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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You and your predecessors have often ruled that questions should relate to the work of Ministers. Is it acceptable for questions to be asked that relate to their private lives? Many of us consider such questions to be unacceptable and trivial. I ask you to rule--as you have on other occasions--that questions should relate to Ministers' political work, rather than to matters that do not relate in any way to their political responsibilities.

Madam Speaker: I follow the questioning on these issues carefully, and I am very concerned about it. Such questions were allowed today--which I believe was absolutely correct--and they were properly answered. It is right for the House to hear the questions and to know of the concerns, but also to hear the answers--as we have today.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As this is only the third time in 22 years that I have raised a point of order, I hope that I cannot be accused of abusing the privilege that we are given in that regard.

Since the beginning of October, I have been trying to lead an all-party delegation of local councillors from my constituency to the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to debate and ask about the green belt and planning requirements. My request has been refused.

At the beginning of December, I asked the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), whether I could bring an all-party delegation of Hertfordshire MPs to discuss the same matter. On 20 December, I received a letter stating that, as the matter was now not to be called in:

to progress.

You will understand my surprise, Madam Speaker, when I learned within 24 hours that Ministers in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions were holding a meeting for Labour Members of Parliament only, to discuss exactly the subject that I wanted to discuss. I consider that an example of double standards, and it has prohibited me from representing my constituents who are definitely worried about what is happening.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman gave me some indication of his point of order, and I am grateful to him for so doing.

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It is a generally accepted convention of the House that Members should have the right of access to Ministers to discuss constituency issues that lie within the responsibilities of those Ministers. While Ministers may, for good reasons, postpone a meeting from time to time, in my experience it is extremely rare for a request for a meeting to be refused altogether, and I would deplore such an occurrence. At the end of the day, however, that must remain a matter between the Minister and the Member concerned--but I hope that the Minister may reconsider.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am a member of the Standing Committee considering the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill--Standing Committee C. After four days, we are still only on line 2, as a result of the conduct of the Bill's supporters.

I think that I can cope with that without your aid and comfort, Madam Speaker. What really concerns me is the fact that other Bills will be prevented from being enacted because of the filibustering of those hon. Members. What worries me more is that some of those Bills are supported not just by Labour Members but by new Labour Members who may not realise that Bills that they have taken such care to present to the House are being blocked by their hon. Friends.

May I refer you, Madam Speaker, to some of the Bills that ought to be on the statute book and which are being blocked--

Madam Speaker: No, I can read the Order Paper.

Mr. Garnier: I am looking at pages 278 and 279 of today's Order Paper.

Madam Speaker: I read it this morning.

Mr. Garnier: I thought you might have done, Madam Speaker. Those pages contain some worthy Bills that are supported by Labour Members, and they are being denied passage to the statute book because of the conduct in Committee.

Madam Speaker: I have to concern myself with the Committee to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred in his point of order. I am sad to learn about the lack of progress in that Committee, and I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues are working hard to make progress on the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill so that it reaches the statute book. Is not that correct?

Mr. Garnier: Yes, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: If there is a serious delay in Committee, its Chairman must report the matter to me and I shall seek to deal with it. However, my view now is that I want to see some progress in that Committee, so that other hon. Members can have their Bills taken forward.

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Door Supervisors (Registration)

3.35 pm

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): I beg to move,

More than 120 million people a year in Britain enjoy a good night out in night clubs and discotheques, and I understand that an equally large number enjoy a good evening out in the pub and that millions, especially young people, go to pop concerts and festivals. At all those venues, door supervisors, popularly known as bouncers, play a crucial role in public safety. If the public are to have confidence in those supervisors, they must be trained, competent and honest.

Proposals for a national registration scheme for door supervisors are not new. In 1995, the Select Committee on Home Affairs reported on the whole private security industry, and strongly recommended a national registration scheme. Unfortunately, the previous Government refused to follow that recommendation, and instead contented themselves with giving guidance to local authorities on setting up voluntary schemes for door supervisors.

More than 100 local councils have set up such local registration schemes, usually in partnership with the police. They operate through public entertainments licences, and in some places also through magistrates' liquor licences. Those local schemes can have beneficial effects.

When Newcastle introduced a scheme in 1992, it registered 700 local door supervisors, and there was a 75 per cent. reduction in violent and drug-related offences involving door supervisors. Milton Keynes has ClubWatch, a scheme which has excellent co-operation with the police, the local authority and local clubs.

However, there are problems with local schemes. Standards vary from one place to another, and door supervisors have to be registered for each local authority within whose area they work. For example, Milton Keynes recognises the training given by Westminster council but, paradoxically, not that given by Northampton council, which is an adjacent authority.

