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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I very much understand the desire of the noble Lord to attempt to give the police additional powers to deal with protesters who seek publicity for their cause by climbing tall structures. However, we are not convinced that the police lack the powers to deal with that type of protest, nor do we think that the noble Lord's amendment would do what he wants it to do, albeit I accept that it is a stalking horse for us to have this debate.

While it would not be appropriate for me to comment in detail on any particular case, everyone has the right to protest peacefully about issues on which they hold sincere views. However, we do not think that that right extends to disruption to the wider community. I agree with the noble Lord's comments in that regard. There are various offences which might be committed in situations such as this; for example, aggravated trespass and causing a public nuisance.

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The police have a duty of care. Issues of safety for the protester, the general public and police officers will be of paramount concern in these situations.

I suggest that the noble Lord's amendment, which seeks to extend the offence of aggravated trespass, is drawn too widely. We do not think that it is necessary. All the amendment does is to widen who could be trespassing on land to cover protesters who are intentionally causing obstruction or disruption to the general community. Even with the amendment, the offence of aggravated trespass will still apply only where someone was engaged or was about to engage in any unlawful activity.

I remind the House that the police have the power to direct persons to leave land where a person is committing or intending to commit the offence of aggravated trespass, and if a direction is not complied with they can arrest an individual. In view of the powers that the police already have to deal with this type of protest, I do not think, with respect, that the noble Lord's amendment is necessary. It is always a matter for the police to choose between the various different powers which they wish to alight upon because of the circumstances of the particular case. They will take fully into account the safety issues that might prevail if they adopt one course rather than the other but that does not change the fact that the powers are available to them. Therefore, I invite the noble Lord not to press his amendment. I am sure that he will not.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, in view of the existing powers she mentioned, can she say whether some charge will be brought against this so-called Spiderman who was on top of the crane for so long? He must have been well aware of the disruption he caused and there must have been plenty of witnesses.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I tried to make clear that I cannot comment on individual cases, particularly when they are sub judice. Noble Lords will gather that there have been proceedings taken. I think I can go as far as to say that when the person concerned came down from the crane he was charged with being a public nuisance and causing danger to public safety. The offence with which he has been charged is triable either way. It attracts a six months custodial sentence and/or level 5 fine. That penalty is higher than that for aggravated trespass, which is a summary only offence. I do not think that I can, with propriety, go any further than that.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation. I had done what I could to find out what was available, without prejudice to what might happen. I was careful not to comment on the merits of the particular case and simply used it to provoke the noble Baroness, if I might put it that way, into the explanation she gave. I hope that others elsewhere will take notice of that. I thought it essential to obtain wider knowledge of what might happen if one indulged oneself in that way. I have

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always wanted to climb a crane but I am certain that I shall not do so now. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.45 p.m.

Clause 67 [Power to remove trespassers: alternative site available]:

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 21:

    Page 51, line 14, at end insert—

"( ) In section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, after subsection (3) insert—
"(3A) Any direction under subsection (1) shall include a list of relevant caravan sites on which there are suitable pitches for the persons who are the subject of the direction.""

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Report we sought to align the police power to direct travellers to leave an unauthorised site under Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 with those in Clause 67 of this Bill. We were told by the Minister, to my very great disappointment, that the Government had deliberately set out to create two entirely different regimes for the police to direct travellers to move off an unauthorised encampment.

We were told that in a case where local authorities had already provided sites and suitable pitches were available, the police would use the powers in the Bill but where no suitable pitches were available they could use the powers they already have in Clause 67 of the 1994 Act, to which the amendment refers.

At no point has any Minister contested the assertion that in the 157 local authority areas where there were unauthorised encampments, at the time of the January 2003 ODPM survey there were no suitable pitches available on any of the official sites and that there will not be any pitches available within the foreseeable future. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, for saying that I sent her evidence in the shape of a survey which I conducted in August and the first week of September on the failure of the local authorities in those 157 areas to carry out their statutory duties under the Homelessness Act. In fact I sent a copy to the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, following a conversation I had with him about progress as we had a debate on gypsies and travellers earlier in the year. I thought he said that he had sent it on to the noble Baroness, but obviously he did not. However, I have also sent a copy of the survey to the ODPM. Copies are available on the Shelter website and on the website of the Traveller Law Reform Coalition.

The survey showed that not one of those local authorities has any plans to construct new sites and there is nothing in the Bill to give them any incentive to construct sites. The Government now say that they will make a Statement about Pat Niner's report to the ODPM in spring 2004. If they come round then to the idea of reinstating the duty of local authorities to provide enough sites for gypsies residing in or resorting in their areas, as provided for in the Caravan Sites Act 1968, there will then be a period of

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consultation followed by legislation and the earliest that anything could happen would be well outside the timescale of five years in the Niner report. I assume that they will accept the recommendation that Niner made that there should be a resumption of the statutory duty, and that may well not happen. But during the five years that she surveyed, she said that there was a requirement for between 3,000 and 4,500 pitches. We might get one-twentieth of that number, all of which are likely to be on transit rather than residential sites.

The Government are just as adept at putting off decisions as their predecessors have been for the past 35 years. I was forcefully reminded of that by one of the documents in the national archives, which has just been released under the 30-year rule, reference June 1974 AT78/7, where a civil servant wrote in a briefing which was then given to Ministers:

    "There is precious little electoral advantage in providing a site and there are strong incentives to procrastinate and to hope that the problem will simply go away".

That has a very familiar ring. What Mr John Downie, the civil servant at the Department of the Environment, then wrote is equally true of councils and governments today: They would get no brownie points from the electorate as a whole for the comprehensive strategy demanded by Niner, so they just let things drift: plus ca change, plus c'est la mÍme chose".

The refurbishment grant, on which the noble Baroness and her Government have relied as evidence that they are doing something, has now been extended for the two years 2004–5 and 2005–06. The Government have given a total of £8 million to local authorities for those two years, compared with the £16.78 million which Pat Niner says is the minimum necessary over the period 2002–07 simply to bring up sites to the standard and to maintain them at that level; not to buy any new sites.

There may be some uncertainty about the figures, as the Government have claimed, but the difference between the Government's plans and the recommendations made by one of the foremost experts in the field is vast. There is no doubt at all that in each of the past two years there has been an increase in the number of travellers on unauthorised sites, arising from under-provision.

Leaving the police with the power in Section 61 to shift gypsies from one unauthorised site to another, often within the same area, while doing nothing to correct the shortage of accommodation which leaves the travellers with nowhere that they can lawfully stop, is a manifestly unworkable policy. It certainly will not do anything to alleviate the "aggro" caused to residents of houses when an increasing number of unauthorised travellers camp in their vicinity.

This clause is about a symptom, not the disease. The Government have already rejected the proposition we advanced on Report, that we should stop treating the symptom without thinking about the cure. So the amendment aims to provide at least a record of where the symptom is hurting. It would provide that every

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time the police exercise the Section 61 power that they will do so in the full knowledge that the problem is simply being shifted and not solved. I beg to move.

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