Tory leader Michael Howard has revealed plans to make trespass by travellers a criminal offence.
The party says that the Human Rights Act is making it easier for travellers to abuse planning rules.
However, the government denies the legislation has changed the way planning laws are applied.
The Lib Dems have accused the Conservatives of pandering to a mistaken view that the Act undermines British culture.
What do you think of the Tories' proposal? Should travellers be given special rights?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
I read today that 90% of travellers' planning applications are turned down, only 25% of their appeals succeed and the Human Rights Act has only been used once by them. So all this stuff about preferential treatment is pure nonsense. And by the way, I live in a town where we often get travellers passing through. They are always courteous and considerate and usually leave their sites as they found them.
Charles Moore, Edinburgh, Scotland
We shouldn't discriminate against travellers (or any other group). Simply apply the existing legislation robustly and fairly to everyone.
Colin Hartley, Lancaster
I've seen sites used by "travellers" that are a right mess - usually full of leylandii cuttings, and it is a problem, but the Tories don't have the answer. They are a one trick pony and only see the authoritarian option. What they propose will be costly to enforce and ineffective (as usual). Instead of making lawyers richer and tying up police resources they should be advocating that councils sort these problems in a measured and considerate (to all parties) way.
Jon Brooke, High Wycombe
We have an official traveller camp here in Cardiff - it is situated near the city landfill site - hardly where one would want to bring up children. Who can blame them for wanting to set down roots somewhere nicer? Perhaps if the government when Michael Howard was in it hadn't removed the legal responsibility on councils to provide sites we wouldn't be having this problem.
Muiris, Cardiff, Wales
We live on a small nature reserve which occasionally attracts travellers. With one exception they have always been a nuisance. Noise from quad bikes and generators into the early hours, abusive and aggressive behaviour were what we had to suffer while they were here. When they went we were left with a burnt out car, broken glass, human excrement, and piles of domestic rubbish. As were cleared up the mess and contemplated what we had been subjected to, the last thing on our minds was "we really must respect these travellers' human rights".
Richard, Suffolk, UK
This isn't an issue about racism, human rights, or even whether travellers/gypsies and their sites are good, bad or ugly. This is simply an issue of equality. In a modern, civilised society everyone, no matter what their lifestyle or race, should have the same rights and the same responsibilities. We shouldn't give special treatment to any group - whether that's white middle class or tiny ethnic minority. The only way to achieve real equality in such a diverse society is not through 'positive discrimination' or quota-filling, but by educating our children that every single person has exactly the same rights and responsibilities as the next. We are all, in a very multi-cultural sense, British, and we should all be treated as equal.
Tom Dowler, London, UK
I cannot think of a reasonable argument to suggest that travellers should be able to operate under a different set of laws to the rest of society. This only breeds resentment towards the travellers. In this sense it could be seen to be helping by enforcing these planning laws upon them. All very commendable Mr. Howard, but it wont swing my vote towards the Tories I'm afraid.
Geoff, Plymouth, England
The government needs to provide for everyone, regardless of how they choose to live. Michael Howard is asserting that property rights should be more important than human rights. It is racist to say that travellers should be denied their basic rights simply because their way of life does not involve a respect for private property.
Tim, Brighton, UK
Perhaps Mr Howard would consider replacing the Human Rights Act with the Human Rights and Responsibilities Act.
A Sweeting, Leicester, UK
Trespassing is trespassing, whoever does it. If people pay for where they live and contribute socially and financially to their community, then there is no problem. If people do not agree with certain planning permission issues, they should protest against them, not just disregard them. I do not see where racism comes into this - travellers are a group of people with a certain lifestyle, not a race.
Katherine Friedmann, Leicester, UK
I sit on a planning committee and the first time a decision is not by the book you get an avalanche of questions yet travellers are expected to be treated with kid gloves. How can I agree to prosecute someone for breaking the law - one husband and wife were fined £50,000 EACH - yet allow travellers (not gypsies) to break laws. With freedom comes responsibilities, we cannot have a very, very small minority ignoring it. Do not muddle the generally very responsible and tidy gypsies with travellers.
