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Mr. Rathbone: I should like to add to the list that my hon. Friend just enumerated the availability of free water, because many clubs, unfortunately, take advantage of the need to drink a lot of water in order to sell water at an exorbitant price.

Sir Michael Shersby: That is a very valuable point. It meets squarely the observations made by the hon. Member for Newport, West. It is clear that the heat generated in these clubs as a result of dancing for long periods requires access to water, and it is important that that should be included in a regulatory regime.

When my hon. Friend the Minister replies on behalf of the Government, I hope very much that he will have something to say about the outcome of the consultations that have been taking place. I hope also that he will tell the House what conclusions the Home Office has reached as a result of the contacts that it has undoubtedly had with local drug action teams or reference groups.

Local authorities play an important role. They are often best placed to attach any necessary conditions in the light of local needs. Councillors, in representing their wards, know their local areas intimately. They are well placed to be able to participate in the decisions taken by local authorities. It is important that we get on with implementing proposals that complement the Bill's provisions. Particular emphasis needs to be placed on the reduction of the supply of drugs by searches of visitors where there is reasonable suspicion that drugs are being carried and on the provision of first aid.

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It is clear to me that the views expressed by the Home Office reflect closely those set out in the London Drug Policy Forum's paper entitled, "Dance 'Till Dawn Safely"--an activity that, perhaps a few years ago, every Member of this place has enjoyed and one that we would like to see the young people of today enjoying. We want them to be able to dance safely till dawn, free of drugs and with the availability of water and proper rest facilities.

I feel quite strongly about the question of doorkeepers. In its 1994 report on police, drug misusers and the community, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs commented:

I hope that this element of the problem that exists at clubs will be considered. I do not know whether it will come strictly within the ambit of the Bill. When it is discussed in Committee, however, there might be an opportunity to consider the position of doorkeepers and others involved in the regulation of clubs.

Another interesting report on the topic of doorkeepers and security staff was directed specifically at the private security industry. The Select Committee on Home Affairs noted that the evidence provided by the British Entertainments and Discotheque Association, which represents the nightclub industry, on the conduct of door supervisors' required some attention. The Merseyside police force conducted a survey which revealed that of 476 door supervisors, 279 had previous convictions, including 28 for drug offences.

The Association of Chief Police Officers reported that a local regulation scheme which involved the positive vetting and training of door supervisors, combined with the power to revoke registration, had led to a 50 per cent. reduction in criminal offending in the first six months.

BEDA, representing the nightclub industry, advocated in its evidence a national statutory scheme of registration rather than self-regulation because there would be insufficient participation in voluntary schemes. The Select Committee's main conclusions were that there should be better access to criminal records for the industry as a whole, that no statutory controls beyond better access to criminal records were needed in most parts of the country, and that statutory measures were necessary for the contract manning/guarding sector.

All these matters, although not appearing in every clause of the Bill, are part of the overall problem of regulating and supervising organised clubs which provide entertainment--it is mostly music and dancing, and principally for young people.

The Bill represents an enormously important first step in dealing with the problems that we have been discussing. Taken as a whole, it is probably a problem that we shall never solve, but it is one that we can tackle and reduce to perhaps a less dangerous level. I strongly support the Bill. I welcome it and I hope that it will reach the statute book quickly so that local authorities, the police and other agencies, working together, will be able to identify where drugs are being supplied to young

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people, thereby putting their lives at risk, and to close the offending clubs straight away. They should not be allowed to continue in business for another 12 months while lawyers argue on their behalf at one appeal after another, thus dragging out the procedure while the business continues unchecked.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West has my full support and I wish his Bill every success.

11.5 am

Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on introducing a Bill that is needed to help combat the war against drugs. I deplore Brian Harvey of East 17 for his comments. It seems that Ecstasy has already taken an effect on his brain. I wonder what Paul and Janet Betts think about his remarks. They have been courageous in bringing the drugs issue into the forefront for the nation's consideration and are to be congratulated. They continue to appear on television and radio programmes to put their point of view with great clarity. My hon. Friend, who has helped them, should similarly be congratulated.

The Government cannot afford to take their eye off the ball. The drugs industry has grown up, as it were, and so have the ways of pushing and dealing. Focus points for the selling of drugs are discos and nightclubs. The aim behind the Bill is to curtail the trade in clubs, and it must be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The need to introduce new measures has been brought home to the House by the tragic incidents of teenagers losing their lives as a result of taking illegal substances at discos and nightclubs. If we can prevent such tragic incidents, we must do so.

