I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a great privilege to win a high place in the ballot for private Members' Bills. Indeed, this is the second time that I have had that privilege during my time in the House. It is important to choose an issue of general concern, on which action is needed and can be taken with reasonable speed, and on the importance of which the whole House is agreed.
I apologise for having a fairly lengthy speech, but I want to set the scene about acid house parties. The spread of such parties in this country over the past two years has revealed serious safety problems for those attending and performing at them. The problems that have arisen for the residents in the areas in which the parties have been held are equally serious. The licensing arrangements have been shown to be inadequate. I am therefore introducing this Bill to tackle the problems of the safety of young people attending the events and to protect nearby residents.
I make it clear at the outset that the Bill has a strictly defined purpose. It seeks to place in the hands of the courts the necessary powers to impose stiffer penalties on those convicted of holding and organising dancing and music entertainment without the appropriate local authority licence. The Bill creates no new criminal offence and it does not confer additional powers on the licensing authorities, the fire authorities or the police. It is designed specifically to deal with the problems that have been created by the spread of the so-called acid house parties in the past two years. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent young people from enjoying themselves at professionally organised parties, in a thoroughly safe environment.
My hon. Friend seems to be making clear a difficulty that has been raised with me by a number of my constituents, especially young people who want to be reassured that while acid house parties, or parties of young people of all ages, are properly controlled and moved away from areas of heavy population, so that the general population is not disturbed, my hon. Friend is not seeking to ban such parties if they are properly run. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could make that clear.
If my hon. Friend listens carefully to what I have warned him will be a lengthy speech, he will hear that there is no way in which I am setting out to ban parties. I am simply seeking to ensure that they are licensed, legal and—more important—that they are safe. Once the Bill is enacted, that will certainly be much more likely.
Despite claims to the contrary in some sections of the media, safety considerations have been uppermost in my mind. Some of the media have been pandering merely to increase their circulation. I have here a photocopy of Face, which in my opinion has been irresponsible in not pointing out the safety dangers to young people.
The use of domestic and even commercial premises for noisy parties at which alcohol is consumed, music performed and dances take place has been going on for many years. The police and the local authorities, as well as environmental health officers, have the experience and a range of powers to deal with them. What is new and disturbing is the spread of pay-parties on a much larger scale. I understand that it began with the gatecrashers' ball in London in 1988. Subsequently it expanded so rapidly that the capital's clubs and night clubs were no longer willing to allow their premises to be used for the purpose. The potential profits from such parties prompted a search for other venues capable of holding audiences of several thousand. That was inevitably a magnet to unscrupulous operators and, indeed, criminal gangs.
Those who organise such parties, whether reputable individuals and companies or not, object to the term "acid house party". The term derives from Chicago slang describing the theft and subsequent mixing of recording tracks played at warehouse parties. But because of its association with drug LSD or "acid", the promoters prefer to use descriptions such as all-night party, warehouse party, dance party, rave and, I am sure, many other names. I know that one of my hon. Friends may introduce us to some of them later.
My right hon. Friend is right. "Pay-parties" is another term that is used. People certainly pay. They pay dearly. He is right that sometimes people part with £30 and then there is no party. Certainly there has been one such case.
There is no doubt that organisers of such parties have been highly successful in attracting young people to various functions. It is also apparent that there is considerable organisation at many of the events. They have been advertised through expensively printed fliers or handbills. I have some here. They are colourful and, indeed, expensive. I am happy for my hon. Friends to look at them. The examples support the point that it is nothing for someone to spend £20,000 to launch a party.
Originally the fliers gave brief details of the date, time and approximate location of the party. Reputable ticket agencies such as Keith Prowse handled them. It is possible that they still do so. More recently, more sophisticated methods have been employed. The handbills and posters circulated give only telephone numbers to contact for information on the night about meeting points and ticket sale locations. Pirate radio stations operating on the FM band have been used for the same purpose.
The intended venue is announced at the meeting points when a sufficiently large number of young people have assembled. Sometimes more than one party is announced or the venue is altered on arrival at the first location. I have observed that process. Its sole purpose is to prevent the venues of the parties becoming known in advance to the local authorities, fire brigades and police, who are responsible for the safety of the young people attending the party. That was openly admitted by an organiser in the national press last June. He said:
The venue for the party…was, like others of its kind, kept secret until the last moment…the main reason for the secrecy was to prevent the police from banning it."
The scene was set for a cat and mouse operation.
There is little doubt that the venues chosen are highly unsuitable. Parties have been held in disused or empty warehouses, farm outbuildings, on former airfields, in circus tents put up at short notice on waste ground and, on some occasions, in unoccupied homes. In almost every case the organisers have not sought a public entertainment licence from the local authority. As a result, proper safety standards for the performers and those attending have been completely disregarded.
There have been instances where doors have been locked, thus ensuring that people would be trapped inside in the event of an emergency, and of inflammable material being used without fire extinguishers or first-aid kits being available. At one pay-party planned at the Panasonic building in Thames valley, 20,000 ft of interior walls were removed by the organisers. Not surprisingly, the fire brigade intervened because the building was completely unsafe.
With thousands of people converging on the chosen location and when the party is under way, the regulation of noise levels, hours of performance, traffic and parking is impossible. The risk to which young people at such parties and nearby residents are exposed gives rise to great anxiety. I am sure that both Conservative and Opposition Members will wish to see those dangers eliminated.
Perhaps I may illustrate the risk to which the organisers expose their customers by citing three parties in Essex last autumn. At one, organised in a warehouse and attended by 3,000 people, the power generator did not work properly and the power cables on the floor produced sparks throughout the performance. At the second, held on a farm, the dance area was provided by crude scaffolding covered in plastic sheeting through which live cables passed. In a third case, a pay-party was held in a derelict private home heated by a liquid paraffin gas heater and powered by electricity which was bypassing the meter. The cables were wired through polythene sheets and were shorting out.
Jeremy Taylor, one of the organisers from Energy has told me of a party at which the scaffolding was alive with electricity. There is no doubt that when that happens, particularly when inflammable materials are also involved, there is a clear risk of fire. That disregard for public safety can also be seen in the lack of proper access and exit arrangements at many venues. On some occasions highways have been blocked and whole communities, such as villages or residential areas have been isolated. It is usual for party organisers strictly to control entry to their events, to make sure that they get their money. Even when they have access to ultra-modern premises—usually illegally—with proper industrial safety standards, doors are blocked. At one warehouse party, only two doors had not been blocked. It took the police over one and a half hours to let out those attending the party. If there had been an accident or fire, the consequences could have been disastrous.
