Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I have been patiently waiting to see whether the Secretary of State would raise the issue of bovine TB, which is a serious one for those of us who represent constituencies in the west country. Bovine TB is a cause of great economic loss, especially when subsidies are being reduced. Will the Secretary of State have another real look at the issue? Farmers in my constituency believe that her Department is now in possession of sufficient facts from the Krebs reviews to make a real announcement and take proper action on the matter. I shall be writing to ask her if she will meet a delegation of my most informed farmers. I do not expect her to give me an answer about that this afternoon, but will she have a real look at the issue to see whether it can be resolved?
I am extremely conscious of how grave the problem is. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government's top priority is to try to ensure that we keep clean areas clean, as well as dealing with the problem as speedily as we can. We are keeping the issue under review and we look closely at the evidence. I completely understand the concerns and feelings that are expressed, but sometimesalthough it may be counter-intuitivewhat we are urged to do appears from other evidence to be counter-productive. The hon.
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Gentleman will know that one of the reasons we stopped the so-called reactive cull was that early indications from the evidence were that it was making matters worse, so it was a risk that we were not prepared to run.
I am conscious of the time pressures, so in closing the debate I simply want to point out, as I said earlier in response to the right hon. Member for Fyldea former Chairman of the Select Committeewho, like the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), raised some issues and concerns, that the Government are indeed mindful of the importance of climate change. We are working through our presidency of the G8, as we shall through our presidency of the European Union, to see how much we can do to tackle that issue. We have already held a successful scientific meeting in Exeter, which established that there may be even greater dangers than we thought.
In March, we held an immensely successful meeting of Energy and Environment Ministers from about 20 countries, which may not have impinged as fully on the attention of Members as it might have done had we not been thought to be approaching a general election. There was a real stimulus and exchange of ideas about how to tackle energy supply across the world in future. The choices that are made in coming years, not least in China and India, for example, will have an immense influence on the impact of climate change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and others raised the issue of the science base. The hon. Member for Lewes also asked me specifically about clean coal technology and carbon sequestration. Yes, indeed, we are mindful of the importance of the science base and such issues have much to contribute, not least through the climate change review that we are undertaking. Our goal will be to show how we can get back on track to meet our target of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide by 2010.
I want to make one final point. We talk all the time about the problems and costs of climate change, but there are real opportunities toofor business, wealth creation and jobs. Those are opportunities we must seize.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): My constituents in Nottingham, North are fed up and sick and tired of the activities of a small group of antisocial Travellers who have lighted on my constituency on six different sites over the past seven weeks. At Easter, that group broke into Springfield primary school, for the second time in a year, then into a local leisure centre, then on to a local cricket field, and then on to other leisure facilities attached to a local college. This is not about the proper provision of Traveller sites, which I fully support, since an official Traveller site is located only a few hundred yards away from where most of the illegal encampments took place. This particular group of Travellers has no interest whatsoever in locating on the approved site, and equally has no concern for their damage and despoliation, the human and other waste that they left behind, and the inconvenience to and intimidation of local residents that they caused.
There was a far greater impact on the schoolchildren than just their playing field being occupied and out of action, meaning no games lessons. The children were unable to use their playground because it bordered the camp, and the Travellers' dogs kept climbing through the fence, barking and chasing them. The Traveller children shouted abuse or threw things at the pupils when they did try to play outside, and on one occasion fired air rifles close to the fence until the police intervened. That lack of outdoor exercise space has obviously had a great impact not only on the sport curriculum but on the breaks and lunchtime play of those young people. Incidentally, personal antisocial behaviour orders are prohibitively expensive to pursue in such circumstances, where individuals are highly mobile.
There are many other examples of that behaviour, some on other sites, in my constituency over the past two months on which I could elaborate if time permitted. The law needs to be changed to protect my constituents from this extreme antisocial behaviour, and here are 10 suggestions that I should like the Minister to think about and perhaps respond to today. First, provision has been made in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 for the police to be able to move trespassers off a site when they have no legal right to be there. Unfortunately, that power is available only if the local authority has itself provided a site for Travellers in the area. The power does not acknowledge the existence of private site provision in the local authority area and does not recognise the difficulty that compact and fully developed cities such as Nottingham have in finding land in their area to provide a suitable site. Even if a local authority provided a site just a few yards over its boundary into a neighbouring authority, it would still not be able to use the aforementioned provisions in the 2003 Act. That has been confirmed by the Home Office to staff at Nottingham city council. Nottingham does own some land that may be suitable, but it is in the nearby Ashfield district council area. Those three legal inhibitions need to be amended in the light of our experiences.
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Secondly, I ask the Minister to consider a change to section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. At present, one of the preconditions for the use of that power is that there must be six or more vehicles on the site. I suggest that a reduction in that number should be seriously considered. Splitting a group of 10 vehicles into two nearby groups of five is a common device. Last month, in my constituency, one Traveller caused difficulties at Bulwell lido, and he only had his own caravan on the land.
Thirdly, rather than the occupier having to ask trespassers to leave, the legal onus should be on the group that is trespassing to produce proof from the owner of authority of permission to stay. At Springfield primary school, it took nearly two weeks to move the Travellers on the first occasion. On the most recent occasion, it took six days, and that was supposed to be a rapid eviction as some residents signed statements to say that they recognised people from the previous visit, meaning that the first eviction order could be re-served. If the Travellers were moved off more rapidly, they would not have time to create the wastefor example, the building rubble and the unguarded household appliancesor time to set fire to and leave burned-out caravans on such sites.
Fourthly, land with a clear pre-existing use should be safeguarded. It beggars belief that school grounds and playing fields can suffer such loss. They should be put on a list of prohibited sites safeguarded by criminal trespass legislation, which would enable Travellers to be moved on by the police instantly, without the need to go through expensive and time-consuming court processes or the two or three-day wait for bailiffs to be available to act.
Fifthly, perhaps the Minister's team can examine how criminal damage and criminal trespass provisions can be more easily enforced. In the school example, the school field was secured with padlocked and chained gates. Residents saw the Travellers cut through those to gain entry. Then the Travellers claimed that the gates had been open all the time and were open when they arrived. Sadly, no one would make a formal statement to the police because they had to live in close proximity to those Travellers until the Travellers' eviction, and they feared the consequences. On the second occasion, a policeman saw three people with bolt croppers, but they vanished into the group of caravans and the Travellers denied everything.
The school had to reinforce the gates even further with welded plates on hinges, boxes over the locks and so on. As the work was being completed, the convoy of Travellers, who had just been evicted from the cricket ground round the corner where they had settled again, told the workmen that they would be back and no one would stop them getting on the field again. Perhaps the Minister will re-examine relevant provisions relating to collective responsibility, and look again at the use of the legal device "common purpose" in respect of a group of people who arrive at a site that was secure before they arrived.
Sixthly, eviction orders should apply for a longer period. Once they have been granted, the direction should be not to return to that particular land at any future time. More modestly, a five-year limit could
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apply, with a clause that does not require a further return to court or 24 hours' notice of eviction, to make it possible for police to evict on receipt of a signed witness statement from a member of the public, which is usually available within hours of Travellers moving on to a site. It took the Springfield head teacher just three phone calls to find someone prepared to provide a statement last time. If the Travellers decided to contest the eviction, the signed statement would surely be sufficient for court evidence.