§ 3 p.m.
§ Viscount Tenby asked Her Majesty's Government:
No, my Lords, the Government have no such plans. Green lanes and sheep droves are not legal terms but the land in question must be either part of a highway or not part of it. If it is, the highway law, which provides ample remedies for obstruction, applies. If it is not, Section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986 applies.
§ Viscount Tenby
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his reply. However, is he aware that the police experience considerable difficulties in simultaneously enforcing the provisions of two separate pieces of legislation—namely, the Highways Act 1980 and the Public Order Act 1986—and often in a small and crowded area, as happened at Longstock in Hampshire last June. Will the Minister undertake to discuss the matter with his right honourable friend, together with the appropriate local authority and the police, so that some attempt may be made to solve this problem in order that in June 1992 the people of Longstock will not have to experience what they experienced this year?
My Lords, we recently completed a thorough public review of Section 39. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced his conclusions on 22nd May. He decided that no change in the law was necessary. Following the review, the Home Office issued guidance to the police on their use of Section 39 and published a leaflet entitled Trespass on Land: A Guide to the Law.
§ Lord Gainford
My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister give an exact definition of a "New Age" traveller?
My Lords, it is probably for the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, who asked the Question 737 to make that definition. I think it is someone who might be travelling but who is not necessarily a traditional gypsy.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister of State at the Home Office for speaking to me for an hour on this problem the other day. However, may I ask the noble Viscount to ask the Home Office to look at this very difficult problem, particularly as the guidelines to which he has just referred have in fact confused the police rather than clarified the matter for them. When he has done this, and if the Home Office are capable of doing that, would the Minister be prepared to answer an Unstarred Question in an effort to tidy up this matter? Is the Minister aware of the number of people that he is now alienating to the police by the pathetic action that has been taken?
My Lords, I have read the guidelines and they are quite complicated. I was not aware that the police found that it made their lives more difficult, but I shall bring his comments to the notice of my noble friend the Minister of State.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the local authorities fulfil their statutory duties to provide sites for travellers under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 this position might be eased? Does he also agree that amending Section 39 of the Public Order Act docs not actually deal with the problem, it merely gives the police power to move the problem on somewhere else?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is right: local authorities can enhance their powers to deal with unauthorised encampments of gypsies by becoming designated under the Caravan Sites Act 1968. This Act places a duty on local authorities to provide adequate official sites for gypsies who resort to their areas. In England and Wales there is a total of 410 district or borough councils of which I understand 140 are currently designated under the 1968 Act.
§ Lord Ross of Newport
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the people called "New Age" travellers do not actually go to officially appointed caravan sites provided by local authorities? Not only does this problem cause great distress in places like Hampshire but also in mid-Wales, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, to my knowledge. A great deal of trouble was caused this autumn which should not be allowed to happen again, otherwise people will take the law in to their own hands.
My Lords, the noble Lord rightly points out that it is quite a serious problem in some areas. But to help landowners get relief as quickly as possible both the High Court, under Order No. 113, and the county court, under Order No. 24, have special procedures. These orders also enable possession to be regained if the landowner is unable to identify all the trespassers who are occupying his land. Also, in an emergency, where there is a real danger to 738 life or limb or property, the possession procedure can be overridden by applying direct to a judge who will grant an immediate injunction.
My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the police at the moment have powers to prevent these people going on to the land in the first place?
My Lords, it depends on the land that the noble Baroness is referring to, whether it is part of the highway which comes under the Highways Act, or whether it is a person's private property. If it is the highway the police have powers. If it is private land it is up to the landowner to apply to the court to remove them.
§ Lord Glenamara
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that his answer really is not satisfactory? There is a great network throughout the country of green lanes called by various names—sometimes called lovers' lanes—which are now being used by these people. We are not talking about gypsies for whom provision ought to be made; we are talking about swarms and droves of hippies who move around the country. They are moving to these very pleasant country lanes and leaving behind enormous quantities of debris and squalor. It is a new problem which the Government should look at.
My Lords, as I said before, I agree that it is a problem. These people do cause a great mess and offence to people who live along green lanes. However, if green lanes are privately owned, it is up to the owner of those green lanes to apply to the courts to have the people removed.
My Lords, in that case, it is a problem. However, if nobody knows, I suggest to the noble Lord that it is likely that they will come under the Highways Act.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, is it not the case that a great deal of nuisance created by these people is caused by the fact that they have large numbers of ill-regulated and rather unhealthy dogs? Is not this a prime example of how a national dog registration scheme would help?
My Lords, the ones that I see also have a large number of unregulated and rather dirty looking children, but I do not think that we would wish to licence them in the same way.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, is it not a fact that the children of these folk do not get educated?
§ Lord Hankey
My Lords, if the Government had a proper housing policy, would not this problem partly disappear? Are the Government aware that the local authorities have lots of money for building houses, but the Treasury will not allow them to spend it?
No, my Lords, I cannot accept that that has anything to do with it. These are people who are travelling because they wish to and not for any other reason.
§ Viscount Tenby
My Lords, it is clear that there appears to be considerable disquiet in the House on these matters. I therefore ask the Minister again if he will please undertake to discuss this further with his right honourable friend and with the local authorities who are concerned with this matter, so at least the matter will be taken forward from its present unsatisfactory situation. If I may crave your Lordships' indulgence once more, in answer to the noble Lord opposite, "New Age" travellers were called hippies in a more gracious age.
My Lords, I will certainly bring to the attention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary everything that has been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon.