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Mr. John Patten : I do not want to be unnecessarily combative because I know that the hon. Gentleman is trying to strike a balance between legitimate and illegitimate enjoyment. Is he saying, however, that the party promoter to whom he has referred was right to break the law?
Mr. Fisher : The Minister makes a good point. I am saying that the sort of infringements that I shall detail are committed by individuals who attend events such as the Glastonbury festival, not by promoters. I shall specify four of the infringements to which Mr. Eavis pleaded guilty and on which he was found guilty. I am asking the Minister to make a distinction between infringements by promoters and infringements by individuals or groups of individuals who attend events. In both instances it is the promoters who bear the fines. Last year, Mr. Eavis was fined £2,000 on each of four counts, a total fine of £8,000. There were three offences of failing to ensure that individuals who went through the entrance gate wore wristbands. That is the system that is used to show that they have paid to enter. The fourth offence was one of exceeding the limit opposed by the licence on the number of people who could be admitted. The Minister will know that at other events, such as Hillsborough, much greater safety is to be obtained at an open-air site by allowing people through the entrance gate, if there is a great crush, than by excluding them. Exclusion leads to greater problems for the police and for public safety.
It is quite common for a rock music promoter to exceed the limit, and that should not be a cause of great concern. I am talking about a licensed promoter who chooses to exceed the limit on the ground of safety. It is impossible in practical terms to ensure that every one of 60,000 or 70,000 people who passes through the entrance to a festival, wears his or her wristband, but the promoter is liable to a maximum fine of £2,000 for every person found by the police not wearing one. That is the way in which the law works. The situation is rather more complicated than the Minister understands. I hope that he appreciates that there is a distinction between deliberate offences by the licensee who breaches his licence and actions committed by individuals who attend.
Mr. Fisher : I do not think that anyone has complained about open- air festivals which cater for tens of thousands of people if they are properly controlled. There is no danger to people or to good order at such events, which obtain licences year after year and which take place with the co-operation of the police. There are, however, individual infringements.
The cumulative effect of the infringements last year at Glastonbury was that Mr. Eavis was fined £14,900. With an event of that size, those are costs which that promoter can bear as part of the wear and tear of running the event. Under the Bill, however, Mr. Eavis could be faced with fines totalling £140,000 and the risk of six months' imprisonment, which would make the situation impossible for him and for other promoters of rock music festivals. Similarly, it would be impossible for other people such as Mr. Harvey Goldsmith, the president of the Concert Promoters Association. The promoters have recognised this and have said clearly to the hon. Member for Luton, South and the Minister--they have made this clear in the press as well--that their legitimate businesses and activities would be put at such risk by the Bill that they would be driven out and prevented from continuing to hold events.
Mr. Norris : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the fines that are set out in the Bill are maxima? It is appropriate for magistrates to levy a lesser fine if they consider that a technical offence has been committed. Is not the hon. Gentleman missing the sad truth that in many instances the promoters of some of the events to which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) referred--not of well known national events-- treat the present inadequate fine levels as part of their running costs? They pay them, recognising that they will break the law before they start. That is a dangerous situation.
Mr. Fisher : As the hon. Gentleman says, that does not apply to promoters of legal and national events. The Bill will hit legal and national events--which everyone welcomes, enjoys and participates in--in exactly the same way as it will hit unlicensed and illegal events.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) said that it is up to the magistrates to decide whether to impose the maximum penalty, and that they will not do so for technical events. Frankly, many people feel that finding someone without a wristband at the Glastonbury festival is not a substantial infringement of the licence but a technical offence. However, at the moment magistrates are imposing the maximum penalty of £2,000 for people not wearing wristbands, although they are perfectly within their rights to impose a nominal fine of £100. There is a terrible risk for concert promoters that they will not be able to bear the costs if they are fined the maximum sum for technical offences--a fine which will increase, if the Bill is passed, to £2,000.
Mr. Norris : The hon. Gentleman mentioned Glastonbury. Can he say whether Mr. Eavis has had any previous convictions for the offences he has described? If there were previous convictions, it would not be inappropriate for the fines to be increased because the law
Column 1125simply cannot be held in contempt. If it is a first offence and it is as trivial as the odd spectator not wearing a wristband, perhaps it should not attract the maximum fine, but to commit the offence time after time seems to me to be an entirely different matter.
