Just after PM's Questions, this chap stood up, to introduce a Ten Minute Rule Bill titled:
"Equal Enforcement of the Law". A fine sentiment perhaps, that what law we do have, should be equally applied to all citizen.
However, he doesn't mean that! It's all about travellers, land to stay on, planning permissions, and all to reinforce the present; "lets be horrible to travellers" line, currently being peddled by the main political parties at the mo.......
After he finished, the vote was that he could continue in the subsequent stages, and that the Second Reading, has been scheduled for the 5th May. This being the same date as the election, it problably wont proceed. But this lot, just serves to show the continued attitudes to travellers, and the like.
Andrew Robathan MP ten minute rule bill
Equal Enforcement of the Law
6th april 2005
Mr speaker i beg to move that leave be given to bring in a bill to make provision for direction to police forces to enforce the law equally as it applies to settled communities and travellers; to amend the law on trespass; and for connected purposes.
One of the abiding principles that runs through the development of british democracy and society is the principle of equality before the law. The peasants revolt, magna carta, the civil war and habeas corpus, the abolition of the test acts and many other instances show this principle being developed and a very important principle it has been. But under this government, some people have discovered that the law will not be applied to them equally. The terrorists of sinn fein are one such group, but i wish to dwell on the treatment of travellers in the country at the moment.
As far as i am concerned, if people wish to live in caravans and travel about the country, that is entirely their own affair. I do not believe in prescribing how people lead their lives, just as long as they do not impinge unreasonably on the lives of others. There is a permanent campsite at aston firs in my constituency which i have visited in the past and will probably visit in this election campaign. I believe people there are entirely law abiding and while there may not be many votes there for me, but i think it important to make myself available to all my constituents.
I was brought up on the romantic notion of gypsies in attractive and colourful caravans pulled by horses, where romanies lived their unique lifestyle travelling around the country. This still happens and there was indeed, only last week, a traditional caravan in swinford, in my constituency.
On monday, by coincidence, my constituency office was deluged with calls from concerned people in lutterworth about an illegal gypsy encampment at the ladywood works. I went to see the site where half a dozen caravans had moved in on saturday night. A local garage had been closed because the 17 year old female cashier said that she had been intimidated by travellers. When i spoke to the owner, he told me that he had not reported it to the police because last time he caught a gypsy stealing something on cctv from his forecourt, the local police had advised him not to press charges, because he might be vulnerbale to criminal damage in retaliation. A disgrace.
Another three caravans have now arrived in lutterworth on the same illegal site, where they are trespassing. When the first ones arrived one of the travellers made an offer to the manager of the site, saying that they would leave straight away if paid £350 a van. When i visited the site, there were helpful police officers present. When i pointed out that one car had no road fund licence, the police officer explained that, although the owner of the car was committing an act of trespass, the police had no rights to enforce the law on private land. The phrase "catch 22" comes to mind. At this site, one of the particular complaints of the businesses of the site was that human excrement had been left on their doorsteps.
In northfield park in blaby a couple of years ago, i saw the astonishing rubbish that had been dumped by travellers there, including abandoned cars. Local residents were so intimidated they did not dare use the park, i met some very aggressive travellers, whilst the police stood off, not wishing to make trouble.
This is a pity because there are two issues relating to caravans and police which have been drawn to my attention by people involved in the legal caravanning world. The first is the width and length of caravans. Photographs published in the sun and elsewhere show that some caravans have twin or even triple axles, and they are too long to be legally towed by anything other than a full size commercial vehicle in the uk.
At the same time, the maximum width caravan that can be towed in the uk is just over seven foot five inches. There are photographs, for instance, in the sun on the 12th march, of a german-made lmc caravan just under eight foot wide. This is illegal. Yet the police very rarely stop these sorts of illegal vehicles. Perhaps the minister might like to answer the written question that i have already put down about prosecutions for over-wide or over-long caravans in this country.