The larger the party, the more serious the risk. That is especially so if the emergency services cannot gain access. It is common for convoys of cars and minibuses to be seen travelling to pay-parties in the late evening. One such party at Roydon airfield in Suffolk last September caused such disruption on the Al2 that the road had to be closed. Last Saturday the junction of the M25 and the Al2 at Brentwood, which was the meeting point for several acid house parties, was completely blocked for some time. No one could get into or out of Brentwood. Certainly no ambulance or fire tender could have done so if an emergency had occurred.
Traffic problems on that scale naturally attract the attention of the police. But what is equally serious and dangerous is the sudden arrival of the cars and minibuses often in quiet residential areas and commercial districts. I hope that hon. Members on both sides understand that I am aiming at the safety and protection of young people.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) will forgive me if I quote what happened in Accrington last month when several thousand partygoers converged on a warehouse. Hundreds of fixed penalty parking tickets were issued and the police chased a large number of convoys through the streets. Both the local commander of police and the fire chief commented afterwards that because of the traffic it would have been impossible to reach the warehouse in the event of an accident.
It is not just the partygoer who is subject to these risks. Local residents endure disturbance and noise which can be intolerable. A party held last August beneath the flyover at the junction of the Al2 and the A130 produced hundreds of complaints to the police and local authorities about noise levels. One held the subsequent month on the A130 at Benfleet provoked more than 1,000 complaints. Some of those complaints were from people up to 10 miles away. That illustrates the impact of these events. This nuisance is undoubtedly intolerable.
I have been told of a pay-party, which was fortunately prevented from starting, at which the level of amplification was to be so high that the honeycombed floor of the building, which was obviously wholly unsuitable, could have collapsed. If it had, we would have had a great many deaths on our hands.
The spread of these parties is of considerable concern to local authorities, emergency services and hon. Members, particularly those in whose constituencies they have taken place. The anxiety is prompted by a desire to ensure that large-scale parties should be held in appropriate and safe premises and that a proper balance should be struck between the interests of the partygoers and those of the local residents. No one wants to be a killjoy or a party-pooper. I certainly do not want to be branded as such.
I cannot remember when that was. (Interruption.] I hasten to add that on that occasion the party finished by 7.30 pm. Moreover, when the party was running my hon. Friend consumed an adequate amount.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the term pay-party. Does he agree that because of the poll tax the Conservative party should be called the pay party? Perhaps it has been party-pooping, too.
I wondered when the hon. Gentleman would make a crack like that. Many young people have been complaining about the community charge, yet they are willing to pay £20 or £30 every week to go to these parties.
There is great anxiety in the House and outside about the criminal element that is clearly involved in the promotion and management of acid house parties. I do not wish to overemphasise this point, but it is apparent from all the anecdotal evidence, certainly from the Thames Television documentary, from court cases that have been decided and from newspapers, that pay parties often involve breaking the law. Why else would it be necessary to keep the venue a secret and to attempt to deceive the police? If the venues are safe and suitable, why are public entertainment licences not sought as a matter of course?
There have been too many cases of premises being broken into, for example at Accrington, and of keys being used improperly and duplicated for subsequent illegal entry, for the claims of these parties' supporters to be strict observers of the law to be convincing. I am aware of forged documentation being produced to support claims by organisers that they have the permission of landowners to use their grounds. At Polesworth in Staffordshire last September, for example, the owners were misinformed about the nature of the event for which the property was being hired. Why are the so-called security guards at these functions so often equipped with baseball bats, knives and, sometimes, even guns? I find it difficult to believe that the pit bull terriers that have started to appear are simply being given nocturnal exercise. Perhaps, too, the security guards who, according to The Timeson 1 January, had CS gas canisters at a party in Reigate thought that it was some sort of superior air freshener.
The explanation lies in the massive profits that can be made at these parties which operate at the margins of the law and beyond.
My hon. Friend is talking about parties that happen at the margins of the law and beyond. Is he equally concerned about parties that are advertised but never happen? Is he aware that up to 4 March this year on 161 occasions in the Metropolitan police area, the south-east and in East Anglia, parties were advertised and tickets were sold, but the parties never happened? Young people were rippied off by substantial sums.
My right hon. Friend is right. He anticipates my speech because I was about to mention that the head of the regional intelligence unit said that in many cases the organisers are just "doing a runner" with the money. That means that they are taking the money from youngsters, pocketing it and disappearing rapidly into the sunset.
The House will have great sympathy with the Minister's comments. Will the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) address his remarks to the fact that his Bill will affect not only those parties, but perfectly legal, licensed, open-air, rock festivals? I am sure that that is not his intention, but he is well aware from representations that he has received that his Bill will inadvertently drive out of business exactly those legal, licensed, well-organised, open-air, music festivals. That would be destructive to everyone.
The hon. Gentleman, who has spoken to me, knows full well that I am worried about that point. I intend to say something about it later. However, I will take this opportunity to emphasise that the increased penalties are for those who do not obtain the necessary licence and for those who blatantly refuse to accept or who disregard the terms and conditions. I am worried that unscrupulous people could obtain a licence and wholly disregard the terms and conditions. We would then be back to square one. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall look into that.
Before my hon. Friend leaves this point, will he confirm that he is not proposing to alter the conditions of licences? If that is the case, why should people who obtain licences have anything to fear from increased penalties for breaking the law?
My hon. Friend is right. I am doing nothing to alter the law or the conditions under which people must apply for a licence. We are merely increasing the penalties. If people abide by those conditions and the law they have absolutely nothing to fear from the Bill.
Massive profits can be made at the parties and there are enormous opportunities for drug peddling. A small pay-party, catering for between 300 and 700 people, can often generate profits up to £10,000 for the organisers. A large party, catering for 10,000, can easily provide profits of between £150,000 and £200,000. I understand that since 11 November about 270 illegal parties have been held in the south-east, but, according to the regional intelligence unit head, in 144 of those parties the organisers were:
just doing a runner with the money".
So, more than half those parties never took place. Young people parted with their money and some crook ran straight to the bank with it.