Mr. Fisher : I understand that Mr. Eavis has a good relationship with the local police, which is why he gets a licence year after year, but every year he faces charges for technical infringements of the licence such as the ones I have described. The police do not object to granting his licence in subsequent years. There is a distinction between that sort of technical offence-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Epping Forest smiles, but the offences are the result of activities of people attending the events rather than the flagrant breaching of the licence agreement by the licensee. There is a difference. If Mr. Eavis was not behaving properly, he would not get the continued support of magistrates, the local authorities and the local constabulary. The hon. Member should make and accept that distinction.
I think that the hon. Member for Epping Forest has borne out the fact that, although the intention of the hon. Member for Luton, South may be to hit illegal cowboy promoters, he will also hit people such as Mr. Harvey Goldsmith, the Glastonbury festival and other major rock music festivals which are legal and proper and are held every year. The hon. Gentleman could solve that problem in Committee, and I hope that he will. He could table an amendment to make differential fines between licensed and unlicensed events.
Mr. Bright : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that I said that we would consider that issue in Committee. I am aware of the matters that he mentioned this morning, but I am sure that he will agree that our main concern must be to control illegal parties. If an illegal operator accepts a licence and then totally disregards the terms and conditions of that licence, we must have the power to deal with it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that powers given to the courts are to be used with the court's discretion. The fact that there is a maximum fine of £2,000 does not mean that the court will impose it. The public complain too often that magistrates never use the powers that we have given them.
Mr. Fisher : I appreciate that the Bill is intended to hit the illegal, unlicensed cowboy promoters, or those who give warehouse parties, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that that is not what the Bill does because it does not discriminate between illegal and legal promoters. The Bill may drive out legal party promoters or promoters of rock music events which, perversely, will open the field to the criminal, cowboy and illegal operators who will continue to act illegally as they have in the past despite the draconian fines. As the Minister said, there is a great deal of money at stake at these parties. Some illegal operators will not be deterred. I am sure that the hon. Member for Luton, South does not wish to wipe away all the legal promoters to leave the field free for the criminal element. None of us wants that.
I hope that the hon. Member for Luton, South will consider the issue in a wider context in Committee. He may be aware that last week the Health and Safety Executive, together with the local authorities enforcement liaison committee, started work on new guidance on safety at pop concerts and music events--what was known as the
Column 1126old Greater London council pop code. That has the support of the Home Office. Lord Ferrers gave it his support when it was announced and it had the support of Mr. Harvey Goldsmith, who is president of the Concert Promoters Association. I believe that it will provide a framework for future events, and the hon. Member for Luton, South and other hon. Members ought to take it into account in Committee. One wider issue which we ought to consider is that, while the House obviously wishes to come down hard on and to solve the problem of criminal and cowboy promoters, we should ask why there is an audience for their work. Obviously some young people feel an element of excitement about impromptu, informal and illegal events, but I do not think that that is the only reason why there is a ready market for warehouse parties and pay-parties. We live in a puritan culture. There is not much of a youth culture in this country and the commercial outlets where young people can enjoy themselves in the evening often are extremely expensive and have licences which expire at an early hour--although pay parties are also expensive. There is wider provision at, for example, the Leadmill arts centre in Sheffield, which has live music events at least once and sometimes several times a week, but it is the exception rather than the rule. If hon. Members consider the provision for young people to enjoy themselves, they will see that opportunities are more limited than they ought to be. On the whole, the House is male and middle-aged and does not have--[ Hon. Members :-- "Speak for yourself".] I do speak for myself, but when I look around the House I think I also speak for--
Mr. Fisher : I accept the criticism of the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) because I think that he can probably give us all about 15 to 20 years, but the rest of the hon. Members assembled here, and of hon. Members in general, are male and middle-aged. The House seldom debates events or activities that contribute to the enjoyment of young people. The Bill gives us an opportunity to do so, and it would be a great pity and a disservice if we came down hard on only some events dealt with by the Bill, and did not consider the reasons why there is a market for those parties. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's reasons--
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : No Conservative Member wishes to stop young people from enjoying themselves. We are concerned about the circumstances in which they are induced to enjoy themselves at illegal parties, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) has said, they are often ripped off because the parties do not take place.
Mr. Fisher : I take the hon. Gentleman's point that the intention is not to stop young people from enjoying themselves. However, we should go wider than the scope of the Bill and look at a constructive policy involving local authorities to offer more legal and imaginative opportunities for young people to enjoy themselves.
Column 1127Live music is an important part of our culture. There are fewer opportunities to express or to enjoy it than there might be and I suspect that if there were more opportunities the market for illegal warehouse parties among young people would be considerably diminished, although it would not be eliminated.
