Hansard 1977

Certainly as the years go by the fascination of the summer solstice at Stonehenge continues to grow and grow. This summer yet again a free pop festival was expected at Stonehenge from 18th June to 26th June. It had been widely advertised.
The Department owns some 30 acres of land on which the monument stands. These 30 acres are ringed by a larger area belonging to the National Trust and let to tenant farmers, among them my 902 constituent Mr. Jack Wort, who is an excellent farmer and a first-class citizen.
On 14th June, a week before the solstice, Lady Birk wrote to me. I quote only two sentences: The Department will do what it can in conjunction with the police to prevent the invasion and abuse of land under its control. We realise, of course, that action to deter trespass on our land may deflect the festival on to other land nearby. In the event, that is precisely what happened.

The free festival was deflected on to other land nearby. Mr. Jack Wort had 20 cows in his field. A large notice had been affixed to the gate bearing the words "Private land". The gate was padlocked. His farm manager reported "All quiet" at 9.45 p.m. An hour later hippies had descended like an army of locusts. Thwarted in their am to reach the monument, unable to penetrate the Minister's defences, denied the chance to pitch their camp within the stone circle, they turned off the road in sight of but a few hundred yards short of the monument, forced Mr. Wort's padlocked gate, and moved in. By the time they left, hundreds of yards of fencing had been destroyed and damage done to the tune of some £2,000.

As Lary Birk had written, We realise, of course, that action to deter trespass on our land may deflect the festival on to other land nearby. It certainly did.

It cannot be right—and this is the nub of my submission—that a Department of State should knowingly and publicly put at risk the property of a private citizen and, when damage has been sustained, wash its hands of the responsibility. The action by the Minister, however honourable—and he is right to give top prioity to the protection of the monument—was directly responsible for what happened.
I cannot anticipate what the Minister will say at the end of this debate. If he finds the present situation acceptable, it will reflect little credit on his Department, and it will not be the end of the story. With £154,955 tucked under his belt, the Minister will hardly endear himself to my constituents if he cannot find 1 per cent. of that sum to compensate Mr. Jack Wort for damage directly caused by his own Department's action. I hope that the Minister does not intend to show us that he is prepared to fight for his monument to the last round and to the last Wiltshire farmer.

Stonehenge stands up starkly in the big open landscape. It is visible from miles away. No one knows what purpose it served. No one knows who built it. No one knows from where the stones came. It is this mystery and magic surrounding the monument which makes it so powerful a magnet.

I shall be deeply shocked if the Minister suggests that his duty is to safeguard his own plot at whatever cost to his immediate neighbours. Mr. Jack Wort's land provided the escape valve. It eased the pressure on the monument. It provided Stonehenge with the necessary protection.
This is the third year running that Mr. Wort has had trouble. Is he to have trouble again next year? What does the Minister plan to ensure that next July at 4.45 in the morning we are not once again debating the matter here?

Would it not be a simple matter to set road blocks on the approach roads and to direct the main stream of traffic away from the monument altogether? Will the Minister do that? Will he give assurances here and now that Mr. Wort's claim will be considered? Will he give the further assurance that next year Mr. Wort and his neighbours, if they can be shown once more to have taken pressure off the monument, at their own heavy cost, will in simple equity be eligible for compensation?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)

Last December in a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, although at a much more reasonable hour, the hon. Gentleman raised the matter of damage to Stonehenge rather than around Stonehenge. I remember the night particularly, because I had two more debates after the hon. Gentleman's debate at 9.30 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman has asked tonight for a number of assurances that I am sure he realises I am not in a position to give on this occasion. I should like to make it clear, to avoid misunderstanding, that the Department has neither 904 encouraged nor condoned the free festival at Stonehenge. It is unauthorised and entirely unwelcome. The event took place on the Department's land surrounding the monument in 1976 only because trespassers established a substantial presence by forcible means and the police advised that it would be impracticable to expel them.

The vicinity of the monument is unsuitable as a site for a festival. The area is highly sensitive archaeologically, so that the digging of pits for latrines or even levelling ground in order to erect a platform or tents is liable to cause archaeological damage. In fairness, I must add that the festival participants themselves have no desire to cause such damage to the monument and have accepted advice about particularly vulnerable places. Nevertheless, the risk of such damage exists. The presence near the monument of what, without wishing to be provocative, I can only describe as a noisy and—in a sanitary sense—sordid encampment undoubtedly offended many visitors to the monument, a high proportion of whom are, at this time of year, from overseas.