Apart from the profits to be made from selling tickets to the parties, profits can be derived from the sale of soft drinks. At one party 20,000 cans of Coke, that had passed their sale by date and had been bought for a few pence each, were sold for £2 a can.
The profits available from drugs are even greater and that is why the control of security arrangements at such parties often attracts criminal gangs. They can keep out competitors and control the distribution and sale of LSD, ecstasy and cocaine. The largest haul of amphetamine tablets found on one person by the police was recovered from someone who readily acts as the security chief at acid house parties. That says it all.
I understand from the police that every raid on an acid house party has found either individuals in possession of drugs or drugs discarded to avoid arrest. Takings of between £30,000 and £90,000 from drug sales at any one party are no exaggeration.
The chief investigations officer of the Customs and Excise, Mr. Douglas Tweddle, links the rise in amphetamine seizures directly to the spread of the acid house craze. It is nonsense to suggest, as the Freedom to Party Group has, that acid house parties will go underground and be taken over by criminals if the Bill becomes law. Organised crime is already deeply and directly involved in the pay-party cult and our young people are paying the price.
The police have rightly taken vigorous action to deal with the parties. They have the necessary powers to deal with criminal offences and under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 they are able to search premises and to detain persons. The Public Order Act 1986 gives police officers the authority to deal with the disorderly threatening and offensive behaviour.
The police also have powers under the common law to prevent potential breaches of the peace and public nuisances. The commission of acts not warranted by law, the failure to discharge legal duties, the endangering of the life, health, property, morals or comfort of the public or the obstruction of the public in the exercise or enjoyment of rights common to all Her Majesty's subjects fall within the law of public nuisance. Offences falling within that ambit are triable on indictment and can be punished upon conviction with sentences of up to five years' imprisonment. I understand that a number of charges of causing a public nuisance and conspiring to cause a public nuisance have been brought.
The operational difficulties faced by the police arise from the fact that the organisers of the parties deliberately flout the entertainment licensing requirements and the penalties available to the courts do not appear to be a sufficient deterrent. Considerable efforts have had to be put into the collection of intelligence information and the co-ordination of manpower and resources to deal with such parties. That involves the identification of potential sites, contacting the owners of premises or land who have often been misled about the true nature of the event to take place on their properties, liaison with the local authorities and fire brigade to arrange legal action, traffic control measures, and so on. In Essex alone, 90 police officers are on duty every weekend to carry out those duties. That is in addition to the necessary numbers of uniformed police officers who must be assembled to deal with a party once it has begun.
The consumption of police time, money and manpower is a heavy and unnecessary burden. As the weather improves, it is likely that further such demands will be made. More acid house parties mean more aggravation to local communities, and increased risk of a major accident to those attending—I hope that we shall never have to debate such an accident.
Action is necessary to safeguard the interests of local communities and genuine party goers. That action should be directed against those who organise illegal parties. I have looked carefully at the suggestions made by the Association of District Councils to amend the Control of Pollution Act 1974 to make the commission of a noise nuisance a criminal offence, to increase the penalties for convicted offenders and to make the seizure of equipment easier. I have also considered the ADC's ideas for the introduction of standard conditions for public entertainments along the lines of the model adopted by Tandridge district council in Surrey, for the creation of a stop procedure and the compulsory deposit of a bond before a licence is granted under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. I have also examined its proposals for the redefinition of a private party under the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967.
The ADC's package is comprehensive and, undoubtedly, it would be extremely effective, but it constitutes a formidable agenda for action which I believe is way beyond the scope of a private Member's Bill. I prefer a more modest approach that will be equally effective, which is to increase the penalties available for offences against the entertainment licensing laws.
Before I explain the exact purpose of my Bill, I hope that the House will find it useful if I set out the nature and purpose of the current entertainment licensing laws. The details of the law are complex, at least in England and Wales. To understand how my Bill will affect the penalties in each of the laws with which we are concerned it is helpful to understand the scope of the legislation.
In England and Wales, under the law on the licensing of public entertainments, whether an entertainment is public depends on whether, on the evidence, any member or members of the public could, on payment of an admission charge if one is required, attend the entertainment in question. I know that some of the more prominent organisers of acid house parties consider that they are private events that fall outside the scope of the public entertainment licensing laws. It is equally clear that the existing penalties are an inadequate deterrent. It is, therefore, appropriate to provide for increased penalties for offences as a means of bringing such parties under effective licensing control.
Under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 or the London Government Act 1963 the responsibility for controlling places used for public music, dancing and similar entertainments rests with the local authority—the district council or the London borough council, as appropriate. Those provisions apply automatically to relevant events held indoors throughout the country. The 1963 Act also applies to those held out of doors in Greater London. The provisions covering such outdoor events are slightly different in that the licensing provisions in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act apply only where the local authority has taken the necessary steps to adopt them and then only where the events are held wholly or mainly in the open air on private land. Outdoor events on public land are subject to other forms of control.
Under the two Acts it is an offence to organise a public entertainment involving music and dancing, which is the essence of an acid house or pay-party, without a licence obtained in advance from the local authority.
Local authorities have wide discretion over whether to grant entertainment licences. They are also empowered by legislation to attach terms, conditions and restrictions to the licences that they issue. It is also an offence to breach any of the terms, conditions and restrictions attached to the licence. The licensing regime thus created meets a number of important purposes. It seeks to ensure that places used for such entertainments have adequate standards of safety in terms of fire and other hazards, such as excessive numbers of people in a confined space. It also aims to minimise and to regulate, as far as reasonably possible, any nuisance caused to the neighbourhood by the entertainment taking place. That can cover matters such as the provision of adequate car parking space to prevent or reduce congestion on nearby roads and, very importantly, the level of noise at the event, and for how long the event may go on. The last point is crucial. However unwelcome it may be to the immediate neighbourhood to have a noisy party going on, perhaps until midnight, the specification in a licence of such closing hours offers a reasonable balance between the interests of local residents and of those organising or attending the event. What is certainly unreasonable is to allow such parties to go on throughout the night and into the next day.
For those reasons, local authorities are rightly given wide powers to attach terms, conditions and restrictions when they issue a public entertainment licence. When they consider applications for licences, and the extent and nature of the terms, conditions and restrictions to be attached, local authorities take due account of any observations made to them by the police and the fire service, to whom advance notification of licence application must be made. Local authorities also give advance notice to members of the public around the event. When local authorities act as the licensing authority in this context—and I underline this point—they must act fairly and in accordance with the principles of natural justice.
