Unlike Andy Slaughter, those of us who represent rural or semi-rural constituencies know only too well the problems caused by unauthorised encampments, and the deeply damaging effects they have on our local communities. The proposed offence refers to those who brazenly travel and set up unauthorised encampments, with total disregard for others. My constituents have often been subject to the disruption and difficulties caused by those in caravans who, without permission, set up on a village green, a playing field or agricultural land. Although I accept that that may not sound particularly troublesome in theory, unfortunately it is the behaviour and activities of those in the caravans that causes disruption, damage, and disquiet in our lovely rural villages and towns.
The Government’s proposals on tackling unauthorised encampments is a big step in the right direction, but of course more should be done. It does not discriminate against the vast majority of law-abiding Gypsy and Traveller communities, and neither should it, but it highlights the big issue of those who set up unauthorised encampments, and allows authorities to deal with that in a more effective manner.
I support the proposal in clause 46 to create the offence of desecration of memorials, and I would like the Government to consider creating a new offence of attacking the parliamentary offices of Members of the House. An attack on an MP’s office is an attack on the House and on the heart of our democracy. I should declare that I am the victim of such a crime. My office was violently attacked less than two months ago in what appears to have been a premeditated attack designed to intimidate my staff and me. Unfortunately, Leicestershire police, led by Chief Constable Simon Cole, have not been able to identify the assailant. This is the second time in less than 21 months that my office has been attacked. If we are to place value on memorials and statues, as we should, by creating this new offence, how much more important is the symbol of this sovereign body in each constituency—namely, the MP’s office bearing the portcullis? These are not inanimate historical objects; they are the living, breathing and supposedly safe workplaces of Members of this House across our country. I ask the Government to confirm that they take seriously these attacks against MPs, their staff and their parliamentary offices—even more seriously than attacks against statues. Accordingly, I invite the Government to consider my reasonable suggestion for a specific offence of attacking an MP, their office or their staff in their constituency.