The distress that local communities face as a consequence of unauthorised encampments is unacceptable. The Government have recently consulted on what more can be done to ensure that existing enforcement powers are used effectively and on whether additional powers are required.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in unequivocally damning the disruption and antisocial behaviour caused to innocent residents by illegal Traveller encampments? May I urge him to go further and to give the police more powers to tackle trespass, from which all our constituents deserve the right to be protected?
Yes, I join my hon. Friend in that; I fully recognise that unauthorised encampments can cause the settled community significant stress. I have seen that in my own constituency of Bromsgrove, and he has seen it in his. I am not convinced that the existing powers are strong enough, which is why, as Communities Secretary, I launched a consultation, and we will be responding to it shortly.
Has the Home Secretary read “Policing by consent: Understanding and improving relations between Gypsies, Roma, Irish Travellers and the police”, the report published last week by the Traveller Movement? Will he take note of the concerns in that report that police officers still display signs of unconscious bias and racism towards the Traveller community, and will he meet the all-party parliamentary group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma to discuss those concerns?
I have not yet had the opportunity to read that report, but I will certainly take a look now that the hon. Lady has mentioned it. She reminds the House that the vast majority of the Traveller community are law-abiding citizens, but there are a few, as there are in any community, who break the law through unauthorised encampments, and what people want, including perhaps people in her community, is a balanced approach.
My constituents have suffered significantly from illegal Traveller encamp- ments for several years, leading to a significant loss of local amenity and significant cost to council tax payers. I am glad that my right hon. Friend is working with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on that matter, but enforcement is key, so will he reassure me that whatever powers are put in place are backed up with decent, proper enforcement?
It is worth reminding the House that there is a joint consultation across the Government between the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office and that it will lead to better powers, whatever the results.
The fact remains that the system simply is not working. This lawlessness is having a corrosive effect on local communities, and there have been catastrophic consequences for local government finance. Will the Home Secretary please listen to the suggestion that I have made many times before? We should use the number plates of these gleaming, glistening chariots that invade our open spaces and prosecute these malefactors through the identification of their vehicles.
Will the Home Secretary heed Pound?
I dare not heed Pound, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The consultation’s purpose is to look not just at what is happening at the moment, but at what new powers and sensible policies should follow to deal with this issue.