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‘Stop Destroying Our Land’

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The law should be strengthened to stop the anti-social use of motor vehicles in rural areas, says Isle of Wight MP Andrew Turner. Mr Turner was speaking after backing a Bill introduced in Parliament by James Paice MP, which makes it a criminal offence to trespass with a vehicle.

In the House of Commons Mr Paice said

“I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to create an offence of criminal trespass with a vehicle; and for connected purposes.”

When people trespass with a vehicle it is the responsibility of the landowner to tidy up the mess created by trespassers to which Mr Paice asked “Why should law abiding people have to do those things?”

Successive governments have tried and failed to help solve the problem but Mr Paice said that

“More must be done. In doing so we should look at Ireland…In 2002, the Irish Government made trespass a criminal offence…the problem reduced significantly…My Bill does not go as far as the Irish legislation, which made all trespass a criminal offence. I seek only to make trespass with a vehicle a criminal offence.”

He added

“The Bill also addresses other activities [as well as travellers], where motor vehicles are used in trespass. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Andrew Turner) has drawn my attention to serious problems on the Tennyson Trail, where offroaders have killed sheep and caused serious damage to the landscape.”

He concluded

“It is not acceptable for some sectors of society to be able to get away with activities which the rest of us could not.”

Afterwards Andrew Turner said

“I am supporting this Bill as I believe it is necessary so that our open spaces on the Island are not ruined by a small minority of anti-social offroaders. They cause misery to landowners, harm livestock and damage the environment, especially ancient monuments near the Tennyson Trail. Law abiding citizens should not have to deal with the anti social actions of a minority without effective support from the law.”

END

Contact: Andrew Turner 01983 530808

Note: The full text from House of Commons Hansard is below

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to create an offence of criminal trespass with a vehicle; and for connected purposes.

The House is familiar with the many issues surrounding the Traveller population and the local uproar that arises, particularly in rural areas, when a group of Travellers arrive with one or more caravans and set up home on land which they do not own. Such land may be owned by public authorities, most often the county council, or privately owned. Fences and gates can often be broken to gain access. While the Travellers remain, they frequently desecrate the surrounding area, cutting down fences and trees for fires and then leaving piles of rubbish and detritus, sometimes including human excrement. The costs of clearing it all up fall on the local taxpayer or the individual owner of the land.

I am sure that I am not the only one to have had numerous cases of that in my constituency. Recently, in the small village of Swaffham Prior, Travellers camped on the village playing field, preventing the football club from using it and costing the parish council more than £4,000 the first time to clear up and £1,600 the second time in legal fees to get them evicted and to clear up. That is unacceptable. A direct consequence is that property owners, including local authorities, have to take action to prevent access. Large unsightly mounds of earth or rubble are put in gateways and farmers use redundant machinery to block access to their fields. Why should law-abiding people have to do those things?

The House will be well aware that Cambridgeshire is particularly affected by unauthorised encampments. Some say that that is for historical reasons deriving from casual labour for fruit and vegetable harvesting, but a minimal number of Travellers, if any, are engaged in such activities today. A far more likely reason for the large number of Travellers in the county is that successive Government policies have created a honeypot effect. While the Government use half-yearly counts of unauthorised sites to indicate demand, it is inevitable that it can never be satisfied. The Travellers know that and therefore go to the areas where the problem is greatest, in full knowledge that the Government will then put pressure on the local council to provide more sites. Nowhere is that more obvious than in south Cambridgeshire. In the past two years, the number of unauthorised sites has risen by 63 per cent., yet the number of authorised sites has also risen. Last July, at the time of the last count, in the whole of the eastern region there were 325 unauthorised sites on land not owned by Gypsies.

Before I go any further I want to make two specific points. First, most Members of the House know that the village of Cottenham is my constituency. Unfortunately, it has received a considerable amount of unwelcome publicity over the past few years as the result of a substantial incursion by Irish Travellers. However, this Bill is not directed at that issue because those Travellers own the land, and the problems there are issues of planning and enforcement. The second point follows from that—namely, that not all Travellers cause the problems that I have described. Inevitably, there are generalisations, but illegal encampments, however tidy, must be stopped. In Cottenham, whatever the planning issues, the pitches are generally clean and tidy, although it has to be said that the surrounding area appears to suffer, and certainly a privately owned orchard has been destroyed.