My daughter, Amanda, has sung and danced in many clubs over the past two or three years. She would tell the House that she is offered drugs every time she performs at one of those clubs. I am nervous for her. She is a strong girl, but she has told me time and again that there is a great temptation just to try drugs.

We must give the police and local authorities the power to close clubs where drugs are freely being pushed. It is essential that they have that power. We must enable police chiefs to target clubs where drugs are sold. They can then take the evidence to local authorities and then to magistrates, who will have the power to shut the club immediately, irrespective of whether the owner has been convicted. That is a necessary step in the war against drug dealers, those evil reptiles who prey all too often on innocent teenagers.

The club owners are not always innocent parties in respect of the drugs trade in their own clubs. Sometimes they are aware that drugs are sold. They could even be taking a percentage of the profit. It is right to target such clubs.

As a result of a number of high-profile drug incidents, nightclubs claim that they have cleaned up their act. That is just not true. Their new attitude is supposed to be reflected in signs on walls that state, "Customers found in possession of illegal substances will be handed over to the police and prosecuted." All too often, the rhetoric does not match the reality. An investigation by a national newspaper, The People, discovered that in clubs such

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warnings went unheeded, and did not seem to be rigorously enforced. It discovered clubs in Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester that professed to be anti-drugs, but where drugs were freely available and changing hands for money. The selling of drugs is illegal. Nightclubs and discos are not exempt from that rule, and should not be allowed to frustrate the law by having the conviction of the licensee postponed, thus allowing the club to continue to operate and be a lucrative den for dealers. The Bill would close that loophole and the drug clubs.

Club owners have a responsibility to ensure that no illegal activities are taking place on their premises. By not clamping down on drug taking, they are, in effect, condoning it. The same applies to the forces of law and order. It is the responsibility of Members of Parliament to give the police and local authorities the power that they need to put drug-infested clubs out of business. The police must work with local authorities to marginalise drug abuse, which, unfortunately, is all too readily becoming part of mainstream culture. That trend must be reversed.

The Executive, legislature and the judiciary have a responsibility to take a leading role in the fight against drugs, which invade and destroy our society. The Executive, in the shape of the Home Secretary, have taken the lead in the fight, and he has given his full support to this private Member's Bill. I urge the House to do the same, and--just as important--I urge the judiciary to back the Government in their fight against drugs.

The Government have taken steps, and it would be right to remind the House of some of those measures. The Government spend £500 million every year tackling all aspects of the drugs problem, from gathering intelligence on international drug barons to operating drug education programmes. The Government's comprehensive strategy to combat the drugs menace is three-pronged: reducing the supply of drugs, the demand for drugs and the health risk that drugs cause.

Drug traffickers and drug dealers earn immense profits from the destruction of other people's lives. The Government have increased the penalties for drug peddlers. The maximum sentence for trafficking in class A drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy, has been raised from 14 years to life. The Criminal Justice Act 1993 strengthened the powers of the courts to confiscate the profits of drug trafficking and laundering drugs money. The Crime (Sentences) Bill will introduce a stiff minimum mandatory sentence of seven years for those who are convicted on three separate occasions for trafficking in hard drugs. The Security Service Act 1996 has enabled the Security Service to support the efforts of law enforcers to fight drug trafficking.

The current sentencing structure must match the Government's stance, and, in turn, reinforce the sort of society that we want to create. I regret that that was not reflected in the recent sentencing of a high-profile performer, Liam Gallagher of Oasis. That individual was let off with a small fine. As a result of that incident, it has become apparent that first-time drug offenders are usually only cautioned. That is outrageous. Gallagher cultivates a loutish image, and has boasted about spending up to £300 a day on cocaine. He should have been dealt with in such a manner as to wipe that smug grin off his face.

Instead, those whose duty it is to combat the destructive impact of drugs on the young have displayed a forbearance so permissive as to make parents weep.

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The forces of law and order should realise that they are sending the wrong signal to society with that lenient approach. It is morally reprehensible. A liberal approach to drugs has a corrosive effect on society. Ultimately, the position of a tough Government is undermined if the other branches of the state are sending different signals to society.

We have recently heard much about the crime-fighting concept of zero tolerance. Zero tolerance cannot be applied selectively. All minor offences must be punished. Being found in possession of a quantity of drugs should be treated as a serious offence, irrespective of whether it is a small quantity or a first-time offence. If individuals fear being caught with drugs, they are less likely to purchase them, thus hitting the dealers. However, the system currently in operation does not punish possession--that is wrong. I propose a system of zero tolerance for drug abusers, which would mean that those found in possession of an illegal substance would be given an automatic gaol sentence. If I thought that it was remotely possible, I would advocate the death penalty for those in possession of drugs. That works in Singapore and Malaysia, so why not here?

