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I want to stress that there is good co-operation between Newport City council and Gwent police, who take their duty of care very seriously. The two work in partnership to ensure the best outcome for both sets of communities. They seek to engage positively with Travellers and, in consultation with them, to agree the expected standards, including site cleanliness and timetables for departure. They work hard to provide
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amenities and carry out the appropriate welfare checks. They try to act quickly when sensitive sites are involved. However, no matter how hard they try, on occasions it is not possible to gain movement without an expensive and time-consuming process. In the meantime, school playing fields, parks and other community facilities are put out of use.

The suggestion therefore is that on designated sites we impose stricter control and a trespass law, which would mean that occupation of those sites could be regarded as a criminal rather than a civil act. Failure to leave the site immediately would result in swift action and, most importantly, the threat of action could serve as a deterrent to unauthorised encampment in the future. The designation of sensitive sites could be agreed by local authorities and the relevant police forces together, and the areas could be published and subject to challenge through the courts on grounds of reasonableness. That could provide a better balance of rights and responsibilities and could give both communities greater clarity as to what is and what is not acceptable.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that on both sides of Newport, although there is sympathy with the Travellers and their difficulties, the behaviour that has occurred recently in Newport is found to be intolerable by many local people, particularly the dumping of huge quantities of rubbish on the sites after the Travellers move away?

Jessica Morden: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He, like me, no doubt meets many constituents who make those points to us at surgeries.

The Welsh Assembly study that is taking place will provide a clear evidence base and a starting point for local authorities to make an assessment of local provision in Wales. Across the UK there is a requirement to assess need, and in England there is now financial assistance for sites. However, local authorities need the resources to provide sites and assistance in maintaining them, and communities need to see benefits and be reassured that the provision of a site will help to prevent, rather than increase, difficulties. Will my hon. Friend the Minister please look at the possibility of creating incentives for local communities that agree to sites in their localities?

In conclusion, I hope we can find a balance of responsibilities that creates an environment that supports Gypsies and Travellers as well as the settled community, upholds the rights of both and preserves community facilities for their usual purpose.

6.27 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden) on securing a debate on such an important topic to her and her constituents. I pay tribute to the dignified, reasoned and eloquent way in which she conveyed her argument. She mentioned the Hartlepool by-election. She was one of the first people who came to help me in that by-election—help me get to this place—and I cannot think of anybody else to whom I would rather respond on my first run-out at the Dispatch Box.


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My officials have told me that my hon. Friend has worked assiduously on behalf of her constituents on this issue, and I hope her constituents and agencies in Newport recognise what such a strong and valuable constituency MP my hon. Friend is. As she pointed out, responsibility for Gypsy and Traveller issues is devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government, so although I can provide information on the position in Wales where it differs from that in England, she will appreciate that I am not able to comment directly on the Assembly’s behalf.

My hon. Friend highlighted in a powerful way some of the problems that can be created by unauthorised Gypsy and Traveller sites and the tensions that they cause with the settled community. At the root of those problems is the shortage of authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers, which is forcing them on to unauthorised sites. The Government believe that everyone—I stress everyone— in the community should have the opportunity of a decent place to live. There is currently no such opportunity for households in about 20 per cent. of Gypsy and Traveller caravans across England and Wales. That is unacceptable and we are committed to increasing the number of authorised, good quality sites in the same way as we are committed to increasing the supply and quality of conventional affordable and social housing. Increased site provision, coupled with effective use of enforcement powers against unauthorised sites, and a joined-up approach between the various organisations with a role in Gypsy and Traveller and broader housing issues, is vital to addressing the problems that my hon. Friend has highlighted and helping to create strong, cohesive communities.

