Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

University College London Bill

Read a second time, and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.

Licensing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

3.8 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Drumadoon): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill has two objectives. They both relate to local licensing boards, which are responsible in Scotland for liquor licensing. The Bill's first and primary objective is to give licensing boards adequate power to attach to liquor licences such conditions as are appropriate for the protection of the health and safety of persons attending events on licensed premises. The second objective of the Bill is to enable

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1087

the size of licensing divisions of local licensing boards to be kept at a workable level, after the recent reorganisation of local government in Scotland.

The Bill, which was introduced in another place, follows an undertaking which the Government gave following the tragic deaths of three young men in Ayr in 1994. All three men died after taking controlled drugs at dance events or raves held in licensed premises. These deaths were the subject of a fatal accident inquiry held before the sheriff in Ayr. In his determination and judgment following that inquiry, Sheriff Neil Gow recommended that it would help to avoid further deaths of young people in similar tragic circumstances if conditions designed to tackle the various risks which might arise at these events were included in the licences granted to licensed premises which held such dance events or raves. Following that recommendation, extensive consultation took place involving the police and local authorities which revealed widespread support for legislative amendments to existing licensing legislation in Scotland to ensure that licensing boards have the necessary powers to make and impose conditions of the nature indicated by Sheriff Gow.

I must stress at the outset that the proposals in Clause 1 of the Bill, which seek to address issues of health and safety, should not be taken in any way to imply that the Government are intent on accommodating drug misuse; nor are we suggesting that young people cannot enjoy themselves at dance events without drugs being involved in some way. The Government do not, and will never, condone the use of illegal drugs. This is made clear in the Scotland Against Drugs Campaign currently under way. Our main objective must be to prevent misuse by education and persuasion backed up by the full force of the criminal law, as appropriate. We hope that conditions imposed under this legislation will play a part in that process. But we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that drug misuse will suddenly disappear and not arise from time to time. Even with the best endeavours of all involved this may still occur. It is the young and inexperienced who are potentially the most vulnerable.

The purpose of the Bill is to make dance events safer, whether or not those attending take harmful drugs, and to prevent those attending from coming to serious harm. I should also explain that the Bill deals only with events held on the licensed premises. The consultation the Government undertook led us to conclude that the powers available to local authorities, under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, to license places of public entertainment where liquor licences are not required are already sufficiently flexible to deal with dance events or raves held under these licences.

The measures in the Bill show that the Government are taking a realistic approach to the problem of drugs and take forward our policy of protecting and educating our young people in the dangers of drug misuse. But our primary message will always be that it is better not to take drugs and we will continue to support initiatives aimed at preventing people from trying drugs in the first place.

The Bill, which has so far enjoyed all-party support, was introduced in another place on 5th December and read for a second time on 18th December before a

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1088

meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Glasgow. I am pleased to say that the meeting in Glasgow was the first of several opportunities for consideration and debate on this Scottish Bill in Scotland. Following Second Reading, under the Scotland in the Union procedures, a Special Standing Committee heard evidence in relation to the Bill from interested parties at sessions in Stirling, Ayr and Inverness. The committee was able to hear the views of, and learn from the experience of, a wide variety of individuals and organisations with an interest in drug abuse. These ranged from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, Sheriff Gow to whom I have already referred, and the Law Society of Scotland to medical and health education experts, the owners of venues where dance events take place and people who work with drug users. These sessions were invaluable in informing the Government and members of all parties in another place about how we could best set about achieving the main objective of the Bill, and enabled the Government to respond to the views offered.

Following debate and evidence-taking in Scotland, substantial amendments to the Bill were brought forward at Committee stage. These amendments responded to suggestions made for improving the Bill and carried all-party support. Further similar amendments were agreed at Report stage, again with all-party support, which further tighten up the procedures contained in the Bill. The Bill cleared the remaining stages in another place on 1st May and was introduced in this House the following day.

The Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 already gives licensing boards a general power to make by-laws to set out conditions which may be attached to licences. As I have explained, Sheriff Gow's recommendations suggested that licensing boards specifically target dance events at which there was risk of drug misuse. We originally proposed to extend the power to make by-laws to cover this objective. But after hearing all the evidence submitted to the Special Standing Committee it was decided that giving licensing boards a free-standing power to attach conditions to licences, with a duty on them to do this where appropriate, was the better way to proceed.

Clause 1 therefore amends the parent Act--the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976--by placing a duty on licensing boards to attach conditions to new or existing licences in respect of premises where certain events will be held. Such conditions are to be for the purpose of safeguarding the health and safety of the people who attend those events. Some of these conditions may be aimed at preventing drugs getting into the venues, such as conditions for security and stewarding; others can safeguard the well-being of those attending, such as the provision of free water and alternative rest areas away from the main centres of activity.

Relevant events are described in the Bill as events held in licensed premises at which music is played or relayed and at which there is the opportunity for dancing and at which it appears to the local licensing board that offences may be committed in relation to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This reference to the Misuse of Drugs

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1089

Act is not intended to condone offending; it is there so that only specific events will attract the conditions; and other events, where it would clearly be inappropriate to set the types of conditions envisaged, are not affected.

Noble Lords will have noticed the somewhat amusing and wide-ranging definitions of "music" and "dancing" in Clause 1. They are intentionally broad so as to allow for changes in fashion as the youth entertainment scene progresses. The definition of "music" is the same as the one used within the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Clause 1 also places on licensing boards a similar duty to attach conditions to existing licences in order to make events safer, rather than having to wait before such licences are renewed from time to time.

Another significant amendment introduced at Report stage in another place will enable the Secretary of State, if he considers it necessary, to make an order specifying particular conditions which licensing boards must impose on licences where a relevant event is to be held. This was done with all-party support in response to concerns raised in debate that, although boards had a statutory duty to attach conditions, this requirement might not be implemented with consistency or rigour throughout Scotland. Similarly, there would be nothing to stop a board unreasonably refusing to attach particular conditions or types of conditions to licences. The amendment enables the Secretary of State to take swift action if it appears that licensing boards are not implementing the arrangements in the way the Government and all parties would hope. It was warmly welcomed by all parties.

Clause 1 therefore now provides that the Secretary of State may by order prescribe the terms of or type of conditions that are to be attached to licences. The clause also provides for a right of appeal to a sheriff against the terms of any condition imposed other than those which are prescribed by the Secretary of State. Finally, it stipulates the penalty for breach of a condition which, in recognition of the importance of this matter, is higher than the norm available for other breaches of the statutory provisions of the 1976 Act.

It is not our intention to prevent young people enjoying themselves; nor am I suggesting that all young people are misusing drugs and alcohol. However, we must all recognise that young people are exposed to those activities and to those who have no regard either for the welfare of the young or for the law. The Government deplore such behaviour and are committed to do everything in their power to bring to account those who offend against the law.

In tackling drug misuse, the Government have adopted a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach and have made significant progress in implementing many of the valuable recommendations of the Ministerial Drugs Task Force report which was published some time ago. The police, existing agencies and individual doctors, nurses, social workers and many other voluntary workers are all making commendable efforts to deal with this serious problem.

The Government have now added an extra dimension to that work by initiating and participating in, with the support of all other parties in Scotland, the Scotland

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1090

Against Drugs campaign, which received its public launch on 7th May. The broad aim of the campaign is to achieve a long-lasting change in the drugs culture in Scotland, by empowering the media and local communities to strengthen resolve against drugs misuse. The campaign will pay particular attention to the views of the young and a youth conference is being organised for that purpose. The Government have committed over £1 million of public funding to the campaign, which will last initially for one year, and with support from all quarters we hope by the end of the campaign to achieve a significant and real reduction in drug-taking in Scotland.

