HC Deb 17 November 2003 vol 413 cc535-47

Lords amendment: No 39—a new clause.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Ms Blears.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss amendment (a) to the Lords amendment, Lords amendment No. 40, Lords amendment No. 41 and amendment (a) thereto, and Lords amendment No. 74.

Mr. Paice

I shall speak to my amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 39. I welcome the debate on the two issues covered by this group of amendments—namely raves and dealing with unauthorised encampments. Indeed, by my recollection, both were raised in Committee and unauthorised encampments were the subject of a lot of discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and I spoke at length and, if I dare say it, with some passion because of constituency experiences—this is a serious problem.

I shall take the two issues separately if I may and deal first with raves, to which amendment No. 39 and my amendment (a) are relevant. I welcome what the Government are doing about raves. Reducing the relevant number from 100 to 20 is extremely sensible. It means that organising a rave for 99 people, which I understand has been the practice of a lot of people who tried to get just inside the law, will end. I also strongly welcome the removal of the term "open air" from subsection (2) of section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. However, the purpose of my amendment (a) is to challenge the Government as to why they have not removed the same term from subsection (1).

Subsection (1) states: This section applies to a gathering on land in the open air of 100 or more persons". The Government are making an amendment by striking out 100 and inserting 20, but they have left in the words "open air". Subsection (2) refers to as respects any land in the open air, a police officer of at least the rank of superintendent", but the term "open air" is to be deleted. I cannot help but feel that that is an oversight by the Government. The Minister is looking perplexed, which leads me to think that this has not clicked with either the Government or her advisers. The number in the 1994 Act as amended by the Lords amendment will be reduced from 100 to 20 without the term "open air" being removed. It seems to me that the gathering has to be on land in the open air.

Mr. Heath


Mr. Paice

I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who may be able to correct me.

Mr. Heath

I think that the hon. Gentleman is right in his drafting amendment, but I also think that passing his amendment, whose wording is simpler than that used by the Government, would make subsections (3) and (4) of amendment No. 39 redundant. Those would no longer be necessary, as the hon. Gentleman would have extended the application to an occurrence in the open air or within a closed building.

Mr. Paice

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Perhaps the Minister will persuade me that subsection (3) is indeed sufficient, but I do not see for the life of me why the Government could not have simply struck out the words "in the open air" in both instances.

Let me now deal with the other amendments concerning travellers and the 1994 Act. I think this discussion will illustrate the absurdity of automatically timetabling all our debates. The travellers issue was not debated during the main part of the Bill's passage; the Government introduced it in the form of an amendment on Report, and the timetabling meant that it was not reached. This, therefore, is our only opportunity to debate the amendments to the 1994 Act involving travellers—and because we are discussing Lords amendments, that opportunity is extremely limited.

It is a tragedy that the Government have arranged matters in this way. I am not saying that I object to the amendments, which move in a direction that I urged on the Government in Committee. I am merely saying that had the Government allowed more time on Report, when the amendments first appeared, we might have felt more certain that they were getting this absolutely right.

I am still concerned about the fact that there is nothing in the Government's amendments, now incorporated in the Bill, or in the Lords amendments to deal with the detritus left by travellers, which was raised by almost everyone in Committee. That is a huge problem on both public and private land, but in many ways it is worse on private land, because it is for the owner of that land to pay the cost of clearing what may be huge piles of unpleasant waste. I welcome the addition of a power for the police to move on unauthorised travellers, the removal of the numbers limit, and many other new measures. However, as I said on Third Reading, I am worried about the loophole created by the Government in regard to alternative sites.

The Bill seems to say that police officers can move travellers on if they are illegally encamped and an alternative site is available. The Minister kindly nods, implying that my simplistic mind has got it right in this instance. On Third Reading, I feared that the Government risked driving a coach and horses through the intention of the relevant clauses. Since then they have tabled Lords amendment No. 40, which would insert the word "suitable". That worries me chiefly because "suitable" is a subjective term. I do not want to return to the issue of what constitutes appropriate graffiti, but "suitable" is subjective as opposed to objective. One person's definition of a suitable alternative site might not be another person's definition.

