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Public Order Act 1986

Volume 202: debated on Thursday 23 January 1992

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3.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to meet the chief constable of Essex to discuss proper implementation of section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986 in the Thurrock parliamentary constituency.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Peter Lloyd)

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend has no such plans. The implementation of section 39 is an operational matter for the chief constable.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the ever-increasing frustration and anger among hundreds of my constituents in Grays, Tilbury and South Ockendon, who almost on a weekly basis have to put up with large invasions of mobile itinerants on land near where they live? At the very best, the itinerants create a great deal of filth and rubbish, which the landowner or the council has to clear up. At the worst, they have an unfortunate impact on the local crime figures. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a disgrace that chief constables across the country have declared a policy of not invoking section 39 if a civil remedy is available to the landowner? Does he agree that the law should be changed so that the police have a duty rather than just a power to act under section 39?

I am aware that a great many people suffer a great many problems because travellers, illegal trespassers and wandering folk settle on land. Section 39, however, is specifically designed to deal with aggravated trespass. It is not designed to undermine the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which requires local authorities to provide official gipsy sites for those who normally resort to the area. If a local authority does what it is supposed to do under those Acts, it has access to the criminal law to deal speedily and effectively with those who settle unlawfully on land.

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but does he understand that there is a particular problem with certain councils, such as Avon county council? In the 23 years that that council has been in existence, it has not complied with the 1968 Act. As a consequence, section 39 is useless because the council will not move people off its land. Therefore, it is essential that people who live around the land, and are thus directly affected, should be protected under section 39 so that they can use the law to move people on.

My hon. Friend makes the point: it is his local authority's duty to comply with the 1968 Act and not for the chief constable to bend section 39 of the 1986 Act.