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Illegal Encampments

Volume 551: debated on Monday 15 October 2012

11. What recent assessment she has made of the use by police of orders under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to disperse illegal encampments. (122211)

A range of powers are available to the police to deal with illegal encampments, including the power under section 61 of the 1994 Act to remove people who are trespassing with intent to take up residence. The Government keep these powers under review.

During the summer, a number of public places in my constituency were, yet again, the destination of choice for many illegal Traveller encampments, leaving my constituents to pick up a hefty bill for damage, dumping and abuse, with no prosecutions made as a result. Yet Sussex police were very reluctant to invoke any section 61 orders, which they have had the power to do since 1994. Will the Minister look into the police’s reluctance and investigate whether the use of the word “discretionary” in the guidance is acting as a bar to their using these orders, which can result in instant dispersal, to the great relief of my constituents and those of many other hon. Members?

I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend and his constituents. Many Members on both sides of the House will have experienced similar problems. I understand that Sussex police responded in September to an encampment in Lancing by issuing a direction under section 61 that required the occupants to leave within 24 hours, which they subsequently did. I am also aware that my hon. Friend is engaged in continuous discussions with Sussex police about this matter. If there is an aspect that has anything to do with changes in the law, I will of course look into it, but I also urge him to talk to the PCC candidates in his part of the world, because within a month they will be responsible for writing the policing plan for his area.

Melksham Without parish councillors have told me about the trouble that they have had with illegal encampments on their land. They are frustrated that the encampments arrive at the very end of the week, often before a bank holiday weekend. Can anything be done to enable stop notices to be applied on Friday evenings or even at the weekend itself?

My hon. Friend’s question moves us into the planning arena and he will have heard last week’s announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. As I have said, the police have a range of powers that could be used. It seems clear that in some parts of the country this will be a significant matter for police and crime commissioners. If the issue is causing that much public distress, it may well need to be higher up the agenda of police forces in certain areas. That is why we are having elections to make sure that there is more local control over police planning.