The Government are therefore giving a decisive lead in tackling drug misuse, but it is a lead which has wide-ranging support, which we recognise and warmly welcome. Only through working together will drug misuse be successfully tackled and a culture be created to free Scotland from the scourge of drug abuse, particularly among the young. To change attitudes among the young requires concerted action throughout our communities. We look forward to success with the campaign so recently initiated.

Guidance and education are clearly vitally important, not just for young people, but also for those involved in organising dance events. Therefore, although it will be for the licensing boards to specify the conditions to be imposed on certain events, we recognise that they will need further advice in this difficult area. With this in mind, it is our intention to issue guidance to licensing boards, the terms of which will require to be the subject of consultation, covering the possible type and content of conditions. This will broadly reflect the terms of advice for operators which the Government commissioned from the Scottish Drugs Forum and which was published at the end of last year. This advice, under the title of Guidance for Good Practice at Dance Events, takes account of expert views and experience of the running of such events and was drawn up after consultation with CoSLA, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, health boards and many others.

Clause 2 is a technical amendment to the existing provisions in the 1976 Act on the composition of licensing boards and licensing divisions. These arrangements cover the way liquor licensing matters are administered in Scotland. The change has proved to be necessary because of the large size of some of the new unitary authorities following the recent local government reorganisation. Under the 1976 Act, councils may from time to time determine whether to divide their areas for the purposes of that Act into licensing divisions. The licensing board of a licensing division must comprise one-quarter of the local authority councillors, subject to a minimum of five members.

This system worked well under the old local government arrangements, but it has resulted in licensing boards of an unwieldy size for licensing divisions in some of the new larger unitary authorities. The Government therefore propose that the licensing board should consist of not less than one-quarter of the total number of members of the council returned for the

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1091

wards within the area of the relevant division of the local authority, rather than one-quarter of the members of the whole authority, as required at present.

On the question of resources, the Financial Memorandum attached to the Bill makes clear that the measures I have outlined should not result in any significant overall change in levels of public expenditure or manpower resources. There may be some cost implications for organisers of certain events, but the extent to which individual organisers are affected will depend on the nature of the conditions imposed by individual local authorities and the steps necessary for individuals running events to comply with any licence conditions imposed on them.

I hope that I have now set in context what we are seeking to achieve in this short but important Bill. I believe that the two measures which it covers will make a valuable contribution to liquor licensing practice in Scotland. I am sure that the whole House will join me in hoping that Clause 1 will play a vital role in reducing the risk of further drug-related fatalities at events held on licensed premises. I commend the Bill to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Lord Mackay of Drumadoon.)

3.26 p.m.

Viscount Thurso: My Lords, I must first declare an interest in that I am the owner of licensed premises in the north of Scotland. I begin by congratulating the Government on their widespread consultation process and evidence-gathering, which has clearly worked. All those to whom I have spoken in Scotland are pleased to have been able to contribute and, as the noble and learned Lord said, there is widespread support for the measure.

As has already been stated, the Bill results from the deaths of young people through taking Ecstasy at what are commonly known as "raves". Its objective, therefore, is to try to ensure as far as possible the health and safety of people attending such events. That is a laudable objective which has received widespread support and which I certainly support.

However, as always happens when a broad objective is the aim, problems arise with the detail. I shall refer to some of those problems in a moment but I should like to address two broad points first. First, this is an enabling Bill and as such gives powers to the Secretary of State and the licensing boards in very broadly defined terms. Although in this case I think it is clearly justified, I am always concerned when legislation gives broad powers of action to other bodies or institutions; for example, as the Bill is drafted, a ceilidh for 50 people in the north of Scotland could just as easily fall within the definition of a rave as those events which we generally understand by the term.

