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"A person is subject to criminal proceedings if in any part of the United Kingdom proceedings against him for an offence have been begun and have not come to an end, and the times when proceedings are begun and come to an end for the purposes of this subsection are such as may be prescribed."
Mr. Garnier: The "person" is a judge, as referred to in clause 94. However, I am not sure why the definition of proceedings, and when they start and end, should be different for a judge than for any other person.
Mr. Leslie: The hon. and learned Gentleman raises a fair point. I shall look into the matter further, but I suspect that it is probably necessary to have the definition in the Bill at that point for the sake of completeness, so that those who are referring to clause 94 may have a proper understanding of the position.
The Minister may have noted that clause 94(3) gives a list of the circumstances in which notice of a motion is given in each House of Parliament. In a previous discussion, we established the points that we wanted to make about the role of the Prime Minister in the matter, compared with Members of Parliament.
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Must we assume that, in all the circumstances listed in clause 95(3)(a) to (d), the Prime Minister would be the person who initiated the notice of the motion? That is not entirely clear from our earlier discussions.
Mr. Leslie: As I explained earlier, in our debates on other clauses, the arrangements for England and Wales are different in so far as there is not such a restriction on particular Ministers, although of course if the activity is carried out on behalf of the Government, particular Ministersfor example, the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Ministermight be involved. I hope that that helps to answer the hon. Gentleman's question.
I am slightly concerned about that. Obviously, fines can be imposed for minor matters; indeed, I suspect that quite a few senior judges may have received small fines for motoring offences yet still remain on the bench. However, one can also be finedand fined onlyfor serious criminal offences. Will the Minister explain what would happen if a judge received a fine for a serious matter? Is he in some way excluded from those rules and regulations?
Mr. Leslie: That would depend on the nature of the criminal offence. Obviously, the reason that we have a sophisticated process whereby the Lord Chief Justice can act on questions of discipline right the way through, from the formality of removal to discipline, to informal advice and counselling, is precisely to mirror the fact that different gradations of issue can arise. I have no further definitions than the one in the clause, so if there are other aspects on which the hon. Gentleman feels we should elaborate I shall be more than happy to correspond with him further.
I want to join the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) in suggesting that if we can shorten the Bill we should do so. It strikes me that subsection (2) of clause 95, which we discussed earlier, repeats the general presumption of English law, so we could lose that provision as we do not really need it. In general, it is good practice not to have things that we do not absolutely need. We have had great
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discussion of things that we may or may not need. If the Minister asked his officials to remove from the Bill provisions that we do not need, rather than including provisions that we merely might need, we would have a shorter Bill and everybody would be more pleased.
Mr. Leslie: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I stand by my feeling that completeness is always the better approach. I am inspired to suggest that the question of sentence and fine does not have a duration; there is no period during which a judge could be suspended, so that is why there is a particular definition on sentence. In some ways, that would also relate to questions about proceedings against a member of the judiciary beginning and coming to an end. In part, that is one reason why subsection (2) is in the Bill, although I speculate on the wisdom of drafting the Bill in that technical way.
Mr. Grieve: It could be argued that somebody is serving a sentence if they are paying off a substantial fine in monthly instalments. For that reason, I should be grateful if the Minister would write to me on that point. There may be a good reason for the strange comment that sentence does not include a fine, but looking at the rest of the clause, I am at a loss to understand what it is. If the Minister could reassure me on that point, I should be most grateful.
Mr. Leslie: I shall certainly write to the hon. Gentleman. The reason that we emphasise sentence is that there is a period during which suspension may apply to a member of the judiciary. By and large, however, it is good to include interpretations and definitions in the Bill, which is why I hope that clause 95 will stand part of it.
Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): This debate is on the green belt in Orpington and the House is rather short on visual aids, so I want briefly to show this map to the Minister, as it indicates fairly plainlyif it will stop unrollinghow much of Bromley is green belt. Indeed, my constituency is in the southern part of Bromley and, as hon. Members can see, it is almost all green beltprobably about two thirds of Orpington is green belt.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's temptation to begin in that way, but I must remind him that visual aids are not permissible; every contribution must be capable of being reported faithfully in Hansard.
Mr. Horam: I appreciate your point entirely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I thought that that was a possible way to demonstratehowever briefly and subject to your censurethat about half of Bromley's acreage is taken up by green belt and that about two thirds or three quarters of Orpington is green belt. Green belt is very important to my constituents.
As the Minister knows, the green belt has been protected from development ever since it was first created in the 1950s, and that remains essential because it is the only bulwark against development and the despoliation of the environment. One of the major reasons why people want to live in Orpington and Bromley is precisely their greenness. "Clean and Green" is the borough of Bromley's slogan and not without reasons. We have in the green belt a world heritage siteDarwin's home, Down houseand the Minister will also be interested to know that Richmal Crompton, the novelist, wrote about "Just William" and "William and the Outlaw" precisely in the sort of green belt area that I am talking about. It is an area with major bluebell woods and orchards and it is much valued by my constituents. However, that green belt is under threat and has been considerably damaged already.
