Last week I lead a very well attended debate on Gypsy and Traveller communities in Parliament. The general thrust of the debate from MPs was that whilst we all want to see traveller communities treated with respect and, their children in particular, to have the same life chances as the settled community, illegal encampments are a huge issue for many law-abiding citizens across the country and need to be addressed.
MPs gave many examples from across the country where illegal encampments by a small minority of the traveller community were making life incredibly difficult for the settled community.
In opening the debate I noted the perception of many in the settled community that the law does not appear to apply equally and if they were flouting the law in the same way as some of the traveller community do, they would be treated more harshly by the authorities. I also gave examples of the frustration and huge distress caused by illegal encampments in Reading.
Police and local authorities do have existing powers but I concluded that the Government intends to consult on the effectiveness of enforcement against unauthorised developments and encampments. We will seek views on whether there is anything we can do to ensure that existing powers can be used more effectively. I will return to the subject of travellers in future articles.
Over several years I have supported my constituents Tracey Fidler and Hayley Lindsay, who have campaigned tirelessly to bring in tougher sentences for causing death by dangerous driving.
Tragically their partners John and Kris were killed by a dangerous driver who was more than two and a half times over the alcohol blood limit, had taken cocaine in the previous 24 hours and was driving at 70 miles per hour in a 30-zone whilst being pursued by police. John and Kris’s killer received just 10 years in prison for his crimes.
Tracey and Hayley set up a national petition to change the law. This received more than 100,000 signatures. I took them to meet with then PM David Cameron and several Justice Ministers to put their case and I also lead parliamentary debates on the issue.
The government has just announced that the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving will increase from 14 years to life imprisonment. This just demonstrates that determined campaigning can bring about a change in the law.