Although we do not need a large amount of land to address the shortage of authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers, it can be particularly challenging to deliver specific land for sites. Many people do not want sites built near to them. They have fears about them that are based on rumour, conjecture and misinformation. A MORI poll in 2003 found that a third of those surveyed felt personally prejudiced against Gypsies and Travellers. It is a prejudice that it is still widely regarded as acceptable to express in a way that would be considered offensive against any other group. But it is a prejudice that is groundless, and I would like to take this opportunity to dispel some common myths. Research undertaken by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation investigated the experiences of neighbours who had objected to the establishment of three authorised sites, after the sites had been up and running for between one and four years. Most householders acknowledged that their fears had proved groundless. The police reported no noticeable increase in crime in the vicinity of the sites. Schools in those areas were able to cope with the additional pupils from the sites and reported that the Gypsy and Traveller children had integrated well socially.

Gypsies and Travellers are required to—and do—pay council tax, whether or not their sites have planning permission, and they are active in their local communities. For example, Candy Sheridan, an Irish Traveller, is a councillor for North Norfolk district council. Blue Jones, a Romany Gypsy, represents Kent on the National Youth Parliament. Kedra Goodall, a Gypsy, recently sought selection as the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith and got through to the final four.


4 July 2007 : Column 1063

Well managed, good quality sites can support cohesive, sustainable communities. The Ridgewell site near Halstead in Essex is just one example. The site is well integrated with the local community, with residents, members of the local neighbourhood watch scheme and patrons of the mobile library service, which regularly visits the site. So there are incentives for everyone—Gypsies and Travellers, local authorities and the settled community—to increasing site provision. Those extend beyond the obvious benefits of reducing unauthorised camping and the tensions that that can create with the settled community, of which my hon. Friend has spoken so eloquently.

Site provision will reduce the amount of resources that authorities spend on costly enforcement action. As my hon. Friend mentioned, this has been estimated by the Commission for Racial Equality at £18 million a year, and described by the Audit Commission in relation to one local authority as a “wasteful use of resources”. Bristol city council has seen its enforcement costs drop from £200,000 to £5,000 a year since building a new authorised site. One result of that saving has been that its leisure services department has been able to spend an additional £40,000 a year improving the environment through investment in local parks and open spaces. I am sure that that approach is relevant and pertinent to my hon. Friend’s experience, and I hope that she will take it up and begin to implement it in her constituency.

The provision of authorised sites also makes it quicker and easier to take enforcement action where unauthorised camping does take place. A range of powers are available to landowners, local authorities and the police to deal with unauthorised encampments, where Gypsies and Travellers camp on land that they do not own. Those range from common law powers and civil procedures in the county court, to the powers of local authorities and the police to direct trespassers to leave land in certain circumstances.

My hon. Friend asked me to look at the experience in Ireland, where stronger powers are available to deal with trespass, and to consider making trespass a criminal offence where it occurs on certain sensitive sites. Although trespass itself is not a criminal offence, it is already a criminal offence for a trespasser to fail to leave when directed to do so by a local authority or the police, or to return within three months. Our task group on site provision and enforcement, chaired by Sir Brian Briscoe, a former chief executive of the Local Government Association, has reviewed the operation of enforcement powers and taken evidence from local authorities and others. The group concluded that rather than making changes to those powers, authorities should be helped to use them more effectively. It recommended that we work closely with the Local Government Association and the Improvement and Development Agency to secure improvements in performance, and we will do so.

Police powers to direct trespassers to leave land will often be the quickest, as they can be used without reference to the courts. However, there are other things that authorities and the police can do to speed up the process, including having protocols in place to deal with cases of unauthorised sites. However, as the interim report of our task group makes clear, and as I have already stressed, enforcement action will always
4 July 2007 : Column 1064
be quicker and more effective where appropriate authorised sites are available. We recognise that until sufficient numbers of authorised sites are available, local authorities, Gypsies and Travellers can be left in a difficult position. Authorities may want to consider whether enforcement action is absolutely necessary. Where an unauthorised encampment is in an obtrusive location, authorities could seek to agree a departure date with the campers. However, as in the instances described by my hon. Friend, there will be some locations where encampments are not acceptable—for example, where they prevent the use of important local amenities such as sports fields or stately homes for weddings. In those instances, authorities could seek to agree a less damaging location.

