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Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green): This has been a good debate, which has been wide ranging in the number of issues covered. The debate is, however, long overdue. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) on her efforts to ensure that we had the debate today.
Crime is a problem that blights the lives of Londoners. In a poll to be published next week, almost 50 per cent. of Londoners say that they rate crime as their top concern. That is no wonder. Since 1979, the rate of violent crime in London has risen by more than 200 per cent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East said, almost 10 per cent. of all crimes in London are violent, which is the highest percentage in England.
Given the combination of crippling fear of crime and the crime figures themselves, it is no wonder that many pensioners are frightened to go out at night. How frequently have hon. Members addressed a pensioners' meeting or a pensioners' group in their constituency in the evening? I suggest that they have done so rarely, if at all. The tragedy of life today for many people in London who are elderly or vulnerable is that they are frightened to go out at night. They find themselves prisoners in their own home. Many women are frightened to come back unaccompanied at night. They sometimes find themselves at a destaffed British Rail station and they are extremely apprehensive. One of the great shames of our fine capital city is that many members of our black and ethnic minority communities are apprehensive of racial harassment.
Nor is the business sector exempt. The latest quarterly report of the Forum of Private Business shows that more than 43 per cent. of businesses surveyed in London described crime as a significant burden. That has serious implications in terms of the number of people whom small businesses employ. London ought to be a world-class capital. We want it to be a capital in which businesses flourish. Yet fear of crime and the crime figures themselves put a damper on that and hamper our business community in this great capital.
Very sadly, for too many people in our city, crime and the fear of crime stalk the streets in which they live and work. Against that background, the Metropolitan police service, under Sir Paul Condon, does an extremely difficult job very well indeed. We know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) pointed out, that the police, in very difficult circumstances and, often, tragically, at the risk of their own lives, put the
Column 1504interests of the citizens of London first. For my part, I would again like to put on record the high regard in which we on the Labour Benches hold the work done by the Metropolitan police in London. The picture in London is not entirely gloomy. Initiatives such as sector policing, the PLUS programme and community policing initiatives in partnerships between the public, local authorities and the police are much to be applauded. Operation Bumblebee, which has been much spoken of this morning, started in my area of north London. It is an initiative of which we are very proud. It was taken not only by the police and the community, but by the local authorities. I am extremely proud that my own Labour local authority played its full part.
There is absolutely no doubt that that operation has helped to reduce incidents of burglary and catch the perpetrators. Let us make no mistake: burglary is not a minor crime. It is a very serious crime. It concerns not only property, but the invasion of people's homes, and the invasion of the right of citizens to enjoy the privacy of their own homes. The Metropolitan police, local authorities and the community have worked together and are to be congratulated. We have heard about many other good initiatives. In my area, I know of school citizenship days organised by the local authority and the police, and of crime prevention schemes to reduce burglary in the south Hornsea area of my constituency. Reference has already been made to the excellent work around the King's Cross area, and to Operation Welwyn, in which my hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) have taken part.
We would do well to remind ourselves, when we talk about such partnership schemes, of the comments of Commander John Townsend, the operational commander for Operation Welwyn:
"This working relationship between the council and the police to get things to happen in their respective organisations has been essential and the partnership would have failed without it." That is why we, as Labour Members, place so much emphasis on the tripartite relationship between the police, the public and local authorities because, between them, they can have an enormous effect on reducing the rates of crime. That is why we are so disappointed that the Government have not implemented in full the report of the Morgan committee, which the Home Office itself set up. As that report said:
"investing in crime prevention and safer communities is potentially an unparalleled way of improving the quality of life in many areas: it is also potentially one of the most cost-effective things it is possible to do."
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), I note that a former Minister said that the partnership approach was the very "cornerstone" of the Government's policy. Labour Members would take that claim rather more seriously if the Morgan report were taken more seriously and implemented in full. I want to draw attention to closed circuit television. It is now widely accepted that CCTV has proved to be a significant crime prevention measure. The evidence from cameras during the tragic Jamie Bulger case and in respect of the Harrods bombing proved invaluable in finding the perpetrators. Harrods pays for its own CCTV, but most
Column 1505shops cannot afford it. Many local authorities and police divisions are understandably keen to implement CCTV schemes in conjunction with proper consultation and accountability.
