I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to present a petition at such a late hour. [Interruption.]
Order. This is a most important matter to the hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) and his constituents. I therefore feel sure that Members who are leaving the Chamber will do so quickly and quietly, and that other Members who are present are so present because they wish to attend keenly to what the hon. Gentleman has to say.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am sure that that is the case. I also thank all those who signed, shared and promoted my petition.
I believe that, given that the petition has received nearly 2,000 signatures, both online and offline, the Government must recognise the strength of feeling among the silent majority. It is great that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is consulting on these matters, and I hope that it will change the law to redress the current position in which—shockingly—we are not all equal under the law.
The petition states:
The Humble Petition of North East Hampshire and the wider United Kingdom,
That urgent action must be taken concerning unauthorised traveller encampments, which are a nuisance for local communities and a completely inappropriate use of open space—whether it is highway land, Ministry of Defence land, or otherwise; further that unauthorised encampments weaken community cohesion and cause local authority expenditure on eviction and the clearing up of illegal sites; further that we have discrimination in this country against the silent majority of hardworking, law-abiding residents of communities up and down the land; and further that more must be done to treat unauthorised traveller encampments as a criminal rather than civil matter by strengthening police powers to tackle illegal encampments and protecting them from legal challenge in the exercise of current powers.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges HM Government to take all possible steps to grant the police additional powers to remove illegal encampments where they are causing a public nuisance as determined by the decision of a principal local Council; further that the ability of travellers to play the planning system is removed by enshrining a presumption against illegal encampments whereby appellants cannot be resident while appealing; further that powers under Section 62A of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 be extended to define caravan sites within 25 miles as relevant, in addition to those situated in the area of a local authority within whose area the land is situated; and further that Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 be amended to remove the conditions in subsection (1)—namely conditions (a) and (b) and the conditions of ‘two or more persons’, ‘reasonable steps have been by or on behalf of the occupier to ask them to leave’—in order to make it an offence for a trespasser to fail to comply with a direction by police to leave land and remove vehicles or property, as in Section 24 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002, an Act of the Parliament of the Republic of Ireland.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.