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Mr. Randall : The hon. Gentleman asks, "Who?" Perhaps he should talk to people about this matter as I have done. I have talked to local authorities, to the promoters and to young people and have looked at the correspondence that has been sent to the House. No one disputes that there is a group of people--I am not sure how big it is or whether it represents a minority or a majority--who believe that young people are terrors and that they should not be allowed to enjoy themselves. In principle, that is wrong and unacceptable.
Mr. Hind : My hon. Friend must speak for himself. I and many of my colleagues remember going to major music festivals such as that at the Isle of Wight and the national jazz and blues festival at Windsor. We understand such events and we enjoyed them. I promoted a concert at which the best selling album in the world was recorded--The Who Live at Leeds in 1971. That was one of many concerts that I promoted. I faced problems with the police, the local authority, the fire service and so on. I assure anyone considering the Bill that no legitimate promoter has anything to fear from it.
Mr. Randall : I am interested to hear the way in which the hon. Gentleman promoted himself as a promoter. I should have thought that the House would not wish to ignore the reservations expressed by the president of the Concert Promoters Association about the Bill. The point that I make is simple. As a Member of Parliament I have picked up a reaction--I should be grossly surprised if other hon. Members had not picked it up--that young people are anti-establishment and like to kick over the traces a little. It is felt that these parties are an opportunity for them to do so, and it is resented by many people. In principle, people should be free to do their own thing--I would encourage that--but they must do it in a way which is fair, reasonable and within the confines of the law. That is my position and I shall not move from it.
What are the prospects for illegal acid house parties? Some people have said that they are a passing fad which will die away. However, the police and the Minister--who seems to be enjoying himself--predict that there will be a resumption of illegal acid house parties this year when the weather warms up. In the short term, it seems that the problem will persist.
Promoters can make huge profits from such parties, so that they will be content, as they have been in the past, to conduct their illegal events and pay the current penalties, which are not too onerous. But what happens in the short term depends on the House. If Parliament takes action, it can protect the country against such abuses.
I have an article from The Guardian dated 3 February entitled : "Police fear acid house boom in spring."
It gives some of the statistics on parties, which I found interesting. It says :
"Between October 30 1989 and January 14 1990 there were : 249 parties monitored, 44 stopped in advance by injunctions and other means, 20 raided as a result of police intelligence, 45 allowed to go ahead, 140 never took place, possibly because of advance police action, but also because of scam' ticketing."
The Minister referred to that problem and the House welcomed his comment that people pay with the intention of going to a party and then suddenly it does not take place. That is disgraceful. "169 arrested for public order offences (organisers or persons with offensive weapons) 57 arrested for drugs offences (possession and dealers) 8 arrested with firearms, including sawn off shotguns and revolvers, 33 arrests for other crimes."
It is clear from those figures that there is a serious criminal dimension to illegal acid house parties. That cannot be refuted.
Column 1139Apart from a tiny minority of exceptions, all acid house parties so far have been illegal. That means that entertainment licences were probably not obtained before the event took place. Some people have argued that acid house parties are merely occasions when young people go out to enjoy themselves and that no criminal activities take place. The figures that I have just given the House demonstrate clearly that that argument is fallacious. If it were true that parties were merely opportunities for people to dance and to listen to music, I should expect the people who make those claims to support the argument for making the events legal by obtaining an entertainment licence via the local authority. By becoming licensed, an event comes under the control of the local authority, whose responsibility it is to ensure that affairs are conducted in the interests of both those attending and the people who live in the vicinity.
The Opposition will support the Second Reading of the Bill for two reasons. First, we support that part of the Bill which increases substantially the penalties for illegal acid house parties. Secondly, we shall support the Bill today on the understanding--I noted carefully what the hon. Gentleman said in his speech--that in Committee the hon. Gentleman and, hopefully, the Government will give reasonable consideration to any amendments aimed at protecting the interests of genuine and acceptable promoters who operate within the framework of the law. I accept the argument of the hon. Gentleman that if such amendments created unreasonable loopholes in the Bill with regard to operating a licensed event, they could be exploited by the unscrupulous cowboy operators who currently operate outside the law to make a profit from illegal parties. Clearly we shall take that into account.
If the promoters do not co-operate to protect the genuine promoters and the availability of festival sites--we are worried about losing such sites-- regretfully we may have to oppose the Bill in its later stages.
