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However, it is rare to hear the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, speak in such intemperate terms. He used the words: "shabby, deceptive piece of legislation", and "a cruel deception". The noble Lord suggests that this is a device by a cynical government to deal with a presentation problem. I refute in their entirety each and every slur. I use that language, because I am surprised.
I reassure my noble friend that no part of the provisions will justify anyone seeing travellers as criminal elements. There is no justification whatsoever for saying that they are crafted so as to remove traveller children so that they can be brought up as non-traveller children.
As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury said, we face some challenging issues of how we deal with the difficult question of accommodating traveller families with decency and in appropriate sites, so that they can live the life that they have chosen in a way that is proper in accordance with their traditions.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his review of the 157 local authorities. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's Homelessness Unit will be undertaking its own research, which will feed into best practice advice. We shall take into account everything that the noble Lord said this evening.
But in recognising that there is a shortage of sites, we believe that the provisions are important. The new power provides the police with a swifter enforcement power, provided that there is a space on a local authority site. Of course I hear what the noble Lord says, but it will end up being a question of evidence as to whether there is such a site. In practice, it will place an obligation on local authorities and police areas to work together in designating sites and it will not be possible to move people on unless such a site has been so identified. I had hoped that the noble Lord would see the provision as helpful, seeking to put a bit of extra pressure to ensure that that is done.
We know that site provision will remain an issue in the short term. Accordingly, last March, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced additional gypsy site refurbishment grant of #8 million for both 200405 and 200506. The grant would be available for the provision of new transit sites as well as for the refurbishment of official local authority sites.
The current situation is not acceptable for any of the parties concerned. Where gypsies and travellers live on unauthorised sites, those sites often lack basic facilities, as the noble Lord well knows. Gypsies and travellers may experience difficulty in accessing adequate healthcare, education and other welfare services.
Members of the settled community report experiences of noise, an accumulation of rubbish, fear and anti-social behaviour from some encampmentsby no means allin their area. Sometimes regular leisure activities can be disrupted by gypsies and travellers camping on playing fields, parks or car parks, where their behaviour can sometimes be experienced as anti-social, aggressive and intimidating. Landowners, including farmers, industrialists and retailers can be frustrated in carrying on their legitimate business.
My noble friend Lady Turner raises in Amendment No. 201 the issue of ensuring that all those directed to leave the land, under the new power, go to a single caravan site. Although I appreciate that there will be many occasions when it would not be appropriate to split up travelling groups, it will not invariably be the case. Furthermore, the requirement for pitches to be available for all members of the group would generate a perverse incentive for travellers to reside in large groups to avoid being caught by the legislation. We want it to be properly targeted.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, does not want to press Amendment No. 201 today. However, to persuade him not to press it at any other time, I suggest that it is unnecessary because Clause 61 already provides for groups to be split up if appropriate. I hope that he will be comforted by that.
Amendments Nos. 202 to 204, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Turner, would ensure that all the directions are communicated in writing. The Government believe that that is unnecessarily bureaucratic and goes against our aim of providing swifter police powers to use against those who trespass on land. The police should be able to issue a direction in the most appropriate format and by the relevant senior officer at the scene as they do currently when issuing directions under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which seems to work well. The requirements to put directions in writing and for them to be served by a chief inspector or more senior officer are simply unnecessary.
The swifter police power will help landowners to deal more efficiently with trespassers. That will go some way to reducing the cost to landowners when dealing with trespassers. It is right to recognise that, in one case, a landowner in Lancashire recently spent #23,500 dealing with evicting and cleaning up after a group of trespassers entered his land for a weekend. It is a real problem.
The decision to issue a direction will be taken by the police in consultation with relevant local authorities to ensure that all the existing preconditions to the use of the new power are met. The factors that the officer should take into account in assessing the suitability of alternative authorised pitches will be covered in guidance. We intend that that guidance will be telling and sound.
I shall not trouble the noble Lord by replying to Amendments Nos. 202A and 202B. I shall simply say that they, too, are covered by the new clauses. They allow for directions to be issued when there is a pitch available on an authorised site, not necessarily within the local authority, but within a reasonable distance. That is the nature of the noble Lord's amendment. The aim of those clauses is to provide swifter police powers while encouraging local authorities to provide more authorised sites in their areas. This amendment would break the link. So the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is that we want local authorities to be put under appropriate pressure to discharge their duty. We believe that this is a proper way of doing that.
I hope that my response enables Members of the Committee to feel a little more comfortable. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend that our bona fides are well founded. We have no ill intent. We understand the pressing problems of travellers and are doing our very best to honour their tradition and to give them succour while, by the same token, balancing those rights against the rights of others to the proper enjoyment of their property.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank my noble friend for her statement and her assurances. From the submissions that I have received, I know that there is a genuine concern about the matter, including the removal of children. I said that I did not believe that that was the Government's intention, but that is what was felt and expressed to me. I am very grateful for the assurances that she has given.
I am also grateful for the assurances about the obligations to be placed on local authorities to carry out what they are expected to do in this area. That is all very valuable. We shall consider very carefully what the Minister said. It is very late in our proceedings to do much else this evening. We had to wait a long time before we reached a discussion of what I regard as an important element in the Bill, but there it is; that is the way things work. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"In section 63(2), "in the open air"."
The noble Baroness said: The Committee will be pleased to know that this is the last amendment and I have pleasure in moving it. Clauses 54 and 55 concern the powers of local authorities to improve the quality of the local environment by removing graffiti from certain properties. As such it is fitting and appropriate
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