JB , West of England
Mr Howard just can't tell people how to live. We have to accommodate different life choices. We ought to help them rather than annex them from society because we all going to end up in the same place one day. So Mr Howard ought to take the travellers a cup of tea. I'm serious...and have a chat with them. Learn to be more tolerant. Actually I think if the caravans were green it would solve a lot of problems.
John-Michael, Luthrie Fife
Isn't it easy to pick on the easy targets, like law abiding citizens especially pensioners? Labour again dismisses the gipsy issue as too hard to handle so let them do what they will. How many other issues have been handled by a party that jumps on the emotive issue bandwagon and flattens what will easily give? The party of the people, who do they think they are kidding, not me!
Travellers are a good source of immediate, short-term, skilled labour that can be mobilised very easily. I am middle class and I welcome travellers to our area. After all, they are our fellow 'men' and as a Christian country we should show warmth to our neighbours. So long as travellers leave the site the way that they found it then all is well. Travellers temporarily boost the local labour force - why? Would you rather have a tribe of immigrants staying permanently next door claiming benefits?
Helen Sutherland, Bromley, Kent
Right, so that's gypsies and abortionists ticked off, so what's next on the list Michael? Ban the Trade Unions? Bring back public flogging? What about a blanket 30mph speed limit? You heard it here first people!
If these are true "travellers" then why do they need a permanent site?
Terence Hickey, Bromyard Hereford
Anyone suggesting that the gypsy/traveller row is about race should try living near them before passing uninformed judgement - they are exploiting the Human Rights Act to the detriment on hard-working locals. Noise, filth and intimidation come with them - you try putting up with that on a near daily basis and then hear someone tell you it's down to bigotry.
Richard Lewis, Bristol, England
Planning laws should not be ignored or bent. The Human Rights Act however, applies to all. If there are no official sites for gypsies to camp at, what do we honestly expect? If provision is made for gypsies and then they act anti-socially and develop land illegally, there will be a better base on which to apply the law.
Michael Howard claims he will make changes to the Human Rights Act or, if that is not possible, appeal it. At the launch of the Tory traveller proposals he was asked what those changes would be. He admitted he did not know and quickly moved on to the next question. What does that tell you? Are you thinking what I am thinking? All the man is really interested in is getting a few more votes. As ever the serial opportunist.
Peter Haymes, Felixstowe UK
For too long now, I have watched travellers set up camp on the roadside verges of Milton Keynes in expensive caravans and expensive 4x4 trucks. A few weeks later they have moved on, but leave behind a disgusting mess that costs thousands to clear up. That's my council tax gone. They certainly don't pay any.
Allan Scullion, Milton Keynes
What these people in power are effectively doing is perpetuating a political climate whereby people who are born into the world have to work all of their lives to earn the right to live off the land. I vehemently disagree with this. People should be given the freedom to live where they want, and walk where they want, so long as they respect the land and the other people who live on it.
Stuart, Edinburgh, UK
I find it incredible that 60 years after the end of World War II that gypsies and travellers are still the focus of narrow-minded discrimination. Were the Tories to discriminate against the Jewish community in the same way there would be uproar - and yet the gypsies, who people tend to forget were another group the Nazis tried to extinguish, are fair game for this kind of racist treatment.
Steve Beat, Scarborough, UK
It is ludicrous to say that being asked to obey laws and regulations which apply to everyone else is some kind of infringement of human rights. If councils are under some kind of obligation to provide sites for anyone who wants to turn up with a caravan (and a brand new Range Rover, most of the time), then they can set up suitable parks, and charge appropriate daily rates which include something towards council taxes, to provide the schools and healthcare which these "travellers" will be using. If they want a permanent place to settle, then they are, as others have suggested, no longer "travellers", and need to put up with the same rules as law-abiding taxpayers who want to put up a conservatory or build a granny annexe.
