Today I am announcing the Government’s plans to consult on criminalising the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales. I recognise the distress and misery that some unauthorised encampments cause to many communities and businesses across the country. Currently, this kind of trespass is a civil matter and the powers available to the police are limited.
My predecessor, my Right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), announced to the House of Commons on 6 February that we would carry out a public consultation on amending the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to lower the criteria that must be met for the police to be able to direct people away from unauthorised sites. He also announced that the Home Office would conduct a review of how trespassing while setting up an unauthorised encampment could be made a criminal offence in England and Wales, learning lessons from other countries like the Republic of Ireland, where this is already a criminal offence.
I am announcing today that having considered the legislation in the Republic of Ireland, I would like to test the appetite to go further than the original proposals. I would like to broaden the existing categories of criminal trespass to cover trespassers on land who are there with the purpose of residing in their vehicle for any period, and to give the police the relevant powers to arrest offenders in situ and to seize any vehicles or other property on unauthorised encampments promptly.
Tomorrow, we will launch a public consultation on whether criminalising unauthorised encampments would be preferable to the amendments we originally proposed to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and if so, how it should work. The consultation will be available tomorrow at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/ strengthening-police-powers-to-tackle-unauthorised-encampments and will be open for four months. A copy of the consultation will also be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
I thank Members for their continued engagement on this important issue.