(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Air why demonstrators were able to enter upon the Royal Air Force Station at North Pickenham on 6th to 7th December, hindering the workmen from carrying on their normal duties, what action he intends to take to avoid similar occurrences, and whether he will make a statement?
Work is being carried out by contractors within a fenced area at the Royal Air Force Station at North Pickenham. Since 11th November, the site has been picketed from time to time by demonstrators but without incident. From preliminary reports I have received, 60 to 70 demonstrators, who had previously publicised their intention of coming to the site, appeared at the entrance of the station last Saturday afternoon.
In the presence of the civil police the demonstrators were warned not to enter Air Ministry property. Nevertheless, they forced their way through the perimeter barrier at a number of places, causing minor damage to property. A similar occurrence took place yesterday. On both days the demonstrators were removed from the site by the civil and R.A.F. police. Work was hampered for several hours each day.
I understand that on Saturday, the police were able to prevent a serious clash between contractors' employees and the demonstrators. Although a number of minor incidents took place, no arrests were made.
In view of the fact that these demonstrators have been in this neighbourhood for some time, endeavouring to cause a stoppage of work by picketing and, having failed to do it by those means, by going on to the site, is it not time that workmen engaged in this work should be protected against intrusion by people who desire, for political purposes, to bring about a stoppage of work?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these same demonstrators have said that they are going to do the same thing at Watton, in Norfolk? Does he not think that it is time that proper security arrangements were made, so that no unauthorised persons can enter upon Air Ministry property for this purpose?
While the contractors are on the site there is only a temporary fence, and it is not too difficult for a large enough number of determined people to breach it. But as soon as the contractors have finished, a proper, high security fence will be erected round the site. Meanwhile, we do the best we can, with both the civil and Royal Air Force police, to stop these incidents. I am expecting a full report in detail of what happened and I shall then certainly consider what steps we can take to prevent further occurrences of this nature.
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the methods employed by these demonstrators were quite unconstitutional, to say the least, and served only as an embarrassment to those working on the site and to those whose duty it is to preserve law and order? In view of that, would it not be better to ensure that similar occurrences cannot take place, by building adequate fencing on the site first instead of leaving it until the work is practically completed?
I will certainly consider that suggestion. Of course, it is not very easy to get the contractors' machinery on and off the site if there is a very high security fence round it, but I will see what further measures we can take to add to the security of the sites while these installations are being built.
Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to a number of detailed and circumstantial accounts which purport to show that in the act of removing these trespassers from the site a good deal of unnecessary violence was used; that women and elderly men were seized—some of them were seized—and thrown into pools of mud, cement and water; that one lady was prevented for ten minutes from leaving; and that a number of them had to be treated in hospital for the removal of pieces of cement, many of them in the eyes? Will the right hon. Gentleman make inquiries and see that no undue violence is allowed or encouraged against these people, who are honest and conscientious and who are endeavouring to draw public attention to a situation which really has not got the support of many people in this country?
As I have said, I am expecting a detailed report of exactly what happened. But I think I can say with assurance that these people offered a great deal of violent resistance to the police and that I do not think that more force was used than was necessary to remove them from the site.
May we assume that there was the usual notice at this establishment stating that trespassers would be prosecuted? If so, may we be told whether these trespassers will be prosecuted?
The demonstrators were given a warning in the presence of the civil police not to enter the site, but in spite of that they forced their way in. That is just as effective as any notice. On the question of prosecution, I am considering whether or not any action should be taken, but I think that if similar demonstrations take place we shall have to take action.
Have not the demonstrators at least succeeded in demonstrating that the sites of this alleged deterrent are very well known? What in the world is the use of a deterrent which can certainly be knocked out before it can possibly go off, unless we propose to be the aggressors?
Arising out of the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and the last question, surely the Minister will now consider whether he should go on building these installations. If he wants them, had they not far better be put on ships at sea?
These form a valuable part of the Western deterrent, and we shall certainly continue to build them undeterred by any demonstration of the kind that we saw during the weekend.
Will the right hon. Gentleman see that the further report to which he referred is made available to the House, to make it plain that undue force was not used by the local or other police engaged on that site against any of the demonstrators? [HON. MEMBERS: "How does the hon. Member know?"] I was there.