HL Deb 27 April 1983 vol 441 cc918-20

2.39 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what has been the cost of coping with the demonstrations on Greenham Common, and how this cost has been divided between local and public funds.

Lord Elton

My Lords, we understand from the Chief Constable of the Thames Valley Police that a running total of the costs of policing demonstrations at or associated with Greenham Common, where demonstrators first arrived in October 1981, has been kept since 1st January this year and is current to 4th April. The total manpower costs of policing such demonstrations between 1st January and before the Easter demonstrations is estimated at approximately £185,000; and the same total costs of policing the Easter demonstrations, some of which took place at Burghfield and Aldermaston as well as Greenham Common, are estimated at approximately £340,000. Of that figure of £340,000, some £252,000 was attributable to additional costs. Police expenditure is shared between local and central Government and attracts 50 per cent. specific grant from central Government.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Would he not agree that the Greenham Common demonstration is a continuing, running sore? Is my noble friend further aware that I visited the site on Sunday and can well understand the appalling "fix" in which local residents find themselves because of the disgusting state and the very offensive smell of the place? Has my noble friend any comment to make?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I suppose the proper comment is that those who pursue aims of public policy by means of demonstration should seek to do so in ways which are less than offensive to those whom they seek to persuade.

Lord Renton

My Lords, would not the Greenham Common ladies and others have done more for peace and for the safety of our people if, instead of incurring these large sums of police expenditure, they had agitated for increased expenditure by local authorities—or some local authorities, at any rate—on civil defence?

Lord Elton

My Lords, it is scarcely the function of a Minister of Government to advise persons opposed to their policy how best to pursue that aim, but I can see a certain logic in what the noble Lord proposes.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is it not one of the great traditions of this country that, whether or not we agree with what demonstrators are demonstrating about, if they are doing it peacefully and lawfully it is one of the great rights that they have here—a right which is not enjoyed in other countries that we criticise? Therefore, is there not existent within our tradition the right for people who demonstrate peacefully to be protected by the police, if that be necessary, at public cost? And if they offend against the law, is not the right of prosecution there, and should it not be pursued?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the presence of the police on any such occasion is entirely impartial. Their duty is to protect the peace, and this they have done with considerable success.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, arising out of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is there not a distinction to be drawn between a peaceful expression by individuals of a point of view and a heavily organised demonstration, with people brought in coaches from all over the country? In the latter case, is there not a moral responsibility on the organisers to secure that local people do not have a financial burden imposed upon them as a result? If any offer has been made, will my noble friend make it clear that it would be perfectly acceptable in roubles?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am not aware that any such offer has been made. I do not doubt that if it was made, those to whom it was made would consider very carefully whether it was to their benefit to accept it.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that the Greenham Common demonstration has had two effects? First, it has demonstrated the effectiveness of women when they choose to act on their own in drawing public attention to certain matters without the aid of any help at all from our sex. Secondly, it has drawn attention to the peace issue to the extent that time has been spent on it in this House that otherwise would not have been spent.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have always had the highest regard for the effectiveness of women, when acting on their own or in concert. On the question of using up the time of this House, however, the women have not acted alone but have had the notable support of the noble Lord himself.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, did the figures given by my noble friend include the cost of providing the necessary sanitary arrangements for the women demonstrators? If not, can he give the cost of providing those facilities?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I answered the Question in the terms in which I thought it was directed at me; that is, in terms of the police costs. There were of course incidental costs borne by the local authority. One of these has been the collection of litter. They do not have an obligation, I think they maintain, to collect refuse, which the people of the camp disposed of elsewhere in a manner which my noble friend's original Question leads me to suspect was not entirely effective.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, is my noble friend Lord Elton aware that I was informed yesterday that the cost of Newbury has been put at £45,000 so far?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for that information.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord Elton, reply to this point? I have some experience of organising very large rallies for inland waterways purposes. There, we inevitably have a follow-up party which clears the refuse and the rubbish and leaves the entire place clean. Would it not be possible for the noble Lord's Ministry or for anybody else to persuade demonstrators that if they really want public goodwill, then they should do the same?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as I said earlier, anybody who seeks to secure public support should do so in a manner that does not offend the public to whom their request is made.