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Newbury Bypass Works: Protesters

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 14 March 1996

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3.15 p.m.

Whether the Prime Minister will visit the bypass works at Newbury.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the Prime Minister has no plans to do so.

My Lords, will the Minister convey the suggestion to him? Should he not, as Prime Minister, witness the death throes of an impossible transport policy—hundreds of policemen, private security men and bailiffs, trying by force to evict the people who have chosen to camp in the friendly trees to protect them, and the gigantic machines waiting to uproot the trees, all in favour of juggernauts carrying nothing more important than frozen food from another country?

My Lords, many people think that frozen food and other economic products are of extreme benefit to this country. The ability to move freight and people around in the best and quickest manner possible is of extreme importance to our economy. The statutory processes have been gone through. We have the legal right to build the road. The vast majority of local people want the road built. The protesters are interfering with our legal right to do so.

My Lords, are the effluents from the protesters' squalid camps and treehouses polluting the nearby river—fortuitously the River Kennet, as it happens? And has Greenpeace, or any similar group, volunteered to do a clean-up of the mess being made by those camps?

My Lords, all sorts of answers spring to mind on the question of the protesters' effluent; but I shall resist all temptation and merely say that my noble friend is right—in so many cases these protesters cause a great deal of damage by their very presence at the site.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that many of us, while defending the right of people to protest peacefully, are appalled by some of the activities of the demonstrators at Newbury? Is he aware that there have been public inquiries over a period of time, and that the democratically-elected representatives of the people of Newbury are firmly in favour of the bypass? That being so, it is unacceptable to allow a gross waste of public money on police expenditure in circumstances of this kind.

My Lords, of course there are so many better uses that this considerable sum of money could be put to rather than to stop people interfering with the due processes of the law. I believe that the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord reflect the sentiments of this House and another place.

My Lords, will my noble friend ask his colleagues to consider whether a claim could he made against Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and other wealthy organisations which have stimulated this kind of protest?

My Lords, that is an interesting idea, and one which requires reflection, if my noble friend will allow me. Legal action has been taken. We believe that the best method of clearing these protesters is through civil action in the courts and by using the offices of the sheriff. That is how we have taken the process forward. As a result of the protests, some 500 arrests have been made.

My Lords, irrespective of the supplementary questions which have flowed from this Question, I should like to ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to consider whether it is a proper one for your Lordships' Order Paper.

My Lords, the Question has been accepted, and it is for the appropriate Minister to answer as best he can.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Newbury bypass is being built at a time when there is great disillusionment with huge road building programmes. There is evidence to show that unless the entrances and exits to and from the bypass are carefully planned it merely provides a quicker route into the already congested city. Many bypasses merely bring people into the cities more quickly. Will the Minister assure the House that the Newbury bypass will be one of the last of the massive road schemes that we have seen during the past few years?

My Lords, road infrastructure is of considerable importance and can bring real environmental benefits. The town of Newbury is chronically congested because the main road goes through it. Real and demonstrable traffic and environmental benefits are to be gained from the construction of this much needed bypass.