Tories would block illegal camps

A Conservative government would review human rights legislation to stop it being abused to set up illegal Gypsy encampments, Michael Howard said yesterday.

Following a 50 per cent rise in two years in the number of unlawful camps and a spate of media reports of "blighted" communities, the Tory leader set out plans to block the travellers' camps.

Mr Howard said most travellers were law-abiding people who lived in harmony with their communities. But he added: "There are some who are not. They are wilfully abusing the system and causing huge disruption to their neighbours."

He said a Tory administration would overhaul the Human Rights Act to stop it being used to block illegal encampments.

He would give councils new powers to seize and remove illegally sited caravans, and the right to purchase land compulsorily if a stop notice was breached. Government quotas requiring local authorities to set aside land would be scrapped.

Police would also be given new guidance encouraging them to use their powers to deal with trespass by Gypsies.

Speaking near a legal travellers' site, near St Austell in Cornwall, he pledged to ensure planning laws were "enforced consistently". He said: "People in Britain have an inherent sense of fair play. Fairness matters. It is the basis of our society. There shouldn't be one rule for some and another for others. That is why people feel a sense of outrage when they see that there is one planning law for people wanting to build their dream home ... and another for travellers moving into the area."

Keith Hill, the Housing minister, said: "Michael Howard has a cheek to highlight the lack of suitable legal sites for Gypsies. It was the Tories in 1994, when he was Home Secretary, who abolished the long-standing duty on local authorities to provide Gypsy sites."

* Hugo Swire, MP for East Devon, has been appointed shadow arts minister following the sacking of Boris Johnson for allegedly misleading Mr Howard over an affair with the columnist Petronella Wyatt.