I speak as one with some years' standing in the House, representing a constituency where hundreds of travellers are going in and out all the time. They and their advisers know the law back to front, and if there is a loophole to be exploited they will exploit it. The word "suitable" immediately creates an opportunity for travellers and advisers to seek to undermine the law by challenging the suitability of a site in the eyes of the law.

6.45 pm

Lords amendment No. 41 seems to constitute an attempt by the Government to define a suitable alternative site, although it does not say as much. It states that a police officer must consult every local authority within his area the land is situated as to whether there is a suitable pitch for the caravan…in the local authority's area. That seems to me to restrict the scope of clause 61 dramatically. If, for example, travellers were encamped in a local authority area but close to its border, the officer would have to consult that authority. If there were no alternative site in the authority's area, the powers in the clause could not be used. There might, however, be a suitable alternative site only a mile away, in the area of another authority that would not have to be consulted.

My constituency shares its boundary with two other counties, as well as the rest of Cambridgeshire. We have serious problems with unauthorised encampments, often within a mile or two of the Essex and Suffolk borders. There may be very convenient alternative sites in those counties, but if I understand the Bill correctly, the authority that must be consulted is the one whose area contains the illegal encampment. I am being parochial here, but I would hope that we all know our constituencies better than anywhere else.

The Minister will confirm whether "local authority" means a county or a district authority—

Ms Blears


Mr. Paice

In any event, because South Cambridgeshire borders many miles of the Essex boundary, if there is no alternative site in the rest of Cambridgeshire—which there may well not be, because of the large number of travellers—but there is one just over the border in Essex, that cannot be taken into consideration.

I do not pretend that I have necessarily got the drafting right in my amendment, but it is too late to change it now. Let me again use the example of South Cambridgeshire. You will know the adjoining district of Uttlesford, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it is in your constituency. I suggest that if it contained an alternative site, its authority should be consulted.

Mr. Heath

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent point, which I fear we will not able to resolve at this late stage. Will he also consider county authorities which, under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, made provision for transit sites covering all district council areas within their boundaries? Those sites will be discounted for the Bill's purposes unless they happen to be in the same district council area as an illegal encampment.

Mr. Paice

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support. The Minister said a moment ago that the county area would be covered, but what worries me is the possibility of a site's being just outside the county area. I could have framed my amendment to include all adjoining counties—indeed, I suspect that many of my constituents would have preferred "adjoining countries"—but I am trying to be reasonable, and to propose an amendment that the Government might consider acceptable.

Mr. Martlew

In my county of Cumbria, there is a transit site very near my constituency. From the south of the county, it is 90 miles away. I suspect that it would not be suitable to ask travellers to go 90 miles.

Mr. Paice

The hon. Gentleman makes the point that I made earlier about the use of the term "suitable". What is suitable? How far is suitable? Is 90 miles suitable? I do not know. It will require a court eventually to decide. As the hon. Gentleman knows, travellers are fully aware of every aspect of legislation affecting them and they will test it.

I come back to the issue of alternative sites and what may be a suitable distance. It would be easy to suggest that a suitable alternative site should be one within five, 10, 15 or even 90 miles, whatever distance one chose. Rather than have a debate about how far is suitable for an alternative site, I suggest merely that we should ensure that all adjoining districts to the district in which the unauthorised encampment is located should be taken into account. Please do not think from my earlier comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am entirely desirous of deporting all the unauthorised encampments in my constituency to yours. I simply use it as an example of what I am trying to get across with the amendment.

I fear that what has happened is that the Home Secretary and indeed the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), the previous Minister who dealt with the Bill in Committee, were determined to be tough but that, since the Government tabled their amendments, there have been voices urging that they be weakened. I fear that amendments Nos. 40 and 41 do weaken the original proposals, even though, as I said earlier and as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, this is the first time that we have debated them; we did not have a chance to debate them in earlier proceedings. The purpose of my amendment on travellers is simply to ensure that, where we are searching for what may be a suitable alternative site, not just that district or the county but all adjoining districts are consulted, so that, if the unauthorised encampment is close to a county boundary, we ensure that the other districts surrounding it are also consulted under new subsection (3B) in amendment No. 41.

