Gypsies and Travellers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:34 pm on 10th September 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 9:34 pm, 10th September 2018

I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, because as I said earlier and will say again—it needs to be said many times in this debate—there are many decent, law-abiding Travellers who want to do the right thing and pay their way, who clean up, and who are respectful of the local community and, indeed, contribute hugely to it. The sadness is that that is not the case with all Travellers. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point.

I will provide the Minister with a written list of requests from both Central Bedfordshire Council and Bedfordshire police, as I do not have time to go into them all tonight. I am strongly encouraging Central Bedfordshire Council to adopt the policy of Sandwell Council in having a temporary stopping site. The provision of that site has led to a significant decrease in unauthorised encampments and the associated clear-up costs and environmental degradation that sadly so often accompany them.

Central Bedfordshire Council wants the power to seize vehicles associated with unlawful or illegal activity, whoever the owner is. It wants the Environment Agency to prosecute or close non-compliant sites, where living conditions are often atrocious. It wants all land on Traveller sites to have an owner who is properly registered with the Land Registry, without which proper enforcement cannot take place.

Bedfordshire police say that the current legislation on aggravated trespass is inadequate, as Ruth George said, because there are difficulties in proving the offence. They would also like section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to be extended to include highway land and significant impact on local communities, as that would replicate the legislation in Northern Ireland.

In the past 12 months, Central Bedfordshire Council has issued 335 parking enforcement notices to foreign vehicles. So far, 250 of those have been cancelled because the owners could not be traced. It is a criminal offence for the owners of foreign vehicles not to register their vehicles if they have been in the UK for more than six months, but the police have no record of foreign vehicles that have been in the UK for more than six months, and I do not believe that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has either. The result is that those with foreign number plates—including quite a large number of Irish-registered vehicles in my area—can park with impunity, while drivers with British-registered vehicles have to pay penalty charge notices. Again, this just leads to fair-minded people coming to the conclusion that there is no equality under the law.