Secondly, as has already been stated, the Bill is curious in that it seeks to deal with a circumstance which can arise only when a crime has been committed--that is, when illegal substances are being sold and used. There is, therefore, a real concern, which

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1092

has been widely expressed, that the Bill could be taken as condoning such use of illegal substances and send the wrong message to the drug dealers and drug takers. That is a legitimate concern which I am glad that the Government and the Minister have already taken so fully into consideration. In my view, it is the lesser of two evils and it is right to try to ensure the health and safety of young people at such events. I have been shocked recently to discover just how bad the drug problem is in many rural communities in the far north. I shall certainly support this or any other government measures to combat this grotesque evil.

Before commenting on some of the detail of the Bill, I should like to say a few short words on licensing law generally, although that is not specifically covered by the Bill, and nor should it be. It seems that the time is now rapidly approaching when an overhaul of our licensing laws, not only in Scotland but also in England and Wales, will be necessary. I have had personal experience as a licensee in England of the widely differing views held by different licensing authorities as to what they will and will not grant. I understand that the same variances apply in Scotland.

Current legislation takes no account of the type of premises or the type of people who may be attending an event, or indeed the character of the licensee. Clarification is required as to what licensees may generally expect to be granted. A recent example in Edinburgh is the confusion which has resulted from the Edinburgh board's laudable attempt to curb public drunkenness by taking a tough line on the renewal of late licences. As a result, several of the city's five-star hotels which depend on such licences, particularly with regard to the tourist trade, have had great difficulty in getting their renewals approved. One did so only after a long and costly appeal. Clearly, the licensing trade acknowledges the need for proper licensing and control. However, the case for a review of the licensing laws is now strong.

I turn to the Bill. I have a number of concerns, all of which relate to Clause 1. At line 13 on page 1, Section 18A(1)(c) states:

    "in respect of premises on or a place at which it appears to the licensing board".
I am concerned by the use of the word "appears". Its use is extremely loose and wide-ranging. The word also features in subsection (2)(c) in line 4, page 2. Different boards have shown that legislation can be interpreted quite differently in different areas. The word "appears" is so broad that it is bound to give rise to problems.

It is important that, once enacted, this Bill works effectively and that the decisions of boards in this respect are not open to challenge. Exercised reasonably, the word "appears" is a reasonable word, but exercised unreasonably--there is no qualification in the Bill--it may in certain circumstances give rise to an unreasonable imposition of conditions. I prefer to see the word "appears" replaced with something along the lines of "in respect of which the board has reasonable suspicion". Perhaps the Minister can look at this.

Section 18A(3) provides three criteria which define any event to which the Bill refers: where music is played, where people dance and where it appears to the

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1093

board that drug offences may occur. I am not quite clear whether all three criteria have to be met before the licensing board is required to prescribe conditions; that is to say, whether they are interdependent or any one criterion can trigger the prescription conditions. I would be grateful to receive clarification on that point. In subsection (3)(c) one also sees the word "appears".

I have stated my concern in respect of legislation which gives general powers not defined in the Bill. That is dealt with in subsection (4). Whereas in subsection (1) the licensing boards are specifically confined to the prescription of conditions relating to health and safety, as I read subsection (4) the Secretary of State is given rather wider powers. Perhaps the Minister can clarify whether he is concerned solely with health and safety or whether those powers go wider.

Subsection (6) provides for a right of appeal to the sheriff. While it is wholly correct that a right of appeal should be included, it must be noted that a licensee may find an appeal not only expensive but time-consuming. If the event in question requires an occasional licence or permission, the date may long since have passed by the time an appeal is brought or is dealt with. The position may be slightly different if conditions are imposed on principal licences but that, too, may be difficult for a board to do on a blanket basis because it has to be convinced that the criteria in subsection (3)(a), (b) and (c) will all happen at an identified point for some unknown event in the future. Therefore, it is important that the conditions which may be prescribed are reasonable and that they are applied reasonably, since the worst possible outcome would be if as a result of the legislation there were more illegal and therefore uncontrolled raves.

On a slightly lighter note, I was amused by the definitions of dancing and music. I do not know why dancing is defined as including,

    "any movement apparently to the accompaniment of music".
I should have thought it would be quite apparent whether or not there was musical accompaniment. Music is defined as including,

    "sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats".
Does this mean that a rave that played Stockhausen would not fall within the legislation but a waltz would?