The legislation provides applicants for licences with appropriate avenues of appeal, and I underline that point. Many people are concerned that the genuine party may not be able to obtain a licence. I have already said that local authorities have to act fairly and in accordance with the principles of natural justice. People have the right of appeal first, to the magistrates court and, secondly, to the county court against a local authority's decision to refuse an application for a public entertainments licence. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) may care to listen to this. Current legislation gives people a similar right of appeal in respect of the terms, conditions and restrictions that a licensing authority places on a licence. Event organisers can appeal to the magistrates and to the county court. That is to ensure that silly and petty restrictions are not put on the licence. Licences must be fair and reasonable.
I have talked exclusively so far about the arrangements for the licensing of public entertainments in England and Wales. The Bill seeks to make changes in the penalties for offences in two other pieces of legislation. The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 makes appropriate provision for the granting of public entertainment licences in Scotland by the district or island councils concerned. It also provides for the use of premises as a place of public entertainment without a licence to be a criminal offence. If a condition attached to a licence is not complied with, the holder of the licence commits an offence. Broadly speaking, that is similar to the public entertainment licence regime in England and Wales. So far, there have been only a handful of acid house parties in Scotland. If action is taken to control the abuses of such parties south of the border, but not in Scotland, the problem will simply migrate there. It is right in principle that the increases in penalties for which the Bill provides should apply to Scottish legislation to govern the licensing of public entertainments throughout the United Kingdom.
The law generally does not seek to control private music and dancing entertainments in the same way as it does public ones. However, there is an exception to that and in the light of the activities at acid house parties, it is important. The Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967 enables all local authorities in England and Wales to take powers to require the licensing of private events that involve music or dancing and which are promoted for gain on a broadly comparable basis to the licensing of public entertainments. Even if acid house parties are genuinely private events, provided that the local authority has adopted the 1967 Act, the organisers will need a licence if they put on the party for their private gain. It is important to understand that. For that reason, the Bill extends to the penalty provisions in the 1967 Act as well.
I have set out at some length how the existing entertainment licensing laws are framed. I now want to explain how they will be affected by the provisions of the Bill. The individual Acts are fairly complicated and, as a result, the Bill seems complex as well, although what it seeks to achieve can be expressed relatively simply. It provides for an increase in the maximum penalty that a magistrates court may impose on someone who has been convicted in a case where an entertainment involving music and dancing has taken place without a licence. The penalty will now be extended to a fine of up to £20,000 or six months' imprisonment, or both, on conviction for a breach of the terms, conditions or restrictions in the licence.
Clause 1 deals with the legislation that applies in England and Wales. Subsection (1) applies the new penalty to the relevant offence provisions under schedule 12 to the London Government Act 1963, which governs the licensing of public entertainments in Greater London. The current maximum penalty for the offence under that Act is a fine at level 5 on the standard scale, which is presently £2,000 or three months' imprisonment, or both. I have been careful to leave unchanged the penalties for offences under schedule 12 that relate to entertainments other than music and dancing, which are principally indoor sports events to which the public are invited as spectators and outdoor boxing and wrestling.
Clause 1(2) applies the new penalty to the relevant offences under the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967. The present maximum penalty prescribed in that Act is a fine at level 4 of £1,000 or three months' imprisonment, or both. Subsection (3) applies the new penalty to the relevant offences under schedule 1 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 which concerns the licensing of public entertainments outside Greater London. Here the present maximum penalty is a level 5 fine of £2,000 alone. At present there is no power for magistrates to imprison those convicted of offences under the Act. As in the case of the London Government Act 1963, the 1982 Act also governs the licensing of indoor sports entertainments to which members of the public are invited as spectators. The penalty for offences at such public entertainments again remains unaltered.
Clause 2 deals with the position in Scotland and amends the provisions of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 by applying a new penalty for the offences of failing to have a public entertainment licence or failing to comply with any condition attached to such a licence. The present maximum penalties for those offences are fines at level 4 of £1,000 and at level 3 of £400 respectively.
I have explained what the Bill seeks to achieve and I must now make clear what it does not seek to do. Unfortunately, some misapprehensions have arisen before publication. The Bill creates no new criminal offence; nor does it give any additional powers to the licensing authorities, to the police or to the fire brigade. Furthermore, it imposes no new burden on the applicants for entertainment licences or on those who already hold such licences. The Bill is designed specifically to deal with the serious problem arising from the spread of acid house parties. The penalties provided in existing legislation are so small in relation to the huge profits that can be made that they cease to offer any real deterrent. The Bill will make the penalties for flouting the proper licensing requirements effective once more and will help to ensure that future operators act within the existing licensing framework.
I have spoken to a wide range of people inside and outside the pay-party business and to those who perform at these parties—the artists and disc jockeys. They have told me of threats they have received from criminals and drug pedlars. Adam Adamski, an artist who has appeared at many of these parties has stated in the most recent edition of Melody Maker—a journal which I commend for its fair view of what we are trying to do—
Mr. Adamski says that he has been threatened on various occasions. So, too, have Jeremy Taylor of Energy, and Jonathan Moore of Coldcut. These professionals and other organisers in this world have refused to co-operate with criminals and drug dealers, and have had their premises, staff and functions attacked. Reputable people in the business tell me that they want the criminals out and the licensing procedures enforced.
I know that some of the larger companies in the entertainment industry are prepared to offer their facilities for parties, provided that they are licensed. These organisers, like others, recognise the need to meet the safety needs of the public and to stop criminal involvement in pay parties.
Of course, I am aware of one organisation—the Freedom to Party Group—which has resolutely opposed my Bill, although in an interview last night the group seems to have seen the light. The organisation claims to be the epitome of the enterprise culture: opposed to drugs, concerned about the noise and traffic problems created by its parties, scrupulous about informing local authorities about its plans and about having the venues for what it describes as private parties properly checked by environmental health officers and the fire brigade. The Freedom to Party Group is entitled to campaign for its views and advance its proposals; equally I am entitled to comment on them.