I accept that hon. Members want to attack illegal parties, but the House must realise that the Bill, as drafted, will eliminate legal and constructive events such as the Glastonbury music festival. That cannot be the will of the House or the intention of the Bill. If the Bill is not amended in Committee, a high price will be paid for attacking the problem of illegal warehouse parties--in my view, far too high a price. It would be a tragedy if, in seeking to address one ill, the hon. Member for Luton, South created another
by--ironically--leaving the field free to the very criminal cowboys who he seeks to eliminate.
Mr. Ken Hargreaves (Hyndburn) : Speaking as someone who is male and admits to being middle-aged. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Mr. Bright) on using his success in the ballot to introduce such an important, timely and necessary Bill. I know from experience how much pressure is exerted on those who succeed in the ballot by organisations, groups and individuals, all of whom have their private schemes to put forward. It must have been very difficult for my hon. Friend to make his decision, but he chose well.
Representing an area that has been blighted by acid-house parties. I am increasingly concerned about the dangers and nuisance caused by them. I am well aware of the excellent work done by Chief Superintendent Robert Metcalf, commander of the Blackburn police division, despite the difficulties that he encounters in his efforts to deal with the problem. None of us wishes to be a killjoy or to curtail personal freedom, but members of the public must be able to enjoy themselves in the knowledge that they are not in danger. Sadly and worringly, that is not the case at present : it is only a matter of time before a major disaster occurs, with a horrendous loss of young lives. Then the public will ask, "Why didn't someone do something?"
Acid house parties are now a common occurrence throughout the country, but there seems to be a particular problem in north-east Lancashire, where such parties are placing a considerable burden on police resources. Every weekend some part of the area is the venue for such a party. On 17 February, 5,000 people from the north-west, the midlands and Scotland attended an all-night party in a warehouse in Fairfield, Street, Accrington. They caused £50,000 worth of damage to the offices of Hyrota, the Hyndburn and Rossendale training agency, smashing up furniture, stealing telephones and video equipment and ripping radiators off walls.
The warehouse is owned by Supetrac, a company which employs only 10 people and is the subject of a current early-day motion congratulating it on winning an export order worth £100,000 from Burma. The company tells me that the party cost it nearly £5,000 in damage and stolen goods. The police were inundated with telephone calls from irate and often frightened local residents when more
Column 1128than 1,000 vehicles were parked in the streets and side streets surrounding the warehouse, but their efforts to stop the party were thwarted by the sheer numbers attending. It seemed that the positon could not get any worse, but a week later it did. Some 10,000 partygoers--again, from all over the country--converged on a warehouse in Nelson at 1 am on Sunday. Police with riot shields were attacked as they raided the party in an attempt to prevent possible tragedies. At both the Nelson and the Accrington parties, there were arrests for drug-related offences.
It may well be fair to say that the vast majority of those who attend such parties are well behaved, wanting nothing more than a good time staying out all night and dancing to music that is probably harmless, although it seems strange to the rest of us.
Nevertheless--even if we put aside the damage that is done, the drugs that are available, the traffic offences that are committed and the fact that young people are ripped off when they buy tickets for parties that do not take place--we cannot fail to act when organisers are putting at risk each week not only the lives of thousands of young people, but those of local residents. No ambulance or fire appliance could get near any house in the area should an emergency occur.
The misuse of warehouses and similar premises creates potential deathtraps. The 5,000 people at the warehouse party in Accrington entered and left by one door. Accrington's fire chief, Station Commander Colin Cuncliffe, said that the party was a receipe for disaster, and could have turned out to be Hillsborough and Bradford rolled into one. In an interview with a local newspaper, he said : "It was a cause for grave concern and could have had tragic consequences for both party goers and nearby residents. We couldn't have got an appliance within half a mile of the warehouse because of parked cars. The party breached all planning regulations on fire exits, emergency lighting and fire resistance of materials. There was also the danger of inflammable substances stored in warehouses which would never be allowed near a club. Al these add up to a cocktail for disaster."
It is clear to me that it is only a matter of time before someone dies-- and, regrettably, it will be not just one person but many. Although the police know where the parties will be held, they do not know the exact location until the last minute, and thus do not have time to react quickly enough to stop them going ahead. Once a party starts, the police have a problem : if they go in, given the crush, they may cause an incident or panic that could lead to hundreds of deaths.