Clause 2 is an eminently sensible piece of revised administration which will make the operation of licensing boards, particularly in the larger council areas created in the recent reorganisation, much more practical. I warmly welcome it.

Broadly, I welcome and support the Bill, but I hope that the Minister will take into consideration some of the points I have made in respect of detail.

3.35 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill I am surprised to read,

    "There is no appeal against conditions, the terms of which are prescribed by the Secretary of State".
Section 39 (appeals to sheriff) is in the principal Act of 1976 and in this Bill. The Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 (Chapter 66) deals with the sale of alcoholic beverages

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1094

and the restriction of such sale to persons under the age of 18; whereas this Bill deals with the health and safety of persons engaged in dancing in what many of us call a discotheque or rave party. Such persons may be as young as 15 years. Section 68 prohibits persons under the age of 18. However, in Sections 49 and 50 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provision) (Scotland) Act 1990 provision is made for public house and hotel licences to have children's certificates. But neither those sections nor Schedule 5 seems to have anything to do with dancing.

From the point of view of health and safety, I and many of my friends are concerned about noise levels of music, which are usually referred to in decibels. A bel is the intensity of noise based on a logarithmic scale. We are certain that the music pitch far exceeds that which would be permitted by the Health and Safety Executive anywhere else in industry. I hope that under Section 38 (power of licensing board to make bylaws) drinking water can be supplied free of charge because I have heard that some rave parties charge as much as £1 for a glass of water.

I hope that this Bill covers club licences under Part VII of the 1976 Act. Much to my surprise, Section 105 appears to be the only provision which requires the fire authority for the area to be notified. In 1973-74 I was a parliamentary commissioner concerned with an opposed City of Glasgow private order which required all discotheques, raves and night clubs to have their means of escape in case of fire approved by the chief fire officer. I wish that that had become national legislation. At Committee stage I intend to table an amendment to cover ventilation, safety and means of escape in case of fire.

I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Drumadoon for explaining the Bill to noble Lords. I have no wish to oppose it. However, I do not feel that it goes far enough to cover the dance conditions of today.

3.40 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I am pleased that the Bill is before your Lordships' House today, as it enables me to take part in proceedings on the first day back following the conclusion of the Strathclyde tram inquiry, which has been held over the past two and a half months--another opportunity to be a parliamentary commissioner, following the noble Earl, Lord Balfour.

The Bill is clearly not a big piece of legislation, but it ventures into a difficult area of social policy. The Bill gives greater powers and responsibilities to the licensing boards for any area of Scotland. In Clause 2 we see that a minimum of five members of a licensing board shall be drawn from councillors elected in the respective licensing divisions. On the face of it, that will be fine in most cases until one remembers small councils such as Clackmannanshire. This measure means that 42 per cent. of the elected members will be on the licensing board. Our 12 Clackmannanshire councillors will be stretched even further in order to carry out the broad range of tasks required of them as councillors. I accept that they are volunteers and that in the days of Clackmannan district, when it was a small authority, that was probably quite easy. However, the new unitary authority has many more tasks.

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1095

Setting aside the Clackmannanshire problem, I approve in principle the membership of a licensing board being extended, as it has to face an increasing range of activities and responsibilities. A licensing board will be required to decide if, whether, and when dancing and music will be enjoyed. In new Section 18A(3) I am not sure whether all the conditions of paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) have to be anticipated for the event to require the licensing board's permission, or does it mean that any one or more of the conditions have to apply?

I know that the Bill is known colloquially as the "raves" Bill, but I am trying to look further around the spectrum. Clearly, the current raves phenomenon will pass away with time and another generation. Presumably the Bill is aimed at all dances and not just those attended by young people. In the new Section 18A(5) I see that the licensing board will be given the power to decide what events it will permit. It is that subsection and subsection (1), which deals with the prescribed conditions that the Secretary of State may lay down, which cause me most concern.

