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8.38 pm

Mrs. Adams: I, too, am happy to support the Third Reading. It has been a good Bill, a model of how to pass necessary legislation. By and large, we have been in agreement and we have tried hard to come up with answers where none existed before we began. As my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden(Mr. Galbraith) said, this is primarily a health and safety Bill. If it saves just one life in Scotland, it will have been a success.

Over the past couple of years, we have all been confronted with worries about young people going to raves and places of great danger. I hope that the Bill has removed that danger, and that from now on young people will be able to spend time dancing without fear of losing their lives.

I know that some have expressed concern about the words "chill out". I am not too worried about chill-out areas--perhaps parents are more worried about them than children are, though. Young people know better what they are than we do: we are just not accustomed to the term. I sometimes think that a chill-out area in the House would not be a bad thing; it might help to pass legislation such as this in good order.

8.40 pm

Mr. Gallie: The term "ice hockey cooler" might also be useful in this context.

I too welcome the passage of the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) referred to the tragedies that lay behind the Bill, which is what brought me to my feet. Many people thought that the impetus for the Bill came from the tragic events at Hangar 13, where there were three deaths. Sheriff Neil Gow's contribution, in the public hearing on the deaths that he held at Ayr, certainly influenced many people to think about a Bill such as this.

As for Hangar 13, I honestly believe that young people in my constituency would not have been deprived of their dancing facility if the Bill had been on the statute book

1 May 1996 : Column 1230

before hand. It would have provided reasonable guidelines enabling the licensing board to stipulate the conditions for dancing to be allowed at Hangar 13. That would have been valuable indeed. Had there been controls on stewarding, paramedics and supervision inside the dance hall at an earlier stage, the closure might have been prevented.

I welcome the Bill and commend the Minister of State on the manner in which he has taken it through its various stages. I also commend all hon. Members who have participated in the debates.

8.42 pm

Ms Roseanna Cunningham: I too support the Third Reading of the Bill. It is a useful example of legislation arising out of specific circumstances and being designed to deal with them.

It is important to restate the fact that the Bill does not condone drug use. As I am sure all hon. Members agree, we should refute any suggestion that that is what it is designed to do. It is unfortunate that such suggestions have emanated from people such as whose who served on the former Glasgow licensing board. The position that the board adopted flew in the face of reality. The Bill is about dealing with real life--it is important that legislation should do that.

I recall Crew 2000 giving evidence to the Committee about Ecstasy-related deaths, pointing out that most of them resulted from the way the drug was used, not from the drug itself--an important distinction, which is acknowledged in the conditions laid down by the Bill. If it transpires that disparities arise across Scotland, from board to board, I hope that there will be an attempt to monitor and deal with them.

The Bill is a specific one, designed to deal with a specific problem. Were it designed to deal with the wider problem of drug misuse, it would be a very different kind of Bill, because drugs are used far more widely than just in clubs. A recent survey conducted by Britain's top selling teenage magazine, Sugar Magazine, came up with some startling percentages. Members may be surprised to hear that cannabis is used by 40 per cent. of teenagers,3 per cent. more than use tobacco. It appears that it is more popular among teenagers than tobacco. Neither statistic is to be welcomed, and I certainly hope that the campaign against tobacco will not be won only at the expense of increasing cannabis use. The survey just goes to show that drug taking is now endemic among certain groups of teenagers.

This legislation cannot begin to tackle that problem, but I commend it for achieving what it attempts to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

1 May 1996 : Column 1231

Northern Ireland (Elections)

    [Relevant document: The Memorandum relating to this Order contained in the Eighteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, House of Commons Paper No. 34-xviii.]

8.45 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram): I beg to move,

The draft order fills out the details of the mechanism by which the forthcoming elections in Northern Ireland are to be held. It fixes the date of the election at 30 May, in line with the Prime Minister's announcement of21 March. Like the elections provisions of the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations, etc) Act under which it is made, it is for use at a single election only; thereafter, it will be spent.

All the most significant features of the framework for the election were embodied in the Act which was approved by this House and another place last week. Briefly, the voters in the election will be all who are entitled to participate in local elections in Northern Ireland. The election will be based on a constituency list system, and five delegates will be returned in respect of the participating parties from each of the 18 parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland.

In addition, a further 20 delegates will be returned at regional level--two in respect of each of the 10 parties gaining most votes on aggregate across Northern Ireland which have submitted regional lists. From those delegates will be chosen teams to participate in the negotiations, in accordance with section 2 of the Act; and they will together constitute the forum set up by section 3.

That is the structure of the Act which this order now has to fill out. For convenience, we have as far as possible sought to apply existing legislation with which those involved in electoral matters in Northern Ireland will be familiar. Thus, the order applies broadly the existing law relating to parliamentary elections, with only those modifications that we believe necessary to accommodate them to the electoral system set out in the Act. We believe that proceeding in this way makes the legislation simpler to understand and apply, and more manageable than trying to set out a comprehensive new code.

The part of the order which I know to be of particular interest to the participating parties in the election concerns the arrangements for nominating representatives to hand in their lists of candidates. The draft order originally provided that party lists should be submitted at the chief electoral officer's headquarters in Belfast. That has been changed in this order, so that they may be submitted to any of his offices, thereby introducing a local element to the procedure. He will be required by the legislation to give notice of precisely where and by when constituency and regional lists should be submitted. I am sure that nominating representatives from all parties will make the most of this opportunity.

We have also borne in mind the fact that this is a novel system of election, and that the electorate will need to be sufficiently well prepared to play as full a part as possible. We have therefore arranged for two leaflet drops to all of Northern Ireland's 590,000 households. The first leaflet alerted people to the possible need for an absent vote,

1 May 1996 : Column 1232

explained the franchise and included a reminder of the need for a specified document to be presented at a polling station. The second leaflet, which will be delivered shortly, repeats the information about the franchise and specified documents, and explains how to vote and how the vote works. In addition, we have arranged a series of television and radio advertisements to encourage people to participate. These we will put out during the campaign.

The broadcasting media are an important part of modern elections, and it is important that their coverage serves the interests of voters. With that in mind, the Government have decided that, exceptionally for the elections, the provisions of section 93 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, relating to broadcasting, shall not apply. The unusual nature of the elections, involving votes for parties rather than individual candidates, means that the application of section 93 might cause problems in distinguishing the campaign in a particular constituency from that across Northern Ireland as a whole. We want to avoid potential for disputes between the parties and the broadcasters, with the consequences that that could have for electoral coverage.

The Government have presumed that broadcasters will share the view that the forthcoming important elections should be given balanced and fair coverage. That would reflect the inclusive nature of the approach that we have taken.

Mindful of the financial constraints on some of the smaller parties, we have made provision for unaddressed postal communications, which also need not state the name of the constituency. Nominating representatives and their parties will note that we have also applied provisions relating to electoral expenses for the election. I am sure that hon. Members will agree with me that limiting election expenses is an important part of our democracy, ensuring as it tries to do that an element of parity governs the electoral contest.

We could not simply apply the provisions as they stand for parliamentary elections, as those provisions relate solely to candidates. We have sought instead to apply an aggregate limit, the limit for each party being the limit for one candidate at a parliamentary election multiplied by the number of constituencies that it is contesting. We believe that that formula manages to preserve the principle of applying limits, while at the same time breaking the link with the individual constituency spending that has applied at other elections, by recognising that parties may wish, for example, to spend regionally rather than locally.

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