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Last Updated: Monday, 21 March, 2005, 22:05 GMT
Tory traveller plans 'not racist'
Tory leader Michael Howard  views a travellers' camp
Mr Howard inspected a travellers' camp from a neighbouring property
The Conservatives' policy to crack down on illegal traveller sites is nothing to do with racism and all about common sense, Michael Howard has said.

His plans to criminalise trespass by travellers were part of "standing up for the right values", he added.

Mr Howard also claimed the Human Rights Act was making it easier for travellers to abuse planning rules.

Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said the plans were "madcap" and the Lib Dems accused Mr Howard of "opportunism".

'Avalanche'

"What we are talking about here is people who buy land," he said. "How can you trespass on your own land?"

Shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve said he had received an "avalanche" of complaints about the activities of travellers.

He added: "There is evidence that many [travellers] have come over from Ireland, where the laws are far more rigorous, because they believe they can exploit the loopholes here."

On Sunday planning minister Keith Hill accused the Tories were "tapping into the biggest vein of bigotry - prejudice against Gypsies and travellers".

FIVE-POINT PLAN
Review of the Human Rights Act to ensure it does not clash with laws against unauthorised land development
New powers for councils to remove illegal caravans and the option of larger court fines
Local authorities to be able to purchase land compulsorily where there is a continuing breach of a Stop Notice
Revised guidance to police on traveller trespass and criminal or anti-social behaviour on traveller sites
Empowering local people to decide on the location of traveller sites

For the Lib Dems, Ed Davey said: "Michael Howard's bandwagon opportunism has led him into hypocrisy of new heights.

"As home secretary it was Michael Howard who did most to reduce the number of legal traveller sites."

Minister at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Yvette Cooper said the Tories had still not answered the central question of where Gypsies and travellers should go.

It was vital to deal with unauthorised sites, she said, but at the same time there was a shortage of authorised sites.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It is typical of mainstream politicians to scapegoat unpopular minorities
Nick Foster, Reading

But Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition coordinator Andrew Ryder said Mr Howard was trying to "surf on the prejudice and hysteria stoked up" by the media and "score some cheap political points".

He added that there was a shortage of travellers sites and that creating around 5,000 legal pitches would help see an end to the legal wrangles that can be prompted by illegal encampments.

Churches 'dismayed'

The Churches' Commission for Racial Justice, an umbrella group, said it was "dismayed" by Mr Howard's proposed policies on travellers.

"We call for positive public education about Gypsy and Traveller life and culture, in which Gypsy and traveller communities should also participate," said the Reverend Arlington Trotman of the organisation.

"This would do much to reduce needless hostility, and prevent parties playing politics with people's lives.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See Michael Howard visit a travellers' site



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