The local authority in my area installed CCTV in a local car park and the rate of crime there has declined considerably. However, we need money to implement CCTV schemes properly. The £2 million in 1994-95 is a pathetically small sum to invest in CCTV. We should compare that with the £5 million being spent by the Home Secretary on publicising his "walking with a purpose" scheme. What a waste of money. Let us have that money, but let us invest it in CCTV. When applications arrive for such schemes, there should not be the bias against London that is revealed in the guidelines. According to the Evening Standard recently,
"London loses out in the TV blitz on crime".
The Home Office has stated:
"the focus will be away from large towns and cities . . . Priority consideration will be given to smaller centres of population". Once again, we can see how lowly rated London is in respect of crime and crime prevention initiatives in our great capital city. I want to refer to two important matters in relation to crime in London. The first is the appalling problem of racist attacks. It is clear from the figures that probably half the reported racist attacks nationally occur in London. That is a great challenge for us in this capital city. There are some very good initiatives on racist attacks--the Home Secretary referred to the initiative in Plumstead. I have seen it and I commend the officers involved. However, it would have been more appropriate and fitting if the Home Secretary had joined Opposition Members and some Conservative Members in pressing for a specific law against racial violence.
I want also to draw attention to domestic violence. I very much welcome the Government's campaign on domestic violence. However, it was very late and overdue when we consider that the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended such an initiative a considerable time ago. The Association of London Authorities introduced an excellent campaign on domestic violence--the "zero tolerance" campaign--long before the Home Office stirred itself.
We have had an interesting debate today, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) made some interesting remarks about stop and search and ethnic monitoring. Opposition Members also drew attention to the perhaps overriding strategic question in London--the lack of a police authority for London.
The argument for a police authority for London is not a new, fashionable or trendy argument. In 1888, the London county council called for such a body and many people have been lobbying for such an authority for many years. Some time ago, before the Home Secretary's predecessor said that there would be an elected police authority for London, I had the great opportunity in the Home Affairs Select Committee to question Sir Peter Imbert, the present Commissioner's predecessor, about an elected authority. He replied:
"I found the elected police authority in the Thames Valley very helpful. I would equally find, I suspect, an elected authority for London helpful in the same way."
Column 1506We know that senior police officers in London think that an elected police authority is a good idea and that it would positively help them in their work in the fight against crime.
For many people, including myself--I am certainly proud to call myself a Londoner--London is a wonderful and vibrant place in which to live and work. It is diverse and challenging. However, as hon. Members have said, the quality of life for Londoners is impaired by crime and by the fear of crime. London is a world-class capital, which deserves world-class policing. We have heard from the Home Secretary--doubtless we shall hear it from the Minister--information about resources. Let us judge the Home Secretary's announcement on funding not by what happens next year but by what happens in other years to come. I predict that there will be fewer police officers in our capital city.
The people of London want proper resourcing so that there are enough police officers to work in partnership with local authorities and others to prevent and fight crime. They do not want constant uncertainty and the undermining of the service. They want a democratic voice in the policing of their city, not a toothless quango to be ignored by Ministers. Judging by this year's election results, they want a Government who are tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, not one who have let down the people of London and sold them very short indeed.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): I welcome the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) to the Dispatch Box and congratulate her on her appointment as an Opposition Whip. I am not sure whether I can welcome the rather radical innovation of a party which allows its Whips to speak in the House. The Conservative party will not do that. Perhaps the hon. Lady's training as a Whip does not permit her to be as forthcoming as she could have been when she quoted Sir Peter Imbert. The next line of his statement reads:
"It so happens the system we have actually works."
I happen to agree with that.
The hon. Lady was right to touch on some important points. The fear of crime is very real. There is a duty on all of us not to make matters worse. That is why I deplore those who condemn and rubbish the latest figures which show the largest drop in 40 years--those people do not include the hon. Lady or the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)--and say that crime is rising.
The hon. Lady referred to burglary. Some of her colleagues said, "They are having success only with trivial things, the things that don't matter. What about crimes of violence?" I condemn those words, because burglary does matter. For far too many people the crime of burglary is violent. I greatly welcome the hon. Lady's opinions on that matter, and I hope that they will filter through to all her hon. Friends. I hope that, if we and the 43 police forces in the country are successful, Opposition Members will welcome that.
The £5 million which has been spent on the partnership campaign should give us an extra 10,000 special constables, increase neighbourhood watch schemes to 200,000, and permit street watch schemes to start. If we have an extra 10,000 special constables, that will be the best investment that any Government could make.