There have been a number of attempts by successive Governments to resolve those problems, some designed to help, some to hinder, but few, I am afraid, have made any difference. Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 makes it an offence to drive a vehicle more than 15 yd from the highway on to private land without consent, yet there have been few, if any, prosecutions. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives police officers the power to move on Travellers if the landowner has asked them to leave, and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 slightly strengthened that legislation as a result of amendments tabled by myself. Yet in the last three years there have been no prosecutions.

It is clear to me that more must be done. In doing so, we should look at Ireland, which has addressed the problem robustly. In 2002, the Irish Government made trespass a criminal offence. The result for them was as expected: the problem reduced significantly. The result for us was unexpected—it led to a significant increase in the number of Irish Travellers in Britain. I quote from a letter that I received only this morning from an individual who had seen the publicity surrounding my presentation of the Bill:

“My wife, who is of Irish descent, and myself often holiday in the Republic where the Irish people cannot believe their good fortune to be getting rid of their problem. There are thousands of these gypsies wanting to come to the UK”.

Even allowing for a little exaggeration, that underlines the problem as seen from the Irish perspective.

My Bill does not go as far as the Irish legislation, which made all trespass a criminal offence. I seek only to make trespass with a vehicle a criminal offence if someone does not move on when told to do so by a constable. There can be no ifs or buts about this, and no

28 Feb 2006 : Column 132

spurious arguments about welfare—the people in question should have thought about that before they arrived at the site.

My Bill also addresses other activities, not involving Travellers, where motor vehicles are used in trespass. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) has drawn my attention to serious problems on the Tennyson trail, where off-roaders have killed sheep and caused serious damage to the landscape. Similarly, vehicles are used to gain access to property for an illegal rave, yet the police frequently decline to act to prevent them.

Quite rightly, many people will ask where the Travellers should go. There is a shortage of sites in some areas, and in my view their provision should be included in local plans, but that is not the point at issue here. I came to the House believing that we are all equal under the law. It is not acceptable for some sectors of society to be able to get away with activities which the rest of us could not; nor is it acceptable for owners of private land to have to spend several thousands of pounds obtaining eviction orders and clearing up the abominable mess that is left behind.

I conclude with a reference to a Bill that is currently before the House. Through the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, the Government are, rightly, trying to prevent further damage to green lanes and byways by off-road vehicles. Why bother, if Travellers can continue to use them with impunity?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. James Paice, Mr. Peter Ainsworth, David T. C. Davies, Mr. Dominic Grieve, Gregory Barker, Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Mr. Mark Prisk, Andrew Selous, Mr. Andrew Turner and Bill Wiggin.

Mr. James Paice accordingly presented a Bill to create an offence of criminal trespass with a vehicle; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 12 May, and to be printed [Bill 135].

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Broadlands jobs safe

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Island MP Andrew Turner has received confirmation that the future of jobs and services at Broadlands House are secure following press reports that previously announced new jobs would not now be coming to the Island. Mr Turner said that yesterday’s press reports were completely at odds with assurances he had received both from the Minister last summer and the regional manager as recently as November last year. On hearing the reports that plans had changed he contacted the senior management of JobCentre Plus to seek clarification of the position.

Mr Turner said

“I have now received definite confirmation that the plans of Jobcentre Plus have not changed and that they will be keeping a benefit processing centre on the Island as well as establishing one of only two national insurance number processing centres here. I have been told that the additional jobs will arise as their plans are implemented over the coming months.”

Mr Turner went on to say

“During our meeting last November Guy Tompkins Jobcentre Plus’s regional manager was very complimentary about their workforce on the Island and told me that the positive approach of the staff was one of the reasons why they planned to expand on the Island. I am very glad that they see the sense of bringing work to the Island rather than taking it to the mainland and I will continue to press Government to follow their example.

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School Reorganization – Where will £70m come from?

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Government have denied promising the IW Council £70 million to pay for reorganizing Island schools from a three- to a two-tier system. And the Island’s MP has criticized the ‘optimistic noises’ on funding given at consultation meetings.

