Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP) [V]
It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Bone. I hope that you and the Clerks are well in these difficult times. I thank those who brought forward the petition, and I am grateful to those Members who opened the debate, which I will now respond to on behalf of the Scottish National party. There will of course be those who ask why I am participating in the debate, given that the trespass in England and Wales comes under the remit of the UK Parliament. However, the debate also relates to the police Bill, which will have ramifications for Scots law.
May I first of all, if you will forgive me, Mr Bone, clarify some points on the law in Scotland? At this moment in time, trespass in both England and Scotland is a civil wrong but not a criminal act. I can say on behalf of my party that, if we are re-elected to government in May, we will certainly not bring forward any legislation at Holyrood to follow the police Bill, which seeks to criminalise trespass, at least from our perspective. I also highlight that it seemed as if some points made during the debate suggested that all members of the Gypsy and Traveller community, owing merely to their being members of those ancient and historic communities, commit criminal acts. My own window was smashed at the weekend, and I can tell hon. Members that it was certainly not by members of the Gypsy and Traveller community; it was clearly by somebody who probably had too much wine in the sun at the weekend during a global pandemic. I do not assume for one minute that it was a member of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. These extraordinary statements are entrenched in a lot of the narratives and debates and discussions we have had over the last couple of months leading up to the police Bill and debates on it in Parliament. It has been quite horrific to hear some of the dreadful instances of racism and bigotry that our Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities face.
That is not to say that things are in any way perfect in Scotland, in terms of reflection, but there has been an opportunity to learn and to move forward. That is for all parties, I have to say, and not only in the Scottish Parliament; before the break-up of the last Session of the Holyrood Parliament, my colleagues in local government, through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, co-signed Scotland’s national plan for the Gypsy and Traveller community. That was signed by my colleagues, the Minister the Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie, and Councillor Kelly Parry of COSLA. The aim has been to secure political support across all parties so that they work together to improve the lives of Scotland’s Gypsies and Travellers; and to formally recognise the right to travel.
There has been a commitment to finding ways to map and, where possible, reopen traditional and, as I often say, ancient stopping places across the nation of Scotland, used since at least the 12th century. The Scottish Government and COSLA, representing all parties, announced a shared commitment with Police Scotland to work together to challenge discrimination and promote equality for Gypsies and Travellers—people who have been economically, socially and politically excluded from our country. That has been brought forward with a package of investment—up to £20 million, announced through the action plan—and critically for the issue of housing, they are linking it to Scotland’s national housing strategy, to ensure that Gypsy and Traveller communities, whether living on official or new sites or in their nomadic lifestyles, have access to that investment.
We have even recently seen here in Scotland some rather unfortunate terminology from the UK Government’s party and the way in which some of its members have utilised the debate to marginalise, yet again, the Gypsy and Traveller community in Scotland. I am glad that no one else here is participating in the use of that type of language.
Will the Minister consider that this may be an opportune time to reflect on what is happening in Scotland? I am referring to the right-to-roam legislation and the working with the Gypsy and Traveller community. As Members from across England have already mentioned, there is a requirement not only to invest in existing sites, but to open up England’s ancient and historic Traveller sites, which are as much a part of England’s heritage as any other element of it. It is very important, I think, that that should be done. Will the Minister recognise the recommendation not to criminalise trespass? Because of the existing legislation, police forces across not only England but Wales and Scotland say that there is no need for new legislation.
There is also a requirement to understand infrastructure. I happen to be the Member of Parliament for West Dunbartonshire, in which are found the national park headquarters for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. I am afraid we have to say that the vast majority of trespass, vandalism and the lighting of fires has never traditionally been by the Traveller or Gypsy community; it has been by those of us who went out and utilised that lovely part of the world. Through the right to roam and working with people, working with communities, the national park as a body has reduced those elements: fires, litter and antisocial behaviour. It has done so by ensuring that we work together. I hope that the Government and the Minister will reflect on the lived experiences and also the policy experiences across these islands, and I look forward to hearing their answers.