This is in many ways the most important group of amendments that we shall discuss this evening. I hope that I have managed to explain to the Minister the import that I attach to them and the reasons why I tabled them. I look forward to her response.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)

I will be brief and make a few remarks on the amendments to clause 61. I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said. I personally am pleased to see these clauses in the Bill because they enact a strategy that was announced during my time as a Home Office Minister. If time were not pressing, I might discuss why they did not get into the Bill at an earlier stage, but I will leave that for another occasion. However, I am pleased that that approach is being taken.

I can see both sides of the argument. The difficulty is that far too few local authorities, including district councils, have made provision for the type of temporary move-on site that I take to be meant by "suitable". I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that we are talking not about an all-singing, all-dancing long-term residential camp site but about a suitable site to which someone can be directed, with the basic facilities that are necessary. Without an incentive for local authorities to make that provision, it is unlikely that they will do so. The police will be hampered in the use of the power by the lack of any facilities in the surrounding area.

I agree that in an entirely sensible and utterly co-operative world the position taken by the hon. Gentleman—that all provision should be taken into account—would make sense, but we are at a period when district councils must be focused on making that provision. It is an argument that needs to be advanced. In my local authority area, the cost of clearing up just two encampments in the past year has been £50,000 and we are not yet at the end of the financial year. We need to get local authorities—the incentive is in the Bill—to invest that money in the sort of move-on facilities that can cut the costs that they are incurring on clearing up waste. I think that what the Government are doing will provide the incentive for local authorities to act and not just to say, "We assume that someone else will deal with the problem and the police can direct people in that direction."

The issue may need to be revisited when there is an adequate pattern of provision in every area, and it is logical to look at everything that is available in the whole of Hampshire, in my case, but we are not in that situation at the moment. Therefore, provided that the term "suitable"—I trust that there will be Government guidance—clearly means basic, hard-standing chemical soak-away facilities, a standpipe or whatever, and not the all-singing, all-dancing residential complexes, for which it has been difficult to get planning permission, the Bill will take us a significant way forward.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I raised Committee concerns I had in respect of my constituency, which abuts Hampshire. Does he recognise that there are considerable difficulties even in areas where there is substantial local authority provision? Chobham in my constituency, a small village, was hugely over-run by a massive new site being created in breach of all the planning rules, even though there was already an existing proper site provided by the local authority, so a local authority-provided site does not necessarily solve the problems.

Mr. Denham

Of course, there are problems. The difficulty ever since the original Act has been that local authorities have been reluctant to provide the transit move-on sites that are necessary. The Bill and the logic of the approach says, "Here is a power that is available to the police but only if the local authority in that area acts to make suitable provision." Without that early incentive, we will not see an expansion in the type of facilities that need to be available, and then in practice the much faster move-on powers will not be available to the police.

As we all know, it can take weeks to move on an unauthorised encampment. In one case in Southampton recently, there was a dispute as to whether the landowner or leaseholder should take action. Things dragged on even longer, so I welcome the moves that are being taken, even though I suspect that, if we are successful at providing more temporary camp sites, there may be a case in years to come to revisit the debate that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire has started.

While I am on my feet, may I say to the Minister in supporting the overall approach that is being taken that I was a little disconcerted to find last week that the guidance coming from the Home Office on the use of antisocial behaviour orders and the new powers to deal with travellers is not exactly extensive? If we wish to see the police use the new ASBO power against travellers, some extended guidance from the Home Office on how to do it, how to collect evidence and how to get the ASBO to court would be enormously useful. I am convinced that that complements the measures in the Bill well but we need to ensure that it can be used at local level.

Mrs. Brooke

I await with interest the Minister's response on amendment No. 40 and amendment (a). We had an interesting exchange. It is a matter of waiting for her pronouncement on that.

On the amendment on travellers, I was interested in the interpretation by the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). I had not realised before he spoke that there would be an incentive to provide transitional sites. I understand the logic now that it has been expressed in that way, but I question whether that is sufficient incentive. I suspect that it will take a lot more and a lot of persuasion to get local authorities to do something about what is a serious issue for all our constituents.

I favour amendment (a) to amendment No. 41. It seems to make a lot of sense. Indeed, I do not see how one can argue against it. If we have a site 100 yd over the border, surely it needs to come into play. There must be some wording that could pick that point up.

Amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 41 could have greater longer-term significance. The principle of making local authorities work together is surely another way forward because some local authorities will argue that they simply have not got places, whereas a number of different types of council, covering larger areas, can truly work together. County councils were specifically mentioned. I represent part of the unitary authority of Poole, which is in the county of Dorset, although it is a separate authority. We would have big problems with moving travellers on without that amendment because of the proximity of the unitary authority boundary and the county council boundary. So I very much support that amendment and await the Minister's comments.

7 pm

Ms Blears

I wish to respond to the Opposition amendments that have been tabled to Lords amendments Nos. 39 and 41.

During previous stages, hon. Members mentioned the problem of raves, so the Government took the opportunity in the other place to introduce measures to deal with that important issue. The Lords amendments will change existing legislation to include indoor trespassory raves, reduce the numerical threshold for action from 100 to 20 people and make it an offence for a person on whom a direction has been served to attend another trespassory rave within 24 hours of the direction being given. Those three trends, which show how legislation was being gradually undermined, were identified by our work with the Association of Chief Police Officers. People were organising events for just under 100 people, events that took place one after another in similar places and an increasing number of indoor events.

Amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 39, tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), may appear attractive at first sight, as its wording is simpler—the words "in the open air" would be omitted—but I assure hon. Members that section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, as amended by the Bill, will address the problem both of raves in the open air and of indoor trespassory raves. I emphasise that fact. If we were to agree with the hon. Gentleman's proposal, we would catch all indoor events—for example, house parties where people were not trespassing and were present with the agreement of the person organising the event. I cannot imagine that he wants to include a provision that would catch people who were not trespassing. The Bill is intended to catch people who are trespassing on other people's land.

Mr. Heath

I have been reading section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. It applies only where serious distress is being caused to the inhabitants of a locality, so there is still a heavy qualification.

Ms Blears

Yes, but Lords amendment No. 39 will meet the requirements that we want to achieve to address the trends, which ACPO identified, that are undermining the existing legislation. We want to deal with events that are organised indoors and that still have all the elements of the unacceptable raves that were being organised outdoors. The Government's proposal will do that, and the hon. Gentleman's proposals would go wider than would be appropriate for the legislation. I hope, therefore, that I have assured the hon. Gentleman that Lords amendment No. 39 will achieve what he wants and that he will not press amendment (a) to a Division.

I turn now to the amendments on travellers. Lords amendments Nos. 40 and 41 provide swifter eviction powers to deal with trespassers on land when an alternative site is available. Again, those amendments were tabled as a result of the Government listening to concerns that were expressed in the Lords. Lords amendment No. 40 will ensure that, before the police issue a direction for trespassers to leave land, a suitable pitch will be available on a local authority site.

Hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). asked what sites might be suitable. A transit site could certainly be suitable. If such issues are the subject of litigation, the courts will ultimately decide what falls within the ambit of a suitable site. We would expect and hope that a fairly pragmatic view would be taken in respect of the practicalities. We will certainly offer guidance on the meaning of the phrase "suitable site". The guidance will not be legally binding, but we will try to give as many indications as we can about what we think falls within that definition.

Mr. Hawkins

As I mentioned in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), I have a big constituency interest in this issue, as the Minister knows. Does she recognise that there is great concern among local authority chief executives, including those in my area, that the Government's proposals may allow a loophole that will make it more difficult to obtain the orders that we were discussing in Committee? Indeed, Labour Back Benchers raised the issue in Committee.

Does the Minister also recognise that it would be very helpful if the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)—who is sitting on the Front Bench with the Minister—agreed, further to what she has already written to me, to talk to her predecessor about what Front Benchers discussed after one of the later Committee sittings, because we need joined-up Government on this issue?

Ms Blears

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Under-Secretary will explore those matters. I understand that she has been in correspondence with the hon. Gentleman and that she is certainly happy to consider those issues.

Determining whether a site is suitable is a matter of getting the balance right. Travellers have an interest in gaining access to proper facilities, but hon. Members have clearly expressed views about the rights of the community not to be subject to some of the damage, distress, costs and waste that result from illegal encampments. It is crucial that we get that balance right. I wonder whether there is a fundamental philosophical question about whether a site can be an alternative if it is not suitable; the courts, rather than me, will probably have to decide that. In considering whether a site is suitable, certain factors will have to be taken into account that make it a realistic alternative to which people can be directed. That is a serious matter for us to explore, but getting the right balance between the various interests is very important.