The group's claims are worth examining. It claimed in The Independentlast Saturday that it had never broken any laws. I have with me a pamphlet produced by the group and published by World Wide Productions, which is very much involved in the campaign. The front page of the December issue describes how the Ealing district council applied for and won an injunction under the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967 to stop an unlicensed and therefore illegal party being organised by this company. Its manager was also fined £1,500 for breaking a noise abatement order. North Norfolk district council secured an injunction to prevent a party planned for new year's eve, too. So it is clear that parties in breach of the law are being run by these people.
The group's claim to act strictly within the law does not square with the Freedom to Party Group's comment in the leaflet circulated to many of my hon. Friends that decoys, disinformation and deception have been standard practices. As a business man, I find that deeply repugnant. My business would be closed down overnight if I went in for those practices. It is not an excuse to argue, as the group does, that drugs are found just as often at conventional night clubs as at all-night raves. It was maintained in The Independent that most of the traffic problems associated with these parties would not occur if the police did not put up roadblocks on dubious legal grounds. That is the sort of logic that would bring even cloud cuckoo land into disrepute.
As for the much-vaunted claim of the organisers to consult local authorities and fire brigades on the safety of their chosen venues, I have learnt that that is often done on the afternoon before parties are due to take place, to prevent legal action being taken as far as possible. No fire certificate has ever, to my knowledge, been issued for such premises. The group phoned me yesterday and told me that I was wrong about this and that it was sending over, by bike, a copy of such a certificate. I am afraid that there was no such bike; I presume that the caller was on the usual acid house search, went to his rendezvous point and was sent elsewhere.
The Freedom to Party Group's positive proposals do not stand up to examination, either. In one breath it says that it recognises the problems that pay-parties cause, and organises them only well away from residential areas; and it calls in the next breath for night clubs to be allowed to remain open all night. Perhaps someone will explain to the group that we do not find night clubs on remote farms or moorland. The group blames police for causing traffic problems for which its parties are responsible and then asks to employ police to manage the crowds and control the vehicles that the parties attract. It asks at one and the same time for purpose-built temporary structures to be erected in remote countryside, and for more extended licences to be granted by local authorities on a regular basis. All the group's proposals are riven with contradictions.
Having fun and protecting the right of young people to enjoy themselves are not what the acid house party cult is all about. It is about making money and exploiting a lucrative market for as long as possible. The cult is about taking money on occasion without even providing a party, and about operating at or beyond the boundaries of the law. That is bad enough; but to endanger the safety of young people and of unfortunate nearby residents for the sake of one's bank balance is callous and evil. As Judge Rivlin pointed out when sentencing the organiser of three parties last year, they were "a purely commercial venture" in which the organiser was
catering for large numbers of young persons who were minded to use dangerous drugs in a social setting.
That is true, and it is the worst possible example to set.
I am a keen supporter of small businesses and I have campaigned for many measures to help get people into business—particularly the enterprise allowance scheme—but I doubt whether the person from Stanford-le-Hope in Essex who applied for an enterprise allowance grant to run acid house parties from the headquarters of a greengrocer's shop fully understood the world in which he was trying to move.
I have set out the aims of my Bill as clearly as I can. I recognise that it may have wider effects than merely ending the threat posed by illegal pay-parties. In drafting the Bill I had to bear in mind the fact that if penalties remain the same, unscrupulous operators may apply for licences and disregard their conditions because profits are high enough to accept the fines as a form of business expense. That would not be desirable. However, I am more than prepared to listen carefully and to respond positively to suggestions from hon. Members on both sides of the House, provided that we can achieve the objectives that I have described. We shall have adequate opportunity in Committee, I believe, to do just that.
The Bill aims to ensure that our young people can go to parties to dance and enjoy music, confident that they are in a safe environment, without making the lives of nearby residents a misery and endangering their own lives. Stiffer penalties for those who are exploiting them are the readiest way of doing that. I commend the Bill to the House.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Luton, South (M r. Bright) on his good fortune in the ballot. I cannot welcome his Bill because, whatever its intentions, I believe that its effect will be to drive out legal promoters and legal parties and leave the field, ironically, to the criminal and cowboy elements. I suspect that that is precisely the opposite effect of what the hon. Gentleman intends, but I fear that it may be the result of his Bill.
The Bill has strange origins that go back to a written answer by the Home Secretary on 5 December in which he laid out much stiffer penalties for offences that he identified. That gives the Bill a strange and rather special status.
The House will have great sympathy with much of what the hon. Member for Luton, South said in his attempt to meet some of the problems of warehouse or pay-parties. These problems undoubtedly exist, but I do not think that they are present at every party of that nature. There is an organisation called the Association of Dance Party Promoters that attempts to self-regulate parties. It has been pretty successful in doing so but there have been problems and they continue to exist. I refer to problems of location, which the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has already identified, of fire, public protection, safety, electricity supply, relationship to the emergency services and first aid, traffic, structural safety and not least the cowboy promoters that the Minister has already mentioned in his brief intervention. These are all problems that are associated with unlicensed or illegal parties, and they are serious. The two deaths at Castle Donington in Leicestershire in 1988 showed how serious unlicensed and illegal parties or events can be.
The Bill seeks to address such problems with extremely serious and severe penalties—a maximum of £20,000, or six months' imprisonment. These are major penalties. Some would say that they would be draconian. I am sure that the hon. Member for Luton, South believes that that severity is merited by the problems that he is seeking to meet and that only that severity will be effective. The Bill, however, as the hon. Gentleman recognises himself, makes no distinction between legal and illegal parties, between unlicensed and licensed parties. They are all to be treated in the same way. The Bill will hit the licensed and the legal promoter of music events just as it will hit the unlicensed and illegal warehouse party promoter who is a cowboy. That might not be the hon. Gentleman's intention, but that undoubtedly would be the effect of his Bill.
When I intervened earlier, the response was that those who have licences and are legal and responsible promoters of concerts or parties have nothing to fear. Unfortunately, the world is not quite as simple as that. Large open-air rock music festivals will be hit. It is impossible to organise a large open-air event without some minor infringements by individuals who attend such events. It even happens at events such as Glyndebourne. The person who is responsible for the infringements is not the infringer but the promoter.
