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Written Statements

Volume 690: debated on Monday 8 March 2021

Written Statements

Monday 8 March 2021

Home Department

Unauthorised Encampments

Today, I am announcing the Government’s response to the November 2019 consultation entitled, “Strengthening Police Powers to Tackle Unauthorised Encampments”. The consultation sought views on how to address and prevent the harm and distress caused by some unauthorised encampments and followed a public consultation in 2018 which demonstrated support for more police action.

The vast majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens. As of January 2020, the number of lawful traveller sites increased by 41% from January 2010. However, there continue to be unauthorised encampments that can create significant challenges for local authorities and cause distress and misery to many. Harmful or disruptive encampments can also perpetuate a negative image of travelling communities.

I will therefore introduce legislation to increase the powers available to the police in England and Wales. As we pledged in our manifesto, we will create a new criminal offence to tackle unauthorised encampments. In addition, we will give the police the power to seize vehicles, and we will strengthen existing powers.

The measures complement the ongoing work by MHCLG to strengthen councils’ powers to tackle unauthorised developments—building on land that an occupier owns without planning permission.

Introduce a criminal offence of residing on land with a vehicle, causing damage, disruption or distress

A person will commit an offence if they:

Are aged 18 or over and reside or intend to reside on land without the consent of the occupier of the land;

Have or intend to have at least one vehicle with them on the land;

Have caused or are likely to cause significant damage, disruption or distress; and

They:

Fail, without a reasonable excuse, to leave the land with their vehicle and/or property once asked to do so by the occupier, representatives of the occupier or a constable; or

They, without reasonable excuse, enter, or re-enter the land with an intention of residing there without the consent of the occupier, and they have or intend to have a vehicle with them, within 12 months of a request to leave and remove their property from an occupier, their representative or a constable.

Give police the power to seize any property including vehicles from those committing the new offence

The police will be empowered to seize any property including vehicles owned or in the possession of the individual on the land if they reasonably suspect that the person has committed the above offence.

Strengthen existing powers

Section 61(1)(a) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (“CJPOA”) sets out the power of the police to direct trespassers away from land. We will amend this section to enable the police to direct trespassers away in a broader range of circumstances, including if there is damage to the environment, such as excessive noise, litter or deposits of waste, and if there is disruption to supplies of water, energy or fuel.

We also intend to increase the period in which persons directed away from the land under section 61 and 62A of the CJPOA must not return—without reasonable excuse—without committing an offence or being subject to powers of seizure from three months to 12 by amending section 61(4)(b) 62B(2) and section 62C(2)of the CJPOA.

We will in addition strengthen measures to tackle unauthorised encampments on roads by amending section 61(9)(b) to allow police to direct trespassers to leave land that forms part of a highway.

I am grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to the two consultations carried out by the Government on this issue. The views expressed in response have all been considered and have informed the decisions we have made.

The measures I intend to introduce are a proportionate increase in powers for the police. I hope they will deter unauthorised encampments from being set up in the first instance but, where that is not the case, they will allow the police to take more effective action in response to an encampment causing damage, disruption or distress, in support of those communities living with or near them.

I am confident that we have taken steps to ensure those wishing to exercise their rights to enjoy the countryside are not inadvertently impacted by these measures.

The response to the consultation will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will also be available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strengthening-police-powers-to-tackle-unauthorised-encampments.

[HCWS826]

Justice

Judicial Mandatory Retirement Age

Following my recent announcement of the Government responses on reforms to the judicial pension scheme and on proposals to address the unlawful age discrimination identified in the McCloud litigation, I am today publishing the Government response to the Judicial Mandatory Retirement Age consultation.

Running from 16 July to 16 October 2020, the consultation sought views on proposals to increase the mandatory retirement age for judicial office holders to 72 or 75, alongside a proposal to allow public interest-based extension of magistrates’ appointments beyond their existing mandatory retirement age of 70, as is currently available to other parts of the judiciary. The consultation attracted considerable interest with over one thousand responses received from across of the magistracy, the judiciary, the legal profession, and other key stakeholder groups.