I find it hard to understand why those who attend such parties cannot see the danger into which they are putting themselves. I find it equally difficult to comprehend how parents can write to local newspapers defending the parties, and suggesting that the organisers are providing some sort of service that livens up the area. The fact is that the organisers are making huge profits. With entrance fees plus the sale of cans of drinks at £1 a time, £20,000 can be made in one evening. I am not against anyone making a profit, but I am against those who do so by putting lives at risk and causing criminal damage. The maximum fine of £2,000 for not having a music and dancing licence is clearly inadequate : organisers know that they can afford to ignore the law.
The new penalties proposed in the Bill would go some way towards deterring some organisers, but I do not think that they would be sufficient to deter the organisers of parties on the scale that we have seen in east Lancashire.
Column 1129Even if the maximum fine of £20,000 were imposed, it would represent just one night's profit at the current rate of admission, and I see no reason to doubt that partygoers would be prepared to pay more. Given that many travel hundreds of miles to attend, money is clearly not a problem. If the admission charge were doubled the week after the organisers were fined, attendance would not diminish and the organisers, even after paying the fine, would probably have made a profit.
The Bill should be strengthened. A fine of £20,000 or six months' imprisonment may be enough when we are dealing with unlicensed entertainments that simply cause a nuisance, but, in the case of unlicensed entertainments that not only cause a nuisance but endanger the lives of those attending and those living nearby, a more appropriate penalty would be a fine of £50,000 plus six months' imprisonment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South said, the larger the party the larger the risk. The larger the risk, therefore, the larger should be the penalties. A recent editorial in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph commented :
"Enough is enough. The Acid House anarchy has to stop. This newspaper in common with every decent law abiding citizen in East Lancashire is sick and tired of the criminal abuse taking place every weekend in the name of fun'. The Acid House criminals are laughing at the law. They know they can get away with it. That's got to stop."
The newspaper's view is echoed by the majority of my constituents, and I am grateful to Hyndburn borough council for its efforts to lobby support for the Bill. Hon. Members will all have received a letter from the council's chief executive, Mr. Michael Wedgeworth, suggesting that, in the view of the six local authorities in east Lancashire and of Lancashire county council, as police and fire authority, the Bill needs to go much further if the problem is to be reduced to manageable proportions. The authorities suggest that there should be clarification--that the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 relating to the licensing of public entertainment under schedule 1 clearly encompasses quasi-private events.
In the penultimate paragraph of the letter it is also suggested "That failure to obtain a public entertainments licence should be an offence triable either summarily or on indictment, according to the circumstances and with a maximum 5 year custodial sentence It should be stressed that the maximum penalty may deter but more significantly, would give the Police the powers required to intervene at an early stage and prevent the occurrence of the large scale party. A six months' prison sentence as proposed by Mr. Bright's bill would not provide the Police with the powers of entry, as of right. Currently, a Warrant has to be sought from a Magistrate once the event has started--crucial delay could cost lives. Power to enter unlicensed premises is felt to be absolutely necessary. Power to seize equipment would be very helpful."
The matter is urgent. I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading, that it will be strengthened in Committee and become law quickly. If we fail to act quickly, we shall have to bear some responsibility for the deaths that inevitably will occur.
Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for having had the foresight to introduce the Bill. By doing so, he has done us all a great service. I am happy to be a co-sponsor.
Column 1130As my favourite champagne Socialist and Old Etonian, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), described me so accurately--middle aged, male and a paid-up member of that particular tendency--we have to ask ourselves whether we are being dreadful killjoys and whether there is nothing wrong with all this : boys will be boys, kids will be kids and intend to have a good time, so are we being unnecessarily repressive and can we not allow them to enjoy themselves? The hon. Gentleman suggested that vague illegality is quite a thrill at a certain age and almost inevitably happens at some point in everyone's life, so are we not in danger of over reacting terribly?
A subtle campaign for that point of view has been mounted by the profiteers. Some of those who belong to the freedom for parties movement, or whatever it is called, have perfectly good intentions and are in no way associated with criminals. I believe that they have been persuaded to regard this as a great liberatarian issue. However, that is an appalling sham. Anybody who has suffered from these parties, as some of my constituents have had the misfortune to do, believes that we simply cannot leave the law as it is and that Parliament has a responsibility to do something about it. The Bill enables us to do something.