Abby O'Neil, Daventry
At last, the Tories seem to be striking the right chords! This is not a race issue... and people who claim it is are either blind to the realities or just cowards - hiding behind racial accusations when they have no positive arguments! This is about justice for all. My personal view if that in order to exercise your human "rights" then you have to fulfil certain basic human "responsibilities" like obeying the law and paying your taxes!
Andy, Clitheroe, UK
A few years ago our local authority built a specially designed site for genuine travellers. This consisted of parking space and toilet/kitchen facilities with running water for every space. Over a period of time this facility was systematically wrecked, forcing the authority to close it down as it had become dangerous. This is the thanks that we got for providing decent facilities.
The police are not in charge when it comes to these sites, most times they will not enter, so what new powers will suddenly change this?
John, Basildon Essex
Labour is rattled by the Tories, by branding any of their initiatives as 'opportunistic' or 'jumping on the band wagon' Could it be that the Tories are listening and taking on the issues that matter to the British public? This is exactly what Labour has had eight years to do and failed miserably.
John Lester, London, England
The real issue here is that travellers have been knowingly buying up land which does not have planning permission then building on it, with retrospective planning application going in after the event. This is the activity which infuriates so many people who have to abide by the planning laws. To see one group of people treated differently because they happen to have a different lifestyle is unjust and wrong. Using the Human Rights Act is cynical and undermines its true intentions. This is the issue to which the Tories are referring - nothing to do with racism but everything to do with fair play.
Sally, Manchester, UK
This is breathtaking opportunism from Michael Howard. There would not be an issue over travellers if he had not repealed the act calling for local authorities to provide permanent sites when he was home secretary. Does he really hope that memories are so short that people will not recall the disaster he was as home secretary? The poll tax, pregnant prisoners being chained to hospital beds?
Carl, London, UK
I think the main concern is the way travellers can buy land legally that would never be granted planning permission (and hence get it cheap). They then build on it and claim retrospective planning permission and have it forced through as anything else would discriminate against their 'rights'. If I bought this land and did the same, the council would be round with their bulldozers in minutes. Fair? I don't think anyone could say it was. It's a steady decline where the minorities are starting to decide what the majority of us do. That is not racist, and it certainly isn't democracy either.
Dave, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
If travellers want permanent sites then they should pay tax on their earnings, pay council tax, apply for planning permission before concreting over fields and generally abide by the laws that everybody else does. As for them being a poor victimised minority, I have seen too many of them to know that they are more than capable of sticking up for themselves and will use violence to intimidate people if necessary. Most of the people who support them just don't know what they are talking about. Well done Mr Howard.
This is ultimately a question of whether or not there is any such concept as "property", or are we all just subject to the government's whims. Only by the good graces of government and king will you be "allowed" to have a home of your own for if the right to defend your property against something as simple as trespassing is denied what stops the government from simply booting you off your land?
Michael, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
If the Tories want to challenge the Human Rights Act what next? Where will they stop and who else will be in line to lose their personal liberties? Many of this country's minorities, that's who - what typical Tory postulating!
Peter Fuller, London, UK
These sites turn lush British countryside into tarmac slabs with decaying caravans on them! I praise the Tory policy. Why should residents stand for the filth and destruction these travelling folk bring?
Riordan, Lancashire, UK
Public policy is being dictated by the small-minded bigots of the tabloid press. Is this meant to inspire confidence in the Tories? The only thing it inspires me to do is consider emigration.
I work in a Planning Department, and have had experience of dealing with illegal travellers sites. The problems are really two-fold: 1. a lack of official sites. From my experience, travellers will go to these sites and stay there, as they wish to be part of the community. 2. the length of the legal process - it has taken my authority two years to evict people from a travellers' site recently, despite two High Court Injunctions. The Tories proposals will do nothing to remedy the situation we are in.
Perhaps those questioning the motives of conservatives and rural in wanting travellers moved off land illegally occupied or developed would like to advertise on this site, fields or space adjacent to where they live for travellers to move in. Any takers?