It has been over 25 years since the mandatory retirement age for most judges was set at 70. A mandatory retirement age remains an important requirement of judicial office which protects judicial independence, preserves public confidence in the judiciary, and promotes opportunities within the judiciary for those who wish to apply and to progress. I believe, however, along with the majority of respondents, that it is now time the MRA is amended to reflect improvements in life expectancy and the changing demands on our courts and tribunals.

Following careful consideration, I have therefore decided to raise the mandatory retirement age to 75 to enable us to retain for longer the valuable expertise of experienced judicial office holders and to attract a wider range of applicants. I believe the new retirement age could also have a positive impact on diversity by attracting and promoting opportunities for individuals considering a judicial career later in life, such as those who may have had non-linear careers or taken career breaks to balance professional and family responsibilities. I will legislate for this change as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Magistrates currently are unable to sit beyond the existing mandatory retirement age unlike many judges who can apply to have their appointments extended or to sit in retirement on an ad hoc basis. To further boost capacity in the magistrates courts, I will include a transitional provision as part of the legislative change to allow recently retired magistrates who are below the age of 75 when the new MRA comes into force to be able to apply to return to the bench, where there is a business need.

As Lord Chancellor, it is my duty to ensure the courts and tribunals have the required resources to continue dispensing justice. I am grateful for the commitment and resilience of judges, magistrates and coroners across the country who have worked tirelessly throughout this challenging period. I know the changes I am announcing today will not immediately alleviate pressure on our justice system. However, this once in a generation change to the mandatory retirement age, alongside the important reforms we are making to the judicial pension scheme, will help to support and promote judicial recruitment and retention, ensuring we are able to continue resourcing our world-class judiciary for the future.

[HCWS828]

Housing, Communities and Local Government

Covid-19 Road Map: Planning and Hospitality

As set out in the Government’s road map for easing the lockdown restrictions, in step two, which will be no earlier than 12 April, hospitality venues will be allowed to serve people outdoors. I have written to local authority leaders to make clear the Government’s expectation that local authorities support hospitality businesses to safely reopen, once they are permitted to do so.

Last summer the Government introduced a series of measures to support hospitality businesses to open safely when lockdown restrictions were eased. These measures were a lifeline to many businesses, enabling them to continue to serve their local communities under the challenging circumstances.

I have confirmed to local authorities that these measures will remain in place to support businesses as they reopen this year. I am also pleased to confirm that we intend to extend pavement licences for a further 12 months, making it easier and cheaper for pubs, restaurants and cafes to continue to make al fresco dining a reality with outside seating, tables and street stalls to serve food and drinks.

Providing these flexibilities will support hospitality businesses to trade in these challenging times, helping to protect jobs and livelihoods. The measures that we introduced and will remain in place are:

Al fresco dining

As part of the Business and Planning Act 2020 the Government introduced a simplified process for businesses to obtain a licence to serve food and drinks from seating, tables and street stalls outside their premises. The process was previously long, costly and inconsistent across areas. We addressed this through a capped application fee of £100 and quicker consultation and determination periods (10 days with automatic deemed consent if the authority does not make a decision on the application before the end of the determination period). This enabled business to serve more customers safely outdoors last year and support them to do so again when they are permitted to reopen.

The Government have made clear in the pavement licence guidance that we expect local authorities to grant licences for 12 months or more unless there are good reasons for granting a licence for a shorter period, such as plans for future changes in use of road space. Therefore, unless there are very good reasons, the Government expect that licences granted under these provisions continue to apply into this summer so that businesses do not have to reapply for another licence or be charged a further application fee when they are able to reopen to serve customers outdoors. These temporary legislative provisions are currently due to expire on 30 September 2021, but to give further certainty to businesses I will introduce secondary legislation to extend these provisions for a further 12 months, subject to parliamentary approval.

