MPs call for crackdown on illegal traveller sites

Travellers who had set up camp at Southsea Common last month. Picture: Habibur Rahman

MPs have said government ministers should be ‘hanging their heads in shame’ over the way they currently handle illegal traveller sites. 

Tories Andrew Selous, Mark Francois and Tim Loughton are among those who have called for reforms to benefit both settled and travelling communities. 

They favour emulating Ireland by making acts of deliberate trespass a criminal offence, referred to as the ‘Irish option’, in a bid to protect land and public sites.

And as the government prepares its response to a consultation on powers to deal with unauthorised caravan sites and developments, the MPs have warned ministers will face ‘real anger’ if processes do not change. 

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Francois, MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, said: ‘What we're asking for essentially is the Irish option based on the fact in 2002 Ireland changed the law to make acts of deliberate trespass a criminal offence.

‘There will be real anger in this place if, as a result of this consultation, the government doesn't do something meaningful – rather than some very minor tweak in the law as window dressing – to address this problem, such that we would see a real decrease in the incidents in the next few years.’ 

As previously reported, travellers were asked to leave a number of sites in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas over the summer – including Southsea Common, Canoe Lake and Fareham Leisure Centre

READ MORE: Here are all the recent sites that have had traveller camps in the Portsmouth area

While this has led to frustration on a local level, Tim Loughton has said the aftermath is often unsavoury. 

He said: ‘Invariably when they leave, they leave behind a trail of devastation of rubbish which costs the local taxpayer an enormous amount to clear up.’ 

Meanwhile Andrew Selous said the ‘time for endless, constant reviews is over’. 

In response, government communities minister Kit Malthouse said the majority of travellers are ‘decent, law-abiding people’, adding he was ‘extremely concerned’ about issues raised in the debate – including the conditions and activities on certain sites.

On the ‘Irish option’, Mr Malthouse told MPs: ‘The communities secretary (James Brokenshire) has recently met the Irish government to discuss their approach to trespass and unauthorised encampments.

‘We will, however, provide a formal response to the consultation in due course.’

He noted there are ‘pros and cons’ to the approach. 

More from News