Column 1507We have had a thorough and wide-ranging debate. It has covered fundamental issues such as the constitutional position of the Met as well as detailed concerns about crime prevention, local initiatives and the deployment of officers. I, too, pay tribute to Metropolitan police officers who have been killed or injured in the course of their duty, serving the people of the capital. I pay tribute to the 28,000 others who, every day of the week, risk their lives in the same cause of keeping Her Majesty's peace in the capital. Hon. Members on both sides of the House raised many points during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Sir J. Hunt) mentioned the large drop in the number of burglaries in the Metropolitan police area, which has decreased by 14 per cent. The incidence of theft has decreased by 8 per cent. and total crime in the Metropolitan police area has decreased by 6 per cent. in the past 12 months. I pay tribute to the welcome that my hon. Friend gave to the partnership campaign.
My hon. Friend was concerned about police, not numbers, in Bromley borough. These are matters for the Metropolitan police Commissioner to consider, and I am sure that he will read the transcript of the debate carefully and pay attention to my hon. Friend's comments. My hon. Friend was also concerned about the mounted branch. The Commissioner informs me that he has now considered the scrutiny recommendations and, in the light of these, he does not propose to make any significant reduction in the strength of the mounted branch. It has not yet been decided whether any change should be made to stabling arrangements. Of course, we will ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are drawn to the attention of the Commissioner. The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) asked about stop and search. It is irrelevant whether a person is arrested: a written record must be made of all stops and searches by police officers. However, the method of the retention of such records is a matter for the chief officer of the force concerned. I reject entirely the hon. Gentleman's claims of deliberate harassment of his constituents. The police must operate within the law.
I welcome the opening remarks by the hon. Member for Blackburn. He praised the Metropolitan police and said that it was good to see them tackling pockets of racism and taking the importance of impartiality very seriously indeed. I agree that the Metropolitan police are doing just that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) asked what batons the Metropolitan police would use. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has approved a range of batons as suitable for use by the Metropolitan police, and it is up to the Commissioner to decide which ones will be most appropriate for which circumstances.
Of course, there must be adequate training in the use of the batons; no chief officer wishes to issue any equipment to his officers without ensuring that training is adequate. I understand that it is envisaged that there will be about six hours training in the use of the new batons.
My hon. Friend asked also about pepper spray. He should know that my right hon. and learned Friend has commissioned research into the possible carcinogenic risks of the spray. We should examine the risks carefully.
Column 1508I know that many members of the police force are desperately keen to access this very useful defensive method if it is safe. However, we have a duty to undertake research to ensure that it is safe not just for the person in whose face it may be sprayed, but primarily for the officer who may use it over many years and therefore soak up a larger dose than anyone else. We expect to receive the report before the end of the year, but we must ensure that the research is thorough and adequate.
I understand that the technical specifications for the new radio system can include encryption, and that the Commissioner intends that all police radios should have this important protective device installed in due course.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked what the establishment figure will be next year. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not hear the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), who gave an excellent explanation of funding and police establishments. If the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey had been in the Chamber, he would have heard that we do not intend to set police establishment figures in the future.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the present position. The current establishment figure for the Metropolitan police is 28,201 and the current strength is 28,079--99.5 per cent. up to the establishment figure. That is pretty good going. Of course, the hon. Gentleman must not read too much into the figures. Only one group of trainees needs to graduate from training school and suddenly the strength of the force is increased. If more people are waiting to go through training school, force strength may appear to be down. The levels fluctuate--admittedly, to a greater extent throughout the country than in the Met.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey suggested that the unemployment element in the formula undermined arguments that unemployment was not a cause of crime. Of course it is not a cause of crime. The unemployment portion of the formula is less than 0.4 per cent. That is a standard Department of the Environment calculation in the formula. It has existed for the rest of local government for many years. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that that is positive proof that unemployment is a cause of crime, even he would admit that that is pretty cockeyed.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the raid on Southwark. He said that timing was a problem. I suggest that perhaps it was not merely the timing. Perhaps his remarks could have exacerbated the problem. He issued a press statement which said:
"for every illegal immigrant employed by Southwark Council, a local legitimate job seeker is deprived of a job".
I am not sure how much that stirred the pot. Before the hon. Gentleman criticises immigration service or police tactics, he should pay careful attention to his own remarks.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) for his tribute to the Metropolitan police for their success against crime and his welcome of the partnership approach. I hope that he will suggest to Fulham council that it could follow the Wandsworth approach, which is an excellent way of acquiring more special officers in its area. Special constables wear the uniform of the regular police. They are trained as regular police officers. They are sworn as constables. They are the only ones to have the powers and duties of a constable. If Fulham follows the excellent example of Wandsworth,
Column 1509which is helping through advertising campaigns to fund more special constables, that would help solve its problems.
