The appalling events of recent days have caused great anger and anxiety. My inbox has many emails calling for curfews on men and many others calling for greater understanding that not all men are perpetrators. At such a difficult time, we must find the right balance between personal freedom and state intervention, but also recognise how vital it is that we teach our boys and our girls the profound importance of mutual respect.
In speaking in this Second Reading debate, I want to focus on a measure in the Bill that I think everyone can get behind—giving the police new powers to tackle unauthorised encampments. For my constituents, that cannot come soon enough. In late 2019, a plot of floodplain near Northampton was sold privately, and then, in the middle of 2020, it was auctioned off to potential developers. The sales were under false pretences because planning consent would never be granted on a floodplain. Then in August 2020, as local residents had feared, a large number of vehicles entered the site and set up an unauthorised encampment. From August to October, the local community was witness to huge piles of commercial waste entering the site and being dumped on the floodplain and in the River Nene, and multiple vehicles with no tax or MOT, some with false plates, entering and leaving the site. There were regular bonfires with acrid black smoke, and visible payment being taken for third parties entering the site to dispose of builders’ waste.
Local residents suffered verbal and racial abuse and antisocial behaviour, including rocks being thrown at passing cars, air rifles being shot, quad bikes being ridden at all hours and dogs running loose around the streets. Residents endured months of real fear and did everything they could to provide evidence to their parish and borough council and the local police. Finally, in October last year, the combined efforts of Northants police and the borough council got the Travellers off the land.
A political philosophy that has always chimed with me is that of John Stuart Mill. In setting out to describe the parameters of individual freedom, he said that we should all be free to do exactly as we like, provided that we are not impeding someone else’s freedom to do exactly as they like. That is a difficult balance to achieve in real life, but where the rights of communities versus the rights of Travellers are concerned, there can be no doubt that facilitating a Traveller’s way of life must not necessitate the misery and fear that was caused for my constituents. Many will be heartily delighted with this new measure, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for listening to the huge majority across the country who want to see greater protections from unauthorised encampments.