The new powers in the Bill to deal with trespassers on land aim to provide an additional police power in areas where local authorities have provided authorised sites and there is space on those sites. It important to say that it is an offence for those who are given a direction to leave an unauthorised site to return to that local authority area as a trespasser. That is the incentive in the system for local authorities to make the necessary provision. They can then avail themselves of that power, in addition to the current public order powers, which will allow them swifter eviction and make it an offence for people to return to the area in future.

It is worth pointing out that, where no space is left on local authority sites, the police still have the power to direct trespassers to leave land under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994—so the police are not left without any power if there is a high degree of antisocial behaviour and problems are caused to the local community.

Amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 41, tabled by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, would widen the consultation requirements on the police before exercising those new powers. Under amendment (a), rather than simply having to consult the local authorities in whose area the land is situated, the police would also have to consult all adjoining local authorities.

Mr. Paice


Ms Blears

The hon. Gentleman has accepted that amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 41 may well not be drafted perfectly—it is a very late amendment—in relation to who needs to be consulted. I have already confirmed—I am happy to do so again for the record—that the existing provisions require consultation with local authorities in the area, so the county and the district authority would be involved in a two-tier area. We believe that that amendment would unhelpfully break the direct link between the provision of sites for travellers in a local authority and the availability of the new powers.

Those new powers are a key part of the Bill, but they will be available only where local authorities have proper provision. If we were to accept amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 41, we would allow a local authority to rely entirely on a neighbouring authority's site provision to deal with unauthorised encampments in its area. That would remove the incentive for local authorities to provide suitable sites for travellers.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire asks about cases where local authorities might have extensive provision that is full and suggests that his amendment is necessary to direct people into a neighbouring area. Equally, I am sure that he would accept that amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 41 would allow authorities that had made no provision to direct people into a neighbouring area. It is crucial to strike the right balance between the interests of travellers in gaining access to facilities and those of the community to be protected from some of the undoubted problems that flow from unauthorised encampments. We have to keep that link. If that link were broken, it would undermine the way in which those powers could be exercised.

Mr. Paice

The Minister seems to be saying that the rights of whoever owns the land on which travellers are camping without authorisation, which she seemed to be espousing, should be secondary to the obligation of the local authority to provide traveller sites of some form. With respect, I do not think that many people in this country would agree that it is down to the local authority's decisions whether travellers should be able to park illegally on private or perhaps public property on which they are not meant to be parked. That is the gist of what she suggests.

Ms Blears

Most people in this country would not welcome the position whereby those in a neighbouring local authority who had not made provision for travellers were able to offload their problems on to the residents of a neighbouring local authority that had complied with a responsibility to provide at least minimum services for people in such circumstances. As the hon. Gentleman knows extremely well, making legislation in this place is always a matter of balancing the rights and competing interests of many different groups. Most people would want the Bill to maintain the incentive that encourages local authorities to make appropriate provision. They would view askance the prospect of a local authority, perhaps not one like his, that did not have any provision whatsoever being allowed to direct travellers in their area to a neighbouring local authority, which would have to pick up the bill for providing those facilities.

Mr. Hawkins

The Minister has not dealt with constituencies such as mine, which are close to a county boundary. A substantial part of my constituency border runs along both the Surrey-Hampshire county boundary and the Surrey-Berkshire county boundary. Surely it cannot be right that, once the Bill becomes law in its current form, only the authorities in Surrey would be consulted, and facilities that might be only a mile or two away but that were just over the county boundary in Berkshire or Hampshire would not be considered. That cannot be common sense.

Ms Blears

I think the Bill strikes the right balance, whereby the district council and the county council of the area concerned would be consulted. That is an appropriate balance.

