A group representing the main churches in England and Wales have endorsed proposed legislation to remove discrimination against Travellers and Gypsies. The Churches' Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ) this morning has lent its support to the Travellers Law Reform Bill launched yesterday in parliament. The Bill is the product of over four years of discussion and collaboration between Gypsies and Travellers and the statutory and voluntary sectors, including representatives from the Churches. CCRJ has been involved since the beginning. The commission says it welcomes the Bill because it abolishes a number of discriminatory statutory provisions. Instead it creates a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Commission which will be responsible for assessing the need for sites throughout England and Wales. It requires local authorities to facilitate site provision by providing for planning permissions for owner occupied sites, 'tolerating' historic sites and working with Housing Associations, which will have power to provide and manage sites. The Bill also ensures that local authorities which have failed to provide sufficient sites will have greater difficulty in evicting illegal encampments on their own land; planning inspectors will have to regard to such failure when determining applications by Gypsies and other Travellers for permission to develop their own sites. Under current law, local authorities have a duty to house certain 'settled' people, and the Housing Corporation supports the construction of public housing. But there are currently far too few legal halting sites for the number of people living a nomadic life, and since 1994 there has been no duty on local authorities to provide accommodation for Travellers and no central government grants available to fund caravan site construction. The Bill extends the Housing Corporation's powers to support site development, thus removing the discrimination currently faced by those living or wishing to live in caravans. CCRJ Commission Secretary, Rev Arlington Trotman, said: "We welcome these reforms because they would end resistance to site provision, often reinforced by negative stereotypical attitudes based partly on the lawless behaviour of some Gypsies. Christian Gypsies would have the right to hold religious gatherings, and not be denied because of popular prejudice and racial discrimination."
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