Tom Sedman, Worcs
It's just another attack on a minority group to gain votes from stupid and reactionary people. Rather than blame the rich for our problems - with all their tax avoidance, theft from pension schemes, fat-cat pay while sacking workers, and so on, the Tories would try and convince us that a handful of travellers, asylum seekers, single mothers, or whatever are the reason this country is going down the drain.
Jonny Chowns, Brighton, UK
Why should these people even be given provision for 'legal sites', where they can build settlements? If this is their human right, then surely it must also be my human right as a law abiding person to also be given some land to do with as I wish!
Ed, Sevenoaks, Kent
Thank you Michael Howard for putting this issue into the arena. It is right that a number of people are given special recognition for their way of life. Unfortunately this is abused extensively by the so-called traveller community. Particularly so in the numbers claiming to be travellers. Accommodating this increase is known to place great stress on local residents' council officials and police.
Roy, St Albans
I applaud the Tory plans. Until recently we had a group of caravans parked on a lay-by on the nearby A515. They dropped litter, excrement and broken glass everywhere and blocked a vital rest spot for lorries. These people need to respect the rights of others before we begin to give them special consideration.
Michael Davis, Hartington, West Derbyshire
It's about time someone did something for good old fashioned English values. Well done Michael Howard - you've got my vote!
Mike Hunt, Coventry, England
Not all travellers' sites are bad news. We have a permanent travellers' site not far from where I live. Most of the (permanent) residents work nearby and do worthwhile jobs within the community but it was many years before they were given a site of their own and there were a few headaches along the way.
Jane, Broxbourne, UK
It's all about equality before the law. If I built an extension on my house without planning permission the council would make me knock it down. Just because someone chooses to live in a static caravan doesn't give them the right to develop greenbelt or other land without planning permission. These proposals are a step in the right direction.
Let's face it, unless the Government does something quickly to resolve the housing problems, especially in London, most graduates and workers will be the next generation of travellers.
There is a shortage of suitable land, but then there is a shortage of building land too - that's why the price of property is climbing. Land is in short supply in the UK, it's as simple as that. I can't get permission to build on my land as it's officially green belt and so I can't live where I want. Is this a breach of MY human rights? If travellers want permanent sites, they are not travellers and are no different to me.
Jules, Leeds, UK
If we were all honest, those of us who own our homes and value our communities, would say that we do not want travellers' sites near us. I have never personally seen a travellers' site which I would call even halfway decent: they have all been complete eyesores. I fully respect peoples' right to live their lives the way they wish, but they may not do so at the expense of others and that includes my way of life, for which I have worked long and hard. I am unashamed to admit that I am a complete Nimby in this regard and I expect millions of others are too.
Pam Burn, Letchworth, Herts
We know that there are people who live as travellers. Part of this debate will always be rooted in whether we accept that some choose to live this way - some people are very critical of this choice. But if we accept it, then maybe the frequency of travellers pitching on private land hints at a shortage of official sites and should prompt greater provision of them. The issue of anti-social behaviour is a valid one, but applies to all sections of society. Let's face it, there are plenty of conventional homeowners who drive their neighbourhoods to despair.
Simon Feegrade, Surbiton, England
I have nothing against "travellers" as such but recently a small group arrived to camp on a large verge very close to my home. I took a walk through their "camp" and noted that, of their 4 motor vehicles, not one was displaying a valid road fund license. Every night they stayed we were kept awake by their dogs barking. After a few weeks they disappeared leaving behind piles of rubbish and muddy tyre tracks over the grass verge. I can understand how law-abiding tax-paying citizens do not wish to share their environment with such people.
Kulu, Basingstoke, UK
Travellers have been a vexed issue in Milton Keynes for many years. Whilst not wishing to deny them a place to park for a while, there is definitely an element amongst that community who will park their caravans anywhere they like for a week or two at a time, before then moving on to another venue of their choice. They seem to have scant regard for those householders who may be in their vicinity. I am told by my community policeman that travellers seldom pay tax, and in view of their life style, they certainly pay no community charges, yet expect the local council to clean up their sites afterwards. If they do not contribute should they expect to receive the benefits the rest of us pay for?
