The setting up of illegal traveller sites can be a nuisance for local communities and an inappropriate development of open space. I know that many local residents across the country are concerned about anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping, and noise related to unauthorised sites.
After two consultations on this issue, I welcome the fact that as part of the landmark Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, new laws will be introduced to increase the powers available to the police in England and Wales. The Bill will introduce a new criminal offence where a person resides or intends to reside on any public or private land without permission and has caused, or is likely to cause, significant harm, obstruction, or harassment or distress. In addition, the Bill amends the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to broaden the list of harms that can be considered by the police when directing people away from land; and increase the period in which persons directed away from land must not return from three months to 12 months. Amendments to the 1994 Act will in addition allow police to direct trespassers away from land that forms part of a highway.
I can reassure you that the Government has taken steps to ensure that those exercising their rights to enjoy the countryside are not inadvertently impacted by these measures.
I believe these new measures are a proportionate and necessary increase in powers for the police. The Government has made it clear that only a minority of travellers are causing problems, such as through abusive behaviour and extensive litter and waste at illegal sites. The vast majority of the travelling community are decent law-abiding people, and we must ensure that there are legal sites available for travellers. I welcome the fact that as of January 2020, the number of lawful traveller sites increased by 41 per cent from January 2010. The Government has also given £200,000 to support projects working with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities to tackle discrimination, improve integration, healthcare and education.
I also welcome the draft Home Office guidance published to accompany the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill through Parliament. I was elected on a manifesto commitment to tackle unauthorised traveller camps and it is right that the police have strong powers to deal with those who reside in a vehicle on land without permission. Under the measures contained within the Bill, an offence will be committed if a person who resides or intends to reside with a vehicle on land fails to leave the land or remove their property, without reasonable excuse, when asked to do so by the occupier of the land, their representative or a constable and they have caused, or are likely to cause, significant damage, disruption, or distress (including anti-social behaviour).
Under the guidance, it states that when enforcing provisions related to unauthorised encampments, the police should ensure that (in accordance with their wider Equalities and Human Rights obligations) proper welfare enquiries are carried out to determine whether there are pressing needs presented by those on unauthorised encampments and that, where necessary, the appropriate agencies (including Local Authorities) are involved as soon as possible.
I am confident that Government action will help to reduce the number of illegal caravan sites across the country, while respecting people’s right to a nomadic way of life.