Although the Bill is directed at music festivals, it could result in even local barn dances and more traditional festivals falling foul of the new penalties. Clearly we shall need assurance on that in Committee, if the Bill receives a Second Reading today.
Although a promoter may have excellent intentions about running a legal event, in a large crowd there is always the chance of a few hotheads causing trouble and breaking the terms of the licence. I have talked to Mr. David Burton, the environmental health manager of Mendip district council, who monitors the Glastonbury festival. He feels that the existing penalties are realistic for violations of the conditions of licences, and he is working at grassroots level. The Bill seems to be unnecessarily heavy handed on licence violations and could have the undesirable effect of making certain venues no longer available. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Gravesham, (Mr. Arnold) laughs, but the risks for the promoters would be too great. If a local authority and the police feel that a licence should not be issued, the council has discretion not to issue it. The fines could be so onerous that many people whom we would support and who operate legally might feel that the risk of incurring them was too great, because it is sometimes difficult to control everybody at such events, and might withdraw from holding the events. That would
Column 1140mean that the venues of traditional festivals would be lost. That is our anxiety and why we believe that the Bill is too heavy handed.
Mr. John Patten : The hon. Gentleman talks about the environmental health manager on the ground in the Mendips--and there is no better place for such a manager to be than checking these matters on the ground. Others on the ground include the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), some of whom complain, with reason, about pollution to water courses, nuisances, noise and access. What message does the hon. Gentleman have for legitimate concert promoters about their duties to local residents? Does he agree that they have a positive duty to minimise nuisance to local residents, such as the constituents of my hon. Friend?
Mr. Randall : Naturally ; I completely support that. The terms and conditions of the licence provide the mechanism for ensuring that responsibility to the local community. The licences are adoptive licences and it is for the local authority to insert the terms and conditions. If promoters fail to adhere to its terms and conditions, the council merely has to revoke the licence in future. If people are in the promotions business, it is not in their interests to ruin their opportunities of running a concert or festival in future. From my discussions with the head of environmental health on Mendip council, I believe that the existing arrangements for licensed events work perfectly satisfactorily. Local councils have discretion to determine the terms and conditions governing the issue of a licence. It is then up to local people to make representations to local councillors if they feel that they want those conditions enhanced. The people in the legitimate part of the entertainments business are well known, and they all know each other well. They are also known to the police. In addition, there is a six-week cycle for issuing a licence. From the time the application is made, representations against it can be made. That is a safeguard which local authorities must ensure exists.
If an event organiser were to violate the conditions of the licence, he would know that that would threaten his chance of getting a licence in future, so business opportunities would be lost. Obviously that is a powerful stick which local authorities have. It is important for them to ensure that the conditions in the licence are sufficiently comprehensive. I know of one local authority which has laid down in the licence only conditions about loud music. The matter is for it to decide, but I believe that that is too limited. A comprehensive set of criteria is needed to enable the local authority to carry out proper monitoring of an enforcement at these events. I question the value of increasing the penalties for violations at legal events provided in the Bill because of the serious side effects that could arise from imposing heavy fines. We could lose those venues because promoters would fear huge fines and the loss of profitability on an event. The Committee must consider that thoroughly. We must protect the interests of legitimate promoters and ensure that we do not knock them out of business and replace them with undesirable cowboy elements. If we succeed, we shall give the country good service. Many people who have been affected by the undesirable aspects
Column 1141of acid house parties would welcome that and breathe a sigh of relief to think that the House of Commons has taken action on this important issue.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling) : I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me relatively early in the debate. I apologise to Members on both Front Benches for the fact that I may have to leave for my constituency before my hon. Friend the Minister has completed his speech.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on doing so well in the ballot and on using his opportunity with such good sense and judgment to introduce this Bill. He has chosen a measured approach to deal with this difficulty. Although I shall make one or two points which are important for my constituents, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) that we are seeking to curb irregularities, not to diminish the pleasure of young people.
I detected in the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) a certain reverse agism in categorising young people. I hope that he will also remember that they are affected by the serious negative consequences of these large gatherings. They may be trying to sleep through the noise or be stuck in the traffic jams. They, too, suffer from these difficulties.
