirelessly to help Travellers help themselves.

In the mid-1960s there were only ten council sites in the whole country. You could only live in a caravan, even on private land, if you held a site license. This meant that only 4% of Gypsies and Travellers had somewhere legal to stop. Violent evictions, which even led to the death of Gypsy and Traveller children, were resisted by Gypsy and Traveller families. It led to the formation of Gypsy and Traveller civil rights groups like the Gypsy Council, but it was Eric Lubbock who fought to change the law.

His work paid off in 1968, when the Caravan Sites Act came into force. For the first time in British history, local councils had to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers.

“In 1968, I introduced a law to prevent Gypsies and Travellers from being evicted from their sites and to compel authorities to build sites for Gypsies and Travellers,” says Eric.

But two years later he lost his seat in parliament.

“In 1962 the wise, far-seeing people of Orpington elected me as their Member; in 1970 the fools threw me out”. Says Eric.

This story originally appeared in the first Gypsy Roma Traveller History events Magazine of last year. Demand far exceeded supply of this publication, so we've reproduced some of the stories from that issue on this website.


The situation of the Romani/Travelers in England is pretty bad. While districts are now required to provide sites for caravans, the local settled gaje populations protest and tensions escalate. More on that in a future entry. Morgan

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