The drug culture has been divided into hard and soft drugs. Consequently, we have downgraded the possession of so-called soft drugs, so that both possession and abuse are no longer stigmatised or properly punished. We have conferred on them a degree of acceptability. Society and the sentencing structure need to send an entirely different message. Cannabis possession and use should be stigmatised by society, and should result in an automatic gaol sentence. It is an illegal substance and it should not be legalised. Many teenagers start out by smoking cannabis, thinking it to be non-addictive--which it most certainly is not--and many go on to harder, more powerful substances. That underlines my argument for a no-nonsense, zero tolerance approach to all those caught in possession of or using illegal substances.

Liberal solutions to social problems are not the answer. An overweening liberal ethos has infested British institutions and should be eradicated. The end result is programmes such as BBC's "Panorama", which, when reporting on Britain's drug problem, tend to reinforce the liberal agenda that declares that young men in non-industrial areas have no option but to turn to drugs, that prison does not work and that the law cannot cope or solve the problem. Too many young people have been misled by the Liberal Democrats' call for the legalisation of cannabis into thinking that if it is okay for the wacky baccy party, it cannot do any harm. One youngster told his dad, "If it's okay for Paddy the pot, it's okay for me." That is absolute nonsense.

Young men in non-industrial areas know the difference between right and wrong. They should take advantage of the new, flexible labour market and--dare I say it--get on their bikes and look for work. Youngsters should face up to reality and should not be excused for rejecting it. The reality is that work will not come and seek them out; they have to go and find it. Prison does work, and the law can provide some order and some solutions. A society without a strict set of rules will become overrun and dominated by the activities of those who are ignorant of

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their responsibilities to others, and who indulge in anti-social behaviour. The need for strong disincentives is overwhelming. As Charles Murray said:

    "If the risk of imprisonment goes down, crime goes up."

As well as strengthening the forces of law and order, we should also concern ourselves with factors related to the increased use of illegal substances in Britain's nightclubs. It is a well-known fact that drug gangs and cartels operate in our big cities. Those gangs live off the profits of selling drugs, often to vulnerable and impressionable teenagers. Such teenagers are targeted in pubs and clubs. Those same gangs often control the doormen, whose job it is to turn away the very people who may be the drug dealers. It is a bitter irony that in many cities bouncers are dependent on drugs getting into nightclubs so that their bosses can make a profit. It is perverse. The job prospects of a doorman should depend on his preventing drug dealers from entering nightclubs.

An expose in The Sunday Times on drugs in Britain's cities revealed the extent to which gangs control the flow of drugs and the places where they are sold. The chief of one city drug gang was alleged to control 100 bars. The article quoted a gang member who revealed that

That remark--not from a politician or an academic--shows how drugs are being pushed, the importance of doormen in the drug chain and the pervasiveness of the drug culture. It also shows that much more still needs to be done to stiffen the moral fibre of the nation to reject the drug culture and the punishment for those involved in promoting the filth.

Drug taking should be seen not as a life style choice but as a fast route to prison. The drug culture and the criminal culture need to be smashed.

A key problem may be the fact that there is no unitary body responsible for overseeing the appointment of nightclub doormen. I understand that there are pilot projects under way, but it may be necessary to contemplate a national register of nightclub doormen. All persons wishing to be doormen should need to apply for a licence from an approved body.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West has already stated his intention that one of the longer-term consequences of the Bill should be to foster a more co-operative relationship between clubs, police and local authorities. I welcome that objective, which should be strengthened. A strategy for regulating doormen should be formally established and properly implemented. It should then be an offence for a nightclub owner to hire a doorman who did not possess an approved licence. That would hand the authorities some measure of control over the individuals responsible for overseeing those who are allowed to enter nightclubs. For instance, if an applicant had a previous drugs-related conviction or known underworld connections, it would seem sensible to bar him from controlling the entrance policy of a nightclub. It is an overdue regulation.

If the process could be devolved to local level, all the better. I am not in favour of centralisation, but it is important that such a system is comprehensive and properly enforced. Proprietors who are convicted and lose their licence should be blacklisted and prevented from owning or working in another nightclub. It may be advisable to establish a nightclub proprietors blacklist.

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I also support the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) for the establishment of a national telephone line, so that people could volunteer information about drug dealers. It would be based on the same principle as the benefit rip-off line which, according to early indicators, is a huge success. That scheme saves the Department of Social Security money; a drug dealers line would probably save lives.

I support the Bill. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but we can--and I hope that we shall--take further steps to clean up Britain's clubs and close down the drugs trade.

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