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11.12 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I congratulate the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Sir R. Body) on securing the debate and apologise to him for some of the matters that he raised at the beginning. I certainly did, as I thought, postpone the meeting that I was to have with him and his constituents, and I did so at late notice. My normal practice is to offer alternative dates, and I am sorry if that did not happen this time. I know, for example, that I have postponed a couple of meetings with a group of Members of Parliament for Dorset and the chief constable of Dorset to discuss the situation in Dorset, and I know that that meeting is in my diary for next week, so I am not quite sure what happened in this instance, but I apologise for any discourtesy and am very happy to debate the issue now.

It is my practice--I have observed it a great deal since I have been a Minister at the Department for Education and Employment and at the Home Office--to meet delegations led by Members of Parliament because I believe that to be an important part of a Minister's job. I am therefore particularly upset that what happened on this occasion caused distress.

Unfortunately, I have never been to Skegness--it is a shaming apology to have to make. I have been to the other side of the Wash on many occasions, but I have not been to Skegness. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that I have much experience of the consequences of such a traveller invasion, because over the new year 2000 a similar invasion happened in Yarmouth. It had exactly the effects that he described at Skegness. It led not only to expense--at one level that is trivial, but not in reality--but to fear and an extremely unpleasant and damaging atmosphere in the town.

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1081

Yarmouth district council and Norfolk police applied for orders, which were agreed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, to prevent travellers from massing in Great Yarmouth over Easter and Christmas last year. I am in some difficulty tonight because we have heard today that East Lindsey district council has issued a press release, saying that because of intelligence indicating that a large number of travellers are coming to Skegness over Easter, an application for an order under section 14A of the Public Order Act 1986, prohibiting trespassory assemblies in that area, has been sent to the Home Office.

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot prejudge my right hon. Friend's decision, but I can give an assurance that he will take that decision extremely rapidly so that action can be taken on the basis of it. I can also assure the hon. Gentleman--if he was making the remark in anything other than a mischievous spirit--that there is no suggestion of decanting travellers from Norfolk to other places on the east coast. The issue will be considered entirely on its merits, which is how it should be. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives information about my right hon. Friend's decision immediately after he takes it.

The powers are necessary for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. There is concern about large numbers of travellers descending on a town in the manner that he described. I understand that the encampment, although on the whole peaceful, produced a number of the results that he described, such as antisocial behaviour and other offences. The Government are clear that no criminal activity should be tolerated in respect of travellers and that they should be treated just like anyone else. There should be no sense that traveller communities are outside the law of the land; they are dealt with by the law in very precise ways. Indeed, the Home Office recently issued joint guidance with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, making it absolutely clear, beyond peradventure, that that was the case.

The law should be enforced for travellers as for all other sections of the community. It is for the police to ensure that any offence is properly investigated and that the law is enforced, but the police and local authorities have powers to direct trespassers to leave land when certain statutory conditions are met. It is an operational matter for the police to decide when and whether to use those powers. Perhaps it would be helpful in informing the debate if I were to explain some of the background.

Under section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the police have the power to remove people who are trespassing with intent to take up residence, and who have been asked to leave by the landowner. That is a serious power, which can be used when certain conditions are met: when the trespassers have more than six vehicles on the land or when they have caused damage, or used threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour towards the landowner or person acting for him. The police and local authority powers to direct trespassers to leave land under the 1994 Act are discretionary.

The power included in the 1994 Act under section 14A of the Public Order Act 1986 has been used on a number of occasions. I have mentioned the Norfolk police examples, but Wiltshire police gained an order on several

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1082

occasions to prohibit trespassory assemblies in the Stonehenge area during the summer solstice celebrations--a different type of event from that to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Kent police have gained an order prohibiting trespassory assemblies in Horsmonden to prevent a horse fair, and there are a few other examples of the police using such powers.

Section 14A of the 1986 Act can be used where the chief officer of police believes that an assembly is intended to be held in any district at a place on land to which the public have no right of access or only a limited right of access and that the assembly, first, is likely to be held without the permission of the occupier of the land, or to conduct itself in such a way as to exceed the limits of any permission that he has given or the limits of the public's right of access; and, secondly, may result in serious disruption to the life of the community--which may be the sort of issue to which the hon. Gentleman refers--or where the land, or a building or monument on it is of historical, architectural or scientific importance, if significant damage to the land, building or monument may result. Those are the basic conditions under which the provisions of 1986 Act can be operated.

I cannot prejudge my right hon. Friend's decision on the application, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall address the situation very effectively. I understand that Lincolnshire police have agreed with a number of other east coast forces to form a joint operation, which would pool resources and apply the same robust approach to incursions anywhere in the joint area using available legislation and intelligence, so that traveller movements can be better anticipated in future.

I wish to say a word about intelligence. It has been difficult to predict where groups of travellers will assemble on significant occasions, such as Easter and new year, and we are actively considering ways of improving our capacity to do that. The Lincolnshire police initiative is one example of that. I do not accept that the decision of Yarmouth and Norfolk police necessarily led to the travellers being decanted to Skegness in the way that has been suggested. However, an approach that simply leads to the problem moving from one place to another is not an appropriate way of proceeding. That is why we welcome the joint approach in which Lincolnshire police and other forces are engaged. We shall support that approach in whatever way we can.

I think that I have said what I can say about the issue tonight. I reaffirm that we shall take a decision as rapidly as we conceivably can and that we shall take full account of the context of the application made by the police and East Lindsey district council. We will also take account of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made in the debate and we will communicate with him as soon as we take a decision, whatever that decision may be.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am not able to prejudge what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will decide when he receives the application, but I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that the matter will be dealt with expeditiously.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Eleven o'clock.

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1083

Deferred Divisions

Local Government

The House divided: Ayes 362, Noes 134.

Division No. 167


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald
(Swansea E)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Ballard, Jackie
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Beggs, Roy
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Best, Harold
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Brake, Tom
Breed, Colin
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Cable, Dr Vincent
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chidgey, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Denham, Rt Hon John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donaldson, Jeffrey
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Fearn, Ronnie
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Foulkes, George
Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Gunnell, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr Evan
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate
Hood, Jimmy
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Joyce, Eric
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kelly, Ms Ruth
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kingham, Ms Tess
Kirkwood, Archy
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Lammy, David
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McCartney, Robert (N Down)
McCrea, Dr William
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFall, John
McGrady, Eddie
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
(B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Mountford, Kali
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
Oaten, Mark
Olner, Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Paisley, Rev Ian
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Rendel, David
Robertson, John
(Glasgow Anniesland)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thompson, William
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Trimble, Rt Hon David
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul
Tynan, Bill
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walker, Cecil
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Webb, Steve
White, Brian
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, John
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Day, Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Evans, Nigel
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Flight, Howard
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gray, James
Green, Damian
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Horam, John
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Llwyd, Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Major, Rt Hon John
Malins, Humfrey
Mates, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Prior, David
Randall, John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Ruffley, David
St Aubyn, Nick
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Walter, Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Question accordingly agreed to.

28 Mar 2001 : Column 1086

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