The immediate threat comes from Irish Travellers. The official figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister show that there were 38 authorised pitches and 60 unauthorised pitches for Travellers in the borough of Bromley at the last count on 19 July 2004. The Government's official figures also show that Bromley had more authorised and unauthorised pitches than any other borough in London98 in total. Southwark was next with 66 pitches. Bromley has already made considerable provision for Travellers. Indeed, those official figuresthey are, of course, about eight months out of dateunderestimate the situation, which is developing. Current estimates suggest that there are probably 60 unauthorised pitches on the Waldens farm site alone.
All of the unauthorised pitches are in the green belt, the effect of which can be seen in some of the photographs with which I have not plagued the House. I realise that you would rule them out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have given them to the Minister. In that little selection of photographs, she will
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see the before and after situation, with four years intervening, in an area known as Layhams road, which vividly illustrates the effect. In the first instance, there is a clear, open field. Four years later, when Bromley council had lost a High Court case, the area is filled with caravans, roads and fences. Indeed, that is precisely what happens.
Caravans are moved in, tipping begins, and at £150 a truckload considerable profit can be made from allowing refuse to be tipped on a site with no one paying rates or rent of any kind. Hardcore is then put down and fencing is put up. New entrances are made on to the road with large diggers. Fences are torn up. Rubbish and detritus of all sorts accumulate because there is of course no refuse collection.
The desolation of the environment is bad enough, but intimidation also occurs. People who live in the area find that some, although certainly not all, of the Travellers practise intimidatory behaviour. I am afraid that criminality has also crept in. It is no accident that burglary has increased in the immediate area around Waldens farm. Every house but one has been burgled in the past two years, and whenever police have raided the Irish Travellers' site at Waldens farm, stolen goods have been recovered in fairly large quantities.
One must remember that Waldens farm was a Kentish orchard. Allotments were situated on the site and people went there to walk and generally to enjoy the countryside. It was a place for pleasure, but it is now an intimidating area that is heavily dug up. New caravan sites are appearing there all the time. My constituents' first worry is simply the desolation of the environment and the intimidation that goes with it.
This is not happening to a community with little experience of Travellers. There is a long history of Traveller activity on the borders of London and Kent, so the local community is experienced at dealing with Travellers. Many Travellers have settled down in the area and rented or bought homes, and there are 38 authorised pitches on two sites at Star lane and Old Maidstone road, which are well settled. Relationships between the English Travellers, who have been there for many years, and local residents are not at all bad. Indeed, the community probably has the largest number of settled Travellers in London, and perhaps even the United Kingdom, which explains why the local community is able to handle the English Travellers who have lived there for many years. If such a community is worried about what is happening, we have real cause for concern.
The new element that has come about in the past three or so years is the Irish Travellers, who have moved in with some force. For example, the council notes that most of the registration numbers on the cars, caravans and trucks are from the west of Ireland. What information does the Minister have about the influx of Irish Travellers? What talks have been held between the Irish Government and her Department on how large the problem has become? My information shows that the problem has occurred because the laws in Ireland on trespass and parking in unauthorised places have been tightened up. We in south-east London are clearly suffering the consequences of the Irish Government's measures, and residents think that that is unfair. It is the Government's job to protect their
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citizens, but they are not doing their job if they have not explored the Irish element of the problem as well as the English element.
The Irish Travellers usually move in at the weekend when council offices are closed and the establishment of their sitesthe building of fences and laying down of paths and ways inis less likely to be disturbed. They then apply for retrospective planning permission, which the council usually refuses, so they then appeal. On appeal, the Travellers' case is usually handled by experienced barristersindeed, I understand that a Birmingham law practice specialises in such cases. The appeals are often funded by legal aid. Although the Minister might know more about this than me because she was once a Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department, I believe that the Department for Constitutional Affairs has a fund to finance such appeals by Travellers. They appeal under human rights legislation, and because the appeal process currently takes a long time to completebecause of the logjam in the system with which the inspectors must deal due to changes to legislationit can take nine months from the beginning of an appeal to its end. The whole process drags on and years, rather than months, pass by during which nothing seems to be resolved.
The despoliation of the green belt is my constituents' first concern, but their second is the absolute unfairness of the situation. It appears that there is one law for the citizen and another for the Traveller. A constituent whose family have lived in the area for three generations and who has a small farm is being denied permission to extend his farming activities by the local council. The council's decision is correct, or at least understandable, because the land is in the green belt and the extension of activity would be observable from one or two local houses. Twenty-two jobs are at stake on the farm. My constituent is extremely concerned that he is not to be allowed to proceed even though he has gone through the procedures properly, whereas Travellers are doing business nearby and simply ignoring the law. Similarly, a farmer whose farm is close to Waldens farm and who is trying to renew his old barn is not being allowed to do so: under the planning rules, the council has to turn him down because green-belt land is involved. On the one hand, the Travellers simply ignore all the planning laws; on the other, people who have lived in the area for a long time and who observe the law are turned down. I am sure that the Minister can understand their sense of indignation and outrage at the lack of fair play.
