MoD land for hippies plan is dismissed

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The Independent Online
CLAIMS by a Home Office minister that new age hippie travellers could be accommodated on surplus land owned by the Ministry of Defence were yesterday disowned by Whitehall.

The Home Office is considering introducing emergency legislation in the autumn to give police tougher powers to evict hippies from illegal camp sites.

And the MoD quickly dismissed the idea of providing alternative sites floated by Earl Ferrers yesterday.

The hippie convoys could not have caused more confusion in Whitehall if they had parked in Parliament Square, but it was 'not a runner under any circumstances', according to MoD sources, who pointed out that large tracts of land are needed for firing ranges.

There was the distinct sound of washing of hands at the Department of the Environment. 'It's not a matter for us. It's the Home Office,' one source said.

The Home Office made it clear that it was not in the business of helping the hippies to find sites to hold raves.

And at Lord Ferrers's own department, there was embarrassed distancing from his ministerial initiative. 'Our priority isn't to get these people a place to rave. It's to stop damage and disruption to property. If that means stopping these things happening, then fine,' a Home Office source said.

'The point about giving them somewhere else to go is second or third on the list. Our duty is to uphold the law.'

It was quickly denounced as 'caving in to people who smash up property' by David Wilshire, the Tory MP for Spelthorne, in Surrey, who is a parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office. 'The best place for them would be an island in the middle of the Atlantic with a one-way ticket.'

The Home Office is reviewing the criminal law to speed up the eviction process. Landowners have complained that they cannot evict travellers until they have fulfilled time-consuming legal requirements.

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, is expected to consult the chief constables after his summer break, and he could seek legislation in November to prepare for next summer.

A Home Office source said the DoE was looking at the planning laws. But a DoE spokesman said it was reviewing the laws covering gypsy sites, which had little bearing on the summer problem of the hippies. The Conservative manifesto promised the review 'with the aim of reducing the nuisance of illegal encampments'.

It will tackle a loophole in the law under which local authorities find it difficult to act against illegal encampments if the councils have not completed the process of designating proper gypsy sites.