I shall give some examples that are related to the Glastonbury music festival, which takes place almost every year. It is organised by Mr. Michael Eavis. It has a high reputation for the enjoyment that it provides for about 60,000 people who attend. It has an enormously high reputation also in the rock music industry. The major record companies appreciate it and use it as a way of bringing new talent to the attention of the public. The festival's record is extremely good and it has the support of the local police. Every year the promoters obtain licences from the local authority and the magistrates.
With a festival of that size there are, of course, infringements. Last year Mr. Michael Eavis faced charges on 24 different counts. He pleaded not guilty to six of them, and he was found not guilty on each one. The cost of pleading not guilty is considerable in terms of legal fees and it was cheaper and easier for him to plead guilty to the other 18 counts and accept the fines as part of the cost of promoting the festival.
I do not want to be unnecessarily combative because I know that the hon. Gentleman is trying to strike a balance between legitimate and illegitimate enjoyment. Is he saying, however, that the party promoter to whom he has referred was right to break the law?
The Minister makes a good point. I am saying that the sort of infringements that I shall detail are committed by individuals who attend events such as the Glastonbury festival, not by promoters. I shall specify four of the infringements to which Mr. Eavis pleaded guilty and on which he was found guilty. I am asking the Minister to make a distinction between infringements by promoters and infringements by individuals or groups of individuals who attend events. In both instances it is the promoters who bear the fines.
Last year, Mr. Eavis was fined £2,000 on each of four counts, a total fine of £8,000. There were three offences of failing to ensure that individuals who went through the entrance gate wore wristbands. That is the system that is used to show that they have paid to enter. The fourth offence was one of exceeding the limit opposed by the licence on the number of people who could be admitted. The Minister will know that at other events, such as Hillsborough, much greater safety is to be obtained at an open-air site by allowing people through the entrance gate, if there is a great crush, than by excluding them. Exclusion leads to greater problems for the police and for public safety.
It is quite common for a rock music promoter to exceed the limit, and that should not be a cause of great concern. I am talking about a licensed promoter who chooses to exceed the limit on the ground of safety. It is impossible in practical terms to ensure that every one of 60,000 or 70,000 people who passes through the entrance to a festival, wears his or her wristband, but the promoter is liable to a maximum fine of £2,000 for every person found by the police not wearing one. That is the way in which the law works. The situation is rather more complicated than the Minister understands. I hope that he appreciates that there is a distinction between deliberate offences by the licensee who breaches his licence and actions committed by individuals who attend.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely. Would it not be better for the promoter to hold a smaller party or gathering over which he could have proper control?
I do not think that anyone has complained about open-air festivals which cater for tens of thousands of people if they are properly controlled. There is no danger to people or to good order at such events, which obtain licences year after year and which take place with the co-operation of the police. There are, however, individual infringements.
The cumulative effect of the infringements last year at Glastonbury was that Mr. Eavis was fined £14,900. With an event of that size, those are costs which that promoter can bear as part of the wear and tear of running the event. Under the Bill, however, Mr. Eavis could be faced with fines totalling £140,000 and the risk of six months' imprisonment, which would make the situation impossible for him and for other promoters of rock music festivals. Similarly, it would be impossible for other people such as Mr. Harvey Goldsmith, the president of the Concert Promoters Association. The promoters have recognised this and have said clearly to the hon. Member for Luton, South and the Minister—they have made this clear in the press as well—that their legitimate businesses and activities would be put at such risk by the Bill that they would be driven out and prevented from continuing to hold events.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the fines that are set out in the Bill are maxima? It is appropriate for magistrates to levy a lesser fine if they consider that a technical offence has been committed. Is not the hon. Gentleman missing the sad truth that in many instances the promoters of some of the events to which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) referred—not of well known national events—treat the present inadequate fine levels as part of their running costs? They pay them, recognising that they will break the law before they start. That is a dangerous situation.
As the hon. Gentleman says, that does not apply to promoters of legal and national events. The Bill will hit legal and national events—which everyone welcomes, enjoys and participates in—in exactly the same way as it will hit unlicensed and illegal events.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) said that it is up to the magistrates to decide whether to impose the maximum penalty, and that they will not do so for technical events. Frankly, many people feel that finding someone without a wristband at the Glastonbury festival is not a substantial infringement of the licence but a technical offence. However, at the moment magistrates are imposing the maximum penalty of £2,000 for people not wearing wristbands, although they are perfectly within their rights to impose a nominal fine of £100. There is a terrible risk for concert promoters that they will not be able to bear the costs if they are fined the maximum sum for technical offences—a fine which will increase, if the Bill is passed, to £2,000.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Glastonbury. Can he say whether Mr. Eavis has had any previous convictions for the offences he has described? If there were previous convictions, it would not be inappropriate for the fines to be increased because the law simply cannot be held in contempt. If it is a first offence and it is as trivial as the odd spectator not wearing a wristband, perhaps it should not attract the maximum fine, but to commit the offence time after time seems to me to be an entirely different matter.
I understand that Mr. Eavis has a good relationship with the local police, which is why he gets a licence year after year, but every year he faces charges for technical infringements of the licence such as the ones I have described. The police do not object to granting his licence in subsequent years. There is a distinction between that sort of technical offence—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Epping Forest smiles, but the offences are the result of activities of people attending the events rather than the flagrant breaching of the licence agreement by the licensee. There is a difference. If Mr. Eavis was not behaving properly, he would not get the continued support of magistrates, the local authorities and the local constabulary. The hon. Member should make and accept that distinction.
I think that the hon. Member for Epping Forest has borne out the fact that, although the intention of the hon. Member for Luton, South may be to hit illegal cowboy promoters, he will also hit people such as Mr. Harvey Goldsmith, the Glastonbury festival and other major rock music festivals which are legal and proper and are held every year. The hon. Gentleman could solve that problem in Committee, and I hope that he will. He could table an amendment to make differential fines between licensed and unlicensed events.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that I said that we would consider that issue in Committee. I am aware of the matters that he mentioned this morning, but I am sure that he will agree that our main concern must be to control illegal parties. If an illegal operator accepts a licence and then totally disregards the terms and conditions of that licence, we must have the power to deal with it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that powers given to the courts are to be used with the court's discretion. The fact that there is a maximum fine of £2,000 does not mean that the court will impose it. The public complain too often that magistrates never use the powers that we have given them.