John B, Milton Keynes, UK
We had no problems with travellers living in our village until the site was allowed to expand and expand under human rights legislation. The ratio of travellers to the settled community is now over 20%. We now have big anti-social behaviour problems. Villagers have been abused, stoned and shot at.
Andrew Smith, Cleeve Prior, Worcs
Permanent sites for travellers doesn't mean all travellers will stay there permanently. Some people, as written on this board, have chosen to save and build their own home. Should others not be given the choice to do something different?
Mark, Lancaster, UK
The claim of a minority being 'above the law' is false. All laws are applicable to all, but not all laws are compatible with one another. The Human Rights Act is there to protect us all from bad laws that encroach upon individual rights, especially for the vulnerable and society's victims. What is needed is for the bad laws to be corrected to reflect the basic premises of the HRA. Don't kill off people's chance for justice; we need to protect and preserve the HRA, not repel it.
Alan Davidson, London, SW16
This is another example of how human rights legislation is being used as a shield by people operating illegally or on the edge of legality, allowing them to get away with behaviour which would not be tolerated in the rest of the community. There is a clear conflict between UK domestic law and the growing body of human rights law imported through treaty obligations. The government needs to reassert the supremacy of parliament in areas where national laws conflict with inappropriate international treaties.
Ian, Bradford, UK
We always hear about the 'stakeholder society'. People who buy houses and 'invest taxes' in an area and respect the law are the stake holders. The travellers should have to abide by the rules of the stake holders (i.e. the law abiding tax paying residents).
It is typical of mainstream politicians to scapegoat unpopular minorities. The reason for problems between travellers and local communities arises when the travellers have to live in unsuitable sites. We need more official sites so that travellers have somewhere to go.
Nick Foster, Reading, UK
If the travellers are in a field without the permission of the owner then surely they are trespassing and should be dealt with accordingly. If they build something permanent on the land then surely they are no longer travellers, so normal planning regulations apply.
Andy G.M. Wood, London
The Tories appear to have attended a focus group comprised entirely of Grumpy Old Men. Travellers, speed cameras, political correctness and immigrants all sound like policies dreamt up by Victor Meldrew over a pint of bitter at the local. I'm just waiting for them to unveil their election slogan. "I don't believe it!"
Lorraine, St Albans, UK
If travellers travel, where is their need for a fixed dwelling? Surely this defeats the point? It is time to make all people accountable under the same laws and to be treated the same way.
Chris Hewitt, Nottingham, UK
I can see the point, but as long as there are not enough legal traveller sites, and local authorities allow these sites to turn into tips, what choice do they have? You never know, if there were enough legal sites, and local authorities and nimbies stopped passing the buck, the problem of illegal sites might go away.
Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England
Once again the Tories have hit the nail on the head. Why should these people be above the law? If they simply moved from site to site and cleaned up after themselves then I suspect they would be accepted, left alone and no-one would pay them much.
Adrian Mugridge, Chester, UK
When I wanted a property of my own, I worked hard and saved my money. It seems I should have taken the easy option by purchasing a caravan, invading somebody else's land and claiming it as my own.
Andrew H, London, UK
Typical reaction by Labour to accuse the Tories of racism. Planning rules are there for a reason, everybody else has to abide by them or incur the penalties. Gypsies and travellers are no different, and it has absolutely nothing to do with race/culture.
Ed, St. Albans
Last week I jokingly predicted that the next Tory election pledge would involve gypsies and travellers in some way. I did this after a conversation about how Tory policy seemed to be based around whatever the tabloids were making an issue of. Little did I realise that Tory election policy really is decided by the tabloids. I can't decide whether its laughable or terrifying.
The question here is equality. If one person would be denied permission to build a house on a particular piece of land, everybody should be refused permission. By definition, any 'traveller' who wants to build a permanent residence (whether house or pitch etc) is not a traveller!! They are simply using laws against everyone else. How long until they sell this land and buildings for massive profits?