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Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): I told my hon. Friend before today's sitting that I thought that his Bill was the best private Member's Bill that I have seen; I give it my full support, as do the police and magistrates to whom I have spoken. Will he clarify one point about clause 1? How does he expect the police to define a serious drugs problem? Does he expect the police normally to evidence a serious drugs problem with proof that the club has been raided and arrests made, or will a subjective judgment sometimes be used?

Mr. Legg: The police force does a lot of work with clubs and is close to the problems involved. The definition would ultimately be a matter for the police, who would have to decide what a serious drugs problem was. It is right that it is left to them to take that decision. I do not think that we can place in law the precise definition of a serious drugs problem; it is up to the police to use their discretion to decide what they consider to be a serious problem. The police would normally regard dealing on the premises as a serious problem. It is up to them to report to the local authority, which will exercise its judgment as to whether it agrees with the police.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): I apologise for missing the first two or three minutes of my hon. Friend's speech. Definition is important--it is important to educate the public about what is and what is not acceptable. If we could establish a definition that meant that closure could always be anticipated, that would send a direct and clear message--certainly to children. As a teacher, I know that that would be important. Will my hon. Friend go a little further?

Mr. Legg: I welcome my hon. Friend's comments. I think that the word "serious" implies that dealing is taking place or that many people are consuming drugs. The definitions will ultimately be subject to overview by the courts. Some cases will end up in the courts--a body of law will produce definitions and the clarity that my hon. Friend seeks will be achieved.

Once the local authority has received a report from the police, it cannot close the club arbitrarily, but has to give its reasons for revoking the licence. After revocation, the licensee has 21 days to make representations to the local authority, which must consider any representations, and either confirm its original decision or retract it. Provision is made for a local authority to amend the conditions of a licence as it sees fit. For example, it could prevent a club from opening on a certain night. A local authority may refuse to renew or transfer a licence following a police report. Clause 1 also allows a court that convicts a licensee of breaching his licence to revoke that licence. The clause also deals with the appeals procedure. The Bill in no way diminishes a licensee's right to appeal. However, it insists that the licence will remain in

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suspension during any appeals unless a court orders that it would be unfair for the licence to remain in suspension during court proceedings.

Clause 2 amends the London Government Act 1963, which applies in Greater London, to make similar provision to that made by clause 1. Since announcing my Bill two months ago, I have received much feedback from various quarters. The British Entertainments and Discotheque Association--BEDA--has made some most constructive and helpful comments, as have various councils.

Many people to whom I wish to pay tribute have helped me with the Bill; they include the Betts parents. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale), in whose constituency Mr. and Mrs. Betts live, for the help that he has given me with the Bill. He cannot, unfortunately, be with us today because of constituency engagements, but I can assure hon. Members that he has been a great help to me in formulating the Bill and has given it his full support.

There may be three main areas of concern about the Bill, but I believe that in its current form it deals with them. The first concern may be voiced by those who argue that drugs should be made legal. Drugs are a menace to society and the position of such people is unsustainable after all the deaths that there have been. Millions of parents are concerned about the issue and we, as Members of Parliament, have a responsibility to act.

The second argument is that if clubs are closed, drugs will simply move elsewhere. It would be foolish to deny that that may happen to some extent: those who dedicate their time to obtaining drugs will always find them. However, the Bill will help to ensure that drugs are not so casually available. As we all know, temptation lessens with distance. Paul Betts explained to me that most young people do not actively seek drugs, but in many clubs drugs are literally pushed on to them. I hope that the Bill will help to combat such problems.

The third potential criticism is that the Bill will close clubs unfairly. The Bill is intended to be tough. A licence should be thought of as a privilege that must be earned and respected; in no sense is a licence a right. Considerable efforts have, however, been made to ensure that the Bill is not unfair. I hope that the Bill's broad impact will, except in a few cases, come in the form of a threat rather than the reality of closure. Clubs will know that the penalties for laxity exist and that they must therefore establish good working relationships with the police and local authorities. Communication with all three parties will help to ensure consistent and fair application of the law.

The Bill also contains three specific points that will safeguard well-run, responsible clubs. First, the revocation can take place only if the local authority is satisfied that such action will assist in dealing with the drugs problem. It could not, for example, embark on a campaign to close all clubs regardless of how any one, individual club was run.

Secondly, a local authority is obliged to give reasons for its decision and to take account of representations made by the club. After those representations have been made, the local authority must confirm its decision. Those measures are designed to ensure transparency in local authority decisions.

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There is a final safeguard: during a legal appeal, a court may rule that it is unfair for a licence to remain suspended during legal proceedings. I hope that those measures will reassure licence holders that, provided they are responsible and make strenuous efforts to combat all drug-related activity, their clubs will not be subject to closure.

I do not claim that the Bill is a quick-fix solution to social problems of drug misuse. It must be accompanied by continued initiatives to crack down on dealers and educate young people. However, it provides a solid base for a much tougher policy towards nightclubs which, as I explained, are the source of our current woes.

Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield): When my hon. Friend refers to nightclubs, does he include discos?

Mr. Legg: I include any venue that needs a public entertainments licence, and I have drafted the Bill accordingly. I have not gone for venues that require only alcohol licences. There are now many clubs whose activities are dubious, but which do not sell alcohol--they sell or provide water and so do not need a drinking licence, but require a public entertainments licence. There are outlets other than clubs that require public entertainments licences and there may be drug abuse on their premises, too. I believe that by using the public entertainments licence system, we shall catch a wide range of premises where those problems may occur. I hope that my hon. Friend will support me.

In any decent society, individuals should not need to be given positive incentives to prevent harm to others. In an ideal world, clubs would combat drugs without Government intervention being needed. However, as we have seen, some clubs have not seen fit to behave in a responsible manner. Clubs can clean themselves up, but if they do not, the Bill gives local authorities the power to ensure that an entertainments licence is just that--a licence to entertain and not a licence to kill.

10.1 am

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes): I am delighted to support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg). It is directed in the right way. If we needed any reminder of the need for action, we certainly had it in the past week, with the deplorable and irresponsible words and actions of Brian Harvey and Liam Gallagher. Those incidents underline the way in which the activities of those involved in the music scene, which is so close to young people's everyday lives and aspirations, can undercut all other activities by the Government, voluntary organisations and society in general to contain the horrendous growth in the problem of drug misuse.

Before talking specifically about the Bill, I want to point out that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is duty bound to consider what new guidelines should be issued in respect of the use of cautions by the police. That is especially important after the Liam Gallagher episode at the beginning of this week. It appears that the guidelines are drawn so broadly that the police can technically correctly describe Liam Gallagher as someone who has committed only one offence in police

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eyes and treat him like any other first-time user on his own account and give him a caution. We all know that for months, if not years, Liam Gallagher has made no bones about the fact that he is a regular user of drugs, and the police should not have let him off with only a caution.

If the use of a caution is appropriate--I believe that it is in many cases--it must be linked with the police directing the person receiving the caution to get some sort of counselling or treatment that will encourage and help that person to stop misusing drugs.

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