I appreciate that the Bill is intended to hit the illegal, unlicensed cowboy promoters, or those who give warehouse parties, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that that is not what the Bill does because it does not discriminate between illegal and legal promoters. The Bill may drive out legal party promoters or promoters of rock music events which, perversely, will open the field to the criminal, cowboy and illegal operators who will continue to act illegally as they have in the past despite the draconian fines. As the Minister said, there is a great deal of money at stake at these parties. Some illegal operators will not be deterred. I am sure that the hon. Member for Luton, South does not wish to wipe away all the legal promoters to leave the field free for the criminal element. None of us wants that.
I hope that the hon. Member for Luton, South will consider the issue in a wider context in Committee. He may be aware that last week the Health and Safety Executive, together with the local authorities enforcement liaison committee, started work on new guidance on safety at pop concerts and music events—what was known as the old Greater London council pop code. That has the support of the Home Office. Lord Ferrers gave it his support when it was announced and it had the support of Mr. Harvey Goldsmith, who is president of the Concert Promoters Association. I believe that it will provide a framework for future events, and the hon. Member for Luton, South and other hon. Members ought to take it into account in Committee.
One wider issue which we ought to consider is that, while the House obviously wishes to come down hard on and to solve the problem of criminal and cowboy promoters, we should ask why there is an audience for their work. Obviously some young people feel an element of excitement about impromptu, informal and illegal events, but I do not think that that is the only reason why there is a ready market for warehouse parties and pay-parties. We live in a puritan culture. There is not much of a youth culture in this country and the commercial outlets where young people can enjoy themselves in the evening often are extremely expensive and have licences which expire at an early hour—although pay parties are also expensive.
There is wider provision at, for example, the Leadmill arts centre in Sheffield, which has live music events at least once and sometimes several times a week, but it is the exception rather than the rule. If hon. Members consider the provision for young people to enjoy themselves, they will see that opportunities are more limited than they ought to be. On the whole, the House is male and middle-aged and does not have—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Speak for yourself".] I do speak for myself, but when I look around the House I think I also speak for—
I accept the criticism of the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) because I think that he can probably give us all about 15 to 20 years, but the rest of the hon. Members assembled here, and of hon. Members in general, are male and middle-aged. The I-louse seldom debates events or activities that contribute to the enjoyment of young people. The Bill gives us an opportunity to do so, and it would be a great pity and a disservice if we came down hard on only some events dealt with by the Bill, and did not consider the reasons why there is a market for those parties. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's reasons—
No Conservative Member wishes to stop young people from enjoying themselves. We are concerned about the circumstances in which they are induced to enjoy themselves at illegal parties, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) has said, they are often ripped off because the parties do not take place.
I take the hon. Gentleman's point that the intention is not to stop young people from enjoying themselves. However, we should go wider than the scope of the Bill and look at a constructive policy involving local authorities to offer more legal and imaginative opportunities for young people to enjoy themselves.
Live music is an important part of our culture. There are fewer opportunities to express or to enjoy it than there might be and I suspect that if there were more opportunities the market for illegal warehouse parties among young people would be considerably diminished, although it would not be eliminated.
I accept that hon. Members want to attack illegal parties, but the House must realise that the Bill, as drafted, will eliminate legal and constructive events such as the Glastonbury music festival. That cannot be the will of the House or the intention of the Bill. If the Bill is not amended in Committee, a high price will be paid for attacking the problem of illegal warehouse parties—in my view, far too high a price. It would be a tragedy if, in seeking to address one ill, the hon. Member for Luton, South created another by—ironically—leaving the field free to the very criminal cowboys who he seeks to eliminate.
Speaking as someone who is male and admits to being middle-aged. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Mr. Bright) on using his success in the ballot to introduce such an important, timely and necessary Bill. I know from experience how much pressure is exerted on those who succeed in the ballot by organisations, groups and individuals, all of whom have their private schemes to put forward. It must have been very difficult for my hon. Friend to make his decision, but he chose well.
Representing an area that has been blighted by acid-house parties. I am increasingly concerned about the dangers and nuisance caused by them. I am well aware of the excellent work done by Chief Superintendent Robert Metcalf, commander of the Blackburn police division, despite the difficulties that he encounters in his efforts to deal with the problem. None of us wishes to be a killjoy or to curtail personal freedom, but members of the public must be able to enjoy themselves in the knowledge that they are not in danger. Sadly and worringly, that is not the case at present: it is only a matter of time before a major disaster occurs, with a horrendous loss of young lives. Then the public will ask, "Why didn't someone do something?"
Acid house parties are now a common occurrence throughout the country, but there seems to be a particular problem in north-east Lancashire, where such parties are placing a considerable burden on police resources. Every weekend some part of the area is the venue for such a party. On 17 February, 5,000 people from the north-west, the midlands and Scotland attended an all-night party in a warehouse in Fairfield, Street, Accrington. They caused £50,000 worth of damage to the offices of Hyrota, the Hyndburn and Rossendale training agency, smashing up furniture, stealing telephones and video equipment and ripping radiators off walls.
The warehouse is owned by Supetrac, a company which employs only 10 people and is the subject of a current early-day motion congratulating it on winning an export order worth £100,000 from Burma. The company tells me that the party cost it nearly £5,000 in damage and stolen goods. The police were inundated with telephone calls from irate and often frightened local residents when more than 1,000 vehicles were parked in the streets and side streets surrounding the warehouse, but their efforts to stop the party were thwarted by the sheer numbers attending. It seemed that the positon could not get any worse, but a week later it did. Some 10,000 partygoers—again, from all over the country—converged on a warehouse in Nelson at 1 am on Sunday. Police with riot shields were attacked as they raided the party in an attempt to prevent possible tragedies. At both the Nelson and the Accrington parties, there were arrests for drug-related offences.
It may well be fair to say that the vast majority of those who attend such parties are well behaved, wanting nothing more than a good time staying out all night and dancing to music that is probably harmless, although it seems strange to the rest of us. Nevertheless—even if we put aside the damage that is done, the drugs that are available, the traffic offences that are committed and the fact that young people are ripped off when they buy tickets for parties that do not take place—we cannot fail to act when organisers are putting at risk each week not only the lives of thousands of young people, but those of local residents. No ambulance or fire appliance could get near any house in the area should an emergency occur.
