17 Jan 1997 : Column 525

House of Commons

Friday 17 January 1997

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


Madam Speaker: I regret to have to report to the House the death of Iain Campbell Mills Esq., Member for Meriden. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in mourning the loss of a colleague and extending our deep sympathy to the hon. Member's family and his friends.


Dogs (Breeding and Sale)

9.35 am

Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch): I present a petition from the branches of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals throughout England and Wales about control of the breeding and sale of dogs and puppies. It urges that amendments be made to the legislation to bring an end to unlicensed commercial breeding of dogs and puppies and to ensure high standards of welfare for all animals in breeding establishments. It is signed by members of the RSPCA in the 200 branches throughout the country. It states:

To lie upon the Table.

Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.36 am

Mr. Barry Legg (Milton Keynes, South-West): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Members of Parliament often have opportunities to condemn drug use. Yesterday was another opportunity for Members of Parliament to speak out. We heard some dreadful remarks from Mr. Brian Harvey of East 17. He condoned drug use, suggested that Ecstasy made people feel better and stated that he used up to 12 tablets a day. I condemn those remarks and I think that all Members of Parliament will probably join me in that condemnation.

However, there was also a promising sign yesterday. I spoke to a 12-year-old schoolgirl in my constituency, who said that she would be taking down the posters of East 17. Most young people are sensible about those matters. They want to hear the message, "No to drugs". We need to speak out and give that message loud and clear.

Today, Members of Parliament have a further opportunity not just to condemn drug taking and the abuses that occur but to change the law to make it more difficult for young people to have drugs peddled to them. The Bill that I am presenting to the House would give new powers to local authorities to close down clubs where there is a serious drugs problem. This is tough legislation, but we need tough legislation.

In the past four or five weeks, we have seen four tragic deaths from drug taking among young people. We have all become aware of the agony of Ecstasy. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the parents of the youngsters who lost their lives. I have met several of them, and they are very brave individuals. They have been prepared to go on television and to talk to the media when they are still suffering grief, with the aim of getting the message over of, "No to drugs" and the dangers that even one pill can pose. Their action is courageous, and I support it; it comes from a desire to do something to stop this menace.

I pay particular tribute to Paul and Janet Betts, the parents of Leah Betts. They helped to inspire me to introduce the Bill. They believe that it will help to save young lives. They believe that if we pass it, we shall be doing something constructive to help crack down on the drugs menace.

Frankly, I fear the possibility of more deaths. The most recent British crime survey was a warning to us all. It showed that 43 per cent. of 16 to 29-year-olds had tried drugs and that 50 per cent. of 16 to 19-year-old boys had tried drugs. In fact, more boys in that age group had tried drugs than had played football in the past three months. That is the scale of the problem with which we are trying to deal. It has been estimated that, during a weekend, up to 300,000 people may try drugs--300,000 people may be at risk.

We can certainly do everything that we can to reduce the demand for drugs. I support the educational programmes, the advertising campaigns and all the good work that is being done in the community to try to convince people of the harm that drugs will do. I think most young people are

17 Jan 1997 : Column 527

receptive to that message. Those who say that we should send out a fuzzy message rather than a clear one have got it wrong. A lot of young people want to hear the "No to drugs" message. They want that moral support behind them to make the right decision. I support all those attempts to cut the demand for drugs. I note that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) shakes his head, and doubtless we shall hear from him later.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): I shook my head because although "No to drugs" has been the message sent out in this country and America for the past 30 years, the use of illegal drugs has increased in every one of those years. It increased last year and it will increase next year. Is it not time to look at new policies on drugs?

Hon. Members: No.

Mr. Legg: The problem in our country is that we have been too permissive about drugs. We have not spoken with one voice against them. I hope that every hon. Member who speaks today will give out that message so that there is no doubt about it. We cannot afford to give the impression that drugs can be used for recreational purposes--one pill can kill. That must be the message sent from the Chamber today.