The hon. Gentleman may have read the witty article by Mr. Peter McKay, that famous Fleet street diarist in which he said : "Young people will be young people",
pooh-poohing the efforts of many of us to reduce the numbers of these parties. He wrote that he was listening to the
"Terrible droning noise--that familiar sound of the middle aged and old being outraged by the young."
That is a legitimate point and we must bear it in mind. The fact is that serious problems are raised by acid house parties--not only drugs problems, although that is one of the most important. We heard about two deaths in Leicestershire. In many ways these parties are the successors to the original blues parties. They are not the sort of parties that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I tend to go to. Many of them start at 4 am, when I would be detained in the House.
Although the parties need an entertainment licence, the police have to rely upon a mishmash of relevant laws, none of which addresses the specific problem. The Bill will be extremely helpful.
My hon. Friends have already spoken about the complete lack of a deterrent and the way in which the law is being brought into disrepute by the failure to take action. The fine is so modest that it is merely seen as an on-cost by the organisers, who then take their enormous profits and move on to organise another party. I have spoken to the Nottinghamshire police about this problem. They do an excellent job in my constituency all year round. Although there has been only one attempt to hold a party in Nottinghamshire, the police are extremely concerned. There was an attempt to hold a party at the end of last year at or near Ratcliffe on Soar power station. The police received advance notice because of widespread advertising in Birmingham and London as well as in Nottingham, and they were able to persuade the promoters to cancel the party.
Column 1142We are aware of the danger of the drug problem escalating in the midlands. The Nottinghamshire police feel that the parties appeal to young, usually responsible, people. But there is not only evidence of corruption at those parties, but a calculation to corrupt. We should be anxious to protect young people from such corruption.
The Nottinghamshire police have been extremely successful in dealing with a number of drug problems, and my hon. Friend the Minister will be delighted to hear that, in the past six months alone, there have been three significant seizures of crack in Nottingham and a seven-year prison sentence was handed down. The police have a good record on keeping drugs out of our schools in Nottingham, which is extremely important.
My hon. Friend the Minister has already spoken about bogus ghost parties where young people are ripped off by the promoters who take the money to the bank. A culture of deceit and organised crime hides behind such parties. There is the business of hiding the location of the party from the police, and the surreptitious way in which the tickets are sold as well as the alternative location that can be called upon if the primary location is discovered.
The parties are a local nuisance and are redolent of the 1960 pop festivals. There is a lack of consideration for local people and the misery caused to them. Such is the nuisance caused that, in some cases, the noise from the parties has been heard 10 miles away. Problems also arise from traffic congestion, parking and the size of the crowds.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) has already spoken about safety, and its importance cannot be minimised. The emergency services would have great difficulty if they had to gain access to such parties. The lack of access combined with the lack of suitable facilities and proper safety equipment is extremely important. Policing such events is extremely difficult, and it would be virtually impossible for the police to take action when so many people were gathered in such confined space.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can give me advice on three matters that have been brought to my attention by local authorities. First, schedule 1 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 clearly encompasses quasi-private events and case law supports that. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would help enforcement if that was spelt out? If my hon. Friend cannot give me an answer today, I should be grateful to receive a letter so that I can reassure the local authorities. Secondly, given the precedent that we have set on drug offenders, does he think that those who are convicted of law breaking under the Bill should be obliged to forfeit their ill-gotten gains? Thirdly, given my hon. Friend's particular interest in protecting young people and making parents more responsible for the crimes of their children--I appreciate that that does not have a direct application today--I hope that he will keep under review whether further Home Office measures are required to protect young people from the innate corruption of acid house parties.
I hope that the Minister will consult closely with the police and the local authorities. Despite my absolute conviction that we never want to see such a party in Gedling, I do not want to be regarded as a party-pooper--the phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South. I am not a regular reader of Melody Maker any more but I wish the Bill every success. I do not believe that it will exert a downward pressure on enjoyment, as
Column 1143feared by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West. The Bill is sensible and prudent, and I am glad that the Opposition support it. I hope that it will have a speedy and successful journey through Committee.
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting private Members' time and I shall be brief. The announcement of the closure of the Wheal Jane tin mine in my constituency, which was supported by the Department of Trade and Industry, has just been made. I do not know whether a statement has been sought and I would appreciate your guidance on whether there is any way in which I can raise this tragic blow for my constituency on a Friday, which I appreciate is a difficult time for the House.
