HC Deb 15 January 1976 vol 903 cc567-70
11. Mr. Hurd

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the total cost to the Government and local authorities of the Pop Festival which he authorised at Watchfield in August 1975.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The Thames Water Authority, the Vale of White Horse District Council and the Property Services Agency incurred a total of £25,000. Of this, some £11,000 will be reimbursed to the Thames Water Authority by the Crown Estate Commissioners. The Government have agreed to reimburse the Vale of White Horse District Council for expenses which would not have been incurred but for the festival, in so far as they are not covered by contributions from the organisers. The precise figure to be paid is now under discussion with the council. Substantial expenditure was also, of course, incurred on policing. This figure is not finalised, but I will write to the lion. Member when it is.

Mr. Hurd

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the assurance he personally gave to the chairman of the Oxfordshire County Council that in his view no significant charge in this respect should fall upon the general body of taxpayers and ratepayers in the area? Will he confirm that police expenditure on the Watchfield Festival amounted to £107,000, of which £84,000 was spent on extra costs? In the light of the assurance to which I have referred, how can the right hon. Gentleman justify forcing the ratepayers of Berkshire. Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to suffer from the results of a decision forced upon them by him and his Department without any consultation having taken place?

Mr. Jenkins

My assurance to the local authority that the cost would not fall upon the Vale of White Horse is covered by my answer. On the broader issue, the policing costs must be considered in relation to what were likely to have been the costs of a repeat of 1974. It is no good assuming that something one does not like will not happen. In fact, the police authority is still the same authority. The figures have not yet been finalised, but when adjusted to 1975 prices the law and order costs were significantly greater at Windsor in 1974 than those at Watch-field in 1975. Total costs were about the same in both cases.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Did not the Home Secretary assure me by letter that he thought it wrong that the costs should fall on the ratepayers in Buckinghamshire, the area with which I was immediately concerned? Is not his answer today rather at variance with what he wrote in his letter?

Mr. Jenkins

No. The involvement of the ratepayers in Buckinghamshire applies only to the police authority. The ratepayers in the Vale of White Horse have been reimbursed. I think that that was right. They have been reimbursed by the Crown Estate Commissioners, who took the view that it was right to do so in the interests of property management, or by the Government.

As for costs arising from police activities, the ratepayers of Buckinghamshire, because of mutual interests, would not have been in any different situation from the ratepayers of Windsor had the festival taken place at Windsor again rather than at Watchfield. The law and order costs falling on the same police authority in real terms are significantly less for Watchfield than they were for Windsor in 1974.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there are many Labour Members who believe that he has kept these matters in proportion, and that young people in our society are just as entitled to incur reasonable police costs at their gatherings as are their elders who attend Ascot, Epsom and other great events?

Mr. Jenkins

Reasonable police costs, yes. However, I think that it would have been much more appropriate if the people organising such festivals were prepared to pay a great deal more towards the cost of such events. Regrettably, we do not live in a wholly reasonable world. Indeed, if everybody behaved reasonably, we could not only cut the figure of £80.000, but make substantial reductions in the amount of £600 million spent on the police each year.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will the Home Secretary give a promise that when in future he is asked to approve pop festivals, he will see that the money required to cover the cost of these events comes from the festival and from nowhere else?

Mr. Jenkins

No, I cannot give that assurance. If I could have done so, I would have done so previously. The hon. Gentleman shows a failure to appreciate the reality of what happened at Windsor not only in 1974, but in 1973, 1972 and 1971. It is no good ignoring reality—a reality which the previous Home Secretary had to face. I thought it right and desirable to provide this alternative site to break the pattern of the mounting difficulty of rising police costs and to avoid the violence that took place at Windsor in 1974. There is no question of Watch-field being offered again, nor, from a point of view of law and order, is it any part of a Home Secretary's business to organise further sites in future.