In some areas there are no controls, and the criminal tendency tends to move to those areas from the more regulated ones. Pubs are not always included, and hon. Members will be aware that pubs are increasingly engaging door supervisors.

There is an additional problem that is relevant to my constituency. It contains a large outdoor venue called the National Bowl, where large pop concerts and other events are occasionally held. It is quite impractical for the Milton Keynes council scheme to register sufficient door supervisors for that event, so people are brought in from outside.

The added urgency about action on registration schemes is that there has been a recent challenge to the legal basis on which councils operate the schemes. Although the London boroughs have been given specific powers to regulate doormen under part V of the London Local Authorities Act 1995, councils outside London rely on the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions)

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Act 1992. It is being challenged that, although the 1982 Act applies in licensing premises, it does not necessarily allow the licensing of individual doormen. Thanet council, which has been the subject of a challenge, has consequently suspended its scheme.

Weaknesses in local schemes are exploited by criminals, and a minority of door supervisors pose a very real threat to public safety. There have been numerous reports of assaults on customers by door supervisors, some of which have been so serious that deaths have occurred. Deaths have been reported in London, Bedfordshire and Cleveland.

This week, I was contacted by Mrs. June Steel, of Cheltenham, who has collected 2,500 signatures to a petition demanding registration of door supervisors. Her 28-year-old son Paul was assaulted by a bouncer outside a nightclub. Although he was punched only once, it was sufficient to leave him brain-damaged. The door supervisor was employed by a security firm operating from Birmingham. He had only just been released from prison, where he had been serving a sentence for manslaughter. His employers were unaware of that.

The problem of door supervisors at pop concerts and pop festivals has only recently been brought to my attention. Hon. Members will be aware that, although it depends on the band, many pop concerts have audiences consisting of extremely young girls, or are particularly attractive to young teenagers. There have been instances in which people with convictions for rape and even for paedophile offences have been employed as door supervisors at pop concerts, which is clearly highly unsatisfactory and is putting young people at risk.

Door supervisors have also been involved in the organisation of the supply of illegal drugs in clubs in London, Durham and Cleveland. The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), who has been very active on the issue of registration, can testify to the violent and intimidatory tactics of door supervisors in his area.

A few years ago, a survey was conducted of 476 door supervisors in Merseyside that showed that three supervisors had murder and manslaughter convictions; two were out on bail; 32 had weapons and firearms convictions; and 101 had convictions for assault. Moreover, the Chancellor might be interested to know that 97 of those 476 door supervisors were claiming unemployment benefit while working, and were therefore part of the black economy--reducing still further the status of door supervisors and adding to their involvement in criminal activity.

The current situation should not be allowed to continue, and I know that the Government are proposing to introduce legislation on the entire private security industry. The United Kingdom is apparently the only country in the European Union that does not regulate its security industry.

The issues relating to property security are not the same as those relating to the security of people. There is an urgent need to regulate the leisure security industry now, both to prevent further injury and death to members of the public and as a contribution to the Government's overall strategy to curb drug abuse. The public who would be most affected by regulating door supervisors are mainly young people, making it all the more urgent that the House take action.

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Mandatory national registration is supported by all the major players in the industry. The British Entertainment and Discotheque Association--representing 700 operators, large and small--supports mandatory national registration, which it would wish to be financed through charges to the industry so that it would cost the taxpayer not a penny. BEDA believes that registration is particularly important for one-venue operators, which are very vulnerable to protection rackets organised by door supervisor agencies.

The GMB trade union and the National Association of Registered Door Supervisors both support a national register, because they believe that it would eliminate disreputable operators and recognise the value of properly qualified door supervisors. The police, through the Association of Chief Police Officers, support it.

My Bill would ensure that, wherever one goes in the United Kingdom, one can be sure that door supervisors have been checked to eliminate those with relevant convictions for violence, including sexual violence, and for drugs or weapons offences. They would also have completed a nationally recognised training course.

People would be trained in crowd control, in safe ways of restraining people--because customers can be very aggressive when under the influence of drugs or alcohol--in recognising drug abuse and knowing how to act in response it, and in first aid and fire safety. It would be made an offence to act as a door supervisor without being on the national register. That would cover all sorts of venues--pubs as well as night clubs, pop concerts and festivals.

Interestingly, the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 gives such protection to football crowds. Stewards at matches have to be trained. Clubgoers and others enjoying themselves on a good night out have a right to expect the same protection. This Bill would give it to them.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Phyllis Starkey, Ms Karen Buck, Ms Beverley Hughes, Miss Melanie Johnson, Mr. Lawrie Quinn, Mr. Jonathan Shaw, Angela Smith and Dr. Alan Whitehead.

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