For those reasons, and because we do not wish to encourage the belief that monuments in our care are available for free festivals, we thought it right to defend the monument and the land immediately surrounding it in the ownership of the Department more thoroughly this year. I am glad that we were successful, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for his support for our action. I regret that the festival was able to establish itself on other land in the vicinity and that the owner and occupier of the land suffered damage and loss from the forcible invasion. I sympathise sincerely with Mr. Jack Wort. I have not met him, but I know of his record and reputation as a public-spirited citizen and one who has also shown great tolerance in the face of the provocation he has had in the past.

As I have explained, the Department has protected the land in its care, for good reasons, but we cannot be held responsible for the actions of the festival-goers. We do not organise the festival or give it any support or encouragement. The fact that the Department took steps to protect the property in its own ownership does 905 not mean that it can then be held responsible for the property of other people who were affected.

The suggestion that the trespass on Mr. Wort's land protected the monument would not, I am advised, stand legal examination. As a matter of general principle, it would be unjust and illogical for anybody suffering a trespass to be able to claim against others whose property next door was better protected. The hon. Gentleman will realise that one of the reasons why I am saying this is the implication for other areas where, say, a householder or public authority adequately protects buildings or land and others suffer as a result.

The only point I can think of at present is that of football crowds doing damage to shops and houses on their way to football grounds, in which cases the owners of the grounds cannot be expected to compensate all in the area for something a third party does. Under the law as it stands, any property-owner is entitled to use a reasonable amount of force to eject trespassers from his land. Alternatively, he can seek an injunction or an order for possession, although I agree that that is too long-winded.

If his property sustains damage he may seek compensation through the courts from the person responsible for inflicting that damage. This is the general situation, which applies whatever the number of trespassers or the purpose of the trespass. It is true that in certain circumstances, where large numbers of people are involved, and these include not only pop festivals but other types of event where large numbers are involved, it may not always be easy or cheap for property owners affected by such events to obtain permission or compensation for damage through these procedures as quickly or as fully as might be desirable. Those who suffer in this way deserve every sympathy. In the case of this festival, it is extremely difficult to identify all the organisers of the festival—or to believe that there is a great deal of organisation about it.

It is an unfortunate fact that if sufficient people get together and break the law it is very hard to prevent it happening, or, as in this case, to identify the culprits. The Working Group on Pop Festivals is currently looking at the whole question of the control of pop festivals. It is to be hoped that they will be able to find ways of alleviating the problems to which some—and it must be stressed that it is only a small proportion—of these festivals give rise.

However, I must bear in mind that the Law Commission has also looked recently at the problem of trespass. If weighed carefully the need to protect the rights of property-owners against the need to avoid creating situations conducive to breaches of the peace. It concluded that, except where residential property was involved, the balance of advantage lay in leaving the property-owner to exercise his rights through the civil courts. It is to Mr. Wort's credit that he has been very tolerant and has avoided a confrontation.

We must consider future action to protect not only the monument but the surrounding land. There have been discusions among the police, the local authorities, the National Trust and the Department about the recurrent festival at or near Stonehenge. My Department has been willing to co-operate in joint efforts to deal with it, but so far no effective means of keeping the festival out of the area has been found.

The nature of the terrain, which affords a large choice of areas with little physical obstruction to invasion, presents a most formidable problem for the Wiltshire police, for whom I have much sympathy. All I can say is that we would most gladly co-operate in a fresh examination of the problem and possible ways of dealing with it. The hon. Member will understand that I would prefer not to be more specific.

He has already had some discussions with Lady Birk, who has responsibilities in this. We shall welcome discussions on future policy and should start them at an early stage, in time for next year.

Mr. Michael Hamilton :The Minister has not commented on the fact, which I stressed strongly three times, that his Department is on record as saying We realise, of course, that action to deter trespass on our land may deflect the festival on to other land nearby. Does he endorse that statement? Does he agree that action by his Department was responsible for the army of hippies moving on to Mr. Wort's land?

Mr. Marks: It was not action by the Department that caused the damage. It was action by the people that caused the damage