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International Immunities and Privileges


The House divided: Ayes 162, Noes 7.

Division No. 259
[1.52 am


AYES


Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Barron, Kevin
Beard, Nigel
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Burgon, Colin
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chisholm, Malcolm
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clelland, David
Coaker, Vernon
Colman, Tony
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cummings, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Donohoe, Brian H
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grogan, John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hurst, Alan
Illsley, Eric
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Levitt, Tom
Livingstone, Ken
Lock, David
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McGuire, Mrs Anne
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNamara, Kevin
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Rooney, Terry
Rowlands, Ted
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Savidge, Malcolm
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
(Dewsbury)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tyler, Paul
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Wareing, Robert N
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Wise, Audrey
Wray, James
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. David Hanson and
Mr. Mike Hall.


NOES


Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gray, James
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
St Aubyn, Nick
Swayne, Desmond
Wilshire, David

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. David Maclean and
Mr. Gerald Howarth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

19 Jul 1999 : Column 939

HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

Motion made, and Question proposed,


Hon. Members: Object.

PETITION

Protection of Animal Life Society

2.3 am

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): It is my privilege to present to the House the petition of my constituent, Mrs. Janet Oddy, and others.

The petition declares that Lorraine Drake founded the Protection of Animal Life Society and committed all her energies and dedication to this charity for 15 years.

The petition states:


To lie upon the Table.

19 Jul 1999 : Column 940

Travellers

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

2.4 am

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): After all those votes without debates, we come to a debate without a vote. What an interesting place we work in.

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this intractable subject. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister for keeping him here even later than he would otherwise have been. I know that he does more than his fair share of these debates. I place what I have to say in the context of his new guidance on unauthorised camping, of late 1998, and of the Department's circular, "Managing Unauthorised Camping".

Reading those eminently sane and humane documents with great care places me in some difficulties, because in insisting that they are inadequate I am forced to appear less than humane. In my view, both sets of guidance play a part in making the situation that communities face worse.

Skelmersdale has had two decades of economic misery--it was the first into the 1981 recession, and probably the last out of the one in the 1990s--but, in recent years, it has struggled out of that situation. Its industrial estates are full and thriving. Large amounts of single regeneration budget money have been spent on improving the environment of those estates, attracting more customers. Existing firms have invested heavily in expansion. Unemployment has dropped considerably.

Then, this June, the travellers arrived, not for the first time, but with redoubled venom. Large groups occupied the car parks and forecourts of four factories. Of course, traveller groups have visited Skelmersdale for many years, as they do most constituencies, but the figures from West Lancashire district council show a steady increase, and the reports from business people show a steady increase in foul and aggressive behaviour.

I should interrupt myself to say what difficulties I have with the terminology. The term "gypsies" conjures up romantic images in the public mind, and perhaps even in the minds of those who composed some of the clauses in the guidance document. There is nothing romantic about the travellers of whom I am complaining. No doubt most travellers go about their nomadic business in a perfectly reasonable way, but there are those who are violent and deliberately destructive and we have no effective defences against them without taking the law into our own hands.

It is, in my view, not right that the ineffectiveness of the law and the regulations is forcing perfectly respectable business people in my constituency to contemplate direct action. On 13 June, a group of travellers destroyed a permanent wall surrounding the car park of Bayex Ltd., and 15 caravans, with their occupants and animals, camped in the car park. Within days, other groups arrived, reoccupying the car park of Pactrol Controls and the grassed frontage of the Procter and Gamble factory. The people could not be removed until 30 June, so for 17 days, three important firms in my constituency were driven mad by the travellers, to the point of temporary closure.

19 Jul 1999 : Column 941

John Richardson, a well-respected business man and servant to the community in West Lancashire--a man of enormous good nature and patience--wrote:


On 25 June, Mr. Richardson wrote:


    "Since my last fax, would you believe, we now have a dead pony in the bushes in front of the factory. I have had to stop customers and suppliers visiting the premises.


    On Monday of this week a number of the many children on the site started throwing stones at employees' cars.


    We telephoned the police in Skelmersdale at 12.30 pm for assistance, two officers appeared at 4.30 pm.


    These travellers are a large, threatening group and I am left in the situation of balancing the safety of my employees' property and the health and safety implications. I cannot expect people to walk through horse, dog and human excreta. This is England in 1999 and I cannot provide safe conditions for my employees. I have closed the factory today."

Finally, on 30 June, Mr. Richardson wrote:


    "The travellers left early this morning, I hope out of West Lancashire.


    We have used 50 hours of labour to clear our site and Bayex . . . have used a similar amount. We filled 53 bin bags with rubbish from the front of the factory. The District Council will have to spend at least three times our combined time to clear footpath, roads etc.


