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Unauthorised Encampments

Volume 691: debated on Monday 22 March 2021

We recognise the misery that some unauthorised encampments cause to local communities and businesses. Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we are pleased to be delivering on our manifesto commitment to strengthen the powers of the police to arrest and seize the vehicles of those who set up unauthorised encampments and cause damage, disruption and distress.

My hon. Friend will have noticed that last week, in voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Labour party also voted against giving the police the powers they need to act quickly and effectively against illegal Traveller encampments. The key word there is “illegal”; illegal encampments are, by definition, illegal. With illegal encampments popping up across Milton Keynes, does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to prioritise the rights of criminals, and that we are right to be giving the police the powers they need to act and enforce the law?

My hon. Friend is exactly right; we have to balance the rights of so many Travellers to lead a nomadic life—and the vast majority do, in a legal way—with the rights of those who own property, live in communities, and deserve to live without the distress, aggravation and difficulty that comes from unauthorised encampments. He will know that we are a Government who do not tolerate law breaking of any kind. The measures that we are introducing will ensure that the police have the powers they need to tackle this problem—hopefully, once and for all.

I recently met a local business that transports food up and down the country from a warehouse in my constituency. It was disrupted by an unauthorised encampment and subjected to harassment and demands for cash payments. Will my hon. Friend confirm that our proposed new laws aim to prevent just that type of behaviour, and that, importantly, the vast majority of the Traveller community, who do not harass or disrupt the local communities they travel through, face no reduction in their rights?

My hon. Friend speaks the truth. I am very sorry to hear about the circumstances that afflicted the business in his community. I know that he works hard to ensure that his part of the world remains a great place for investment, and I hope that business managed to deal with the problem. The country is littered with businesses that have had to put boulders, huge logs or other barriers over their hardstanding or car parks. That is not a situation we can tolerate into the future.

As my hon. Friend says, the vast majority of Travellers go about their lifestyle in a perfectly legal manner, and we should facilitate and help them to do so, but those who do not and who cross the line into illegality need to be dealt with. We believe that the measures in the Bill will allow the police to do that with much greater efficiency.