The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) made a good point about local authorities co-operating, which we are always keen to ensure. She referred, however, to councils being made to work together. We are not in a position to make local authorities work together in those circumstances—again, I am sure that she would share my view about democratic accountability and ensuring that local authorities can take decisions locally. In response to the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, I am prepared to consider, with the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), whether the guidance to be issued in relation to travellers' sites can encourage more co-operation and joint working to resolve some of these matters. Clearly, that would enable the police to take advantage of the compulsory sanction available in the Bill, but if we can express in the guidance our will for local authorities to co-operate where appropriate, we shall certainly do that. In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), I should say that we will keep the matter under review; there may be further proposals that we can introduce.

We are keen to ensure that we get the balance right in this important area of law. I am delighted that these matters are now within the ambit of the Bill. They will provide welcome extra powers for the police and the community. We still feel, however, that maintaining the link between the provision of sites and the ability to have this expedited power is essential. There is a dearth of provision in this area in local authorities up and down the country, and if we are to manage things so as to avoid the chaotic situation that existed in the past, more provision is important.

7.15 pm

My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, lichen, in some welcome, supportive remarks on the Bill, mentioned the issue of guidance to the police and how they can use the antisocial behaviour powers in relation to travellers. I am more than happy to consider that. I want to place on record my view, which is firmly held, that the standard of behaviour that we expect in this country is the same for people wherever they come from, whatever their background, and whatever lifestyle they have adopted. They have a responsibility to live their lives in a decent manner that does not impinge on the rights of the vast majority of people in this country to go about their lawful business. It is essential that everybody, from the range of sections of the community, adheres to the standards of decent behaviour in this country. On that point, the travelling community is just as subject to the provisions in relation to fly tipping and waste disposal as anyone else. I am only too well aware of the enormous costs that have sometimes been faced by local authorities in clearing up the remnants left by unauthorised encampments. Plainly, everybody in this country should be subject to the same legislative requirements in terms of living with other people in the community. I commend amendments to the House.

Mr. Paice

First, may I address the Minister's response to my amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 39 on the issue of raves? I bow to the legal advice that she has received, which is far wider than that available to the Opposition. If she believes that the problems in relation to the open air are covered better by her way than by mine, so be it. I will not pursue that.

I want to respond, however, to the hon. Lady's comments about travellers and my amendment. I welcome the comments of the right hon. Member for Southampton, ltchen (Mr. Denham) and the work that he did in pursuing the problems and issues related to travellers to ensure that they are addressed in the Bill. I would be interested on another occasion to hear why the provision was introduced at such a late stage that we have not had a chance to debate it properly in the House, but I welcome its inclusion nevertheless. I wholly agree with the Minister that there is a need to take action, for which I was pressing in Committee.

I find myself at odds with the Minister, however, in relation to her argument against my amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 41. It is slightly disingenuous of her to imply that my amendment also relates to counties, as it refers specifically to a district or unitary authority: the adjoining district or unitary authority to the site. Of course I understand her point and that of the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen that not every authority is as good as, in my case, Cambridgeshire and its districts—in providing both permanent and transitory sites. Of course some authorities do not make such good provision. I would argue strongly, however, that other avenues are available to the Government, including the district auditor, to make sure that local authorities fulfil their obligations.

I feel passionately that the people who will suffer if the Government resist my amendment are the landowners—perhaps small or public landowners—on whose land such people descend and park without authorisation. Even if there is no site in a district, but there happens to be one a mile or two over the district boundary in a different county, the Minister says that that cannot be taken into account. It is that landowner who will suffer. I am more than happy to see alternative measures to encourage local authorities to provide satisfactory campsites.

In relation to the Minister's last remarks, picking up the point about antisocial behaviour orders, of course she is right—everyone in this country has a right to go about their daily life and live their lives without interruption, intervention, harassment and intimidation from other groups of people behaving antisocially. However, I have to tell her that nowhere is that more apparent than in some—I stress the word "some"—cases in which travellers are involved. In constituencies such as mine and many counties such as Cambridgeshire, there are areas in which some—again, I stress the word "some"—travellers make life a misery. All that we tried to do in Committee was to change the Bill to reduce that misery a little.

The Government have gone some way towards doing what we wanted, but if they resist amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 41, they will continue to provide a loophole in the law. I fear that the loophole will mean that the powers will be rarely used. That is worrying and it negates the import of what the Minister believes she is trying to do. For that reason, I shall press amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 41 to a Division. I realise that we must first dispose of the other business and, to expedite that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 40 agreed to.

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