Hansard 1983-transcript

Stonehenge Pop Festival

Mr. Key asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the cost to his Department of compensation paid to farmers resulting from damage during the Stonehenge pop festival in 1982.

Mr. Macfarlane The presence of the monument and the summer solstice celebrations are major factors in attracting the crowds which camp on the National Trust's property. The trust compensates its tenant farmers for damage done, and incurs other expenses. The Department contributes towards the trust's costs, and the 1982 contribution was £11,438.

Mr. Key asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what are the costs to his Department of the provision of lavatory facilities installed at Stonehenge in connection with the recent pop festival; and whether he is satisfied that adequate provision was made for the numbers involved.

Mr. Macfarlane The cost of the additional portable lavatories installed this year will be about £5,000. The provision of lavatories at Stonehenge is generally inadequate and I am considering what improvements can be made.

Mr. Key asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will call for a report from the chief constable of the Wiltshire constabulary on policing problems and evidence of drug abuse encountered during the recent pop festival at Stonehenge; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd :I have called for a report on this matter and will write to my hon. Friend when I have received it.

HANSARD 10 November 1983
Travelling People

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for selecting my subject for the Adjournment debate, and to the House for giving me the opportunity to comment on the Government's consultative paper on the accommodation needs of long-distance and regional travellers, particularly with regard to my constituency of Salisbury. The problem is a national one, and many hon. Members have first-hand knowledge of the disturbance caused to their constituents by travellers and the problems that these members of our society pose to our local authority and law enforcement agencies.

In the consultation paper of February 1982, the Department of the Environment said that it was of increasing concern to the Government that something should be done to alleviate the current curcumstances in which sudden, often large-scale, incursions of long-distance and regional travellers cause distress to nearby house dwellers and residents and exceptional expense to local authorities and increases the isolation of travellers and the disregard they feel towards society in general.

The research that has so far been done concentrates on the groups of Irish gipsies who migrated here during the 1950s and 1960s when economic conditions in Ireland were relatively poor. Often, these easily recognisable groups are at odds with their English gipsy counterparts. There is no doubt that over the centuries gipsies in Europe have been unjustifiably and sometimes cruelly persecuted, and at least within these islands we have begun to come to terms with this minority group, and they with us.

Where the consultative paper is less useful is in its consideration of other travellers who are not usually classified as traditional gipsies. However, the paper ends by saying that if a solution is to be found to this most pressing problem action will be needed upon the following lines. It will be necessary to identify and provide stopping places or transit sites that may include seasonal car parks or wasteland that is temporarily out of use. Encouragement and assistance should be given to travellers purchasing and maintaining sites for their own use and there should be a fostering of more co-operation and understanding among travellers, local authorities and the public. At the moment, mutual suspicion prevails. That is certainly our local evidence in Wiltshire.

We are facing a new phenomenon that needs new thinking. For ten years, the people of Salisbury lived with squatters in the ancient drove roads near the city, who have occupied the land illegally, but generally peacefully, and who have invited the title of "new age gipsies". We have also had to live with the Stonehenge festival, which takes place each year around the solstice and now attracts 30,000 people who are illegally squatting on land owned by the National Trust.

Over the years, all the authorities involved have shown considerable good will and have bent over backwards to accommodate the wishes of those who want to drop out of 20th century life. I pay a tribute to the patience and professionalism of successive Ministers at the Department of the Environment and the Home Office, to Wiltshire county council and Salisbury district council, and, above all, to the patience of the Wiltshire constabulary.

All the statutory authorities have pursued this issue to the limit, but since August, all the patient good work and trust that have been built up have been destroyed by a sudden influx of new squatters. At least 200 nomads are squatting illegally on private land outside Salisbury. They claim that there may be 1,000 of them by Christmas. Their lawlessness is self-confessed, as is their anarchy. Newspaper reports have claimed that they are armed with hand grenades, and they certainly possess shotguns. I must disclaim the words put into my mouth by the News of the World. I have no evidence of any terrorism contemplated by the people there. However, I have been physically threatened by them and an army helicopter is alleged to have been attacked.

Local residents are denied enjoyment of their ancient rights of way, farmers have been forced to abandon the crops in the fields, and timber is being cut from Forestry Commission plantations. The National Farmers Union has taken up the case of its members locally, and in a recent letter to me it claims that a number of sheep had been killed and that the police had advised the farmers to shift the livestock to the other end of the farms involved, and not to return them. The police have given whatever protection they can and have been in the area all day. When the trouble was at its height, they called at the farms every hour during darkness to protect the farmers, their families and livestock. The NFU alleged instances where the police had to back down when trying to administer the law because of the numbers confronting them. The local secretary of the NFU wrote that he would never have thought it possible for that to happen in England.