My constituents also feel completely powerless. It seems that they can do nothing about what is happening. The council fights, but is unable to do anything. The Government appear to be ignoring the situation. My constituents are in an extremely difficult position and I pay tribute to them for the remarkable patience that they have shown. They have organised and held public meetings, which I have attended. The meetings were packed with people determined to show that they will fight to defend the green belt, but they want to stay within the law and behave properly. They have formed a co-ordinating committee to liaise with the council and put considerable pressure on the council. Local residents around Layhams roadanother of the sites with which I have had to dealare doing the same.
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They are showing great responsibility and patience, but that patience is not endless. The fact is that they are not getting the support that they really need as law-abiding citizens and long-standing residents of the area.
The council has responded to the residents' understandable concern. Following my presentation of a 1,000-signature petition, council leader Stephen Carr agreed to give the issue high priority, and I believe that he has stuck by that resolution. I also single out Mr. Bob McQuillan, the chief development control officer, for the part that he has played. He has gained local residents' respect for his common-sense approach and his tireless efforts to deal with the problem.
The council has shown a considerable degree of intelligence in its approach. Precisely because going through the planning route takes so longyearsand because the process is so expensive for the council, especially the cost of appeals, the council has applied for an injunction in the case of Waldens farm. Fortunately, last summer the judge came down on the side of the council and made it plain that the Irish Travellers were breaking the law. They were not abiding by planning law and were therefore in the wrong. The judge gave the council the right to remove caravans if it could be proved that they had arrived after 1 July last year, when the hearing was held, and as a result of that ruling three caravans were removed. However, the case illustrates the slowness of the process because 60 caravans remain. The council will now have to go through the lengthy and costly procedure again to try to get rid of the rest.
That is the situation on the ground, but it is not close to resolution. The Government have been extremely slow to deal with the problem. Their first effort consisted of a proposal to introduce temporary stop notices on 29 November. Frankly, they are useless and, although I am not certain that the Government have conceded the point, it is apparent to practitioners in the field that those notices are simply ignored by Travellers, just as other planning restrictions are ignored. The proposal to introduce notices has been the main reaction from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but it is quite inadequate. It was clear to the Prime Minister that the Department was failing to grasp the issue, because at Prime Minister's Question Time on 15 December, shortly after the temporary stop notice consultation began, he told my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron):
"The question is whether the new power of local authorities to get a stop notice quickly and to implement it quickly will be sufficient, or whether we have to take the further steps that the hon. Gentleman suggested."[Official Report, 15 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1668.]
That has proved to be the case, because shortly after, on 21 December, a new consultation document was produced, literally two weeks after the first consultation on temporary stop notices began. Events have therefore moved on, and it is obvious that the Prime Minister's office decided that the ODPM was not doing its job. The Times quoted a Government source as saying:
It is not unusual to hear of that split but, whatever happened, I welcome the Government's change of tune. The new consultation documentation is more comprehensive than the original one, which simply dealt with temporary stop notices.
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The consultation period ends on 19 March. The consultation document produced by the Government says nothing about increased powers for local authorities to deal with breaches of planning law. If an overall package is to work, it must include increased powers for local authorities, so that once the number of sites has been settled they can deal with the unauthorised sites that might otherwise accumulate. Without such a measure, the situation will remain unstable and the present unsatisfactory arrangements will persist. That is the first thing that is wrong with the consultation documentit simply does not talk about increased powers for local authorities.
The document focuses on local authorities providing sites, but it says nothing about providing a cap once reasonable provision has been achieved. Councils will not know whether they have done enough, and neither will residents. A council might try to meet the problem, but it will not receive a guarantee from the Government that thereafter it can take a tougher line with people who break the law. Moreover, the document talks about housing need being determined by regional housing boards. I imagine that that will not be the case in London, as we have a Mayor. The views of regional housing boards on housing will not pertain in the metropolitan area, and the matter will be decided according to the London plan and the views of the Mayor. Whoever decides the matter, it will not be decided by the elected representatives of the people of Bromley. It will be decided by another body, whether the elected Mayor or the unelected bureaucrats of the regional housing board. They, not local people, will decide how many sites are to be provided in Orpington and Bromley.
The consultation document talks about Travellers settling down, as they have done in Orpington over the years, on permanent sites. If that is allowed to happen, there will be a permanent residential development of the green belt. We are no longer talking about temporary sites for Travellers on the move but residential development within the green belt. If that is permitted to Travellers, it should be allowed to other people, and if others are stopped, so should Travellers be. Again, it is a matter of fairness.
There is no real discussion of the issue of English and Irish Travellers. As I indicated, it appears that the traditional situation that pertained in an area such as Orpington, which is long established and has worked reasonably satisfactorily, has been disrupted by the influx over the past three or four years, for reasons about which I can only speculate, but which I am tempted to set out to the Minister. There is no discussion of that.
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