Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page



"POWERS RELATING TO TRESPASSERS AND UNAUTHORISED CAMPERS: ALTERNATIVE SITE AVAILABLE
(1) The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 61 (power to remove trespassers on land)—
(a) in subsection (1), after "If" insert "the condition in subsection (1A) is satisfied and";
(b) after subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) The condition is that the senior police officer present at the scene must consult the local authority within whose area the scene is situated as to whether there is a suitable pitch for the vehicles on a relevant caravan site which is situated within the local authority's area.";
(c) in subsection (9), before the definition of "common land", insert—
""caravan site" has the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (c. 62);
"relevant caravan site" means a caravan site which is—
(a) situated in the area of a local authority within whose area the land is situated, and
(b) managed by a relevant site manager;
"relevant site manager" means—
(a) a local authority within whose area the land is situated;
(b) a registered social landlord;
"registered social landlord" means a body registered as a social landlord under Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Housing Act 1996 (c. 52);".
(3) In section 77 (power of local authority to direct unauthorised campers to leave land)—
(a) in subsection (1), after "If" insert "the condition in subsection (1A) is satisfied and";
(b) after subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) The condition is that the local authority has ascertained that there is a suitable pitch for the vehicle or vehicles on a relevant caravan site which is situated within the local authority's area.";
(c) in subsection (6), before the definition of "land" insert—
""caravan site" has the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960;

3 Nov 2003 : Column 597

"relevant caravan site" means a caravan site which is—
(a) situated in the area of a local authority within whose area the land is situated, and
(b) managed by a relevant site manager;
"relevant site manager" means—
(a) a local authority within whose area the land is situated;
(b) a registered social landlord;
"registered social landlord" means a body registered as a social landlord under Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Housing Act 1996;"."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are grateful to the Government for listening to the arguments which we put to them in Committee to the effect that, in this clause, the police officer exercising the power of direction that would require travellers to leave an unauthorised caravan site should first ensure that there is somewhere else for them to go. In the government amendment, which we shall discuss in the next grouping, the officer must consult the local authority for the area as regards whether there is a suitable pitch on an official site for the travellers' vehicles. That is not wholly satisfactory because the officer is not obliged to refrain from issuing directions if the local authority states that it does not have a suitable pitch on any of its sites, and we shall have something to say about that when we come to it.

If it is the Government's view that the officer directing travellers to leave an unauthorised site should always have to consult the local authority on whether a pitch is available on an official site regardless of which Act of Parliament he happens to be using at the time, then we agree with them. It would be confusing for the police and for the travellers themselves if the officer could disregard the availability of accommodation in an area when he is acting under Section 61 of the 1994 Act but not when exercising the powers under Clause 65 of the Bill. We believe that it follows logically that when a local authority itself uses the power of direction under Section 77 of the 1994 Act, it should likewise ascertain that there is a suitable pitch or pitches on official sites in the area. That information would no doubt then be available for the magistrates if an order was sought under Section 78 of the 1994 Act.

At the moment, the powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act are being used regardless of the availability of official sites in an area and regardless of the requirements of common humanity which have been described by the courts. Perhaps I may give one example. In Crawley Borough Council, the extended family of John Ross, Michael McCarthy, Wesley Maughen and others has repeatedly been evicted to the detriment of the health and education needs of the whole family. Erica Ross—John Ross's sister—has

3 Nov 2003 : Column 598

four children, aged 10, six, three and nearly two. The two older children started at Bewbush primary school on 11th September, but after they were evicted and went to Gratton Park three miles away, transport was not provided even though they were over the statutory limit from the school. Mr Maughen is awaiting a serious operation and the children of Mrs Julie McCarthy have already missed dental appointments because of a series of evictions.

On 13th October the council obtained a Section 78 order against the whole extended family, although eviction has been stayed by an application for judicial review, lodged on the family's behalf by a voluntary worker. There is a defect in Section 78 in that the magistrates have to grant the order irrespective of family circumstances, and legal aid is not available for contesting notices that have been served under Section 77.

I understand that the Minister believes that the new police powers in the Bill will provide an incentive to local authorities to provide sites. But why should they when all the powers in the 1994 Act give them what they want? If Amendment No. 105A is accepted, the powers of direction will be available to local authorities under that Act only when there have been inquiries about where those to be evicted could lawfully go, whether the action is taken under the Bill or the 1994 Act.

It would be confusing and unjust to apply different criteria where there are six or more caravans, as in Section 61 of the 1994 Act, as compared with five or fewer if the powers are to be exercised under the Bill. I acknowledge that there are anti-social travellers just as there are anti-social members of the settled population, but the provision in Section 61 of the 1994 Act wrongly confused the need to deal vigorously with minor criminality—which is said to be the purpose of the Bill—with the problem of unauthorised encampments, which demands remedies of a completely different kind.

For consistency between the Bill and the 1994 Act, the condition that there should be places available on an official site in the same area before travellers are directed to leave an unauthorised camp should apply to all these powers, whether they are exercised by the police or the local authority.

Amendment No. 105B would eliminate the penalty of imprisonment for a person who fails to comply with a direction under Section 61 of the 1994 Act. I do not know whether anyone has been sent to prison for this offence, but it would be an extraordinarily stupid use of Prison Service resources at a time when, as I mentioned during the debate on an earlier amendment, there are 74,149 people in custody in England and Wales. Even though, as the Minister said on the previous amendment, the maximum sentence in all these instances may be very rarely used by the court, the cumulative effect of having a number of offences on the statute book, each of which provides that a three-month prison sentence may be imposed, is harmful and leads to the clogging up of prisons by a large number of people serving short sentences for whom prison can do no good. I beg to move.

3 Nov 2003 : Column 599

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and to speak also to Amendment No. 105B, with which it is grouped.

This ingenious amendment deals with a number of concerns about this section of the Bill which we voiced in Committee. I said then that we were concerned about the effect of this section of the Bill on the welfare of traveller and gypsy families. I said that I had been briefed by the Children's Society and Save the Children, of which I was for a number of years a member. My noble friend the Minister gave quite firm assurances that it was no part of the Government's intention to apply the kind of pressure that could result in children being removed and brought up as non-traveller children. We are very grateful for the assurances my noble friend gave us then and these have been duly passed on to the Children's Society and the other societies concerned.

However, a number of concerns remain. There is, as we know, a shortage of caravan sites. There is clearly a local authority responsibility and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, attempts to deal with that. There are also amendments standing in the Minister's name with which we shall deal when we come to them, but the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, seem to go further than those.

Amendment No. 105B, which would amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, goes further. It also deals with another matter of concern to us—the matter of penalties. Amendments Nos. 113 and 114, which will be debated later, deal with the provisions in the Bill which would, I think for the first time, specifically criminalise travellers who fail to comply with a direction. These provisions turn the tort of trespass into a crime. One set of powers applies in cases of evictions from houses and another in cases of removal from sites. In one case a population is criminalised; in another it is not. The disparity between the way in which travellers are dealt with and the way in which people are evicted from houses can only strengthen the calls for the Government to deal with the matter of sites for travellers in the context of housing and homelessness legislation, bringing the need to make provision for them and the sanctions they face in line with those applying to people in houses.

The noble Lord's ingenious amendment deals both with suitable sites and penalties. The two amendments should attract the Minister's support. I hope that he will regard them as acceptable.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page