I know that discussing policy with regard to recreational drugs is normally political suicide, so I had better commit ritual suicide. I believe that it is necessary to raise the issue as my final point. The Bill will succeed only if the issue of the use of recreational but illegal drugs is faced up to. It is possible for a licensing board to take a view, in response to its new powers, and to ban anything which looks remotely like a rave. That would be a complete head in the sands job, but I believe that that would be possible within the terms of the Bill.

From my limited experience of working on an intensive probation project in Falkirk with SACRO, I was struck by the fact that many of the young people who attended the probation project, and indeed raves, used cannabis and Ecstasy, but did not use alcohol. They saw that recreational drug as the problem of their parents' generation. Many had lived with their parents' alcohol problems and the consequent deprivation that they caused. Ignoring the illegality, they saw the so-called recreational drugs as broadly enhancing their leisure without bringing the problems that alcohol brings.

I am aware that the point I am making is to a degree naive. I acknowledge that dehydration and loss of awareness can create problems as can the varying cocktail of Ecstasy or MDMA, but I want to ensure that the context in which the Bill will operate is understood for what it is rather than just for what we would like it to be.

We already have to live with he fact that neither alcohol nor tobacco would be legalised now if they were currently illegal. So I conclude with the plea that the context in which these new clauses will operate will not be one of driving young people's recreational opportunities underground. To do so would only compound an already complicated situation and avoid a more positive approach based upon education and information.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for his full description of the Bill's purpose. He must

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1096

have been interested in and perhaps surprised by the number of queries that have been raised from all sides of the House. It is an example of how strongly the whole subject has gripped Scotland. I am not always in favour of having committee meetings outside London, not just because of London, but because I do not think we get the press we should get when they are held outside London. The noble and learned Lord mentioned the deaths in Ayr. The whole of Scotland is very concerned, and so there is the feeling that if the meetings are held in Scotland the Bill will receive publicity in Ayr, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Stirling and Inverness. It is felt that this Bill is more important than the average. It is not normally a good precedent, but in this case I support it wholeheartedly.

The noble and learned Lord discussed the whole issue of the deaths in Ayr. Following that, as he will be familiar from his own court background, over the past few years there has been a great deal of unease in Scotland, and perhaps outwith Scotland as well, about this relatively new phenomenon of raves. I am not an aficionado, but I understand that it is not a rave if it is merely a disco; there has to be another factor. The other factor seems to be some sort of drug. Ecstasy is the only one that I have heard discussed.

The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, mentioned ordinary tap water being provided at raves--I have heard this myself--by the people who run them who charge a pound per glass. They go to a tap and pass a glass to a young person who is desperate after the excitement of the dancing at the rave. They then charge the young people.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, made an interesting contribution. He has some experience of organising dances. He did not say whether there was anything more than pipes in the hall. But his knowledge of young people enjoying themselves is probably better than that of many other people, including myself and other Members of your Lordships' House. His contribution will be particularly important.

I was going to raise the same point as that raised by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, who said that there was no appeal in Clause 1 to the Secretary of State from a decision of the sheriff. That is something at which we shall want to look in Committee.

Other points were raised by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. He probably knows as much about this as most of us from his social work experience and his work with SACRO. He will make a valuable contribution in terms of his definition, but I do not know that I agree with him--I believe that he is aware of this--about recreational drugs. Although in a historic and philosophic way one might be able to relate alcohol and nicotine to cannabis and Ecstasy, I believe that that is a wee bit dangerous, because we have had two centuries to get used to nicotine and a great deal longer to get used to alcohol with its drawbacks and faults. However, that matter can be dealt with in Committee.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, is correct in saying that we must do everything to stop such drugs going underground. I realise that the suggestion is politically dynamic, but we must examine the legality

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1097

of the drugs. They are available in most of the large cities in Scotland and during the summer they will be available in some of the seaside towns too.