We cannot ignore the safety problem, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) referred. Much of the high-powered sound amplification equipment that is used is dangerous because of the amount of electrical insulation that is required and the sophistication of its installation. There have been instances in Essex of cables that were not enclosed sparking during performances. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to work out that that could lead to a conflagration, and if that happened in a dilapidated building with inadequate exits and scaffolding that had been erected in an amateurish fashion--which itself is a hazard on a number of grounds--there could be appalling carnage.
It must be obvious to those who, for whatever reasons, oppose the Bill, as well as to those who wholeheartedly support it, that Parliament, the Government and local authorities would be called to account by the press. We should be to blame. If the Opposition do not understand what a heavy responsibility Parliament has, I am genuinely sorry. On safety grounds alone there is a case for examining whether the existing law is strong enough. For reasons I shall explain later, I do not believe that it is.
If we ignore the safety implications, we shall do a great disservice, particularly to the many young people who go to these parties. They are not necessarily aware of the critical nature of some of the electrical insulation and installation, or of the dangers of inadequate scaffolding, poor exits and overcrowding. At the age of 14 or 15, they cannot be expected to understand all that, any more than those poor souls who were caught at Hillsborough understood the nature of the facilities that were available at that ground ; they suffered and died as a consequence of the failure of others to take adequate safety precautions. If we passed over that question without dealing with it, Parliament would be failing in its responsibility.
Column 1131events? For that reason, will he join me in seeking to distinguish between legal and licensed events and illegal and unlicensed events?
Mr. Norris : I would make a distinction between Mr. Eavis and Mr. Goldsmith. It would be wrong to put them in the same category. The experience at Glastonbury was quite different from the experience of those who attended Mr. Goldsmith's concerts. I have attended a few of them. They were large events for which specially constructed scaffolding was put in place. Mercifully, those events were without incident, largely because a reasonably mature and sensible audience quietly watched lavish performances that were subjected to all the normal safeguards. The hon. Gentleman does this place no credit by associating an affair such as Glastonbury, whatever its merits or demerits, with the opera productions for which Mr. Goldsmith is famous.
Mr. Fisher : I associated the two gentlemen because both are members of the Concert Promoters Association. All members of that association are extremely concerned about the failure of the Bill to distinguish between legal and illegal events.
Mr. Norris : I believe that the Bill has two purposes, as does the existing legislation. I say again that--as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) pointed out in an intervention--we are not taking new powers ; we are talking about new fine levels. The distinction is clear. A person who obtains a licence has to abide by its conditions. If he or she does not abide by the conditions, an offence is committed. If either of the gentlemen mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) commits an offence, having obtained a licence, no doubt the due process of law will be pursued.
I am more concerned about those who do not bother to obtain a licence because they treat the subsequent fine as part of the costs of the evening. We ought to consider what happens in practice. Even among those who obtain licences--for example, the organiser of the Glastonbury event--there are different attitudes. Therefore, different consequences ensue. Until I became the Member for Epping Forest, in which constituency I now live, I lived in Wiltshire, a couple of miles away from Stonehenge and not many miles from Glastonbury. The Glastonbury event is permitted because of the huge number of people who turn up at Stonehenge. We have seen the violence that has occurred over the years when the police have tried to move people on. The purpose of today's debate is not to discuss whether the police were right to move them on, but when the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central says that the promoters are given a licence each year because the magistrates think that they are such jolly good people who organise such responsible parties, he may be missing some of the subtleties of the permission which relate to the considerable public order difficulties that might ensue if the people who had been to Stonehenge turned up at Glastonbury in a mood to dispute the magistrates' decision. Safety is immensely important and we cannot ignore it.
There is also the problem of noise. The most recent acid house party in my constituency was held in a perfectly normal residential street. There was nothing remarkable about it except that it contained an unoccupied house
Column 1132which was suddenly filled with hundreds of young people. There were not thousands of them, but no more could have been accommodated in that house although they broke down the doors and spilled over into the garden. The party took place one night without notice and the noise was so appalling that several of the residents who complained had to leave their homes. They had to ring friends or relatives and say, "Can I please come and stay with you as this is just unbearable? We cannot stay here." They had to leave because of the noise and the criminal damage and intimidation that occurred outside the party. All hon. Members will accept that noise is a problem that is not created only by acid-house parties or large parties generally. It also derives from unneighbourliness particularly in flats, where people suffer very badly. Some of the most trying cases are brought to my constituency surgery by people who complain about bad neighbourliness, particularly noise pollution. At the moment very little can be done, so I welcome the fact that the Department of the Environment is looking at the application of section 58 of the Control of Pollution Act.