Mr. Maclean: No. I wish to deal with another point that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey raised. He mentioned that more officers were now working operationally. That is a key point. While the House tends to become obsessed with regular police numbers, we must not lose sight of the fact that what matters is the number doing operational duties.
However, it is worth comparing the overall numbers for 1979 and 1994. In 1979, there were 111,500 regular officers. There are now 128,000 in the country as a whole. In 1979, there were 16,000 specials. There are now 20,500. We hope to increase that to 30,000. Civilian strength was 35,000 in 1979 and is now 50,000. That is an increase of 46 per cent.
The Metropolitan police had 22,000 regulars in 1979 and has 28,000 now. It had 12,000 civilians then and has 14,000 now. So the House will see that throughout the country and in the Metropolitan police the Government have ensured through their funding of the police service an increase in regular officers, the special constabulary and the vital civilian support staff.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) is not in his place. I must say to him--I hope that one of his hon. Friends will tell him--that there is no threat of privatising the police. Before he says that little old ladies will not be helped across the road and the police will no longer be able to get cats out of trees or perform other essential community policing tasks, I hope that he will read the core and ancillary tasks report. He will see that there is not the slightest suggestion of taking away from the police those vital community policing tasks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham asked whether local authorities could help finance the police. Of course they can, if they so wish. They can do so up to their capping limit but they can also give them support in many other ways. It is not just financial help. They can give support by helping architects to produce better design of housing estates, undertaking truancy initiatives in education and rehousing troublesome families. All those things can be done in conjunction with the police. Local authorities can help support advertising campaigns for more special constables. There is a host of things that caring and concerned authorities can do. I welcome that. I also welcome my hon. Friend's excellent exposition of the funding formula.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) made some valid points about the right to protest to which all people should pay careful attention. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) sought to ridicule street watch by quoting a study which found only one person in London willing to join it. Another wider survey, perhaps in Police Review - -I am not sure--also sought to knock street watch. It said that only 17 per cent. of neighbourhood watch members would want to take part. Neighbourhood watch has 5.5 million members and that makes it almost 1 million members who would want to take part. If 17 per cent. of the 200,000 neighbourhood watch schemes that we hope to create participate in street watch, that will indeed be great.
Column 1510I must conclude with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). It really is not good enough for the hon. Gentleman to stand up in here and say, "Of course, I condemn violence and when I was speaking as a keynote speaker at the rally, yes, I condemned violence," knowing full well that, after his back was turned or he was safely tucked up in bed, violence broke out. It was organised by groups who publish leaflets months in advance to "Keep it Spikey", as the hon. Member for Blackburn quoted. The hon. Member for Islington, North might be regarded as one of those "fluffies" that the leaflet mentions. They are:
"people on the demonstration that think we should keep things calm"--
and not have violence--
"these tossers . . . are scum. If they get in the way clout them."
The hon. Gentleman made allegations about police tactics. Those are the same police--
It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put .
Queen's Recommendation having been signified --
That the Data Protection Registrar shall, with effect from 1st September 1994, be paid a salary which shall be the same as that payable from time to time to a Grade 3 Officer of the Home Civil Service;
That there shall be paid to any Data Protection Registrar appointed after 1st January 1994 the same pension as that payable to or in respect of a Grade 3 Officer of the Home Civil Service under the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme.-- [ Mr. Wells. ]
That, at the sitting on Tuesday 6th December, the Speaker shall put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to public expenditure, including the Question on any amendment thereto which she may have selected, and the said Questions may be decided after the expiry of the time for opposed business.-- [ Mr. Wells .]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Wells.]
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen): I am grateful for this Adjournment debate. There is no doubt that the section of the M3 that is being constructed through Twyford down in Hampshire is among the most controversial ever to be constructed.
More than 20 years were spent in trying to identify a route around, under and finally through the top of Twyford down. With the pattern of roads that had been established by the mid-1980s, it was inevitable and, indeed, essential that some proper link be established between the M3 and the M27. As a Member of Parliament representing Southampton, I fully recognise that. I have always believed, and believe today, that less destructive alternatives were available.
As the impact of the current route on the beauty of the downs and the Itchen valley and the destruction of sites of special scientific interest and archaeological sites became widely known, the outcry grew. More than any other road scheme, Twyford down came to symbolise in the minds of many people all that was wrong with the Government's roads policy. In the words of Lord Justice Dillon in the Court of Appeal,
"it is not very surprising that there are many people who deplore the decision and who regret that Twyford Down should be defaced by a motorway. In the circumstances, it is also not surprising, in a democracy, that some people should have thought of holding peaceful protests or peaceful demonstrations against the construction of the motorway along the selected route over Twyford Down".