I back all the educational efforts to combat drug use, but we must also strike at the heart of the supply.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene and I am particularly grateful to him for allowing me to be associated with his Bill, which is important to us in Dover. No doubt he will join me in congratulating customs officers in Dover who this week arrested a lorry driver who tried to get a consignment of 80 kg of heroin through the port of Dover. We must welcome the fact that control systems are in force to try to cut the supply of drugs through that port and others. It is important that we should maintain our customs controls as well as our borders.

My hon. Friend suggested that we must cut off the supply sources, but does he also agree that we must squeeze every penny of profit from the drug dealers so that they cannot make any money out of drugs?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. That was not an intervention but a speech. I should also prefer to see the face of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) rather than his back.

Mr. Legg: I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. I know that he works extremely hard in his constituency against drugs and that he makes every effort to support the authorities to crack down on the supply of drugs. I also agree that there is a lot of money involved in the business.

That is another reason for my Bill--a tough Bill that will give statutory backing to the efforts to crack down on the problem. I am afraid that guidelines are not good enough, because there are some unscrupulous people involved in the business who will do anything to circumvent guidelines. We need tough legislation that they cannot get round.

17 Jan 1997 : Column 528

Nightclubs feature prominently in any attempt to strike at the heart of the supply of drugs. In all too many cases, those clubs and the associated dance culture have thrived on the presumption that drugs are a necessary and harmless part of a night out. The message put round in many clubs is, "What's wrong with joining the chemical generation?" Some pop music carries a positive message encouraging young people to take drugs. Incidentally, I was pleased yesterday to note that many radio stations and record companies said that they would ban the music of East 17. That is a welcome development. The nightclub culture is strongly associated with drugs and my Bill will help to crack down on the problem.

I have had discussions with Paul and Janet Betts about the Bill, because they have considered the issues in far greater detail than I have been able to do. They have dedicated themselves to the anti-drugs cause. They explained to me how children like their daughter Leah can go to clubs and be intimidated and threatened by the melee of pushers who may greet them. We have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that such circumstances do not arise.

Under my Bill, if the police believe that there is a serious drugs problem in a club, they may report it to the local authority and recommend to it that the club should be closed down. The local authority would then be able to consider the evidence in the police report and come to a judgment. It could decide to close down the club or vary the conditions of licence. The threat of immediate closure is important, because I must admit that the current law is defective. Public entertainments licences are a privilege and if clubs do not treat that privilege appropriately, it should be removed from them.

Many hon. Members will be aware of the problems associated with Club UK in Wandsworth. Wandsworth council, in conjunction with the police, has been trying to close down the club for 12 months. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) has already observed, there is a lot of money involved in such activities, and the club owners have behaved unscrupulously. They have used every legal device to keep the club open. They have dragged out the appeals procedure to enable them to continue their unsatisfactory practices, which continue to leave young people at risk.

The police have raided that club and found thousands of pounds' worth of illegal drugs on the premises. Its bouncers have been prosecuted and two deaths have been associated with the club. The local hospitals also have problems, because people from the club end up there most weekends. At present, the owners of that club are exploiting the law to keep it open.

My Bill would enable such unscrupulous clubs--they are probably the minority--to be closed down straight away once the police decided that they posed a serious drugs problem and the local authority, having considered the evidence, came to the same conclusion. That is the message that we are sending out. Clubs must clean up their act or be shut down. I suspect that a minority of clubs will face closure because of the Bill. It is a big stick and its main effect will be to send a message to clubs, club managements and owners that they must get their act sorted out. It will be a strong incentive for clubs to put their house in order. They will have an incentive to ensure that they work with the police and local authorities to raise standards and reduce the risks involved. That will the main benefit of the legislation.

17 Jan 1997 : Column 529

I shall briefly describe my Bill in detail. Clause 1 amends the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. It allows a local authority to revoke a licence if it is informed by the police that there is

There is a second important condition: the authority must be satisfied that revocation will assist in dealing with the problem.

Next Section

IndexHome Page