I am very concerned about proposals in the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill relating to the criminalisation of trespass and unauthorised encampments.
The Government’s proposals would create a new criminal offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”. Under the proposals, families living on unauthorised encampments could be imprisoned for up to three months, be fined up to £2,500, or both.
Firstly, it is clear that these measures are targeted at Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. I believe this discrimination could potentially breach the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.
Secondly, the police have clearly said they do not require these new measures. The National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners have said that “no new criminal trespass offence is required” and that the co-ordinated use of existing powers allows for a proportionate response. Indeed, I know that an analysis of responses to the Government’s consultation on these proposals by Friends, Families and Travellers found that 84% of the police responses did not support the criminalisation proposals.
Finally, I believe the proposals are so loosely drafted and unclear that they not only risk discriminating against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, but risk criminalising wild camping and even rough sleepers in makeshift shelters or tents.
It is for these reasons, along with concerns around some of the Government’s other proposals, that I voted against the Bill at its Second Reading on 16th March. It is disappointing that the Government has undermined many of the good measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill by coupling them up with divisive and draconian measures, including those relating to protests.
I can assure you that I will be pressing the Government to think again about these proposals as the Bill continues to be scrutinised by Parliament,