There seems to be some scope to find out whether new powers are necessary to deal with a serious problem and irritation. The right to have a great time and to play music much louder than old middle-aged fuddy duddies such as I might enjoy--and that is pretty loud as I am also becoming deaf--must be balanced by an equal right of peaceful enjoyment. It does not seem unreasonable that people should be able to enjoy themselves without making the lives of their neighbours a misery. That is a real issue which any responsible legislature should seek to address.
I mentioned criminal damage. The parties in Essex have produced intimidation and criminal damage to people's cars that are parked nearby and to property, front gardens and outbuildings of neighbouring properties. All that is regrettable and clearly stems from the parties. When neighbours in the vicinity of the most recent party in my constituency had the temerity to remonstrate with the organisers and ask them to turn the music down, they were subjected to considerable intimidation, not by the organisers, but perhaps by those who attended the party. It was a pretty hostile and unpleasant environment for the people living nearby. We have a strong duty to consider their rights as well as the rights of free enjoyment of those who attend the parties.
At least as important as the safety aspect is the relationship between the parties and drugs. There is no question but that drugs are distributed fairly liberally at many such events and many convictions have been obtained in connection with the parties. It is not hyperbole or invention, it is a fact. There is equal evidence that the drugs are guarded by young men armed with everything from CS gas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South mentioned, to firearms and baseball bats. That creates a hostile and dangerous atmosphere. It also carries the prospect of irreparable damage being done to the young people who have the misfortune to become involved in the drug scene at such events.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has been here throughout the debate and has already participated in it. I know that he is desperately concerned about the potential spread of crack. He knows that one of the dangers of crack is that it is so appealing. It can be made extremely cheaply and it is easy to distribute and consume. It would be a black day if that drug were to spread in Britain with the consequences that
Column 1133we have seen in America. There is already a significant danger that that will happen for reasons unassociated with acid house parties, but they will not help in the battle if they are at locations where those substances can be peddled all too easily.
The chief constable in Essex operates an extremely effective and efficient constabulary. The people of Essex have every reason to be proud of the service it offers. However, that service is hard pressed, as bids to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for additional police manpower demonstrate. In that context it seems an absolute tragedy that police resources should be employed in patrolling and visiting acid house parties when quite clearly they should be deployed on real, serious issues of public order that arise in any community without the artificial stimulus to illegal activity that those parties warrant. They are not adequately policed. The role of security guards was rightly shot out of the air by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South. He is right to say that they are not genuine security guards ; they are there to guard the proceeds of trafficking or the takings about which the Inland Revenue might hear slightly less than the bank manager. That means that a substantial police presence is necessary, and that police pressure is a diversion of resouces that should be devoted elsewhere.
Everyone who considers the issue is struck by the fact that in many cases technical powers already exist. I am delighted that my hon. Friend, in seeking the best method to obtain the desired results in the circumstances, avoided a great panoply of new powers. He is absolutely right. It is important to stress as often as possible that no new powers are sought. It is also important to satisfy those who are concerned about the matter that adequate powers of control and licensing are available. However, at present there is no adequate system of hitting the profiteers where it hurts--in the pocket. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and I were discussing the matter outside the Chamber--I know that it is a matter of great concern to him, and I hope to hear him address the House in due course--and we realise that the deal is put together by a group of people who do not care how they make their profit and see it as a wonderfully lucrative way to make a lot of money in cash. There are many advantages of cash. I imagine that no receipts are given and I doubt whether the Customs and Excise officers see much of the proceeds of acid house parties or that every ticket is registered for VAT. When those profits are generated the costs associated are not very large in relation to the gross. At the moment one of those costs may be a fine of £1,000 or £2,000. That is a derisory figure in the context of an income of anything from £10,000 to £100,000 or £150,000, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has talked. It is literally treated as an above-the-line item, like rain insurance to a more respectable event organiser. It is just ignored. The great flaw in the present legislation is not that there are no powers to fine but that the fines are derisory. Organisers laugh, pay the fine, smiling, and walk away secure in the knowledge that if they subsequently offend, the maximum fine will still remain at those low levels of £1,000 or £2,000.
We must always be careful about fines and ensure that they are appropriate. I welcome the Minister's recent comments about the possibility of linking fines on many issues more directly to people's ability to pay. If that principle is generally commending itself--I believe that it
Column 1134will find general commendation on both sides of the House--surely the idea of hitting people in the pocket should apply to this sort of activity which is quite nakedly about making a fast buck and doing so because the penalties for breaking the law are derisory.