We all welcome the Bill. Perhaps in Committee we will discover from those who have experience of and are involved in licensing some of the issues which should be clarified. I believe that the tone of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate indicates that he will be more than receptive to many of the suggestions which, in a non-party way, noble Lords put forward. I welcome the Bill as it stands and I hope that when it leaves this House it will be even better.

3.52 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to what I hope has been a useful Second Reading debate. It is clear that in this House the Bill will receive the wide-ranging, all-party support which characterised its passage through another place. I shall be more than receptive to considering the points which have been raised today and to those which will be raised in Committee with a view to improving the Bill.

I now turn to some of the points raised by your Lordships. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, stated that the enabling powers in the Bill were drawn in fairly broad terms. I recognise that they are. Of course, the Bill was scrutinised by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, which is satisfied that, as regards the circumstances with which the Bill deals, it is legitimate that it should be drafted in those terms. However, it is the Government's intention, in the first instance, to leave it to local licensing boards to apply the legislation. Only if it is clear that a particular licensing board is taking a line different from other boards in Scotland will the need for the Secretary of State to prescribe conditions arise. As I indicated previously, the provisions of the Bill will enable him to act quickly. If having acted, a further problem arises in a year or so he will again be in a position to act quickly.

The noble Viscount expressed anxiety about dealing with a situation only in which a crime has been committed. New Section 18A(3)(c) states:

    "at which it appears to the board that offences may be committed".
Therefore, there is no requirement that there must be the commission of an offence against the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in order for a licensing board to be in a position to act. If, on the other hand, such offences have taken place in the past, that is factual material on which the licensing board could take the view that a similar problem may occur in future.

The noble Viscount stated that perhaps the time had arrived for a wide-ranging review of the licensing law in both Scotland and England. I am sure he will appreciate that, if that time has arrived, the Bill is not the context in which to conduct such a review. Certainly the Government will take note of his views on the matter because, as a number of your Lordships remarked, he has particular experience in this area.

The noble Viscount also expressed anxiety about the use of the word "appear". The provision will be subject to the existing statutory provision for appeals, which require

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1098

a licensing board to proceed upon information and evidence placed before it, to act in a reasonable manner and not to proceed on incorrect material facts. As presently advised, I am confident that the terminology used in the subsection is a reasonable way in which to proceed. However, I undertake to give further thought to the matter before the Committee stage.

The noble Viscount and other noble Lords asked whether all three criteria in subsection (3) of new Section 18A are to apply. The answer is that they are, otherwise a tea dance could be covered because dancing was taking place, even though there was no suggestion that people were interested in controlled drugs. Therefore, there can be no doubt that before a licensing board can impose conditions, all three criteria must apply.

The noble Viscount raised valid concerns about possible delays in appeals. The appeals are dealt with by summary procedure before the Sheriff Court. If it proved to be the case that appeals were not being held until a day after the date for the scheduled event, that would be a practical issue which must be considered by the Government rather than by the courts. However, as presently advised, I see no reason why the normal appeal procedures cannot provide the necessary appeal which should be available to licence holders who are aggrieved about any conditions imposed by the licensing board, being conditions which fall within its discretion.

My noble friend Lord Balfour and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, asked why there was no appeal against the imposition of conditions prescribed by the Secretary of State. If the licensing board has no discretion as to whether or not to grant a licence subject to certain prescribed conditions, if it decides to grant a licence and must impose certain conditions there can be no appeal as to whether it was right or wrong. The board would be following the law and it would be illogical to allow an appeal against the imposition of prescribed conditions.

Finally, the noble Viscount raised the definitions of "dancing" and "music", which I observed are somewhat humorously framed. It is a deliberate intention on the part of the Government and the parliamentary draftsmen not to frame the definitions too tightly and not to use the word "rave" in the legislation. In the north of Scotland, from where the noble Viscount and my ancestors come, entertainment may take one form and in the lowlands, where I now reside, it may take another. However, in both locations one could have music, dancing, possibly alcohol and, I regret to say, current experience suggests that one might well have the abuse of controlled drugs. Therefore, the approach taken in the legislation is to be deliberately wide because any intention to be more specific would result in certain events being immune from the conditions. That is the last thing that we want.