Madam Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Chair is never in a position to offer guidance across the Floor to hon. Members, but Mr. Speaker has not received a request from a Minister to make a statement this morning.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : It might be for the convenience of the House if I spoke now, and convenient to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) if I answered his three questions before he goes off to his constituency.
My hon. Friend raised a point about the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 about which I shall write to him. That was very much a Committee point and my hon. Friend is in grave danger of finding himself on Standing Committee C as a result. I shall support any application he makes to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection.
My hon. Friend also raised an important point about confiscation with which I agree. I accept his strictures and we need to implement an order under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 as quickly as possible so that criminal proceeds of more than £10,000 are confiscated after conviction. If we do that we shall make life much more difficult for those who promote illegal entertainments.
My hon. Friend was also concerned about the very young who might attend such parties. I do not believe that anyone in the House would consider it stuffy or old fashioned if I said that there are moral dangers for young people aged 13 or 14 who may go to an acid house party. They may be exposed to drugs for the first time in their lives.
I shall continue to keep under review the suggestions of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that we should do more to make parents responsible for children and for children's offending. Five years ago such an idea would have been received with outrage by the Opposition and some opinion in the country, but it has now found its time and has gained widespread assent.
Now that I have answered the three points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling I wish him a safe journey there, wherever it may be and no acid parties.
Mr. Patten : We all suffer from boundary commissioners giving otherwise properly named places strange names for boundary purposes. I note that other hon. Friends are present and I should be interested to hear their contributions if they are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) is present, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor), who has already made a contribution, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) who has had constituency problems as a result of such parties.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), whom I have always thought of as a politician-barrister, I shall now think of him as a pop promoter, politician and barrister. We look forward to hearing more about what he has to say about his past career in promoting musical festivals and long-playing records in the dark ages of 1971 and 1972.
My most important introductory point is to express the gratitude of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and myself to our hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for introducing the Bill. The country will be shocked if the Bill does not receive a Second Reading or does not make speedy progress in Committee to become law before the summer. If it does not make such progress, the country will know who to blame. I welcome the fact that the Opposition have said that they will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South is well known in the House for taking up difficult issues of considerable public concern, through private Member's legislation, and seeing them through successfully to the statute book. All of us here this morning will remember that in 1984, my hon. Friend took through a Bill to outlaw what were known colloquially as "video nasties". It was a difficult Bill on a difficult issue. My hon. Friend was deluged with additional work in seeing the Bill through to the statute book. Now five or six years later, we find him taking another difficult law and order issue head on. My hon. Friend is not frightened to debate the issues with the outside world, with interest groups and with those who will continue to make large sums if his Bill fails.
My hon. Friend and his extremely small staff are having to deal with the Bill. He deserves the help of the whole House in its progress and he deserves the admiration of the country for showing how private Members can bring forward successfully a major piece of legislation and see it through to the statute book.
Let us be clear what we are talking about and let us have no more loose talk about acid house parties. As I said earlier, the illegal entertainments are pay-parties where promoters make substantial sums--often from parties that never happen. It is a deeply corrupt practice. Many young people pay £15, £20 or £30 for tickets for ghost parties that never happen. The use of the phrase "acid house parties", with its implications of drug taking and glamorous music, is part and parcel of luring young people into believing that the parties are glamorous and exciting occasions. Perhaps they sometimes are for those who seek excitement.
Column 1145However, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) told us this morning about the dangers that are implicit and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling spoke of the moral dangers for very young people who go to such parties. Let us have no more glamorous titles. The parties are a way for evil and corrupt men to make a lot of money.
Mr. Ian Taylor : My right hon. Friend raises a serious point, which is that some of the pay-parties do not take place, thereby providing illicit gains for the promoters. The Bill does not deal with that point. Will my right hon. Friend's Department have a further look at how we might get at those criminals?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is on to a good point. We shall, of course, look at the matter further. Various offences concerning conspiracy and other alleged offences are already on the statute book and they might, if sufficient evidence is found, be enough to bring a successful prosecution in court. However, I shall consider my hon. Friend's point and I shall write to him as soon as possible to give him a list of the categories of offence on the statute book. I shall see whether my hon. Friend believes that we need to fill any chink in our legislative armour further. I am grateful to him for making that point.
Let us consider the up-to-date figures on pay-parties in the south-east of England. In Gravesend--I pay tribute to the police there--there is the police intelligence unit which monitors parties in East Anglia, in the south-east and in the Metropolitan district. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher has just talked about parties that are advertised, but never happen. From 31 October 1989, when the unit was set up, until 4 March 1990, the latest date for which we have accurate information, 161 parties were advertised in the south-east, in East Anglia, and in the Metropolitan district. Tickets were sold at £20 or £30 to innocent people, yet the parties never happened. Sixty four pay-parties were prevented by the police.
Thanks to the work of the police, to whom I pay tribute and who would greatly prefer to be out and about on their normal policing duties, another 32 parties have been stopped since the unit was set up. The unit has also monitored arrests over the same period. I can confirm the figures given by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). There have been 261 arrests under public order offences ; 76 concerned drugs, eight concerned firearms and 69 concerned other crimes. Those figures also apply to the south-east, East Anglia and the Metropolitan district.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) spoke about the dreadful events in Accrington and nearby in his constituency where organisations trying to promote employment were broken into and their furniture was destroyed so that an acid house party might take place. The police in Lancashire advise us that several unlicensed parties are being held each weekend, usually in warehouses. On the weekend of 24 and 25 February, the police stopped one party before it began and another that was already under way. Among the equipment of the party-givers at the party that was stopped before it began, there was a sawn-off shotgun. That is the style in which pay-parties are now developing. On the weekend of 3 and 4 March, the police concentrated their resources on a night club that party organisers had designated as a rendezvous
Column 1146point and prevented many people from locating the parties. Several arrests have already been made which range over alleged offences relating to public entertainment laws, to drugs and to the possession of an offensive weapon.
I am happy to report that the police are receiving excellent co-operation from local authorities. I pay tribute to local authorities and to environmental health officers, who are moving more swiftly as they have become used to applying the law. They are flexing their muscles under the present public health and other legislation. Those who seek to operate illegal pay-parties must watch out for local government officials in the coming party season, which will begin soon.
I have given what I hope is a useful review of the present position and statistics. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South gave a vivid explanation of the problem that the country faces. As he explained, the Bill seeks to introduce substantial increases in the penalties for certain existing offences against the law governing the licensing of entertainments that involve music and dancing. That is strongly supported by all my hon. Friends who have spoken so far and I should be surprised if any hon. Member dissented from that line. My hon. Friend's motive for seeking to make these changes is, as he pointed out, the need for urgent and effective action to be taken to curb the recent development of these parties, especially since last autumn.
I am sure that the House will be grateful for the way in which my hon. Friend described the enormous problems that these events can cause for people adversely affected by them. Chiefly, these are the residents of the areas selected by the organisers for their parties. I am a bit disappointed not to have heard more from the promoters of legitimate events about the sort of action that they take to minimise the offences, nuisance and noise that affect local residents. We all have rights : young people have rights, but young and old people who do not go to the parties have the right to enjoy a certain amount of peace and quiet.
Mr. Randall : I recognise that more could be said on that point by the promoters, but they have nevertheless made the strong point that the fines and possible prison sentences against those who operate in an unlicensed and therefore illegal way should be made more severe.
Mr. Patten : I am happy to have that assurance from the hon. Gentleman. He will, however, recognise that ordinary people who live in the surrounding areas have to suffer a great deal of unjustifiable disturbance, such as traffic congestion, litter and other forms of harm to their environment--and, worst of all, a long period of unbroken noise deep into the night--
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is correct. Noise is one of the worst effects. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, know better than most of us what the effects of late-night sittings are, as you so often adorn the Chair deep into the night. What a pleasure it is for me to come occasionally to answer an Adjournment debate at 4 am when you are in the Chair. Most of us in this place know the effects of broken sleep, and these parties always seem to run late at night, often beginning on Saturday and continuing through the night and for most of the next day. Such disturbance of people's peaceful environment at weekends is unacceptable to any
Column 1147reasonable and decent community. There is a world of difference between wanting people to enjoy themselves and trying to strike a balance between their right to do so and the right of others to a peaceful environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South also laid considerable emphasis on the potential dangers to young people who attend these parties. As my hon. Friend said in his vivid speech, they are often held at short notice in a deliberate attempt to circumvent the activities of those who are responsible for the enforcement of the laws on noise control and entertainment licensing in buildings such as the disused warehouses and farm outbuildings mentioned by my hon. Friend. Such buildings are usually unsuited to the purpose, lacking even the basic facilities that are necessary to health and safety. I guess that no illegal pay-party that has ever been held in this country could have been licensed. Those who buy tickets to attend them should beware lest they find themselves going to places that lack the basic amenities which would help them enjoy their evening--proper toilets and refreshments are part of going out, whatever one's age. Parties held without such facilities would be unpleasant, at least for some people.
Mr. Randall : An acid house party took place satisfactorily a few weeks ago in Wales. If the licensing procedure is properly followed, there is no reason why people should not go ahead with such parties.
Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman is usually extremely alert, but for the past three or four minutes I have been talking about unlicensed parties. If he reads Hansard on Monday he will be able to confirm that, and I look forward to receiving his handwritten apology once he has read the record. I have nothing against licensed parties--well conducted--for any group in society.
I know that some of the more open and forthcoming organisers of these events make great play of the fact that they let the police and fire services in to inspect their venues and that they take action on their recommendations. However, that is often done only at the last minute and the authorities cannot make the sort of detailed inspection that should usually precede the issue of a proper entertainment licence. There is no doubt that the development of pay-parties has given rise to a number of serious problems on which quick and firm action is required. I will hear no criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South for bringing forward his Bill before publication of other arrangements for regulating entertainments of various sorts. He has acted promptly, for which the House should be grateful.
It has fallen in the main to the police and local authorities to take action under the existing law, and they can employ a number of provisions against these events. The police already have adequate powers to deal with criminal offences that might occur at pay-parties. We have
Column 1148heard the list of arrests given to the House by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and by me, so we know how the police have been using their powers--and a good thing, too. They have powers to deal with offences connected with the misuse of drugs or with threats to public order. They also have wide powers under the common law to prevent breaches of the peace and public nuisance. They work closely with local authorities to prevent the holding of unlicensed parties. Because the organisers are flouting the entertainment licensing requirements and organising their parties in as much secrecy as possible, the police in south-east England have set up an intelligence unit to strengthen their co-ordination and intelligence arrangements. Can my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South inform the House of how secret these parties usually are? Does he think that almost all of them are arranged in secret, or that merely some of them are?
Mr. Bright : Most of these parties are planned secretively and it takes a considerable amount of intelligence work by the police to discover the rendezvous points. It is not merely a question of finding out where a party is ; often that will not be discovered until half an hour before the off. The arrangements are made by broadcasting on pirate radio or CB radio. The latest and most trendy way of doing this is to use runners with Vodaphones who rush to the rendezvous point and tell the convoy where to go next. I accept that there are parties that are planned properly, but only those with a licence dare disclose where they will be held.
Mr. Patten : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's evaluation. He has made it plain that secrecy is part of the success of an illicit pay-party. If such parties were not secret, the authorities would properly prevent them from taking place. I guess that it is secrecy that has led to problems in Kent, for example. I know that these problems have concerned my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham. I pay tribute to the Kent constabulary for what it has done to try to stamp out the appalling nuisance that has occurred in the constituencies of my right hon and hon. Friends.
The police unit concerned with this issue is in Gravesend. Its aim is to target party organisers so that potential sites are identified early and appropriate action is taken. This may involve speaking to landowners, who may have been misled, as has happened on a number of occasions, about the true nature of the event that is about to take place on their land. There have been one or two deluded landowners. They have been surprised to learn that they have been invaded by a pay-party.
The local authority could be involved in taking legal action to ensure injunctions to prevent breaches of the entertainment licensing laws or control of noise nuisance legislation.
The police have done a marvellous job in preventing many illicit parties. Where it has not proved possible to do that, their concern has been to try as best they can to ensure that there is safety at parties and to minimise the disturbance and inconvenience that is caused to the local community. I have heard--I have asked for further advice from within the Home Office on this--of one pay-party that was held in a warehouse in Lancashire in the past month. It was a disused warehouse and some signs within
Column 1149it pointed towards some doors which were marked "Exit". When people opened the doors they found a sheer drop into a stream or river below. When the warehouse was closed, some of the fire exits had been removed. It was a redundant building.