In most cases, £20,000 fines will be adequate. I welcome the fact that prison is offered as an alternative because if even £20,000 were not enough--clearly, there may be a number of counts on which an organiser could be charged--and, in the magistrates' view a great deal more money is being made, it would be entirely appropriate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn suggested, for imprisonment to be used.
If we consider why prison would be appropriate we can think of the appalling safety issues. It was bad enough at Hillsborough and those cases in which genuine mistakes were made. How much worse it would be if there had been such a cynical disregard for elementary procedures to ensure that events were safe. We can think of the implications of exposure to drugs and the effect on neighbours. It then becomes clear that it is entirely appropriate to take these steps.
It is unfortunate that the Labour spokesman on the arts, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, should oppose the Bill. I do not believe that that is the general view of the vast majority of people who might be tempted to vote for his party. The overwhelming number of people in this country will wish us to do something about the problem, as the Bill now seeks to do. The penalties are appropriate and I commend the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South. I hope that the Bill will have a speedy passage through Committee and get on to the statute book quickly enough to enable us to do something once and for all about this appalling blight. 11.23 am
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : Like many other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on his initiative in ensuring that the Bill came before the House today. Essentially, it substantially increases the penalties on those who promote illegal and unlicensed acid house parties, as well as those who promote legal and licensed events.
In broad terms, acid house parties can be illegal in two ways. First, the event may proceed without the promoter obtaining an entertainments licence from the local authorities. Secondly, sometimes promoters fail to enforce the licence's conditions as agreed between him and the local authority. That means that if a promoter fails to keep noise levels down to the agreed levels or to have adequate crowd control, hygienic or fire arrangements, it can result in a violation of the licence.
It is important to realise that the licensing of such events exists to ensure the safety of those who attend them in such large numbers. Local authority licensing should also aim to protect the interests of the residents who live in the vicinity of the events, which are not only attended by large numbers but can go on for several days. Often, once the event is over, many people remain on the site, camped in fields and so on.
Huge events can be a menace to local communities if they are not properly and efficiently organised. There have been cases of severe damage to homes and properties, noise nuisance, terrific traffic problems and bad behaviour, often resulting from alcohol and drugs. Those attending
Column 1135often move on leaving all their garbage and filth for others to clear up. The impact on communities is sometimes nothing short of disaster.
Such behaviour is not only unacceptable but unfair to local people who have to put up with it. I want to make it absolutely clear to the House that the Labour party believes that tough action must be taken against those who organise illegal acid house parties.
Mr. John Patten : Does not what the hon. Gentleman has just said directly contradict some of the themes developed by the Labour party's arts spokesman, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher)?
Mr. Randall : No. I have not yet developed my case. What I and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central said was that we are opposed to illegal acid house events. He went on to say--a point that I shall develop--that we are concerned about some of the side effects of the Bill on the legitimate, decent, traditional promoter of events. Therefore, there is no inconsistency in our arguments. We support the part of the Bill that advocates substantial increases in penalties for such illegal events. However, it would be a serious error if the Bill, in attempting to tackle the problems of illegal acid house parties, created unnecessary business risks for the genuine and acceptable promoters and resulted in the loss of venues for traditional festivals. That would have serious cultural consequences and would be a bad side effect of the Bill.
What about the views of the entertainments industry? The House should note the views of certain genuine promoters, and I shall refer to a letter which I have received from Mr. Harvey Goldsmith, the president of the Concert Promoters Association. The letter states : "The CPA is concerned that these unscrupulous promoters" --the people who operate illegal acid house parties --
"are allowed to run unlicensed events. We are concerned about security and health aspects and or drug abuse. We do not want these" --the printing is not very good here--
"illegal events to take place and we certainly do not want to be tarnished by them. We believe that Mr. Bright's proposals for increasing the penalties for these unlicensed events are correct and will give our wholehearted support to these recommendations. However, we believe that Mr. Bright is taking his recommendations too far." Opposition Members support that. Later in the letter Mr. Goldsmith refers to acid house parties, stating :
"These are in the main unlicensed renegade events organised by non- professional promoters. The concern is :
1. Often the organisers and their responsibilities are unknown. 2. Large amounts of profit are made without reference to security, toilet provisions, general safety of the audience.
3. There has been considerable peddling of drugs at these events. 4. There has been violence at the events by unscrupulous security guards hired to protect the promoters.
