HC Deb 20 February 1992 vol 204 cc453-4
8. Mr. Dunn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to increase the penalties for the unlawful occupation of private or public land by traveller families; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

The main criminal penalties for unlawful occupation of land, under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and the Public Order Act 1986, are fines. The maximum level of all fines will increase when the Criminal Justice Act 1991 takes effect in October.

Mr. Dunn

Does the Minister realise that traveller families pose an immense law and order problem to local authorities and the police, especially in north-west Kent? Will he therefore liaise with his colleagues in the Department of the Environment so that a joint effort can be made to give the law the rigour to prohibit the illegal occupation of public and private land by traveller families?

Mr. Lloyd

I well understand, as my county has similar problems involving unlawful occupation of sites by gipsies and other travelling folk. As my hon. Friend implies, the principal Act belongs to the Department of the Environment—the Caravan Sites Act 1968. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment recognises that there can be difficulties with that Act and is considering whether a review would be helpful. However, local authorities have had a duty, since 1968, to provide adequate sites for gipsies normally resorting to their area and, where they have done so to the satisfaction of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, they have criminal powers to remove illegal campers.

Mr. Trimble

Would it be possible to have another look at the last provision that the Minister mentioned, which imposes on local authorities a duty to provide sites for travellers? Why should they have to facilitate what is, in all its aspects, an anti-social form of life and thus impose a loss on rate and charge payers, who then have to put up with such sites in their neighbourhood?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate the difficulty of moving on people who lead a nomadic lifestyle when there is nowhere to move them to. As I said, it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. He is concerned about the issue and I shall draw the remarks that have been made today to his attention.

Sir George Gardiner

Is my hon. Friend aware that section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986 has proved something of a disappointment in protecting those whose homes are near tracts of land that are habitually invaded by travellers? Does he agree that those peaceful citizens have their rights too, particularly against the disturbance, disorder and disruption that is often brought by those people? Is not further legislation urgently needed?

Mr. Lloyd

Section 39 is available for the police to use at their discretion. It was designed to deal with seriously aggravated unlawful occupation, not to undermine the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which is the basic legislation in that area. We have no plans to change section 39. It was recently reviewed and guidance was issued, but we shall examine how that guidance has been used.

Mr. Madden

While I recognise that the occupation of unofficial sites can cause a severe nuisance to settled communities, surely the Minister must appreciate that the only proper way of dealing with the matter is to enforce the 1968 legislation. How can he justify the fact that, so long after that legislation was introduced, local authorities such as Kirklees and Calderdale have made absolutely no permanent provision with proper facilities to provide proper homes for travelling people?

Mr. Lloyd

I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. In not getting themselves designated, county councils cause problems for their local residents, as they are unable to achieve the powers that would enable them to deal with unlawful campers.