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Mr. Renton: I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. He should recognise that one reason for higher employment growth in the United States has been its consistently lower interest rates than most European countries. As we move towards greater stability in the single market, possibly through economic and monetary union, we hope for lower interest rates, which will generate lower unemployment.

Mr. Davis: It is a little off my European brief, but as an ex-business man I can tell my right hon. Friend that the primary concern in interest rates is the nominal interest rate. The best method of dealing with that is low inflation, which happens to be a primary policy of this Government--Europe or not.

The UK, uniquely within the EU, has a good record on creating jobs--moreover, jobs in the private, not the public, sector. Since 1979, the UK has created as many jobs in the private sector as have been created in the whole of the rest of the EU. That is the answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who offered the thesis that, in order to compete with the far east, we had to offer the wages of the far east. We have demonstrated that that is not the case.

All that is no accident. It comes from an approach based on free trade and competition, reform of inflexible labour market regulations, reduction of non-wage costs, investment in skills and sound macro-economic policies--points all made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes in his excellent speech. That is why we opted out of the social chapter and why we continue to believe that our policies are the best for the British people.

That is also one reason why Britain is so successful at attracting overseas investment. Britain accounts for more than 30 per cent. of non-EU investment in the EU. Last year we attracted 22 per cent. of all German overseas investment--we are its number one destination. Despite what the hon. Member for Gateshead, East said, that should not be news to the Labour party. After all, two days ago its leader got the message direct from the president of the German equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry. Mr. Henkel drew attention to the British Government's record--our success in dealing with unemployment, in reducing state interference, in privatisation, in reducing the state share of national income and in the low taxation of profits. Mr. Henkel concluded:

The Labour party never believes that fact when it hears it from us, so I hope that its leader will have been more receptive when he heard it from an impartial

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overseas observer--however galling it must be for the Leader of the Opposition to travel abroad only to have to listen to foreigners praising the British Conservative Government's approach.

In Florence, we will reinforce member states' efforts to create a sound, stable macro-economic framework in which business can create jobs. We agree with the emphasis on tackling unemployment in Mr. Santer's confidence pact and President Chirac's memorandum. But we will not agree to an increased role for trade unions, a single European social model or the abolition of the UK's social protocol opt-out. We will not agree to measures that destroy jobs rather than create them--to increased rigidity in the labour market, too much regulation, high non-wage labour costs and the sort of corporate approach which failed this country so badly under the last Labour Government.

I have very little time left, but I promised the right hon. Member for Livingston that I would answer his specific and important questions about Bosnia. First, he referred to the feasibility of free and fair elections. It is vital for the international community that elections are held on 14 September. It is the best hope for making a new start in Bosnia. We expect the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe chairman in office, Swiss Foreign Minister Cotti, shortly to certify that elections can go ahead. That will focus the efforts of all concerned on improving the conditions for free and fair elections.

In particular, we need improvements in freedom of movement, freedom of expression during the election campaign, as the hon. Gentleman said, and freedom of the media. It is not true that only Government candidates will have access to the media during the election campaign. The international community, in the form of the high representative, Carl Bildt, and the OSCE, which is responsible for supervising the elections, has secured an agreement on fair access to prime time television. We shall ensure that all parties stick to the agreement.

The return of refugees has begun: tens of thousands have returned since the end of the war, but it will be a long process. Hundreds of thousands will not have returned by the time of the elections, so we have ensured that there will be ways in which they can all vote. They will vote either where they are registered in the 1991 census, in which case they may vote in absentia, or where they plan to return to, in which case they may go there to vote.

The right hon. Member for Livingston raised the question of Karadzic and Mladic. Obviously, we agree that indicted war criminals must be brought to justice. It is not acceptable that they continue to be free and it is worse if they exercise power and influence--

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.


ACT 1921


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    New Age Travellers (Tayside)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. McLoughlin.]

10 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside): I thank Madam Speaker for giving me the opportunity to raise the subject of so-called new age travellers on the Adjournment debate tonight. I say so-called because, in a letter to me--one of many--the writer says:

It is a term the press invented. The letter says:

    "These people are vagrants.

    They have not opted out of society as may be claimed, but choose to 'cherry-pick' the rules in order to select the best ones and observing no duties and responsibilities, nor do they have any respect for anyone but themselves.

    They roam in gangs and make nothing but trouble and expense to the mainly law abiding citizens everywhere."

Be that as it may, the so-called new age travellers had a sizeable encampment in my constituency during April and May. They gathered ostensibly to celebrate a Pictish festival at Dunnichen hill near the village of Letham. The event has taken place for several years. In earlier years, Robbie the Pict and his followers had attended for a weekend. The local people enjoyed much of what took place then.

Sadly, this year, the event was an unlicensed rock music festival of around two weeks' duration. At the height of the event, about 2,500 people were involved. By the second weekend, the number had dropped to about 300 travellers, most of whom appeared to be of English origin--odd people, I suggest, to be celebrating a Pictish festival.

The major problem experienced during the event was excessive noise caused by amplified rock music played almost incessantly over several days. It was clearly audible in the village of Letham some two miles away. Not surprisingly, law-abiding, tax-paying constituents complained to me and to Tayside police.

In addition, dogs accompanying the travellers were allowed to run wild, and they caused considerable distress, injury and death to sheep. Some 2,000 pheasant chicks were destroyed. A number of sheep were killed, and several of the travellers' dogs were shot by estate staff.

