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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Turner and Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, for their

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contributions to this short debate. No one has defended the Government's wording in the Bill or the Minister's concession as being sufficient to meet the difficulties we are trying to address.

We are grateful to the Minister for having listened to what was said in Committee. I have already acknowledged that Amendment No. 110 does part of what we wanted in providing that a suitable pitch should be available and that consultation with the local authority should precede any action to issue directions. However, the police will need only to consider that advice; they will not have to act on it. If the local authority says that no pitch is available, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent it issuing directions.

The Minister dwelt again on the extent of the improvements which he said had been introduced by the Government since coming into office in 1997 in the provision of accommodation for gypsies and he said that perhaps that was not as much as I would like to see. It is not me he has to please; it is the 3,000 families who are currently living on unauthorised encampments, together with the people whose lives are severely affected by having those unauthorised encampments in their neighbourhood. I have always acknowledged that that is the other side of the coin.

If the provision of new sites is at the rate of only 30 per annum, which is all that can be provided for the money the Government have made available, it will take 100 years before these people are accommodated in official sites. By that time, the population will have grown. Therefore, it is not me who says that the Government's efforts are inadequate; it is the Government's own report, which they commissioned from Pat Ninier of Birmingham University. The Minister did not comment on that either in respect of this amendment or the previous one.

The Minister talked about a rigid certification regime which we are seeking to impose. We say merely that when the police consult the local authority and it looks to see whether a suitable pitch, or pitches, are available, it should write a little note certifying that that is the case. This is not a rigid regime; it merely asks the local authority to put on record what it will say to the police informally if the Minister's solution is preferred. If I were the police, I would rather that the local authority had to put it in writing so that there would be no come-back if there were an argument about whether a suitable pitch had been made available.

In answer to the eloquent speeches made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Turner and Lady Whitaker, about the needs of children, the Minister said that this is all best left to guidance. Well, we see where guidance has left the children—they are the most deprived section of any in the school regime. It is universally acknowledged by the DfES and all those who have anything to do with traveller education that such children do not do well at school and do not obtain qualifications. As I mentioned earlier, the problems with the traveller community are perpetuated into the next generation because the children are never in one place for long enough to settle down at school. Nothing in the Bill will remedy that.

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I am pleased to hear what the Minister said about consultation. I believe that it goes a long way towards meeting the requirement in the amendment for extensive consultation to take place with the CRE on the guidance and for officers in both local authorities and the police to receive specific training based on the guidance in how to deal with the problems of ethnic Romanies and Irish travellers. I believe that that, at least, was one positive assurance that we obtained from the Minister. However, on the whole, I was disappointed by what he said about this amendment, as I was by what he said about the previous one.

I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, has returned to her place. I rather wish that she had been replying to the amendment because I took the trouble to send her fairly extensive material about the non-availability of pitches on official sites. The material also set out how the scheme in the Bill will not work because for many years the accommodation which the police would be able to access when issuing directions under this provision will not be available.

However, I can see plainly that we shall not get any further on this occasion. We shall have to postpone further discussion to forums outside your Lordships' House, where I know that organisations which represent travellers will be the first to express major disappointment at the Government's attitude. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 107 not moved.]

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 108:

    Page 50, line 19, after first "a" insert "suitable"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 109 not moved.]

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 110:

    Page 50, line 24, at end insert—

"(3A) Subsection (3B) applies if—
(a) a police officer proposes to give a direction under subsection (1) in relation to a person and land, and
(b) it appears to him that the person has one or more caravans in his possession or under his control on the land.
(3B) The officer must consult every local authority within whose area the land is situated as to whether there is a suitable pitch for the caravan or each of the caravans on a relevant caravan site which is situated in the local authority's area."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 111 and 112 not moved.]

Clause 66 [Failure to comply with direction: offences]:

[Amendments Nos. 113 to 115 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 116:

    After Clause 68, insert the following new clause—


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(1) Where the use of a parcel of land changes and—
(a) the new use requires planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8) and no application has been made to the relevant planning authority for planning permission for the change of use nor granted by them, and
(b) the change of use creates a public nuisance;
the relevant local authority may take action to have the site restored to its former state.
(2) If the relevant local authority decides to take action to restore a site it must serve notice of its intention on the owners and occupiers of the site.
(3) If, on receipt of a notice, the owners or the occupiers of the site do not cease the unauthorised use immediately, they shall be guilty of an offence.
(4) a person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction to—
(a) imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months,
(b) a fine not exceeding £20,000, or
(c) both.
(5) Where the owner of the site is responsible for the change of use or has otherwise permitted other persons to undertake the change of use and he takes no action to restore the site, the relevant local authority may restore the site and charge the owner for the full cost of the restoration.
(6) Where the owner of the site has not authorised the occupiers of the site to change the use, the relevant local authority shall require the occupiers of the site to undertake the restoration and, if they take no action, may undertake the restoration and charge the occupiers for the full cost of the restoration."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 116 would deal with a different aspect of the problem that we have now discussed at considerable length. At this hour, I shall try not to take too much of your Lordships' time.

Because of the chronic shortage of available local authority sites, it is not at all unusual for members of the gypsy community, when they find the opportunity, to take matters into their own hands. There are occasions when that is not too objectionable. They purchase a site, harden and service it in so far as they can, and a gypsy encampment ensues.

Various problems arise with that. In so doing, they are almost invariably in breach of planning regulations because, more often than not, they will not have taken the trouble to consult the planning authority in the area before purchasing the site and making use of it. That problem arises where there are planning laws, and the local authority can take enforcement action. I know of one site in my area where that has happened. It has about 30 caravans on it. It is now completely hardened and it has been there for, I believe, at least six years. The local authority has at last got round to taking enforcement action but, in my view, that is far too late.

However, there is a reason for such delay by the local authority. Disregarding the problems of planning laws, taking enforcement action is not cheap. If such action is taken, there is still the problem of what to do with the site when the gypsies are removed. Someone must pay to get rid of the hardened, serviced site because it is in the open countryside. That will be expensive and, at present, nothing can make the owner unharden the site and restore it to its original state.

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Unauthorised gypsy sites are worse than that because in their initial stages they often cause serious public nuisance. The process of hardening a gypsy site is not simple. It involves a lot of additional traffic that may travel down residential roads and out into the countryside. When a gypsy encampment first arrives there is no doubt at all that it causes a deal of public nuisance and vexation. The amendment would give the local authority the power to give notice to the owners of such a site to restore it. An offence is committed if the use does not cease. That would largely remove the expenditure from the local authority.

I expect the noble Baroness will tell me that this amendment is completely wrong and completely unworkable. That may well be. I acknowledge that it has the safeguards that apply in all the earlier situations that we have heard about. In the normal situation when gypsies move on to a site, someone objects and with the objection all the official procedures come into play. However, a particular difficulty arises when gypsies own the site.

I have the greatest sympathy with the gypsy community in this matter, particularly because of the appallingly slow rate at which it is possible for local authorities to act to provide sites. The solution ought to be that gypsies provide their own sites where they can find landowners who are willing to sell them sites. At the same time, for that to happen they would need to have discussions with the local planning authority to ensure that what they want to do is acceptable. At the moment that does not happen and the result is that they cause a great deal of offence. What is worse is that in the end they get away with, in effect, a development of land that has no planning permission and which gives them an illegal advantage over the rest of the community.

That is a very real problem in this area. Although the way in which the amendment suggests dealing with the situation may not be perfect, it would deal with it. I look forward with interest to hearing the response of the noble Baroness. I beg to move.

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