I want to quote a short extract from the transcript of a TV South "Coast to Coast" programme that was broadcast recently. The interviewer asked the squatters what they would do if someone came to try to move them out. The interviewer said: What people are concerned about is that you would use the axes and the guns that they talk about and see. Man A replied: The first man, policeman, soldier or civilian, that ever walks through my space, and invades my privacy without asking my permission, I personally would get up and I would bust him right between the two eyes — and I would not worry about the consequences. Even my defeated chief opponent at the general election spoke to me about the matter last Saturday. He said that, in his view, a pall of gloom now hung over the city as a result of the presence of these people in their encampment and in the city itself, where their abusive language and anti-social ways are felt by many to be threatening, and are certainly disturbing.

The county council has taken its responsibilities very seriously and has exercised its highway powers, but that merely moves the problem along the road, and does not in any way present a real solution. Even exercising highway powers could produce a pitched battle, which is 511 of course to be avoided. Indeed, the effect of exercising highway powers is to force the illegal squatters on to private land. There is no doubt that the owners of the farmland affected are doing a public service, both in their patience in allowing us time to sort out the problem, and because of the financial consequences of any High Court action which, in civilian law, would mean that the cost fell on them. If the law can protect the community only by resort to private pockets, the law should be changed.

It is the opinion of the Wiltshire county secretary and solicitor that the behaviour and nature of the people who are now unlawfully encamped, if press reports are to be believed, seem to be criminal. He says that they certainly do not appear to be gipsies "resorting to the area", nor involuntarily homeless people belonging to the area. The county secretary said that while further High Court orders and action could, in theory, move them on, that would merely move the problem to another place at considerable cost. He says that the police view is that they would probably have to summon substantial reinforcements to enable the under-sheriff to enforce a High Court order without being injured, and that the order might be made a mockery of by immediate return to occupation of the same stretch of highway, or standing by on close adjoining land, while the under-sheriff walked the empty highway. That, in fact, has now happened. Wiltshire county council has reservations about the effectiveness of further court proceedings, feeling that the solution does not lie with it to a problem which is part of a much wider national social problem.

The district council, too, has left no stone unturned. The chief executive of Salisbury district council has written that it might be appropriate to invoke planning legislation. However, he complained that that would be impracticable and very lengthy to apply. The reason is that the police have advised against the council making any contact with the people on the land, because the safety of the council's officers cannot be guaranteed. Acceptance of the police advice would prevent the service of enforcement notices—the first step in the institution of enforcement proceedings. Although the enforcement notice could be served on the landowner, the law does not require a person to hazard himself in order to comply with legal requirements.

The chief executive also points out that, quite apart from the special problem of enforcement arising from the police advice, the planning provisions on enforcement can be unsatisfactory because of the great length of time involved and because the occupiers—who, in any event, are trespassers — would have no compunction about moving to another site nearby. The whole procedure would then have to start again in relation to the new site.

Finally, the chief executive says that the occupiers of the adjoining caravan site and the residents of the nearby village of Coombe Bissett have suffered serious detriment because of the occupation of the land in question, and that they expect that the due process of law enforcement should operate, but the enforcement provisions are ineffective because the people concerned are determined to ignore or flout the law.
I was pleased to receive a letter on Monday from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. His good news was that the Government would shortly announce their conclusions on the need for changes in the law in this respect.

During the debate on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill on Monday of this week, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office said: The policing of this country is going through a period of rapid change. Every hon. Member who is in touch with his police force and police authority will confirm that. The police are responding in many different ways to public anxiety about the crime figures and to much more general changes in society. Recruitment is up, the quality of recruits is high, management and training are being reformed and modem equipment is being introduced. However, every police officer worth his salt knows that these necessary changes will not fully succeed without the unwritten contract of mutual help and understanding between police and public".

We know that there is no point in endangering the police in enforcing the law if the law will immediately be broken again. I have with some reluctance come to the conclusion that there may be a sensible case for the use of troops against armed lawbreakers. However, I am reassured that Wiltshire constabulary can cope with the problem in hand.

The people of Salisbury are asking whether the law can be enforced. If it cannot, why not? The law is a living thing and must surely change to met the changing needs of society. Every avenue that has been explored leads back to the door of the Government and I believe that changes in the law in this area are long overdue.

It is said that the criminal law is adequate as it stands. Some say that the law of trespass should be changed to make trespass on non-residential property a criminal offence. Some say that the law should be amended to create a category of public nuisance leading to the exclusion of people or a group of people from an area. The only thing that we know for sure is that in Wiltshire everything has been tried.
Above all, the rule of law must be seen to apply to all the people all the time. If the Government fail to act now, we will see an unwelcome increase in the trail of disorder and unhappiness spreading across the country from Haverfordwest and Brecon through Glastonbury to Stonehenge, Greenham Common, Norwich and Leicester, to Cambridgeshire, Sussex and Kent.

