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Lord Gilbert: My Lords, one will certainly take into account all historical precedents and the lessons we can learn from them. However, I have to say to your Lordships that the principal consideration we bear in mind when undertaking a defence review is not to look back to the past but to prepare ourselves with modern strategic forces for the future.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, it is unreasonable to expect the noble Lord the Minister to say anything meaningful at this time when the Strategic Defence Review has left the Ministry of Defence and is, as we understand, with the Treasury or possibly with the Cabinet. But will he ask his right honourable friends in the Treasury to bear in mind the major part that the Territorial Army plays in the social life as well as in the defence life of the country and the dangers which would be achieved by a very small cut in the budget compared with a very large cut in the Territorial Army?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I certainly take seriously the comments that the noble Lord makes about the social contribution of the Territorial Army to life in the country, particularly in certain small, outlying

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communities. Whether one can ever get a Treasury Minister interested in such considerations is another matter.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that for review purposes we should take into account not only the potential reserve power which the Territorial Army possesses but also its aid to the civil power when called on to provide it and the social benefits which come from membership of the Territorial Army?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we are taking all those considerations into account.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the Army Cadet Force. Is the noble Lord aware that a very large number of cadet forces have their premises within Territorial Army units? Any significant reduction therefore in TA headquarters units would have a disproportionately grave effect upon the cadet forces of our country.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely important point. We are very seized of the interaction between the territorials and the Army Cadet Force. I can assure him that this is one of the points that has been specifically considered in the course of the Strategic Defence Review.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord--

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Campbell of Alloway: No, I will not.

Noble Lords: Yes!

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I had better declare an interest: over 50 years ago I was a senior subaltern on the supplementary reserve of officers. I am concerned about this matter. Can the noble Lord say that the views expressed on all sides of your Lordships' House will be seriously considered?

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I hope that I have conveyed to your Lordships that we have considered all these points very seriously. As the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, was good enough to recognise, there is little definite that I can say at this moment. No representation has been made this afternoon which has not been considered seriously by Ministers.

Gypsy Sites: Police Operations

2.50 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consult police authorities about the advisability of formulating national guidelines for police operations on gypsy sites, with a view to

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    ensuring that the use of police manpower is commensurate with the criminal activity likely to be uncovered.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, decisions about what police resources to commit to any particular police operation are the responsibility of individual chief police officers and not something on which it would be appropriate for national guidelines to be issued. Chief officers have the full support of the Government in dealing firmly with criminal activity on gypsy sites or anywhere else.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the noble Lord studied reports of an incident that happened on 7th October last in north Oxfordshire when over 200 police officers raided a gypsy site, bashed down the doors, separated parents from their children, prevented children from going to school and people from visiting the doctor? Is the noble Lord aware that the police spent 11 hours on the site with minimal results in terms of the detection of criminal activity? Is the Minister further aware that this kind of practice is reported from counties as far afield as Kent, Northamptonshire and Somerset? Is he also aware that the police seem to behave towards gypsies in a manner which they would not adopt if they were dealing with the settled population? Does the Minister not believe that some kind of guidelines are necessary to ensure that, when police conduct these massive operations, the results in terms of the detection of criminal activity are commensurate with the police resources employed?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, Home Office guidance has been issued to police on the need for welfare checks when they use their power to remove trespassers. Police may wish to take into account the personal circumstances of the trespassers, the presence of elderly persons, invalids, pregnant women, children and others whose well-being may be jeopardised by a precipitate move. I have no evidence that the police are disregarding that.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is another side to the coin? Some of us have had experience of this matter in the areas that we represented, both on local authorities and in another place. Is the Minister aware that bands of these people--sometimes droves of them--settle in an area and completely blight it? From my own personal experience I know that they have terrorised the people living in such areas. Is he further aware that one of the complaints has been that the police have not been active enough in those cases?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have heard complaints of that sort. It is perfectly plain that gypsies are entitled to even-handed, equal treatment under the law, and no more than that.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, instead of worrying too much about complaints about the police implementing

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the existing law, is not the real problem that the Government should be addressing the unsatisfactory nature of the law as it exists at the moment? Can the Minister give us an assurance that that will be looked at as a matter of some urgency?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, obviously we are keen to ensure that the law in this area is sensible and effective. There are no plans at present to change the law. We believe that the police have ample and sufficient powers, subject to the individual operational discretion of the chief constable. Of course, we keep this matter under review.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in discussing matters such as this we need to be very careful to avoid pejorative language and stereotyping which may inflame prejudice? Even if there is a difficult problem to be dealt with, does the Minister agree that it is important not to use unpleasant language?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I thought that I had made that perfectly plain. Our stance is that gypsies, like anyone in this country, are entitled to equal treatment under the law. They are entitled to no special favour: they are equally entitled to no particular detriment. I for one have used no inflammatory language about any group in our country. I realise that the noble Baroness was not imputing it to me. I deprecate the use of prejudicial language against any section of our community.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the Minister referred to trespassers. Can he give the House an assurance that the Government are seeking to ensure that in every area of the country there are sites where gypsies can park legitimately?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, any gypsy community, in appropriate circumstances, can apply for the appropriate planning permission. Local authorities already have discretionary powers to provide additional caravan sites for gypsies. The guidance from the DETR advises local authorities to consider providing emergency stopping places for gypsies visiting their areas--as they do on occasions--for short periods.

Lord Calverley: My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest in that I have been a police officer who has visited gypsy sites in the early hours of the morning. The gypsies should be referred to as "itinerant travellers". They have not always shown total co-operation. Their dogs are trained, too. How does the Minister define police manpower commensurate with the criminal activity that is likely to be uncovered?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with great respect, that question is wholly incapable of precise answer. Under our system an officer of the rank of chief constable is given, rightly in my view, operational discretion. He knows the local conditions, what police

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officers he has under his control, what other problems there are and what is the local public view. He then comes to a reasoned conclusion. That is as it should be.


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