In a Parliamentary Answer to Island MP Andrew Turner it was revealed that there have been absolutely no promises from the Government to provide the estimated £70 million needed for the changes being proposed by council officials. In answering Mr Turner, Stephen Twigg MP, the Minister responsible for school funding, made it clear that the Isle of Wight council has received no assurances that extra money will be made available for the proposed changeover. Mr Turner has criticized the impression given to parents and teachers that obtaining the money needed from central government would not present a problem.

Andrew Turner said,

“During the meeting I attended at Sandown High School it was clearly stated that ‘we can get’ the £70 million needed to change the system. I was surprised to hear that because that simply isn’t the way that Government works. I have asked the Government what promises they have given and they have clearly told me that they have given none. I have now asked the Council what led them to give such a misleading impression to those who went to the trouble of attending the meeting. I have been told that there have been informal meetings with government officials who support these proposals – I am afraid that does not represent government spending commitments. Frankly I am shocked that optimistic noises were made which misled people.”

Exam results and education standards on the Island are far below the national average and the recent report costing £100,000 by 4S recommended changing the system but did not provide any evidence that this alone would improve standards. Mr Turner went on to say:

“There may well be arguments for changing the system – but changing the system does not guarantee improving standards; the issues should not be mixed up. Even the advocates of change admit it would cost a fortune. If that money does not come from central government it will have to come from existing council budgets and be topped up by Island council taxpayers.

“It is at very least disingenuous to suggest that finding the money to achieve change is not an important issue that needs to be discussed as part of these proposals. I am worried that the Council seems to believe that informal discussions with civil servants translates into promises of many millions of pounds – sadly that is not the case.

“We need to raise standards but that is best done by the Council accepting that some schools are better than others, publishing that information to parents, governors, teachers and the wider public, and tackling the problems on a school-by-school basis. It is not as glamorous as being the architect of a whole new system, but it is much more likely to give our children the quality schooling they deserve.”

END

Contact : Andrew Turner 01983 530808

School Building (Isle of Wight)

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what (a) commitments and (b) undertakings she has made to the Isle of Wight Council regarding future capital allocations provided (i) through the Building Schools for the Future programme or (ii) otherwise, whether (A) contingent on or (B) not contingent on school reorganisation. [216280]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: A letter has been sent to all council leaders stating that, for authorities not prioritised in the first three waves of Building Schools for the Future (BSF), including the Isle of Wight, we are determined to make a start on BSF plans between 2005–06 and 2010–11. Our ambition is that in the next full Parliament, subject to future spending decisions, 60 per cent. of all authorities will have started in the BSF programme, or else be given resources to renew at least one secondary school with the greatest need as a school for the future, or as an academy. Each BSF scheme will be judged on its merits, and is not necessarily contingent on school reorganisation. Other capital allocations to the council and its schools were announced on 30 November, and are set out in the following table:

£000
2006–07 14,853
2007–08 15,446

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Can we become a Fairtrade Island?

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As World Fair Trade Fortnight draws to a close this Sunday the Island’s MP Andrew Turner has praised the work of the IW Fairtrade Forum. The Forum is working towards the accolade of Fairtrade Island by building on existing users and suppliers of Fairtrade products to spread the word about the products and the good they do for their producers in the developing world. There are now more than 250 products bearing the distinctive green and blue logo which guarantees a fair deal to producers of such items as coffee, tea, sugar and bananas.

Andrew Turner said,

“The Fairtrade product range has expanded over recent years and whilst once they were seen as an expensive alternative they now offer good value and quality. In order to become a Fairtrade Island we need more suppliers of the products so everybody really can make a difference by asking their local coffee shop or convenience store to stock a few items from the range. As the largest constituency in the country the Island gaining this accolade really would make a difference and give a boost to the national campaign. Fairtrade really makes a difference to those communities that need a helping hand – and I know that on the Island we have a really caring and compassionate community”.

Jim Curtis the co-ordinator of the IW Fairtrade Forum said

“I very much value Andrew’s support for this campaign. In order for the Island to be recognised in this way we need the active support of the Isle of Wight council as well as that of suppliers across the Island. I urge everyone to let their local councillors know that they would be proud to see us become a Fairtrade Island helping less fortunate people to take control of their own lives and build themselves a better future.

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