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Mrs. Wise rose in her place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. Deputy Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

1.11 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South): I should like to join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on his success in the ballot and on choosing the subject of his Bill.

Despite the mutterings and fulmination from the Opposition, it is absolutely right that the hon. Member who is lucky enough to come second in the ballot should have his Bill thoroughly considered before we proceed to discuss Bills, however worthy, introduced by hon. Members who were not so lucky in that ballot. I have not yet been lucky enough to secure any of the high places in it, but those who are lucky and who introduce such worthwhile measures should have their Bills thoroughly considered by the House.

My hon. Friend will recall that when the result of the ballot was announced, I was one of the first hon. Members to tell him that I wanted to support the Bill. It is important that we should deal with it in depth. I put my name down in advance to speak in the debate and I have been in the Chamber throughout.

Mr. George Howarth: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have now spent in excess of three hours and 40 minutes discussing a Bill on which there is no opposition from any corner of the House. If there was any room for doubt, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) made it absolutely clear that he would not oppose it. I do not wish in any way to challenge the judgments made by the occupants of the Chair, but statistics and arguments are now being repeated ad nauseam about a Bill on which there is no disagreement. I cannot for the life of me see why we should continue to debate the Bill.

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A clear pattern of filibustering is beginning to emerge among those on the Conservative Benches. It has the clear intention of thwarting the passage of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise). Frankly, those outside the House will be dismayed and upset by the behaviour of Conservative Members who are trying to thwart my hon. Friend's Bill.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Is it a new point of order?

Mr. Duncan Smith: Yes. We have just heard a claim about filibustering, but the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), spoke for nearly 25 minutes, which is far longer than most of the speeches made by Conservative Back Benchers. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I can sense that the House is getting a little distressed about this morning's proceedings. [Hon. Members: "Yes."] I sense that just a couple more hon. Members want to make a contribution to the debate, as is their right. It is right that those hon. Members, who each represent a significant electorate, should have the opportunity, if they so choose, to make their speech. Let us progress and see how we get on.

Mr. Howarth rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I hope that it is a new point of order.

Mr. Howarth: Further to the previous point of order, and for the correction of the record, I spoke for 22 minutes and kept my remarks strictly to the Bill. The Minister spoke for 44 minutes and before he did so he said to me, "I intend to wander far and wide in my speech." He did just that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I call Mr. Hawkins.

Mr. Hawkins: I can promise the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth)--

Mrs. Ewing: On a different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask through you whether the Clerk can furnish us with details of the last time a non-controversial Bill introduced by a private Member had to be debated for three hours and 40 minutes, as it seems to be unprecedented? I appreciate that there are sometimes controversial Bills, but the Bill that we discussing is not controversial and is being used to hold up legislation proposed by other hon. Members.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Lady entered the House with me, and if she were to spend a little time in the excellent Library of the House, she would find all sorts of useful information on that subject. I call Mr. Hawkins to proceed on the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins: So far, the annunciator screen has recorded my contribution as lasting for five minutes, but I have spoken for less than one minute. All the time is

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being used up by fatuous and bogus points of order from Opposition Members. I can promise the hon. Member for Knowsley, North that I shall speak more briefly than he did and make entirely fresh points.

I have received three detailed submissions from important organisations with serious concerns about the Bill that they want raised. Given the number of clubs in my constituency, it is important that BEDA, the Business in Sport and Leisure organisation and First Leisure Corporation should have their concerns about the Bill--which I have copied to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West--fully considered by the House.

Business in Sport and Leisure has told me that there are tremendous variations in the procedural requirements and consistency of approach of local authority licensing committees towards their jurisdiction over public entertainments licences. Business in Sport and Leisure's submission to the Home Office in the review of public entertainments licences at the beginning of 1996 contained headings that largely related to local authorities controlled by the Labour or Liberal Democrat parties. Those headings included: "The frustrations of working with Local Authority Licensing Committees"; "Councillors abdicate responsibility"; "Evening Hearings Unfair"; "No legally Qualified Person Present"; "Bored with a case"; and "Concede or be delayed". Such headings about the inconsistency of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Opposition coalition-controlled local authorities tell their own story.

Since 1993, Business in Sport and Leisure has been asking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and his colleagues at the Home Office to issue guidance to local authority licensing committees to ensure some consistency, and I was delighted to welcome my hon. Friend's remarks this morning. Business in Sport and Leisure continues to believe that it is necessary to have clear guidelines. I have no doubt that what may emerge in Committee will help.

