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1.24 pm

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): Perhaps because I have waited nearly four hours for the privilege of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I can be brief because the debate has covered almost all the important points that should have been made. I shall, however, make one or two observations that have not been emphasised.

Before I do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, first and foremost I join my hon. Friends who have caught your eye and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on his good fortune in being drawn so highly in the ballot and on his choice of subject.

Opposition Members have said from a sedentary position that the Bill has no opposition in the House. That is the case, but outside the House there is a principled concern about one or two points and it is unfortunate that such concern has not been expressed greatly in the debate.

I wish to draw attention to the point made by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North. I too have received communication from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. It makes a valid point about the need to

17 Jan 1997 : Column 577

clarify the concept of a "serious problem". We should debate that matter, and I hope that it may be debated in Committee.

Mr. George Howarth: I asked the Minister to clarify that concept, and he said that the Home Office would issue guidance that would resolve that problem.

Mr. Hunter: I welcome that.

My two final observations follow from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins). I too received the briefing notes or commentaries on the Bill from the British Entertainments and Discotheque Association and Business in Sport and Leisure, and it is important that, in this Second Reading debate, we place on record more of the anxieties that they feel about aspects of the Bill. I must emphasise, as they do, that they support the Bill's overall objectives, but they believe that some aspects should be fully debated, and I hope that they can be in Committee.

One of those aspects is the caution. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West acknowledged in his opening speech that the Bill is a tough measure. I have no objection to tough measures, but I want to ensure that, in the process of being tough, we do not undermine or devalue natural justice. We must ask ourselves whether, as suggested by those organisations, an amendment should be made to the Bill to the effect that club owners or operators should be cautioned before the revocation process is put in train. That is a valid question which should be discussed in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South underestimated the strength of the case that the expression

detracts from the Bill. The argument goes that it is entirely wrong to hold the owner or operator of a club responsible for activities conducted on premises or in locations for which he is not responsible.

I know of a parallel in my constituency: excessive noise made by people leaving clubs late at night or in the early hours. The club owners do all that they can responsibly to encourage orderly departure from their premises, but ultimately they cannot be held responsible for what people do in locations for which they are not responsible. I believe that the expression "at or near" must be considered carefully in Committee.

Mr. Viggers: If a club were being used as the place where contact was made, and the drugs and the money to pay for them changed hands outside the club; if it could be demonstrated that the club was the place where the deal was done, that surely would suffice and enable the proximity to be relevant.

Mr. Hunter: Yes, I would accept that. Perhaps something to that effect could be included in the Bill in Committee.

I believe that there is more to be said, but I know that the House is anxious to accelerate the debate. I therefore close by stressing my support for the Bill in general, and likewise my belief that some of its aspects have been insufficiently considered today and need further discussion in Committee.

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1.29 pm

Mr. Legg: We have had an interesting debate this morning and I am grateful for the many useful contributions to it. We began with my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert)--who is no longer here--outlining the drug problem in his constituency. The Bill will certainly help to combat that problem; I know only too well of the serious criminal elements that can sometimes be involved.

Definitions in the Bill have turned out to be among the key issues. The Minister responded to the Opposition spokesman by saying that guidance will be issued once he has held full consultations with the local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) discussed the phrase "near the premises". I am not sure whether he was here for my opening speech this morning, when I made the point that any local authority, before revoking a licence, must be satisfied that such revocation will help to deal with the problem. It cannot simply close down a club for the hell of it or because of drug activity nearby. There must be a reason for closure that will help to solve the problem, so if the problem takes place beyond the confines of the club in premises nearby, the authority will not be able to close it down.

I wish the Minister well when drawing up the guidelines. "Near the premises" is certainly a difficult issue. We cannot define it too narrowly, because we might end up saying that drug dealing 10 yd from a club was covered by the Act but dealing 11 yd away was not. The Minister faces quite a challenge.

There was also some discussion of what constitutes a serious drug problem. Here we must rely heavily on the police exercising their discretion. We heard an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) in this connection. He offered examples of how closely clubs are working with the police to ensure that their premises are properly run. The Bill will enhance such co-operation.

Perhaps the Minister will bear in mind some words of the fourth American President, James Madison, when he comes to look at the guidance. Madison said:

I am sure that my hon. Friend will try to be as precise as possible when issuing guidance; I am equally sure that my Bill will bring about a real improvement in the drugs scene. I reject the comments of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who suggested that the Bill would make matters worse. I have every confidence that it will make them better, that it will better protect young people, and that Members of Parliament who support it are supporting legislation that will be both workable and successful.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills),

Question agreed to.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the House, as I did on a previous occasion this Session, that the Chair has regularly deprecated proceeding at once from Second Reading to Committee. It means that hon. Members who may have wished to table amendments have no real opportunity to do so.

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment; read the Third time, and passed.

Cold Weather Payments (Wind Chill Factor) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.36 pm

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill has caught the public imagination and huge numbers of our constituents have been waiting for us to make some progress on it. It is just unfortunate that that message has not reached many Conservative Members.

Ministers have clearly told me that Second Reading will not be approved. We find ourselves without adequate time to debate the Second Reading because a Bill on which there has been, if anything, excessive co-operation from the Opposition Benches has been allowed to go through all its stages. There was no opposition to that Bill, yet it is now 1.37 pm and I have only just risen to introduce a Bill that affects millions of pensioners. Not only are we denied the opportunity of a proper Second Reading debate but we are denied the opportunity of taking the Bill through its Committee stage. I have been clearly told that that is the position.

The Bill is modest and brief, but I should have thought that it would represent something good coming out of this House--many people would say "for once"--if it were at least given a Second Reading and debated in Committee. That has been thwarted. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, can see how many hon. Members are here to take part in the debate.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): As my hon. Friend said, the Bill is modest, but the weather that we have experienced in the past few weeks, particularly the wind chill factor, which is an important part of this Bill, provides evidence of why we need the proposed change.

Mrs. Wise: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

I intend to take rather more time than I had expected to take to ensure that everyone fully understands what is involved. Conservative central office and the Conservative party have been issuing misleading statements. The Government claim that my Bill is badly drafted. In that case, why not send it to Committee? That is what the Committee stage is for. The Government regularly introduce Bills whose amendments are ultimately longer than the original text--and they say that my modest, two-clause Bill is badly drafted. In letters to constituents, the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), has expressed sympathy with the principles of the Bill. I have seen those letters, which have percolated through voluntary organisations or reached me directly.

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