Twyford down attracted many different people from all parts of the country and all types of background to participate in a variety of protests. The great majority took part in symbolic peaceful protests around and on the site. In my experience, the majority of people who take part in any demonstration of that sort say the same thing, "I never thought that I would find myself doing something like this." The freedom to protest is not one that most people use most of the time; only when a particular event or issue that matters deeply to us hits us, are we finally moved to respond. For that very reason, that freedom is fundamental and must be protected.
Of course--I do not want to avoid this point--other protesters went further. Some sought to delay construction by passively obstructing the work; others, going beyond what I could regard as reasonable, damaged construction equipment. For a democratic society, direct action poses a dilemma. I do not believe that the decisions of a democratically elected Government can, or should be, lightly thwarted by direct action, no matter how altruistic or well-intentioned, or how correct their criticism of Government policy. That would simply give power to the most determined and not the most representative. On the other hand, we should understand the sincere and honest passions that motivated some people to participate in that action. In any case, the response to protest must be measured and appropriate. Even those who commit direct action have the right to be treated appropriately. The Government simply cannot say, "These people are causing a problem, so we are entitled to do anything we feel like to stop them."
Column 1512I believe that the response, both to the peaceful non-disruptive protest and to the direct action protest, was neither measured nor appropriate. First, Twyford down was, as far as I can establish, the first time that widespread surveillance was carried out on British people by private detective agencies acting on behalf of the Government. Secondly, the Government have played a direct role in the retention of private security guards who used violence against protestors. Thirdly, the Government are now pursuing, at taxpayers' expense, a punitive legal action against people who allegedly took part in protests of the most innocuous and innocent form. Brays detective agency was hired, for what turned out to be a cost of more than £250,000, to take photographs of protesters and to serve papers on them. As far as I can establish, that scale of surveillance has never been undertaken by any Department. The privatisation of surveillance and snooping should therefore have been approached with great sensitivity and care--but far from it.
There are no guidelines, either in the Department of Transport or in the Government, as to the use of private detective agencies. I asked the National Audit Office to investigate the hiring of Brays, and the Comptroller and Auditor General confirmed to me in a letter dated 18 October that expenditure on Brays was allowed to grow from an initial £836 allowed within delegated authorisation to £250,000. Expenditure reached nearly £100,000 before a proper written contract was let--albeit then without competitive tendering. It was only after I had tabled parliamentary questions about contracts that any formal contract was let. The Comptroller and Auditor General concluded:
"Whilst the Department felt they had to respond quickly to the escalating protest action it is still important for them to follow authorised contract procedures . . . in this case, however, the Department neither established a contract when the scope of the work changed from a one-off action to an on-going surveillance operation, nor held a competitive tender exercise once they recognised the extent of the work involved."
The rules of the Department were not followed.
The National Audit Office was clearly not initially convinced that expenditure on Brays was even legal. The Comptroller and Auditor General wrote to me, saying:
"there were no special guidelines in place on employing private detective agencies; our financial auditors have looked into whether this expenditure should have treated as novel and contentious, and therefore subject to Treasury approval."
I understand that the Treasury has now ruled that the expenditure was allowable, and there I suspect that the issue will remain unless it is challenged in the courts.
I must say that I doubt whether Parliament has ever knowingly voted money to the Department of Transport for such a use of private detective agencies. I hope that we can be told what the role of Ministers was in the affair. Were all the decisions taken by junior civil servants rattling around out of control, or were Ministers involved in the decisions on the surveillance? If so, which Minister took the decision to use Brays in this role, to overrule normal contracting procedures and to spend £250,000 of public money? I hope that the Minister for Railways and Roads can tell the House the answers.
Brays' performance for £250,000 appears to have been incompetent, inefficient and a threat to civil liberties. Of 76 writs issued, more than half have been to people who were identified not by Brays but by Hampshire police.
Column 1513Many writs have not been served, leaving some people unaware that they are the subject of legal action. I know of a well-documented case where repeated attempts to issue a writ against an individual were dropped only when a solicitor successfully challenged Brays' identification.
That raises an important question. If one individual has been wrongly identified, how many others may have been? How many files are held, on whom and in what form, and to what other uses will that inaccurate information be put? There were no guidelines covering the work of Brays, and no effective safeguards either.