Having enough good quality accommodation will help to tackle the serious social exclusion experienced by Gypsies and Travellers and improve health and education outcomes. The average life expectancy of a Gypsy or Traveller is 10 to 12 years less than that of a member of the settled community. Gypsy and Traveller mothers are almost 20 times more likely to experience the death of a child. Twenty-two per cent. of Irish Traveller children and 15 per cent. of Gypsy children achieve five or more good GCSE grades, compared with 55 per cent. of children in the settled population.

In order to achieve the increase in accommodation we are seeking we have established a new framework for authorised site provision. Local authorities in England and Wales are required by the Housing Act 2004 to undertake accommodation needs assessments for Gypsies and Travellers in the same way as they do for the rest of the community. I understand that assessments have been completed, or are now under way, in 90 per cent. of authorities in England. We want all those to be complete by the end of the year. In England, regional assemblies will take a strategic view of need and set out the number of pitches that each local authority will be expected to deliver. Local authorities will then need to identify sites to deliver those pitches in their development plan documents. I am sure that my hon. Friend, as a Welsh MP, will be interested to hear that in Wales the National Assembly has consulted on planning guidance that would require local authorities whose accommodation assessments have identified unmet need for Gypsy and Traveller sites in their areas to identify sites to meet that need in their local development plans.

To back up that new framework, we have increased the resources available to local authorities for Gypsy and Traveller sites. In England, up to £56 million is available between 2006 and 2008 for providing new sites and refurbishing existing sites through the Gypsy and Traveller site grant. In Wales, £3 million is being made available between 2007-08 and 2009-10 to refurbish existing sites. We are beginning to make progress, but we need to step up the pace. We will work with local authorities and regional assemblies to provide challenge and support as they tackle this important issue.

The new framework that we have established is crucial to making progress on site provision, and coupled with effective enforcement action and a joined up approach to the issues, it will help create strong, cohesive communities. Only by significantly increasing the number of authorised sites will we ensure that all—I stress all—parts of the community have a decent place to live. That will reduce
4 July 2007 : Column 1065
the tensions that unauthorised sites can cause with the settled community, as mentioned by my hon. Friend, reduce the need for, and cost of, enforcement action, and make it easier to use enforcement powers as well as improving the life outcomes of the most socially excluded group in our society.

I would like once again to congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and affording me the
4 July 2007 : Column 1066
opportunity to explain why site provision is so important and how we need to see it in the wider context of affordable and appropriate accommodation for all.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes to Seven o’clock.


4 July 2007 : Column 1067

Deferred Division


European global navigation satellite system


The House divided: Ayes 318, Noes 141.
Division No. 174]




AYES


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, Danny
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
Balls, rh Ed
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barrett, John
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, rh Hazel
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brake, Tom
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Annette
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Bryant, Chris
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Lorely
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clegg, Mr. Nick
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
Davey, Mr. Edward
David, Mr. Wayne
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Farrelly, Paul
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Don
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gidley, Sandra
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harris, Mr. Tom
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Huhne, Chris
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hunter, Mark
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Ann
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Knight, Jim
Kramer, Susan
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, Mr. David
Laws, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall, Mr. David
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Merron, Gillian
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, rh Edward
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moore, Mr. Michael
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Mudie, Mr. George
Mulholland, Greg
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Price, Adam
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Rennie, Willie
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rogerson, Dan
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob
Russell, Christine
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Seabeck, Alison
Sheridan, Jim
Simpson, Alan

Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Smith, Sir Robert
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Swinson, Jo
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thornberry, Emily
Thurso, John
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watts, Mr. Dave
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Younger-Ross, Richard
NOES


Afriyie, Adam
Amess, Mr. David
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baldry, Tony
Baron, Mr. John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Burns, Mr. Simon
Butterfill, Sir John
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David

Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Field, Mr. Mark
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Mr. Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Horam, Mr. John
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Johnson, Mr. Boris
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lidington, Mr. David
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Main, Anne
Maples, Mr. John
Mates, rh Mr. Michael
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McCrea, Dr. William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Randall, Mr. John
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rosindell, Andrew
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, David
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Stanley, rh Sir John
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Question accordingly agreed to.
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