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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I support what has been said on very many of these amendments. I hope that we will not have another demonstration of the government policy of, "Bring 'em on late and reject 'em all". That is what is happening with so many of the Bills that are supposed to come before this second House of the legislature, and we will have further examples as we go on, I suspect, through the night. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will actually answer some of the points that have been made. This is supposed to be a debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has produced a manifestly unanswerable case on a number of the matters that he put. Why should not a local authority faced with a family not certify that there is another pitch to which that family and its travelling house and children can go? Why should they not? Let the Minister tell me why they should not. Why should the penalty of three months' imprisonment, challenged by Amendment No. 113, stand, advocated by the Government? Roma people are being harassed and persecuted in central Europe in an abysmal way but they find no protection in the hearts of these liberal Ministers, as indeed my noble friends are, who are put out to give a gloss to illiberal policies.
Before I draw attention to the government amendments, which very much reflect the fact that we have listened to concerns raised in Committee, I wish to address the issue of alleged ministerial illiberality. It is not a matter of our being illiberal or hard line but of dealing with the matter in a practical way respecting the rights of settled communities as much as those of traveller communities. We are trying to strike a reasonable balance in having to sort out the muddle that this Government inherited when we came to office in 1997.
I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about the money that we were making available to local authorities to try to sort out local difficulties. We have made that money available and it is bringing improvements. It may not be at the pace and rate that the noble Lord would like to see, but as a former local authority leader for some 13 years I know from experience that there are no easy answers to these difficult questions. They are difficult and intractable questions. I urge noble Lords at least to adopt a reasonably practical approach to these matters and not to indulge in the rhetoric of attacking Ministers for their alleged illiberality when we are conscious and very mindful of the real problems which travellers and settled communities face in coming to terms with each other and living together.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, welcomed government Amendment No. 108 which seeks to ensure that before the police issue a direction for trespassers to leave land, there is an available pitch on a local authority site and that pitch is suitable. Our Amendment No. 110 puts on the face of the Bill what will happen in practice. Before giving a direction an officer will have to consult with the local authorities to enable him to assess whether a suitable pitch is available.
We shall be providing guidance to local authorities on the factors they will have to take into consideration when assessing suitability. The police will need to consider the advice of the local authority carefully before giving a direction.
We believe that these amendments provide a practical way of addressing the very real concerns raised by noble Lords without constraining the power to such an extent that it cannot be used to protect the communities that genuinely sufferas the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said in the past and has repeated this eveningfrom nuisance and anti-social behaviour as a result of someI underline the word "some"unauthorised encampments.
Amendment No. 107 seeks to provide clarification that the local authority must certify that there is a pitch on a relevant caravan site for that person to be directed to. Government Amendment No. 110 ensures that the officer making the direction consults the relevant local authority as to pitch availability. We believe that the way in which this consultation takes place is best left to guidance rather than imposing a rigid certification regime on the face of the Bill.
Amendment No. 109 ensures that all families directed to leave the land under the new power do so to a single caravan site. While we do not wish to separate families when a direction is issued, there may be situations where it may be appropriate to split a large extended family group. Obviously there needs to be some flexibility. By adding the condition that the amendment seeks, it could ironically generate a perverse incentive for travelling families to reside in large numbers to avoid being caught by the legislation. Although I certainly acknowledge the importance of assessing children's needs, we consider that to be best left to guidance which will be issued alongside the Bill. That guidance will of course reflect best practice.
Amendment No. 111 seeks to recognise that travellers and ethnic gypsies may have particular cultural expectations that should be reflected in sensitive policing decisions. We all expect police officers to carry out their duties in conformity with the requirements of race relations legislation. However, the situation is not one that can be addressed piecemeal or is specifically related to gypsy and traveller communities, as I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, my noble friend has said nothing about the need for training. I did not address that in my speech, but I thought that he would deal with it. In moving the amendment, the noble Lord made a point that the specific training mentioned in the amendments had been supported by the Commission for Racial Equality and other bodies. Is the Minister saying that the evidence of those bodies is of no value, and that the Government are quite happy with the state of the police force in dealing with such matters without further training?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I want to put on record that training is of course important. Speaking from experience, I can say that my old local authority recognised the importance of training. Those officers who were obliged to deal with the issues
All police officers are provided with community and race relations training as part of the police strategy. Specific training is given throughout the national police training curriculum and by a programme of force-based training and support, to put community and race relations very firmly in the operational context in which officers, and of course civilian staff, work. It is right that the training issues be addressed, but we think the matter best dealt with in guidance and through the usual training practices that local authorities and police authorities adopt.
Amendment No. 112 seeks to add a condition for guidance to be produced by the ODPM following consultation on the operation of the powers. I appreciate the importance of ensuring that all parties receive guidance on the implementation of the powers, but it is neither necessary nor appropriate to add that to the Bill. However, I give the assurance that we will consult the interested parties, including the Commission for Racial Equality, on guidance on the new powers. It will be very important for us to work closely with the Local Government Association, which is always involved in discussions and negotiations on such matters.
Amendment No. 113 seeks to remove part of the penalty attached to failure to comply with a direction. Amendment No. 114 would reduce the penalty to imprisonment or a fine, so that the person could not be subjected to both. The penalties mirror those currently available for the offence of failing to comply with a direction under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The focus of the swifter police powers is to encourage trespassers to use authorised sites instead of trespassing.
Amendment No. 115 would amend the defence available to a person under the age of 18 by removing the requirement that he must be residing with his parent or guardian. The aim of those new police powers is to provide swifter police action to deal with trespassers on land. Removing the condition for the person under 18 to be residing with his parent or guardian prevents any prosecution of anyone under 18. The provision is unlikely to be used on those under 18, as most will be living with their parents or guardians and therefore able to provide a defence.
We believe that many of the issues are best dealt with through the guidance that we will issue to local authorities and police on the powers. Given our commitment to guidance and consulting widely and extensively on the nature of that guidance, I suggest that the noble Lords who tabled the amendments do not press them, but support the government amendments in their place.
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