I understand that Brays has written to protesters saying that it would deny them access even to computer records under the Data Protection Act 1988, as they form material likely to be the subject of court action. I do not believe that the holding of inaccurate records by a private company paid for by the taxpayer can be treated lightly, and certainly not with the cavalier approach to civil liberties, proper contracting procedures and financial controls shown by the Department of Transport. Why has no Minister ever introduced even the most basic safeguards over Brays' activities?
Those who took part in direct action also met a private security firm, Group 4. The protesters tried passively to block the construction of the road and must, therefore, have expected to be removed with some necessary force. However, it is clear that the force used by Group 4 went way beyond what was acceptable. A solicitor who visited the down on 9 December 1992 wrote: "On attending the site and in the company of the Observer film crew, one of my clients was severely manhandled by five Security Officers. This client was deliberately poked in the eye by one of those men. The writer immediately informed the surrounding Security Officers of her presence and requested the Officer to release her client forthwith. She was ignored and our client was subject to further bodily assault."
On another occasion, it is claimed:
"two women were admitted to hospital . . . with serious injuries. One was unconscious on the Down for thirty minutes following strangulation by private security officers who again refused to release our client even though she was very distressed and had been vomiting as a result of an assault".
Let us be clear: the protesters were attempting to delay the construction of the road, as far as anyone could tell. Although many people supported their motives, to others--those who want the road to be constructed, and certainly the Department of Transport and the contractors--they were a blessed nuisance. However, that does not in itself justify such excessive force.
We do not yet, I hope, live in a society in which all rights are suspended because someone commits what was, at the time, a civil offence. If the Department of Transport wishes to use private security agencies to implement its policies, it must take full responsibility for ensuring that those agencies function within reasonable guidelines and controls.
Although the contractors retained Group 4, that company's employment was agreed by the Department of Transport. All the extra costs of its activities, which amounted to some £2.5 million, were paid by the Department. Group 4, like Tarmac, has close connections with the Conservative party. Was the Group 4 contract subject to competitive tendering? What measures did the Government take to control its expenditure and ensure that its activities were appropriate?
Column 1514Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the whole issue is that the Department of Transport is pursuing a punitive and vindictive action for damages of more than £2 million against 76 protesters. As I shall attempt to show, many of these protesters were involved in the most innocuous and reasonable actions but now face personal ruin. The action is being pursued in spite of the fact that, in all but a handful of cases, the protesters obeyed entirely injunctions against them to desist from trespass or any other form of protest on the site. Those who did break the injunctions on what they regarded as a point of principle were, I understand, gaoled, which is what the law requires.
The pursuit of further legal action for damages has nothing to do with preventing these individuals from protesting--they have done what the court ordered--but everything to do with intimidating others in the hope that they will not take part in any form of protest. The legal action now means that people who have taken part in the most innocuous activities are being sued for damages. The same is true of people who do not know even that they have been the subject of an injunction and who have not been near Twyford down since the injunctions were served and of people who have complied with the terms of the injunctions in every respect.
My constituent, Maggie Lambert, is a mature student of photography with an ambition to become a photo-journalist. She was on Twyford down on several occasions to photograph the down, the construction work and the demonstrations as part of a student project. She successfully challenged parts of an injunction which implied that she had supported and been involved in direct action. In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Mann said:
"There is nothing in the evidence to suggest Mrs. Lambert was present at some disturbing scenes other than as a mature student of press photography".
However, as the Court of Appeal upheld the injunction against trespass, Maggie Lambert is still a party to the claim for damages. Mr. David Plumstead, described by Lord Justice Dillon as "a man of mature years",
went to the down once. He went in what Lord Justice Dillon described as
"respectable but trespassing parliamentary company".
That company was myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). It seems to have occurred to someone of above average intelligence in the Department of Transport that serving injunctions on three hon. Members for addressing an assembly of free British citizens on an English hillside on a sunny spring Sunday afternoon might be a bad idea. Mr. Plumstead, who does not enjoy that protection, and who went there only on that one Sunday afternoon, finds himself confronted by the same claim for £2 million.
Jane Child was, according to her injunction, on the down for 15 minutes. She was arrested on that occasion but, subsequently, she received a payment of £4,500 compensation for wrongful arrest. She, too, finds herself still the subject of that claim for damages. Michael Halford, a professional man, attended one day when direct action and violence from the security guards occurred. He had noticed that, in the absence of what he calls "respectable observers", the police seemed to have