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Smoking Cessation

10. Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): What assessment he has made of the impact of smoking cessation publicity measures on smoking cessation. [43726]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper): The evidence suggests that tobacco education campaigns, including the advertising of smoking cessation support services, play an important part in helping people to give up smoking. The Government have run a campaign on the dangers of smoking for the past two years. In the first six months of this financial year, more than 100,000 people set a quit date using the NHS smoking cessation services, and half of them were still not smoking at the four-week follow-up stage.

Dr. Tonge: Does the Minister not agree that the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill that has been successfully piloted through the other place by my noble Friend Lord Clement-Jones is also an important factor? Does she have any idea of how many young people—women in particular—have taken up smoking while the Government have been dithering over a ban on tobacco advertising for five years? Is she not ashamed to be a member of a Government who kowtow to big business at the expense of young people's health?

Yvette Cooper: That was a complete load of nonsense. I am pleased that the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill will have its Second Reading after Easter. Banning tobacco advertising is an important part of a programme to help people who want to give up smoking. That ban would already be in law if Opposition Members had not decided to block it at the last minute before the election by trying to introduce a sunset clause because they wanted the ban to last just two or three years. A fat lot of use that kind of ban would have been.

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Ms Secretary Hewitt, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Reid, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mrs. Secretary Liddell, Miss Melanie Johnson and Mr. Paul Boateng, presented a Bill to establish and provide for the functions of the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Appeal Tribunal; to make provision about mergers and market structures and conduct; to establish the Competition Service; to amend the constitution and functions of the Competition Commission; to create an offence for those entering into certain anti-competitive agreements; to provide for the disqualification of directors of companies engaging in certain anti-competitive practices; to make other provision about competition law; to amend the law relating to the protection of the collective interests of consumers; to make further provision about the disclosure of information obtained under competition and consumer legislation; to amend the Insolvency Act 1986 and make other provision about insolvency; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Tuesday 9 April, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 115].

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Point of Order

12.30 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would be grateful if you could attempt to protect the House from the rampant verbal inflation from which we have suffered this morning. We have just reached Question 10. In exercising your role as the protector of the interests of Back Benchers, could you please instruct Ministers to give crisp, precise answers and not the rambling diatribes to which we have been subjected today?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is right. The replies have taken far too long, and, in some cases, the questions were far too long. I agree that we should get further down the Order Paper.

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Trespassers on Land (Liability for Damage and Eviction)

12.31 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I beg to move,

As members of the public, we are constantly aware of trouble surrounding the illegal occupation of land by members of the travelling community. A steady diet of local newspaper stories occasionally break into the national press. With depressing frequency, they focus on alleged traveller misbehaviour. As Members of Parliament, too many of us are brought face to face with that reality. My experience of that reality culminated during the last general election. One particular group of travellers moved between three different sites in my constituency. At each site, they left damage, mountains of waste and intimidated local residents in their wake. Despite the robust and determined approach of the borough of Reigate and Banstead—an engaged and willing local authority prepared to act to protect the interests of its citizens—the legal framework seemed to protect the interests of misbehaving travellers rather than the settled community.

I came across this group of Irish travellers on Radstock way, which provides the outer ring of a large estate in Merstham. The road was being used as a race track by vans advertising paving and driveways. Their reckless use of the road was frightening. About 30 caravans and accompanying cars, vans and lorries had occupied a piece of land normally used for recreation by all the local residents. On it, several piles of tonnes of building waste had started to grow. Local residents would not let their children out, local people had been abused and sworn at, houses and shops had been subjected to thefts. I found the eviction notice served on the travellers by the borough council thrust into a hedge of one of the houses that I was canvassing. Unsurprisingly, I gave an undertaking to try to put the situation right.

A briefing from the borough solicitor made it clear that all that could be done to move them on was being done. However, the process was prolonged, and travellers were generally expert at prolonging it. Magistrates would take at face value claims of pregnancies and injuries detaining children in hospital, which were liable to extend the process indefinitely. Subsequently, the travellers were given a deadline by which to leave. At the deadline, I returned to the site, and they were still there. To my surprise, no police were evident. My inquiries of the travellers as to why they had not moved on produced, at first, a complicated tale about a boy in an unidentified local hospital and, finally, abuse. The following day they did move—to another common two miles away and the process began again.

Now under pressure from the borough and the then Conservative parliamentary candidate, the travellers moved up the police priority list. A pedestrian who had a stone thrown at him reported it to the police, which gave them the necessary cause to remove the travellers under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. A police and local borough operation ensued, and,

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at considerable expense, was able to move them on, with their vehicles being towed away if necessary. Again, mountains of waste were left behind for borough council tax payers to pay for their removal. At one site alone, the clean-up costs came to £40,000 yet no individual could be identified as being responsible for those mountains of waste.

This Bill is my first attempt to deliver on my promise to make things better for my constituents. I judged that two issues in particular had to be dealt with: the way in which the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 works in practice and the liability for damage.

I am not alone in seeking a solution to the problem. All of Surrey, not least around the time of the Derby, has grown used to the seasonal invasions of travellers. My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), has been battling on behalf of his constituents recently, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) raised the issue on the Adjournment in Westminster Hall on 15 January 2002. The description of the appalling behaviour that my right hon. Friend's constituents suffered mirrored events in Reigate.

In replying to that date, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), made an important statement of principle with which I concur. She said that

The Under-Secretary went on to identify one of the problems. She added:

Unfortunately, she also said that

In which case, no further progress will be made.

However, I am pleased to be able to give the Home Office the opportunity to address the matter. My Bill would amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to clamp down on the antisocial behaviour of those groups of the travelling community who cause damage. The Bill is designed to strengthen the powers of those who are at the sharp end of dealing with travellers illegally trespassing on land and who are democratically accountable to the public.

The proposals would improve existing legislation in the following ways. It would make all travellers on a site individually responsible for damage caused during their illegal occupation; it would reduce the six-car minimum that the police currently require to evict travellers; and it would clear up any confusion between sections 61 and 77 by enabling a local authority to request the chief

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constable to take action and the chief constable shall comply with any such request. That would give locally accountable politicians more power to effect evictions, as intended by the current law, when illegal occupation has occurred. That would address our constituents' frustration and anger at much current inaction. The Bill would also provide powers of eviction from land forming part of a highway. That point was previously excluded, and the loophole had become obvious and the Under-Secretary referred to it in the debate on 15 January.

Law-abiding travellers have nothing to fear from such legislation. Indeed, their position is made much worse by the reputation they have to carry from the misbehaviour of others. If all travellers respected the settled communities who play occasional host to them, much of this problem would not exist. This change in the law is designed to promote accountability and good behaviour. It would also give the unwilling host communities some protection from antisocial behaviour and damage. This one issue has caused a greater degree of heartache and distress among my constituents than any other single cause. Hon. Members have within their gift the power to support my attempt to address this problem. I seek leave to bring in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Crispin Blunt, Mr. Peter Ainsworth, Sir Paul Beresford, Virginia Bottomley, Chris Grayling, Mr. Philip Hammond, Mr. Nick Hawkins, Mr. Andrew MacKay, Mr. Humfrey Malins, Richard Ottaway, Mr. Ian Taylor and Mr. David Wilshire.

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