Caroline Spelman – 2005 Speech on Traveller Camps

Below is the text of the speech made by Caroline Spelman on 21 March 2005.

Last November we began consulting on the best way to deal with illegal traveller camps.

Today we can announce a seven-point plan to deal with both illegal and unauthorised development, to give stronger rights to local residents and to ensure planning controls are fairly enforced for all.

First, as Michael has said we are reviewing the so-called Human Rights Act – if it cannot be improved, we will scrap the Act.

Second, Conservatives will give councils the power to refuse applications for retrospective planning permission. This will stop the cynical manipulation of the planning system by travellers or rogue developers who wilfully ignore the rules.

Third, we will make traveller trespass a criminal offence as they have done in the Republic of Ireland. This will stop local residents having to pay up to evict travellers from their land and give the police a fast track system to evict illegal occupiers.

Fourth Conservatives will give councils new powers to ensure the rapid removal of caravans from illegal sites, and allow the courts to levy larger fines to stop travellers from profiting illegal developments.

Fifth we will extend councils powers of compulsory purchase, where the land is the subject of a continuing breach of a Stop Notice. This will protect local residents from being forced to purchase land from speculators, at vastly inflated sums, just to avoid the threat of illegal encampments.

Sixth, we will provide clearer, more effective guidance for the police. Mr Blair’s Government’s new guidance is a trespassers’ charter, restricting the ability of the police and councils to take action. We will issue revised guidance, undoing John Prescott’s changes, and encouraging police to tackle criminal or anti-social behaviour on traveller sites.

Finally, Conservatives will give local people a greater say on where sites go. We oppose the imposition of arbitrary quotas on councils to provide traveller camps. We will abolish the unelected regional assemblies and regional housing boards which now threaten to silence the voice of local communities.

Our proposals are sensible and practical. They will deal with the problem of illegal traveller camps – a problem which Mr Blair’s Government has created. Yesterday Labour said that action to tackle this issue was “tapping into … bigotry”.

They’re wrong. It’s not bigoted. It’s about fairness. And it’s about standing up for the right values. People want a government that upholds the law – not one that turns a blind eye when the law is flouted.