In their consultation paper, the Government have responded positively to the social problem which they know we face. We live in an open, tolerant and democratic society and neither the people of Salisbury nor the Government would wish to restrict the liberty of the individual to live his own life, so long as he does not intimidate the majority by conspiring in groups to flout the law and thereby impinge upon the freedom and rights of his neighbour and, indeed, of his children. We must not forget the children of those who are living this alternative life.

Last summer, at the Stonehenge free festival, we witnessed the exploitation of children in connection with drug trafficking and there was the death of a child. It is said that the parents among those who travel in this new way have a great regard for the well-being of their children, but we should not forget that we are signatories to the United Nations declaration on the rights of children, which says: The child shall enjoy special protection, shall be given opportunities and facilities by law and by other means to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. Last summer, there were some 400 children at the Stonehenge free festival who, so I was told by those taking 513 part, had never been to school. How many children of the squatters around the country are being deprived of their birthright of education?

I urge the Government with all the authority at my command—with the authority of the people of Salisbury and south Wiltshire—to act on this matter with great urgency in the interests of the whole nation. Indeed, let it never be said that this Government, through lack of determination, presided over the rapid development of an alternative society, an alternative nation, when our declared objective, so frail yet so prized, must be one nation.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) has given a graphic description of a state of affairs which is causing real and understandable distress to his constituents. He came to see me a few days ago and what he told me then and what he told the House tonight can leave no one in any doubt of the anxieties and difficulties caused by what has been happening in his constituency.

As my hon. Friend rightly said, this problem goes well beyond his constituency, and I am glad of the opportunity to give the House a summary of the information that we have about this collection of groups and to say what the police forces in different parts of the south and east of England have been doing to deal with the sort of problems that my hon. Friend mentioned

First, two important general points that are not always as clearly understood as they should be. Under our system of policing, it is not for the Home Office or Ministers to direct chief officers of police how to carry out their duties as heads of the different police forces. That is for them and it is not a matter in which the Home Secretary can or does intervene.

Secondly, police forces and chief officers must administer the law as it stands and work out how best to do that in their areas in the light of their situations. There is one overriding principle, which my hon. Friend stated correctly: no citizen and no corner of the kingdom is outside the law or exempt from its enforcement. The timing and nature of that enforcement must depend on chief officers, who have a responsibility for preserving the Queen's peace as well as for dealing with infringements of the law. They cannot ignore either of those, and sometimes the responsibility to keep the peace will affect their tactical decisions on how to enforce the law.

The Peace Convoy is a title that covers a loose coalition of wandering groups which come together during the summer, retain separate identities and tend to disperse for the winter to separate camps. Their numbers fluctuate, but the total is probably about 600. They travel around the southern part of the country in a fleet of about 120 buses, lorries and other vehicles, many of which are dilapidated, to say the least.
Although these groups occasionally call themselves the Peace Convoy, I do not beleive that they have any genuine connection with any political cause. Their interests seem to be firmly focussed on the free festivals that are held from time to time at various sites in southern England and Wales, one of the biggest of which—unfortunately for my hon. Friend — is that held in June at Stonehenge.

There is no doubt that, although there are a great many people at the Stonehenge festival who do not belong to the Peace Convoy, the presence of the Peace Convoy at the festival this year enormously complicated and worsened the problems that in any case exist because of the festival.

At the end of June, the convoy left Wiltshire and travelled to Inglestone common, near Chipping Sodbury, where it stayed for three weeks. Avon and Somerset police, aware of reports that drug-taking was common at the encampment and of local concern about the activities of convoy members, adopted a strategy of containment. Many searches were made of people entering and leaving the site and a large number of these resulted in arrests for drug offences. Several unpleasant and potentially violent incidents occurred when police officers visited the site on various occasions to pursue inquiries about specific incidents. These incidents led the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset to judge that his policy on containment was correct and that any attempt to go further—for example, by maintaining a permanent police presence on the site—would produce the wrong result.

On 22 July of this year the convoy left Inglestone common and travelled to the Glastonbury green gathering, near Shepton Mallet, where, as at Stonehenge, the gathering attracted large crowds, among whom the members of the convoy were a minority. It passed off without serious incident and after the gathering the convoy, travelling in several different groups, moved to East Anglia for some weeks. A large group arrived in Norwich on 8 August and camped on land near the university of East Anglia.