Freedom to use land for community events and outdoor hospitality

Last year the Government provided greater flexibility for individuals and businesses to use their land for temporary events, such as markets and motorsports. We increased the number of days allowed for such events from 28 to 56 without needing to apply for planning permission. In November we extended this provision until 31 December 2021 so individuals and businesses, such as pubs, can set up moveable structures like marquees and hold outdoor events without making an application for planning permission. This will help businesses take forward outdoor activities such as markets, car boot sales, summer fairs and sporting events. We expect local authorities to support businesses using these additional freedoms as they reopen.

Outdoor markets

We have also introduced a new temporary right, extended to March 2022, that allows local authorities, either by themselves or by others on their behalf, to use land to hold a market and erect moveable structures on it.

Takeaways

Finally, we also introduced measures to support restaurants, pubs and cafes to serve takeaway food when they were otherwise closed due to coronavirus restrictions. These measures will continue to apply until March 2022.

We introduced these changes to support hard hit hospitality businesses to reopen last year. I have encouraged all local authorities to use these measures pragmatically to help support the high street, businesses and jobs, once restrictions allow them to do so.

[HCWS829]

Transport

Commercial Spaceflight

On Friday 5 March 2021, I published the Government’s response to the consultations which were held in the summer and autumn of 2020 on the secondary legislation which will implement the Space Industry Act 2018. We sought views on the operability and effectiveness of the draft space industry regulations and associated guidance and supporting documents (July); as well as the Government’s approach to liabilities, insurance and charging (October). We also asked respondents to provide evidence and test the assumptions in the consultation-stage impact assessment.

This Government are committed to growing the space industry in the UK and cementing our leading role in this sector by unlocking a new era in commercial spaceflight across the UK. The draft space industry regulations, together with draft instruments covering accident investigation and appeals, will pave the way for a new commercial licensing regime for spaceflight activities from the UK. It will support safe and sustainable activities that will drive research, innovation and entrepreneurship, exploiting the unique environment of space. This will feed into our emerging national space strategy as we develop our priorities for levelling up the UK and promote the growth of this thriving sector in the long term.

We also recognise the importance of ensuring that the environment is protected from the adverse effects of spaceflight activities. This is why the Space Industry Act 2018 requires applicants for a launch or spaceport licence to submit an assessment of environmental effects as part of their application. We also published a consultation on 10 February, setting specific environmental objectives for the spaceflight regulator to take account of when considering these assessments, reinforcing Government’s wider policies towards the environment and sustainability.

Our spaceflight legislation has been designed from the outset to support commercial operations. This, together with the technology safeguards agreement signed with the US in June 2020, means that the UK is well placed to attract new commercial opportunities in this rapidly growing sector. Together with industry we set a target to grow the UK’s share of the global space market to 10% by 2030. Today we are a step closer to reaching this goal.

The Government welcome the thoughtful and detailed responses received from across the four nations of the UK. Invaluable insights were provided by those who responded to the consultation and included enthusiastic responses from schoolchildren. We are pleased to report that our modern regulatory framework was supported by the vast majority of respondents, with many applauding the flexibility of our proposed approach, which fosters adaptability through an outcomes-based focus.

The response I am sharing today sets out the ways we have adjusted the draft space industry regulations and associated guidance material to reflect, and where possible accommodate, the suggestions and recommendations made through the consultation process. We believe that this collaborative approach will not only strengthen the licensing regime we are implementing, but demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment to growing this exciting sector.

My Department has worked closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the UK Space Agency and Civil Aviation Authority to legislate for a wide range of new commercial spaceflight technologies, including traditional vertically launched vehicles, air-launched vehicles and sub-orbital spaceplanes and balloons. It is our intention to bring this legislation before the House later this year.

Next steps

Following the publication of the Government’s response I will update the House once we are ready to submit the secondary legislation for parliamentary scrutiny.

[HCWS827]