I turn to the points raised by my noble friend Lord Balfour. He expressed general anxieties about aspects of health and safety involving other legislation, including noise levels, fire escapes and so forth. The legislation is an addition to that which already exists for dealing with issues of that nature. It does not affect the powers which are already available under the 1976 Act and, indeed, other legislation to ensure that any premises

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1099

where licensed events are to take place meet certain prescribed planning, building and food hygiene requirements and have the appropriate cover and survey carried out by the local fire authority.

Therefore, there is no need to include in the present legislation additional clauses which are hinted at by my noble friend. But again, in the spirit of co-operation which I indicated earlier, I am happy to discuss that further with my noble friend before the Committee stage and look in detail at any specific amendments which he seeks to propose.

We welcome back to your Lordships' House the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. I understand that the inquiry in which he has taken part was nothing in the nature of a rave but a very hard slog for the noble Earl and his fellow commissioners. He suggested that this is not a major Bill. It may not be major in extent and is certainly not favoured with hundreds of clauses, as are some of the pieces of legislation with which your Lordships have had to deal in recent months. But as we say in Scotland, good gear comes in small bulk. I should say to the English, so that all noble Lords will understand, that this is a very important small piece of legislation. It fits in with an extremely important message which politicians of all parties are seeking to send to the whole community of Scotland. For that reason, I welcome the noble Earl's support.

The noble Earl raised the controversial issue of the use of recreational drugs. The Government's position on that is extremely clear and I need not repeat it. I take the point that the last thing for which anyone would wish would be for this legislation to drive young people's entertainment underground into illegal events. I am satisfied that the very fact that a local licensing board was of the view that drug offences may be committed would not in isolation be sufficient to refuse the licence. Licences and applications for them will be dealt with under the 1976 Act, subject to appeal to the sheriff. It would take more than a suspicion that a particular offence was likely to take place in virtually every case before a licence could be refused.

On the other hand, if, over a period of time, notwithstanding the imposition of conditions involving searching and so on, offences against the Misuse of Drugs Act were continually being committed, that would suggest that those who had applied for a licence and the staff operating the event were not capable of seeking to assist the police authorities and others in enforcing the law of the land. That would certainly bring into question the suitability of such persons to have licences. Therefore, undoubtedly offences committed would be of some relevance. But it is certainly not the purpose of this legislation to drive these matters underground. As I said in my opening speech, the Government recognise that young people are entitled to enjoy themselves in a variety of ways. They recognise that on occasions drugs will be available at events where they are enjoying themselves. Therefore, the purpose of this legislation is not to seek to ban the drugs. That is for other legislation. The purpose of this legislation is to seek to protect the health and safety of those who may be affected by it.

3 Jun 1996 : Column 1100

The noble Earl mentioned the number of members of a licensing board under Clause 2. That has been a matter for extensive consultation with the local authorities. My understanding is that they welcome that proposal. But again we can look further at that matter.

I have already dealt with most of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. He referred to the sale of water at £1 per glass. I am happy to deal with that point. When the Bill was before another place, guidance was available which contained the specimen conditions. That is currently being revised. The availability of drinking water will certainly be dealt with in that guidance. In the last set of model licensing conditions it was stated:

    "Fresh drinking water must be made available free of charge and in sufficient quantities throughout the whole of the venue whilst the event is taking place. Drinking utensils must be available at each point of supply".
I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that a condition along those lines, which one very much expects every licensing board in Scotland to apply, will meet the concern which existed some time ago that as another means of making money, operators were charging as much for a glass of water as they were for any other form of refreshment.

I conclude by thanking noble Lords for their valuable contributions to this afternoon's debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page