The chief constable of Norfolk has told us that his decision to adopt a similar policy of containment was influenced by the need to assure the residents of Norwich that they would not be inconvenienced by the convoy's presence. During the convoy's two-week stay in Norwich, the most serious incident was one in which a parked car was stoned. Again, large numbers of searches were carried out on the periphery of the camp, a substantial proportion of which resulted in arrests for drug offences. After two weeks the university authorities obtained an injunction requiring the convoy to leave their land and the police planned a large operation to enforce the injunction, should that prove necessary, but the convoy left the site and moved a few miles to the village of Lyng. On 4 September the group left Norfolk altogether and, as my hon. Friend has told the House, is now back in Wiltshire.

I have no doubt, after what my hon. Friend has said, and from information from other hon. Friends and from the police, that the group is thoroughly undesirable and in some respects vicious. Members of the convoy have committed various criminal offences, including road traffic and drugs offences, which have been dealt with by the police as has been considered necessary.
My hon. Friend dealt to some extent with the problem of trespass. I would not quarrel with his analysis. Squatters on private farmland are committing the tort of trespass. In this country, trespass on land has traditionally been a matter for the civil rather than the criminal law. The main reason for that is that trespass in itself is not usually regarded as inherently deserving of criminal sanctions. If it is accompanied by violent or criminal acts, that is another matter, and there is a range of criminal offences with which those responsible could be charged. The mere entry to or remaining on someone's land, however, constitutes a tort at civil law.

Mr. Ashby The private landowner, in such circumstances, is forced to go to law and pay for the eviction of people who represent a public nuisance. That is the fundamental problem.

Mr. Hurd I shall analyse the present situation before considering possible remedies.
As both my hon. Friends have said, someone who considers that a trespasser has interfered with his enjoyment of his property can seek a court order for possession. He does not have to prove damage, and the trifling nature of the trespass is no defence. To enforce a court order the bailiffs are entitled to remove the trespassers, by force if need be, and if any trouble is envisaged the bailiffs will normally seek the help of the police, who will naturally be concerned to avoid breaches of the peace and who are empowered to act to prevent them.

I hope that there is no risk of misunderstanding about the ability of the police to help in such situations. The decision on how to respond in a particular instance is an operational one for the police. I understand from the chief constable of Wiltshire that he would, as usual, be willing to help in the execution of an order in this case should he be so requested.

My hon. Friend referred to the review of the law of trespass which, as he rightly said, my right hon. Friend is now conducting. We shall shortly announce our conclusions, but, in order to avoid excessive expections, I must say that the review is confined to trespass on residential premises, because it arose from circumstances quite different from those that my hon. Friend has described. To make all trespass on private land a criminal offence would be a very difficult step. The concept of public nuisance has been mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury and Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby). I should like to consider that further. If either of them should care to develop their thoughts into a more concrete proposal, we would certainly consider it.

I come to the possible remedies in hand, such as mutual aid. Obviously, the Wiltshire police or other police forces in those circumstances may need speedy help from neighbouring police forces. That is available and can be obtained. As this problem runs across the south and east 516 of Britain and is not confined to any one police force area, it was quickly recognised among chief officers that co-operation between the police forces would be valuable. Standing arrangements have, therefore, been made for the sharing of information and intelligence that came to light from the convoy's activities. I believe that such cooperation will be increasingly important.

There are two other remedies in the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill that I should like, with your permission Mr. Deputy Speaker, to mention as they are relevant to the argument. The first concerns the problem of people who have no discernible home address and who consequently may be in a position to flout the law. If they refuse to give a satisfactory address for service of a summons, it is impossible under the present law for offences that do not carry a power of arrest to be enforced. I think in particular of traffic offences, which are part —but only part—of the problem. Clause 22 of the police and Criminal Evidence Bill will provide that where a police officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that any offence has been committed or attempted, he can arrest the relevant person if it appears to him that service of a summons would be impracticable or inappropriate. Similarly, as the stop and search power in the new Bill would cover prohibited articles such as offensive weapons as well as stolen goods right across the country, it could be of help to the police in enforcing the law against those people.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury knows, the Department of the Environment has particular responsibility for Stonehenge. That Department and officials from my Department are considering how they can best help those concerned in the local authorities and districts to cope with the problems caused by those festivals. In conclusion, I am not in the least complacent about this issue, or about the remedies that I have described. I am sure that we shall, naturally, hear more about this matter from my hon. Friends. It is not illegal to travel about this country in groups, and any effort to distinguish in law between pleasant and unpleasant groups would be very difficult. Any policy that simply has the effect of moving unpleasant groups from one place to another is of rather limited value. However, the Home Office will do whatever it can to encourage and advise the police forces that have to wrestle with this formidable problem.