    Talking to the managing director of Bayex this morning, he had to stop his night shift because of physical threats made to his employees and the threat of burning down his factory if they did not supply the travellers with water. This was a particularly large and nasty bunch. I believe they would have carried out their threats."

I have also received a long letter from Mr. Peter Appleton, the managing director of Bayex, about the costs involved:


Mr. Appleton added that Bayex was to have had a formal presentation of its ISO 9002 quality certificate. That was cancelled because of what the person who was to have presented the award would have seen at the factory.

Mr. Appleton also gave an account, which I do not have time to read out, of trying to erect a barrier to keep the travellers away from the front of the factory. As employees went to put posts into the ground, Mr. Appleton writes, the


19 Jul 1999 : Column 942

    Mr. Appleton's lawyer then


    "called the police station and spoke to Sgt. Speke, who confirmed the young officer's information. Sgt. Speke also stated that "Police HQ" had advised all local stations not to act against any gypsy situation because there was a low likelihood of prosecution."

Proctor and Gamble manufactures and stores medicines. The local factory has been surrounded for 17 days by a sea of human excrement and other rubbish. A few months ago, the McCain pizza base factory was besieged by a similar group of travellers. It is easy to imagine the reaction of a visitor from the company's head office in the United States--or of any visitor--when confronted by such scenes outside a food factory. That factory has since closed, with the loss of 100 jobs, although there is no simple link with the events that I have described.

Apart from the travellers involved, no one wants such problems to arise, so why is nothing done to nip them in the bud? The first reason is that the travellers, by definition, have no permanent address, so are not susceptible to the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which states that the most senior police officer present can direct trespassers to leave if any of them cause damage to the land or property, or use threatening, abusive or insulting words of behaviour, or if they have, between them, six or more vehicles on the land.

That sounds straightforward. The incidents that I have described meet all those criteria, but every Member of Parliament knows that travellers are not directed to leave in the simple way set out in the 1994 Act. The police do not use the powers, despite enormous pressure from Members of Parliament and local citizens. Councils use their powers, which are cumbersome, bureaucratic and slow.

I believe that the police are deterred from action by the wording of the guidance notes and the Act, and by a belief that they would not succeed in any court case and might attract public opprobrium for action against harmless gypsies. Paragraph 4.13 of the 1994 good practice guide displays the problem:


A whole page of points that must be taken into account follows.

The police know that the Wealden judgment of 1995 makes it unlikely that their powers will succeed. Local authorities, which have extra responsibilities towards travellers, have even more difficulties. The Minister's advice notes of 1998 are evenhanded, but they compound the difficulties. In a widely circulated speech accompanying the notes, he said:


He is quite right about that, but that sentence paralyses rapid local authority or police action.

19 Jul 1999 : Column 943

In rightly insisting that council departments and the police must be involved in sorting out problems, the Minister added:


That is clearly impossible with the groups of which I have spoken. My hon. Friend says:


    "Travellers have a perfect right to carry on their nomadic life-styles in peace."

Of course they do, but the people I am talking about do so in untaxed vehicles which no one dare clamp or confiscate for fear of keeping the offenders on the property that they are already destroying. These people do not carry on their nomadic life styles in peace.

I do not have time tonight to pursue the subject of temporary stopping places or permanent sites in full. However, peaceable and law-abiding travellers would not wish to share sites with the groups that I am speaking of. Few local authorities would survive if they insisted that a site should be provided in their area and it attracted such people.

My hon. Friend is right to say in the guidance notes that local authorities and police should have a clear and integrated policy to tackle the problems. But they need to know that the law will allow their action to succeed, and to do so quickly. I urge the Minister to consider how councils and the police can be urged to use section 61 of the 1994 Act, which appears to offer adequate powers. Early action would involve a presumption different from those of several of the statements of tolerance in my hon. Friend's document.

In all honesty, I do not feel tolerant towards travellers who behave as I have described. I am amazed that--with the single exception of a case in which campers' tyres were mysteriously shredded in the night--employers and employees whose livelihoods and health are put at risk do not take matters into their own hands, instead seeking legal solutions, at enormous cost. Ambivalent laws and regulations put us in serious danger of pushing decent citizens too far and of spreading a hostile and violent reaction against all gypsies and travellers, whether or not they deserve it.

As a parliamentary private secretary in the Home Office, I cannot go into great detail on police matters, although I can do so privately. Policing matters fall outside my hon. Friend's remit, but the legal and administrative framework lies with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I urge him to reconsider the good practice guide, although I appreciate that it is a recent document to which he will not wish to return so soon. I ask him to see whether its balance can be redressed a little towards quick and effective action against those groups of travellers who do not conform to the normal rules of human behaviour.


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