There were also problems of rubbish and litter, there was damage to walls and fences, and obstruction was caused by the travellers' vehicles, many of which were without road fund licences, MOTs or insurance. There were no sanitary or toilet facilities. About 2,500 people were on the site, and raw sewage drained into the main water supply for the estate's home farm and cottages, and thereafter into Rescobie loch and on to Forfar.

The anti-social and at times abusive stance adopted by the travellers made difficulties for the local farmers and estate staff. It also made police negotiations virtually impossible, and led to a confrontational approach which, was unhelpful in fostering good relations. All that occurred despite a high degree of tolerance exercised by local residents and the Tayside police. It was also apparent that the unlicensed sale of alcohol was taking place on the site, and there were stories about soft drugs being used,

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Tayside police confirm that the officers on duty were of the opinion that many of the travellers were obviously under the influence of alcohol or drugs for much of the period.

Following continued complaints, a police operation was undertaken to disable and seize the most prominent sound system being operated on the site. While that was being carried out, the officers came under sustained attack from the travellers, who threw stones and brandished sticks and other implements. Fortunately, no injuries of any consequence were caused, but it is worrying that the travellers had prepared a cache of weaponry in readiness for the police action.

Seizure of the sound equipment and the charging of the operator were dealt with as a common law breach of the peace. In addition, 16 individuals were charged under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 in respect of the camp at Dunnichen hill and a prior encampment near Forfar.

My concern is for future years. We do not want Dunnichen hill to become the Stonehenge of Scotland. Robbie the Pict and his friends will return next year. We do not want the new age travellers joining them and a repeat of what happened this year.

I am reminded that the Opposition opposed the aggravated trespass clause in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act being applied to Scotland, yet the police used their powers under that Act in this case and in an earlier case involving the removal of hawkers, when a direction to leave land was made under section 61 and the hawkers agreed to move without further objection.

The police would not have been able to operate without those powers, yet they were opposed by the Opposition. I remind the House of that because, as is so often the case with law and order legislation, the Opposition oppose the introduction of powers and then are delighted when they are used in the interests of law-abiding citizens.

I accept that decisions about the appropriate course of action to take with new age travellers must be made by the chief constable, but I submit that chief constables should be directed to use section 61 as early as possible.

I also agree that affected landowners should request the removal of new age travellers. In the case of Dunnichen, only one of the two landowners made such a request. That hampered police operations, as it placed the police in a difficult position and required an operational judgment based on the level of the nuisance and the disruption. I wish to place on record my thanks for the way in which the police acted, and the fact that they managed to take the necessary action.

I recognise that, in legal terms, the powers under section 61 are adequate, but they can be hampered by practical difficulties. If the travellers refuse to leave, the only option left to the police is to arrest the offenders. Such action will probably lead to confrontation and may leave family groups stranded while the head of the household is detained.

Another problem may arise from a failure to define the extent of land to which a section 61 direction is intended to apply, and on which further trespass is forbidden. Will my right hon. Friend consider issuing guidelines to clarify the position and to assist the police? I understand that, for the police, dealing with new age travellers essentially involves enforcing the law and is a matter of practicality.

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The number involved and their reluctance to accept regulation of their life-style can make police intervention a matter of considerable difficulty. That is why the Conservative party was determined to put those powers on the statute book.

Consequently, the practice differs considerably from the theory and from the Act. Sections 61 and 62, which give certain powers to the police, may, if exercised, risk causing further problems. I recognise that, but even so I believe that, without those powers, the police could not have acted as they did so effectively at Dunnichen.

Even if we do not use the powers, we cannot accept lawlessness. I make it perfectly clear that my constituents will not accept lawlessness.

We also need a definition of the extent of the land to which a section 61 direction is intended to apply, on which further trespass is forbidden. That is important, because we are trying to deal with a possible repeat next year. If a section 61 direction is intended to apply, will it apply to the whole estate? In Scotland, if we do apply it not to the entire estate, but to the precise site that the travellers occupied this year, they could simply move a couple of fields away, and we would have a problem.

Finally, we must address the ghastly fact that the travellers are to a considerable extent supported in their life style by the social security regime, which pays out benefits irrespective of their place of residence. As those individuals are reluctant to contribute to society or to seek employment, why should the taxpayer subsidise their way of life? Why should the taxpayers in Letham have those people forced upon them? Why should taxpayers have to see that, if those people go to an office to pick up their money and find that it is not there, the police have another incident on their hands?

Faced with such intrusions into their lives, why should my constituents not say to my right hon. Friend, "Thank you for putting those necessary powers on to the statute book, but can you use your persuasive powers to get the Department for Social Security to reconsider how it makes payments to travellers, and perhaps to cease that form of mobile support?"

I, too, say to my right hon. Friend, "Thank you for the powers that you have given the police and the fact that we can move the travellers on." I trust that sections 61 and 62 will mean that they cannot come back, and that we can do what was done at Stonehenge. In plain language, I conclude by saying that we do not want them back. We are happy to have Robbie the Pict, but we do not want the new age travellers.

I have told the hon. Member for Angus, East(Mr. Welsh) whose constituency abuts mine and was affected by the same new age travellers--they went into his constituency and caused considerable trouble--that he can have a couple of minutes to speak before the winding-up speech.

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