The attraction for the public at these events is that they are seen to be the place to go' and because the public know that they are so called street events' and obviously anti-establishment. The public that go to these events are quite young and they themselves rarely cause any problems."
Column 1136Mr. Goldsmith goes on to talk about some of the ways in which the promoters might encounter difficulties from council officers who might be antagonistic towards certain events and exploit their powers. He states :
"Currently there is a satisfactory element of flexibility with most councils and officers in dealing with numerous problems which may or may not occur during the event. Often it is beyond everybodys control if an abuse of the licence takes place. For example the noise level may go over the agreed limit because the prevailing winds require the sound engineer to increase the volume. Sometimes ; portable toilets do not work as efficiently as they should. On occasions concerts over run because it has been felt that, in the interest of good order, this should happen. Under the proposed new amendments an unfriendly officer could cause severe penalties to be imposed where as at the moment one would talk out' the problem. I fail totally to understand Mr. Bright's and the Home Office's logic and their intentions. The faster the unlicensed unauthorised events are irradicated the better for all of us. Why not at least get that element through Parliament and wait for the new pop code to come out before looking at trying to stop professional promoters from doing their business."
That is the industry's view. The Concert Promoters Association feels considerable concern about the way in which the Bill increases penalties for licensed events, bearing in mind that such promoters have had such a good track record so far.
Mr. Bright : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the imposed conditions and recommendations advanced by the Health and Safety Executive could be much more stringent than any of my proposals? If the operators break those regulations, which I understand will relate to safety and to protecting the health of both the staff and the people who attend those events, the fines are limitless. Fines resulting from prosecutions brought by the Health and Safety Executive have been as high as £500,000 and the terms of imprisonment also are limitless. Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that my proposed fine of £20,000 is just a drop in the ocean compared with what the Health and Safety Executive would do if people contravened its terms and conditions.
Mr. Randall : The hon. Gentleman is way outside the scope of his own Bill. At the moment a code of practice is being drawn up under the umbrella of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. We do not know what will come out of that, but today we are debating whether we should substantially increase the fines for both licensed and unlicensed operators. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue that the penalties in his Bill are satisfactory because in the future it is possible, though not certain, that the health and safety at work legalisation will grant certain powers to local authorities which would include stringent penalties. We cannot pursue the hon. Gentleman's logic at this stage because the code of practice has not yet been drawn up.
As I have said, there is concern in the industry. Genuine promoters feel that the Bill is out of balance, too heavy-handed and will have undesirable side effects. Although the Labour party is opposed to illegal acid house parties, we believe in principle that people should be free to attend events and festivals of their choice and to enjoy themselves. However, that is conditional upon such events being conducted within the framework of the law. They must be legal. I agree with the hon. Member for Luton, South that there is a balance to be struck between
Column 1137protecting the freedom of individuals to enjoy themselves in that way and safeguarding the interests of the community in which such events take place.
In principle, I feel that the system of licensing via the local authorities provides a reasonable way of striking that balance of interests. The mechanism already exists. If it is not being used properly or as effectively as it might, that responsibility must rest with the local authorities. They must reconsider their codes so that they meet the needs and aspirations of their own communities. After all, they can put what they like into their codes ; it is entirely up to them.
Mr. Ian Taylor : There is an important issue here. Most acid house parties are designed deliberately to ensure that the local authority does not have any time in which to apply any of its powers under the licensing arrangements. People arrive on site at about the time that the local authority becomes aware of the event. It then becomes a question not only of whether there should be an injunction, but of whether there may be public disorder.
Although I may be labouring the point about freedom to enjoy oneself--and I do not apologise for that--I believe that some people in this country, including some hon. Members and even some Ministers--although I am not referring to the Minister of State--would like to see a ban on all events that are attended by large numbers of young people. I am sure that many hon. Members who are present in the Chamber now would find that wrong and oppressive and that they believe that all people should be free to do what they wish, provided that they do so with fair consideration for other people and within the framework of the law.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : The hon. Gentleman has said that there are Ministers--not including my right hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench, who can answer for himself--who are against large public events. Will he tell us who they are?
Mr. Randall : Perhaps I should withdraw that comment. I am not prepared to mention names. Although I have been told that certain people are opposed to these things, it would not be appropriate for me to pursue that issue because they are not present to defend themselves. Therefore, I withdraw that point.
However, I know that certain people--perhaps the middle-aged white males who have been referred to--tend to be a little intolerant of young people and say, "We do not want that kind of nonsense taking place." In my view, that is oppressive and wrong.