Business in Sport and Leisure understands that the intention of my hon. Friend's Bill is that any new powers given to local authorities will not contain any legal safeguards to ensure that owners and operators are given adequate protection. The organisation's concern is that if the powers to shut nightclubs were wrongly used in a draconian way, they would drive the misuse of drugs in clubs underground and on to the black market. I know that that is not what my hon. Friend intends or what the House would want.

There is a concern that it is the Bill's intention to deal with drugs only in premises with a public entertainments licence, not in other premises such as pubs, which have only liquor licences. I am sure that in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West and my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to address that problem. There is a danger that, without the right protection, there will be large numbers of cases in the High Court involving the right of club owners to natural justice.

Business in Sport and Leisure has made it clear to me that it supports the considerable amount of work carried out by BEDA--the trade association of the nightclub industry--with Home Office officials, to consider how to combat drugs in nightclubs. BEDA has been, and still is, undertaking a public information campaign on the dangers

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of drugs--which I strongly support--making information available through its 700 members. BEDA has campaigned for several years for the introduction of the national licensed door supervisor scheme and has prepared detailed information about my hon. Friend's Bill.

BEDA has proposed a system that I hope my hon. Friend will be prepared to consider when the Bill goes to Committee. It provides for written warnings to be given to clubs before local authorities shut down the premises and for speedy hearings in relation to such decisions. That is in line with the enforcement practice of section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, which makes it clear that written warnings are required on the basis of "minded to prosecute". Those warnings were introduced to ensure natural justice. BEDA has also requested that, if a club is shut, that club should have the right to an expedited hearing to appeal against the closure.

An alternative proposal by Business in Sport and Leisure is that the current procedures for the revocation of liquor licences might be used to provide powers for the revocation of a public entertainments licence. Although local authorities do not currently have the power to revoke a public entertainments licence, magistrates have the power to revoke a liquor licence at any time. That reinforces the argument that BISL is not, in any way, trying to undermine the spirit of my hon. Friend's proposals--indeed, it strongly supports the spirit behind the Bill. All the reputable trade organisations are determined to make it clear that they are as keen to crack down on drugs as my hon. Friend and me.

Under the system for the revocation of liquor licences, the premises with the liquor licence continue to trade, but the case is normally heard within three or four weeks. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is speed of decision making that is vital in this respect. The existing legislation could be amended and used as a framework for introducing similar powers for local authority licensing committees.

A further concern felt by BISL is that the club could be closed if it was found that drugs had been abused

I ask my hon. Friend to clarify the definition of "near", which is clearly an important point--we do not want cases brought under the Bill to fall because of uncertainty about that. BISL believes that there is a real danger of the Bill not working as my hon. Friend and I intend it to work, unless some amendments giving guidance as to the Bill's application are made in Committee. There is plenty of evidence that we need to lay down precisely what is intended, so as to avoid inconsistent interpretation, which would undermine my hon. Friend's aims. It will not have escaped hon. Members' notice that, over the new year period, as well-known a name as the David Lloyd health and tennis club at Heston suffered a well-publicised drugs incident. We fear that there will be continuing problems if there is any lack of clarity about whether, for example, a car park attached to a premises is covered by the Bill.

BEDA suggests that there should be a written caution that would recite the police's concerns and request that the licensee and/or the owner propose ways of dealing with the problem. The licensee and/or the owner could be given a specified, very short, period in which to issue written suggestions on how to deal with the problem to

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the police, who would then monitor the situation. That would act as an additional safeguard for the benefit of the public. The local authority could then consider the conduct of the licensee and/or the owner during the period of the caution, to ascertain whether it was then necessary to close the premises.

I have worked closely with Superintendent Dick Taylor of Blackpool police in connection with Blackpool's difficulties with its large number of clubs. He and his predecessor, Chief Superintendent Ken McKay, have managed to maintain a balance between cracking down hard on drugs and allowing tourist resorts such as Blackpool to benefit from having thriving clubs. It is clear that the reputable section of the trade--companies such as the First Leisure Corporation and the Rank Organisation--is just as keen as my hon. Friend is to ensure that a tough stance is taken against drugs.

The chief executive of the First Leisure Corporation, Mr. John Conlan, has written to me to say:

However, he is concerned that there should not be any concentration on the discotheque and nightclub industry to the exclusion of pubs, bars and other public places. It may be that my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to pursue the question of further legislation that extends wider than my hon. Friend's Bill.

Mr. Conlan writes to emphasise:

but they wish to ensure that

    "it treats all licensed premises in an even handed fashion".

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West will wish the Bill to do so, and I congratulate him again on introducing this much needed piece of legislation.

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