The second and enormously important issue is theft. Some five thousand touring caravans are stolen and not recovered each year - about 20% of total uk sales of new caravans. All these new caravans have c.r.i.s. identification numbers. They also generally have transponders in them. If a new caravan is found without such means of identification, the question should be asked why not, and is it stolen. Unfortunately when one police officer in bedfordshire followed such a course of action he was moved to an office job because he upset travellers in bedfordshire. He also upset bedfordshire social services because they might have had to find accomodation for families whose caravans were confiscated. Surely it is the duty of the police to make simple enquiries to ascertain whether caravans are stolen.
It is also interesting how many brand-new vehicles tend to be pulling these vans - it might be pertinent for the inland revenue and customs and excise to be making enquiries about taxation and vat. Little council tax gets paid and i doubt much else gets paid either.
If any honourable member does not tax his car, i expect that he will be prosecuted with the assistance of the police. If he or she dumps rubbish on public land or by the side of the road, he or she is committing an offence. Human excrement in a public place should incur the wrath of environmental health departments. Furthermore, we all pay taxes and the overwhelming majority of our constituents pay council taxes for the services they expect to receive.
It is not unreasonable that we should all obey the laws of this country, be they planning laws, motoring laws or laws relating to environmental health. Illegal encampments of travellers have been much in the news recently and one does not have to be a reader of the sun or the daily mail - which i understand to have been particularly campaigning on this - to believe that it is wrong that people can flout the planning law in a flagrant fashion and then apply for retrospective planning permission.
Sadly, this government believes that "whilst some planners think that treating everyone the same helps to ensure equality this is not the case. Explicit recognition of difference is needed to ensure that the right action can be taken to deliver a planning service responsive to different needs within the communities it serves". Similarly, the government has said regarding unauthorised camping, "where the occupier of the land is a public body such as a local authority then every effort should be made to avert forced eviction. Where trespassers are for instance irish travellers, public bodies are required under the race relations act to have due regard to the need to promote good race relations".
The law does not apply to everyone. The law is not applied equally to all people in this country.
I think the overwhelming majority of people in this country, faced with casting their votes in a general election, will consider that everybody should be subject to the same laws. I propose that trespass be made a criminal offence, where it involves occupancy. This would give the police the certain power to move on trespassing travellers. The house will know that this is exactly what has happened in ireland under the housing (miscellaneous provisions) act 2002. That of course is why there has been an influx of irish travellers into this country, where we are seen as a soft touch.
I further propose that councils be allowed to refuse applications for retrospective planning permission by travellers or rogue developers who are cynically manipulating the planning system, often advised by disreputable lawyers. I would allow local councils to ensure that there was the rapid removal of caravans where planning permission did not exist and that large fines or confiscation of assets were imposed on travellers who were trying to profit from illegal developments.
Police must know that they not only have the power but the duty to stop travellers of whom they are suspicious and check their road fund licences, the road worthiness of their vehicles and the provenance of their vehicles. If i am stopped by a police officer, i must be displaying my road fund licence and i may be required to produce my insurance. There is no reason why this law too should not be applied to travellers - but at the moment, police officers seem wary of doing this because they fear it may cause trouble.
Finally, these travellers, who probably a minority of the travelling community, that are behaving illegally know their rights, but not their responsibilities. I propose a review or even the repeal of the so-called human rights act 2000. It sounds attractive, a human rights act, but actually it is used by smart slick lawyers to drive a coach and horses through the laws that the rest of us have to obey. In particular, the human rights act has allowed travellers to break planning laws, but takes no account of the rights of others whose lives are made a misery by illegal traveller encampments. When my right honourable friend the leader of the opposition suggested this, there was one person who commented that this had "the whiff of the gas chamber about it". Only a bitter twisted and perverted mind could imagine that to say that all people should obey the same laws is in some way wrong. We are all equal before the law and i propose that that equality should be enforced. I urge the house to support this bill.
So, if you want to tell him, what you thing about all this, he can be cobtacted at: