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Column 1151The Bill is an important element in the achievement of that objective. It will enable the summary courts to impose fines of up to £20,000 on people convicted of particular offences against the entertainment licensing laws that I have mentioned, or to send them to prison for up to six months, or both. If the Bill gets through, and people are brought to trial I guess that the courts will impose the maximum penalty, including prison sentences in the worst cases, and I judge that they would be right to do so.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary also intends to use his powers under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to give magistrates in England and Wales authority to order the confiscation of profits that exceed £10,000. That is an important provision : when we took the Act through its Committee stage we made great play of the fact that we did not wish offenders to be undeterred by the penalties because they knew that they could keep the proceeds of their crimes. I warn the organisers of illicit pay-parties that it will not be long before that order is debated, and that once it has received all-party assent--as I am sure that it will--they will be faced not only with fines of up to £20,000 and /or six months' imprisonment under this excellent Bill, but with the possibility of confiscation of their equipment and the proceeds of their crime. Ours is a twin-track approach, combining the aim of a private Member to increase penalties with the Government"s aim to improve our ability to confiscate the ill-gotten gains of people who prey on the young by laying on unsafe and expensive entertainments--or entertainments that never happen.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has considered providing for a similar confiscation power in Scotland. He is awaiting a report from the Scottish Law Commission, and will announce his intentions later this year. As hon. Members know, statutory provison in Scotland is different from that south of the border.
My hon. Friend's Bill, together with the order from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, will go a long way towards reducing both unacceptable disturbance and damage to the environment--sometimes permanent, damage, involving the loss of trees and the pollution of water courses and hedgerows. It will minimise the risks to young people's safety, and do much to reduce the noise pollution suffered by local residents. We do not seek to ban enjoyable events that are properly organised, as has been suggested in the popular press ; our aim is to make it no longer worthwhile for the organisers of pay-parties, and others associated with them, to continue to operate outside the established licensing system-- whose commendable objectives are to secure the health and safety of those attending events, and to regulate the nuisance caused to the neighbourhood.
I am happy to say that the Bill has the Government's full support. We shall give it every assistance, and I hope that no one hinders its safe passage to the statute book, where it is badly needed.
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Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on his continuing good fortune in the ballots for private Members' Bills and on his choice for his second Bill which, like the first, is timely and far-sighted.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, there was absolutely no doubt about the need for my hon. Friend's Video Recordings Act 1984, in response to growing public concern about video nasties, as articulated by the admirable Mrs. Mary Whitehouse. My hon. Friend is now responding to growing public concern about the potential tragedy and disaster that large-scale, uncontrolled gatherings of many hundreds, or even thousands, of people might cause. I am pleased to have been asked to be one of the co-sponsors.
The Bill seeks to protect people, particularly young people, from all dangers, obvious or otherwise, that are inherent in any large-scale event. Many of those dangers have become evident as a result of the disasters of recent years : there is the danger caused by crowds of people being packed together in premises that were neither designed nor built for the purpose, with inadequate entrances and exits, no toilets and no first aid facilities ; the danger of criminal involvement in terms of drugs, theft and vandalism ; the danger of traffic congestion that prevents the emergency services being able to assist in case of fire or structural collapse. In addition to providing protection for those who take part in the events, the Bill would protect those who live in the neighbourhood and those who use the roads leading to the events. Far from being a killjoy Bill, as has been suggested, it must be regarded as an anti-killjoy Bill. Such events would take place at nobody's expense, as ought to be the case.
The national press would have us believe that these events, which it describes as acid house parties, take place in the home counties--around London and the M25 where 100 parties were broken up last year. However, they are much more widespread. Last August bank holiday, 3,000 people gathered at a former bus station in my constituencey for such a party. The sheer volume of people and the threat to public order that they constituted resulted in the chief constable of Dorset having to obtain aid from Hampshire to disperse the partygoers. There were some arrests.
My hon. Friend's Bill has the full support of the chief constable of Dorset. He is drawing up new contingency plans to deal effectively with such gatherings, should they again descend on Dorset. Successful and attractive family resorts such as Bournemouth, where tourism represents a major industry on which many hundreds of small businesses and many thousands of jobs depend, cannot afford adverse publicity such as this. The local authority must have the power to control and determine whether, and when, such gatherings can take place, as provided for in the Bill. For that reason, my borough council has asked me to support it.
My hon. Friend's Bill would deny to nobody, of any age, the right to go to a party and enjoy it in the company of others, provided that they do so in safety and at no one else's expense, either indoors or outside. However, I thought that it might help if I were to find out what young people in my constituency think about the Bill. I approached the heads of all the secondary schools in my
Column 1153constituency and suggested that an appropriate class or group of young people might care to discuss the Bill's provisions and let me have their conclusions. I am delighted with the constructive and considered responses I have received and I thank those from Summerbee school, Avonbourne school, Winton school, St. Peter's Roman Catholic school and the Wentworth Milton Mount school who wrote to me. Most of them accepted the need for local authority control. Many pointed out that responsible party organisers will have nothing to fear from seeking to apply for a licence. The consequent awareness of the police, the ambulance service and the fire service should be regarded as being in the best interests of all those involved, not least those running the events commercially, because they want to build on a reputation for safety.
However, several of my younger constituents made the point that the term "acid house" with its consequent association with LSD and other drugs has resulted in a misleading perception of such events which the national press and the media generally have only sought to exaggerate and exploit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South said, acid house is a completely separate description for a style of music deriving its term from Chicago slang, and that to avoid that misleading and damaging image, such events nowadays are more frequently termed wrath parties, rages or raves. My hon. Friend has already demonstrated that he is aware of that new terminology for such events.
The consistent point that came through strongly from my younger constituents who wrote to me about the Bill is that young people, in the company of many others if that is their choice, should have the right and the freedom to enjoy loud music, bright and flashing lights and the availability of alcohol for those of age, and I do not dissent from that. One common fear running through many of the comments I received was that once local authorities obtain the powers that the Bill would give them, local councillors would prove to be so prejudiced against such parties that they would refuse most if not all applications.
I know my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South well enough to know that if he thought that that would happen, he would not be introducing the Bill. He will recall the many times when he and I organised large-scale Young Conservative functions outdoors as well as inside, attracting many thousands of young people successfully, enjoyably and without problems, even if they sometimes clogged up the rural lanes of Essex. Of course we informed the police and the other supporting services which were at hand.
I hope that local authorities will take the view that every application for a licence should be granted provided that they are satisfied that safety rquirements have been met and that adequate car parking and so on have been provided by the organisers and that the event is properly insured. However, I accept that local authorities may wish to place a limit on the numbers according to the premises, and that under present circumstances the police must have access to such events. It is a fact of life that where young people gather there is a widespread danger that drugs will be available and there can be no let-up in the war against drugs and those who push them. In conclusion, my hon. Friend is right to resist the demands from the Association of District Councils for additional measures and penalties to enforce the Bill. I hope that he will continue to do so in Committee. Should the Bill prove to be inadequate, it can be amended and
Column 1154strengthened in the light of its working. As it stands, it should enable young people to enjoy their music and their entertainment in a safe and secure environment at no risk to themselves and without nuisance to anybody else. I hope that it will receive a Second Reading.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : I have cancelled a series of meetings in my constituency today to be here not only to support this valuable Bill, but to wish it good speed in getting on to the statute book well in advance of summer and the high season of pay-parties. I am disappointed that not a single Labour Back Bencher or member of the Liberal or minority parties is taking part in, or even listening to, today's debate. That demonstrates, at best, indifference to the problem.
Mr. Bright : Before my hon. Friend castigates the Opposition too much, I have sponsors from the Labour party who have all written to me apologising for the fact that they cannot be here because of constituency engagements. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), who hopes to be here within the next few minutes, has also given me a handwritten apology. I have support throughout the House.
Mr. Arnold : I wish that those hon. Members had been here, because this is an extremely important Bill. I am here not least because my constituents have been very much the victims of what has gone on in pay- parties in recent months.
During the evening of 9 September last year the people of Meopham parish in my constituency, who live along the sub-standard A227, were suddenly invaded by 5,000 young people travelling in hundreds of cars who were trying to jam themselves into a field remote from even that A road, tucked away behind the village of Meopham.
The chaos was indescribable, although I shall try to describe it because it will demonstrate the scale and complication of the problem we face. The A road was jammed with vehicles, three abreast. If emergency services had wished to get down that road, for whatever purpose, related or not to the event, they would not have got past. The drivers of those vehicles abandoned them in residents' drives, on the highway itself and even on Meopham's historic cricket green. The police were overwhelmed. The writ of law and order and the civil rights of local residents were trampled into the mud.
Sanitary provision at the event was totally inadequate. The revellers resorted to fouling the gardens of local residents. An adjacent scout camp site, with young cub scouts in camp was invaded. A brave scout leader, who intercepted the intruders, was attacked and injured to the extent that he had to go to hospital.
Throughout the night the disorder frightened residents and the deafening, amplified throbbing sound from the so-called party kept everyone awake. The view which dawn exposed to local people was reminiscent of a wartime evacuation. Cars and their sleeping passengers were scattered in their hundreds around the village, including on residents' properties. Debris was everywhere and blowing about. The party resounded throughout Sunday, and the field of battle was left only late in the day. Local people were left to recover ready for the working week.
One can imagine the residents' feelings the following Sunday when they heard the same cacophony wafting on
Column 1155the wind, as though they were in for another onslaught of harassment. Although they had to put up with the noise, it was the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) who had to take the brunt of the onslaught of another pay-party at Wrotham, two miles away. My constituents were also treated to the sound effects of yet another such event at about the same time, wafting on the breeze from West Kingsdown. This is a new but thoroughly dangerous phenomenon.
Our local police chief superintendent Ken Tappenden warned recently of the dangers. Speaking only last month he warned :
"Safety standards at these events are so low that disaster could strike at any time. When thousands of people just drop into a field, when you have criminals running the parties, when you have drug-taking, then you have all the elements of a major disaster. Hundreds of young people could be killed or injured. The police were especially worried about the infiltration of East End criminals who saw pay-parties as an easy way of making a lot of money." Why is so much money involved? Tickets for these parties, cost about £15--and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has mentioned that ticket prices are now rising to £20 or even £30 a time. As there are as many as 15,000 tickets per event, and they are sold in advance, arithmetic will show that the revenue involved in each such event amounts to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds.
Purchasers are advised to ring specific telephone numbers or to listen to certain radio frequencies at set times.
Mr. John Patten : My hon. Friend has given a clear description of the horrors that faced the constituents in that village. Can he estimate the sums of money that might be made by the organisers? He has rightly been speculating about the enormous ticket prices, and it might help the House if he could give us an estimate.
Mr. Arnold : If one weighs up the rudimentary facilities provided to these people, the ticket prices and the thousands of people involved, the organisers could well clear over £100,000 in the course of only one weekend. That is a significant amount and shows the commercial pressures that apply.
If the purchasers roam around on a Saturday evening, waiting for the off and to find out where the events will be held, and if they then find out from telephone calls or from listening to pirate radio frequencies, the atmosphere of mystery adds to the excitement for the revellers, but creates traffic chaos and a practical nightmare for the police. The consequence of that way of marshalling people for a party at no notice has created large unruly convoys, causing conditions in which the police may be overwhelmed. There was a nasty incident on the M25 when not only were the carriageways blocked, but the policemen concerned had to run for their lives.
Let us take the event in Meopham to which I have referred. Clear information was available only at 7 pm on the Saturday night. An injunction had to be started from scratch, be obtained from a magistrate, and served on the organiser. In the event, the confusion was such that he could not be identified and it was served on the farmer, who ignored it. The penalty available was not imprisonment but a maximum fine of £2,000. Given the
Column 1156figures that have just been mentioned, that is petty cash. In the circumstances, it was a valiant and rapid response by Kent police and Gravesham borough council, but it was ineffective given the state of the law.
So what can we do? We need good intelligence and heavy penalties. We need good police intelligence to combat such events before they even take place. I am glad that a good start has been made. A joint intelligence unit for the south-east, staffed by eight police forces with additional input from the Metropolitan police, has been established in Gravesend in my constituency. It has monitored the planning of some 249 parties, and headed off many of them or stopped them. I should like to pay tribute to the outstanding work carried out in anti-social hours at the Gravesend police station. However, we also need heavy penalties, and this is where my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South is doing us all such a service with this Bill. It provides for fines of up to £20,000 and--this is an important point--for sentences of up to six months' imprisonment. The current maximum of £2,000 and no custodial sentences outside Greater London is derisory.
When that is combined with the announcement of our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that he favours giving magistrates powers to order the confiscation of profits made by those convicted of organising illegal parties or of allowing their land to be used for them, we are at last making progress. I urge my right hon. Friends to get a move on in bringing forward that order.
We are not killjoys. Thousands of young people enjoy powerful musical events. Conservative Members have made it clear today that in the past they have attended such events and favour them taking place. Indeed, there is no great difference between the pleasure of such partygoers and that of many thousands of Kent residents, including myself, who choose to listen to performances of the 1812, artillery and all, in a valley alongside Leeds castle. At the end of the day, each to his own enjoyment. The only difference is that the events that I described at Leeds castle are properly organised for access, parking, sanitation, noise control and safety and emergency cover. Those are all requirements of the licensing authorities. They are necessary for the events that we are considering today.
The organisers of pay-parties should obtain licences in advance and satisfy the necessary requirements. By all means, let them do so confidentially in advance with the authorities in order to maintain a certain element of mystery, which is part of the enjoyment. My hon. Friend's Bill is an important measure to safeguard the peace and quiet of our constituents, while enforcing the limits within which the parties may operate. It has my wholehearted support.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : I endorse all the praise expressed by my hon. Friends to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for introducing the Bill. It deals with a matter which I raised in the House in questions during the autumn, as a result of events in my constituency. I am delighted that there is clear support from my right hon. Friend the Minister today.
It is essential that the Bill is seen not only as an excellent private Member's initiative but as part of the overall sweep
Column 1157of legislation that the Home Office may introduce. The measure must fit into a careful pattern of legal attempts to clamp down on the criminals who organise such events.
I wish to make it as clear as possible that I and my hon. Friends do not wish to interfere with the rights of young people to enjoy themselves at parties. It may not be credible, but once upon a time I was a right raver. But time passes and I look back forlornly at the enjoyment of my youth. All -night parties were more enjoyable than all-night debates.
Young people who are tempted to enjoy the party atmosphere must be protected if they are being tempted to an event where safety is not held as a prime factor by the organisers. The most worrying factor in what we have called acid house parties but what my right hon. Friend the Minister has properly called pay-parties, is that young people who have a justifiable desire to enjoy themselves at parties are, without realising it, deliberately and cynically put at risk by the organisers. Many parents have written to me about that. They feel that they cannot stop their teenage children going out to enjoy themselves, but they are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers to which teenagers are submitted.
We must take careful note of the fact that the organisers leave everything to the last minute. Clearly, they attempt to evade even the existing powers under the various Acts listed by my right hon. Friend the Minister. Parties have always gone on, but the difference with acid house parties is their magnitude and the locations. Surrey police have stated :
"more sophisticated sound systems and visual equipment has meant that the organisers of these parties have looked elsewhere for more suitable premises"--
suitable in the sense of enormous--
"to house' their so called social events. Empty warehouses, factories, offices, shops, cinemas, recording studios etc., are the most common premises which have proved ideal for holding such events. More recently aircraft hangars and marquees that are able to house up to 15,000 people have been used."
None of the premises listed are adapted to cope with the parties held in them. They do not comply with health and safety regulations or fire protection regulations. Clearly, they do not have the various lavatory and other personal facilities required.
The secrecy in the organisation of these parties causes great anxiety and is a good indicator of the organisers' motives. It would be useful for the House to hear what my Surrey police have said about how the parties are called.
"youths congregate at a set location i.e. street, public house etc. and await the word' with regard to the location of the proposed party. Posters have also been observed displayed in social clubs, youth clubs, public houses, record shops and even Afro-Caribbean hairdressers. A more recent development has been the use of local pirate radio stations operating on the FM band for communicating this information. It has also been known for commercial radios to have carried such messages. Much use is made of telephone answering machines that give callers the location of meeting points and ticket sale locations. These machines also, at a certain time just prior to the commencement of the party, sometimes state the location of the party."
It is very much at the last minute that the location is given. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, sometimes there is no location and people who have paid in advance do not get a party, but that is a separate matter.
When at the last minute a location is given, people move off from the collecting point in convoys. That causes massive additional difficulties, not just at the ultimate site to which they are moving. For example, at an acid house
Column 1158party near Reigate a massive convoy went around the M25 and parked on the hard shoulder. People then left their cars and walked across fields to the location. The M25, like other motorways, can be dangerous. We can imagine the potential chaos when cars are parked without lights in the dark, particularly with people leaving them and then returning to them in various states and conditions. Those are serious side effects and are directly related to the organisation of the ultimate event.
The organisers are cunning. Surrey constabulary has said : "The organisers' secrecy over the venues gave little chance for preventive action. If time had permitted there is every likelihood that the local authorities concerned would have taken out injunctions."
The injunctions would be under the powers that local authorities have at present. Obviously, the organisers know that to avoid effective injunctions, they must give no notice whatever. That has forced the police to use various detective methods to find out whether an acid house party is taking place, such as the movement of large vehicles, power generators or whatever. They also rely on local people keeping an eye on local land and buildings where unusual activity is taking place.
The purpose of the entertainment licensing system is to provide a uniform system of control to ensure public health and safety in places of public resort and to minimise the nuisance caused to the immediate neighbourhood from the entertainment that is licensed. Any respectable organiser would accept that and comply with it. It is self-evident that we are dealing with organisers who particularly want to evade that system by using every possible cunning device. I am concerned that such tricks have been used and about their implications.
A pay-party took place in my constituency at Effingham, a pleasant farmland area in the heart of Surrey. Last August bank holiday the village was effectively invaded. The figures are difficult to get at, but it was reported variously that the number of young people arriving from all over the country reached 10,000 at least, possibly several thousand more. The organisers came equipped with amplifiers, laser lighting, generators, food outlets and their own so-called security guards, to whom I shall refer later.
Even though the police got wind of the fact that four large generators were destined for the Guildford area on the Friday, the precise location was not confirmed until 4 pm on Saturday--just a few hours before the party was due to get under way. Not surprisingly, given the late stage and the number of people involved, the police decided on the grounds of public safety that it was better to allow the event to go ahead. That is an important point as it has been alleged that the police could have stopped it. At such a late stage, however, the police had wider considerations. If several thousand people had been turned away from the event they may well have gone on the rampage through Effingham. There would have been a danger to the village if the police had tried, at the last minute, to prevent the party from taking place.
The party went on until Sunday afternoon by which time a number of arrests had been made, including arrests for assaults on police officers and drug- related offences. Seventy police officers had to be deployed to respond to incidents of crime and public order and to supervise the safe dispersal of the people leaving the event. By 10 pm on Saturday evening more than 1,000 cars were parked in
Column 1159lanes and side roads close to the venue. That gives some idea of the task faced by the police and also the difficulty faced by the emergency services should they have needed to gain access. The organisers were issued with a notice from the Guildford borough solicitor and the environmental health officer prohibiting any nuisance under section 58 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. Unfortunately that was too little and too late to satisfy the people of Effingham and the surrounding district. In any event the offence currently carries a maximum fine of £2,000, without the possible three-month prison sentence available if such an event takes place within Greater London. That fine would have hardly deterred the organisers.
The Minister asked about figures to demonstrate the profit made at such parties. Independent evidence from the Surrey constabulary states :
"Entrance money is known to be from £5 and £20 per head"-- we know that the larger figure is now more common--
"In the latter case this sometimes includes the cost of transport and drinks. In the case of the larger parties attended by in excess of 10,000 people this nets approximately £100,000 for the organisers".
That is after a fee of a few thousand pounds for the hire of the land given to the landowner or the supplier of the building. In terms of the profitability of such parties the figures are higher than that, because other things go on, for example, the sale of drugs. The police say that on the figures available :
"controlled drug purchases of heroin, ecstasy and cocaine of between £60 and £100 per head are not unusual. Therefore overall takings in the region of £30,000 to £90,000 for just one party are not an exaggeration".
I must be careful not to make allegations, but the organisers of the parties may have an interest in the drugs sold at them. Whether they do or not, it is clear that there is a massive commercial benefit from holding such parties, yet none of the basic safeguards that would be protected by the current licensing system have been applied. The absence of safeguards is an outrage and an insult to the people going to the party. It also has horrible implications of a disaster waiting to happen as in some cases, there is a massive danger of fire.
My constituents, of course, complained. I live about five miles away from where the party took place and I heard the noise at that distance. These are not completely harmless events. They are extremely dangerous and we should ensure that that is well known. The organisers of the party in Effingham even had the cheek to sue the police. As one of the local newspapers, the Surrey Advertiser, said, the police were sued by the acid house party group because they attempted to interfere in activities at that party. That is not only a cheek, but another sign of the fact that the organisers think that they are above the law. They must be brought quickly back under the law.
Mr. John Patten : I have been listening with great interest and growing concern to everything that my hon. Friend has said, especially when he spoke about the experiences of his unfortunate constituents in the village of Effingham in Surrey. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that local residents winkle out the names of the organisers and that maximum publicity is given to those
Column 1160who have caused the trouble? Most importantly, the Inland Revenue, could then know the names of those who have been making substantial illicit profits.
Mr. Taylor : I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. According to the Surrey Advertiser, the people who issued the writ were acting on behalf of the party organisers, Joustyle Limited, which also trades as Karma Productions. I am sure that the various authorities are already aware of that, but if not, I am happy to put it on record.
All this has an extremely worrying impact. There is an impact on the local community. We tend to gloss over that, but I am sure that all hon. Members will understand the dismay, distress and fear when local residents, who have been kept awake all night, find that the party is still continuing on Sunday morning. They see people relieving themselves in gardens and being ill on front drives. The blockage of cars meant that some of my constituents were unable to go to church in their cars on Sunday morning as they wished to do. Such inconvenience is wholly unacceptable and has nothing to do with the sensible provision of enjoyment for young people.
Another danger is that young people will fall foul of the temptations offered by the drug dealers and there are a serious range of problems for the police. The manpower that the police need to put into the field to cover the parties often leads to other elements of the county being seriously underpoliced. I do not want to draw too much attention to that, but it must be taken into consideration. It is outrageous that such events can take place when, for example, we are arranging for many professional sporting events, which may attract smaller crowds, to have rigorous checks and safety regulations. Exits must now be plentiful and clear. Sprinkler systems must be in operation and trained stewards must be on hand to marshal the crowds. We prevent smoking in certain areas and admission is often only by ticket purchased on a controlled basis in advance. Those measures have been introduced to enhance safety at sporting events, yet none of them apply at these parties, although they can be attended by many more people.
These events must be stopped. Currently available powers are inadequate. My hon. Friend's Bill does not propose new laws, but it provides proper penalties. The combination of the £20,000 fine and up to six months' prison sentences is critical.
If the acid house or pay-party tendency is allowed to continue it will lead to deaths, particularly if these parties are held indoors. Because of the profits associated with them they will also inevitably lead to conflict between criminal groups. That has already happened at one of the parties in Surrey. The security guards who are brought in are no more than thugs with Rottweilers, and it is likely that they will attack the police--as they did in Reigate--and, eventually, each other because of their desire to ensure that the massive profits come to them, not to anyone else.
The cost of extra policing to local residents must be borne in mind. When the police seize drugs, the proceeds from them should perhaps be directed back to local police forces instead of being confiscated centrally. That is a wider issue, but one about which my local police force feels strongly.
I support the Bill, confident in the knowledge that Guildford borough council, one of the boroughs in my
Column 1161constituency, has given me great encouragement. Surrey constabulary, for which I have only the greatest praise, has devised various instructions and ways of trying to prevent these parties from taking place, and has been successful on some occasions. The police have also given me a great deal of information, and if I had had longer I would have used more of it. The important thing is that the Bill should receive a Second Reading, pass through Committee and reach the statute book in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South and of many of his colleagues in the House who thoroughly endorse the Bill.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : I welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) in introducing the Bill, and I congratulate him on the good use of his opportunity. My hon. Friend, the other sponsors of his Bill and I stress that we are in no way seeking to destroy the fun of young people. I must tell the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) that no one who runs entertainment for young people within the law has anything to fear from the Bill.
I am probably one of the few hon. Members who has experience of promoting entertainment. In a past incarnation I was the chairman of the entertainments committee at Leeds university union, when I had the privilege of promoting some of the biggest names in entertainment, who came and gave concerts at the university. One of my best memories is of handing a cheque to Elton John for £250 for a night's work--a sum that would fill him with horror if he were given it today.
We used to organise concerts for 2,000 people in two halls, with bands playing simultaneously. Artists such as Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Free played at the university. Those of us who are 40 or more and who attended these concerts as undergraduates know the problems involved in them, but we are not trying to prevent young people from enjoying what we enjoyed. We also recognise that there is a great deal of fun to be had from open air concerts. I well remember the Isle of Wight music festivals and the national jazz and blues festival, which was promoted on racecourses all over the south-east in the late 1960s. They were major events that were enjoyed by many people, including some who are now Members of this place. Of course 20 years have passed. We know that there is much to be enjoyed at such events. I cannot emphasise too strongly that we are not in the business of destroying young people's fun. On the contrary, we are concerned to protect them in a way that will free them from risk so that they can enjoy the music that they go to hear and the entertainment generally that they seek. The Bill will enable them to do exactly that. It will prevent them also from being exploited by the organisers of some acid house parties. It will stop young people from being damaged by attending them.
The Bill does not do anything that is especially radical. It does not create new offences. Instead, it provides teeth for the existing legislation. It requires all those who run acid house parties to obtain a licence from the local authority. If the organisers break the conditions of the licence, a heavy fine or a sentence of imprisonment will be imposed upon them. If they fail to apply for a licence, they can be fined up to £20,000 or sentenced to six months' imprisonment. That might seem draconian in some
Column 1162respects, but when we consider how acid house parties have been operated over the past few years it is clear that there is a national problem.
Many of the parties have been run in dangerous circumstances. There has been a lack of safety and dangers have faced the attenders, the customers. Major disruption has been caused to the locality in which the parties have taken place. The issue was regarded so strongly by the local authorities which were charged with the responsibility of providing an entertainments licence under the current legislation that they, through the Association of District Councils, wrote to the Home Office in 1988 and called upon the Government to take action. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary have been considering the matter for some time.
I hope that the public will realise that it is not only Conservative local authorities that are calling for action to be taken in respect of the problems that arise from acid house parties. It is an issue that crosses party lines ; it is recognised by Labour and Liberal-Democrat local authorities as well as by Conservative authorities. It is recognised that the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has rightly identified in a splendid Bill needs to be dealt with urgently.
The most important feature that we have to consider is the protection of the young people who go to acid house parties. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State spoke of a warehouse in Blackburn, Lancashire, where an acid house party took place last month. He told us--this was reported in the press--that there were exit signs over doors which if opened would have led to no fire escape or staircase. Anyone who opened them would have been faced with a huge drop, resulting in death. That is typical. The organisers of acid house parties are using old warehouses, tents in fields or other premises which are often derelict. There are obvious and immediate dangers. The legitimate promoter of a concert is subject to a series of rules and regulations that bear on numbers, fire safety, electricity and lighting. They relate to a range of matters and they are designed to protect those who attend these events.
At the ad hoc acid house party it is not the organiser who is in danger but the customer and the performers. Promoters have been exploiting those who attend by selling drugs. In a recent case a promoter of an acid house party was sent to prison for 10 years for peddling drugs at the parties.
There is also a problem because of the lack of safety and access to such parties. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) gave a good example of a field being used for a party in his constituency. Suddenly 5,000 young people descended upon it. The cars that brought them blocked the lanes adjacent to the field. If there had been an accident due to lack of adequate fire and safety precautions it would have been impossible for ambulances and fire engines to get through. A legitimate promoter takes safety factors into consideration In addition the local authority issues an entertainment licence for an event and would ensure that there was proper access, but that does not happen in the case of illegal acid house parties.
The local inhabitants of the area surrounding the party are also affected. They are hurt more than any other people and there is nothing that they can do about it. They can call the police but if it is an impromptu party the police will have had little notice of it, and the local authority will
Column 1163know nothing about it. Thousands of young people can descend on a site causing noise, traffic congestion and disruption to the local inhabitants.
I speak from personal experience. The location of some of the parties is amazing. A few months ago I went to a housing estate in the middle of Skelmersdale to meet members of the residents' association. They told me that acid house parties were taking place on the estate and they took me to the site of the parties, which was a flat. Hundreds of young people were milling about. It caused disruption, particularly for parents with young children trying to sleep through the noise of traffic. The Bill will ensure that those problems--the noise of traffic and the disruption to people's lives--will be controlled.
I suspect that the major fear of the general public is that the Bill will restrict freedom to party--to use the expression of those who attend--but of course it will not.
The whole House accepts that the promoters of acid house parties or entertainment events of any kind have responsibilities to the public living in the immediate vicinity and to the young people who attend. At the moment the amount of money that can be made by promoters of pay-parties is so enormous that they can afford to pay a fine of £2, 000. If one makes thousands of pounds from a party--I am informed from investigations into the matter that many promoters do--£2,000 is just part of the overheads and a small amount, so they can drive a coach and horses through the law and disregard the consequences. The Bill is intended to deal with cowboy operators--the people who do not care about their customers or the inhabitants of the area surrounding the party and are only interested in making vast amounts of money. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West must also bear in mind that, having obtained a licence, a promoter may then completely ignore the local authority's terms and conditions. He will be as guilty of endangering the lives of his customers and the community as an unlicensed acid house party organiser. The law cannot be sterile in that regard ; it cannot stand back and do nothing.
A local authority may impose requirements involving exits and gangways, and ban fire hazards such as accumulated rubbish and unsafe electrical equipment. Those of us who remember the Bradford City football ground fire will know how dangerous rubbish can be. A local authority may require the provision of adequate sanitary appliances and proper ventilation and--most important of all--stipulate a maximum number who may attend, and the provision of adequate fire-fighting equipment. Any legitimate licence holder who breaches those requirements must be dealt with as severely as anyone else. A licence holder making vast amounts of money may ignore important safety provisions precautions because a £2,000 fine is not worth worrying about. That could mean sending many people to their deaths, or at least laying them open to the possibility of injury. Parliament cannot afford to take such an attitude.
Mr. Randall : The hon. Gentleman may be underestimating local authorities' ability to sus out the cowboys. Such people are probably well known to them. In any event, a genuine promoter will know that if he fails
Column 1164in the way that the hon. Gentleman has so eloquently described his chances of obtaining a licence in future will be nil.
Mr. Hind : I take the point. Nevertheless, I believe that my hon. Friend's suggestion of a maximum fine of £20,000, with the option of six months in prison, would constitute a big deterrent for cowboy operators hoping to escape the full force of the law. That is a maximum, however, and would not be used in every instance. I am a lawyer. The maximum penalty that can be imposed by the criminal courts is, I have found, rarely imposed. The court considers the breach of the licence conditions, the circumstances of the breach, the circumstances surrounding that evening's events and then weighs up the seriousness of the breach. A promoter who puts the facts properly before the court and who has acted reasonably will not be in difficulty as a result of my hon. Friend's Bill. Magistrates will realise that he has done his best to stay within the law and they will deal with him accordingly--in contrast to the way in which they will deal with the cowboy operator. A maximum fine of £2,000 is insufficient to deal with potential cowboys who apply for a licence and then completely disregard the conditions attached to it. If an illegal acid house party takes place, the local authority can issue a licence after the event, to the effect that a statutory nuisance--that of noise--has been committed. However, the nuisance has been committed ; it does not help those who suffered as a result of the nuisance to deal with it after the event. Members of the public can prosecute in the magistrates courts, under the noise abatement provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, alleging breach of privacy. They have to prove in court that enjoyment of their property has been disturbed. However, as prosecution takes place after the event, such measures are inadequate. My hon. Friend's Bill would provide local authorities with more powers. They would be able to deal with noise nuisance more forcefully. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health is considering whether noise at acid house parties is causing damage to health and whether anything can therefore be done to control noise levels at such parties.
We must prevent dishonest promoters of acid house parties from exploiting young people for personal gain. We must ensure that the legislation is strong enough, which it is not at the moment, to deal properly with such people. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) has promised to introduce measures which will lead to the confiscation of profits over £10,000 made at illegal events when the promoters of such events have been found guilty in the courts. That will add to the deterrent provided by my hon. Friend's Bill, and that fact should be made known to the public. Finally, the legitimate operators of events such as some of the acid house parties that have been promoted for public entertainment will have nothing to fear if they run a legitimate event, ensure that drug dealers will not be there exploiting our young people, prevent any criminal activities from taking place, work with the police on car parking, traffic and nuisance, approach the local authority for a licence and adhere to its conditions. Our young people will then be able safely to enjoy the entertainment that those operators present. The House wishes to encourage operators who provide proper, legitimate