That is an example of the safety problem that young people face. It is only through good fortune, I believe, that young people have not been seriously injured or have not lost their lives. We and the police will have to work so hard in the spring, summer and autumn of this year to ensure that there is not loss of life. I do not think that it is stuffy or boring to tell young people to watch it. That applies to being ripped off by unscrupulous operators who charge large sums for parties that do not take place and to being alert to the danger of being lured into a building that could be turned into a fire trap if something went wrong. The result could be conflagration and the collapse of floors, leading to serious injury and death.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been fatalities and that there was a recent example in Italy where at a so-called rave-up 60 young people died? That is a graphic example of the dangers that are being run.
Mr. Patten : My instinct is that there is a serious chance of that happening in this country because of the way in which parties are organised. It is only by good fortune that it has not happened. We have heard of cables sparking on the floor and of cables passing through sheeting of various sorts. Such arrangements could easily lead to fire, and it is only due to good fortune and luck that there have not been fatalities on a large scale.
Mr. Hind : My right hon. Friend referred to a warehouse in Lancashire. He may be interested to know that there has been a great deal of concern about the matter. A Granada television programme called "Up Front" will be shown next Friday. It will be produced in the warehouse and will highlight for young people throughout the north-west the very dangers to which my right hon. Friend has referred.
Mr. Patten : Most young people want to go out to enjoy themselves and not end up injured or dead. I hope that the programme will have an impact on young people and make them cautious about spending their money on parties that do not take place and cautious about where they go because they might end up seriously injured, disabled or, worst of all, dead. My fear is that such results could ensue, and that is why the Bill is so important. That is why it is a critically important part of our prevention strategy. That is why I believe that nothing and no one should stand in the way of the Bill. No one should seek to stop it reaching the statute book.
The concern of the police is always to ensure safety. That is the concern, too, of local authorities, which also wish to minimise the disturbance and inconvenience that is caused to the local community. That is why we have local entertainment licensing laws. We have discussed within the Home Office and with the police--the discussions have been led by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary--what further action might be necessary in respect of pay-parties. The police have not thus far considered it necessary to seek additional powers, but they are concerned that with the return of better weather in the next few months we shall see an upsurge in the number of
Column 1150pay-parties. They are concerned also that, unless something is done, police resources will be tied up. That would not be a good thing. Therefore they join the Government in supporting the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South to secure a substantial increase in the penalties for offences against existing entertainment licensing laws, in an attempt to prevent parties from happening in the first place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has explained in some detail the framework of the entertainment licensing laws in England, Wales and Scotland. Unless the House requests me to go over it again in greater detail, and I do not see any of my hon. Friends rising to suggest that I should impose that on the House, I shall not do so, because my hon. Friend has done it as well as I could have done. He explained that it is already an offence to provide and, in certain circumstances, to allow a premises to be used for music or dancing as a public entertainment or, provided that the local authority has taken the steps necessary to adopt the appropriate Act, as a private entertainment that is being promoted for private gain, without a licence being obtained in advance from the relevant licensing authority in the main district or regional council--that is why the Association of District Councils is so interested--and in the London borough councils.
I know that the organisers of pay-parties often say that they are perfectly lawful activities which do not require to be licensed. That is not for me but for the courts to decide.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South explained, whether an entertainment is public depends on whether there is evidence that any member of the public could attend the entertainment on paying admission, if required. On that basis it seems to us that at many pay-parties there is what amounts to an admission charge. Large numbers of people attend and there is music for them to dance to--there is post-dated Coca Cola for them to drink, as we were advised earlier--and that sort of party would normally be required to be licensed under the public entertainment licensing law. If it were suggested that a particular party was a private entertainment, it is our view that because of the high profits that the organisers freely admit they are making from such events, a licence could legitimately be required under the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967, which concerns entertainments that are not public but which are promoted for private gain.
The penalties for offences against entertainment licensing laws, which vary in detail between each particular Act as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has already pointed out, are relatively light. On some occasions they are very light in comparison with the huge profits that unscrupulous people have begun to make by promoting unlicensed entertainments. Unfortunately, those penalties no longer provide a deterrent. Part of the running costs of an entertainment are to provide for the payment of such future fines.
The organisers of pay-parties and those who assist their endeavours by knowingly allowing their premises to be used for such events can at present afford to ignore the law, because they are making so much money. It is therefore necessary as a matter of urgency that those events should be brought under effective licensing control and that the organisers and others involved should be deterred from continuing to operate outside the law.