The misuse of warehouses and similar premises creates potential deathtraps. The 5,000 people at the warehouse party in Accrington entered and left by one door. Accrington's fire chief, Station Commander Colin Cuncliffe, said that the party was a receipe for disaster, and could have turned out to be Hillsborough and Bradford rolled into one. In an interview with a local newspaper, he said:
It was a cause for grave concern and could have had tragic consequences for both party goers and nearby residents. We couldn't have got an appliance within half a mile of the warehouse because of parked cars. The party breached all planning regulations on fire exits, emergency lighting and fire resistance of materials. There was also the danger of inflammable substances stored in warehouses which would never be allowed near a club. Al these add up to a cocktail for disaster.
It is clear to me that it is only a matter of time before someone dies—and, regrettably, it will be not just one person but many. Although the police know where the parties will be held, they do not know the exact location until the last minute, and thus do not have time to react quickly enough to stop them going ahead. Once a party starts, the police have a problem: if they go in, given the crush, they may cause an incident or panic that could lead to hundreds of deaths.
I find it hard to understand why those who attend such parties cannot see the danger into which they are putting themselves. I find it equally difficult to comprehend how parents can write to local newspapers defending the parties, and suggesting that the organisers are providing some sort of service that livens up the area. The fact is that the organisers are making huge profits. With entrance fees plus the sale of cans of drinks at £1 a time, £20,000 can be made in one evening. I am not against anyone making a profit, but I am against those who do so by putting lives at risk and causing criminal damage. The maximum fine of £2,000 for not having a music and dancing licence is clearly inadequate: organisers know that they can afford to ignore the law.
The new penalties proposed in the Bill would go some way towards deterring some organisers, but I do not think that they would be sufficient to deter the organisers of parties on the scale that we have seen in east Lancashire. Even if the maximum fine of £20,000 were imposed, it would represent just one night's profit at the current rate of admission, and I see no reason to doubt that partygoers would be prepared to pay more. Given that many travel hundreds of miles to attend, money is clearly not a problem. If the admission charge were doubled the week after the organisers were fined, attendance would not diminish and the organisers, even after paying the fine, would probably have made a profit.
The Bill should be strengthened. A fine of £20,000 or six months' imprisonment may be enough when we are dealing with unlicensed entertainments that simply cause a nuisance, but, in the case of unlicensed entertainments that not only cause a nuisance but endanger the lives of those attending and those living nearby, a more appropriate penalty would be a fine of £50,000 plus six months' imprisonment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South said, the larger the party the larger the risk. The larger the risk, therefore, the larger should be the penalties. A recent editorial in the Lancashire Evening Telegraphcommented:
Enough is enough. The Acid House anarchy has to stop. This newspaper in common with every decent law abiding citizen in East Lancashire is sick and tired of the criminal abuse taking place every weekend in the name of 'fun'. The Acid House criminals are laughing at the law. They know they can get away with it. That's got to stop.
The newspaper's view is echoed by the majority of my constituents, and I am grateful to Hyndburn borough council for its efforts to lobby support for the Bill. Hon. Members will all have received a letter from the council's chief executive, Mr. Michael Wedgeworth, suggesting that, in the view of the six local authorities in east Lancashire and of Lancashire county council, as police and fire authority, the Bill needs to go much further if the problem is to be reduced to manageable proportions. The authorities suggest that there should be clarification—that the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 relating to the licensing of public entertainment under schedule 1 clearly encompasses quasi-private events.
In the penultimate paragraph of the letter it is also suggested
That failure to obtain a public entertainments licence should be an offence triable either summarily or on indictment, according to the circumstances and with a maximum 5 year custodial sentence…It should be stressed that the maximum penalty may deter but more significantly, would give the Police the powers required to intervene at an early stage and prevent the occurrence of the large scale party. A six months' prison sentence as proposed by Mr. Bright's bill would not provide the Police with the powers of entry, as of right. Currently, a Warrant has to be sought from a Magistrate once the event has started—crucial delay could cost lives. Power to enter unlicensed premises is felt to be absolutely necessary. Power to seize equipment would be very helpful.
The matter is urgent. I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading, that it will be strengthened in Committee and become law quickly. If we fail to act quickly, we shall have to bear some responsibility for the deaths that inevitably will occur.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for having had the foresight to introduce the Bill. By doing so, he has done us all a great service. I am happy to be a co-sponsor.
As my favourite champagne Socialist and Old Etonian, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (M r. Fisher), described me so accurately—middle aged, male and a paid-up member of that particular tendency—we have to ask ourselves whether we are being dreadful killjoys and whether there is nothing wrong with all this: boys will be boys, kids will be kids and intend to have a good time, so are we being unnecessarily repressive arid can we not allow them to enjoy themselves? The hon. Gentleman suggested that vague illegality is quite a thrill at a certain age and almost inevitably happens at some point in everyone's life, so are we not in danger of over reacting terribly?
A subtle campaign for that point of view has been mounted by the profiteers. Some of those who belong to the freedom for parties movement, or whatever it is called, have perfectly good intentions and are in no way associated with criminals. I believe that they have been persuaded to regard this as a great liberatarian issue. However, that is an appalling sham. Anybody who has suffered from these parties, as some of my constituents have had the misfortune to do, believes that we simply cannot leave the law as it is and that Parliament has a responsibility to do something about it. The Bill enables us to do something.
We cannot ignore the safety problem, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) referred. Much of the high-powered sound amplification equipment that is used is dangerous because of the amount of electrical insulation that is required and the sophistication of its installation. There have been instance; in Essex of cables that were not enclosed sparking during performances. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to work out that that could lead to a conflagration, and if that happened in a dilapidated building with inadequate exits and scaffolding that had been erected in art amateurish fashion—which itself is a hazard on a number of grounds—there could be appalling carnage.
It must be obvious to those who, for whatever reasons, oppose the Bill, as well as to those who wholeheartedly support it, that Parliament, the Government and local authorities would be called to account by the press. We should be to blame. If the Opposition do not understand what a heavy responsibility Parliament has, I am genuinely sorry. On safety grounds alone there is a case for examining whether the existing law is strong enough. For reasons I shall explain later, I do not believe that it is.
If we ignore the safety implications, we shall do a great disservice, particularly to the many young people who go to these parties. They are not necessarily aware of the critical nature of some of the electrical insulation and installation, or of the dangers of inadequate scaffolding, poor exits and overcrowding. At the age of 14 or 15, they cannot be expected to understand all that, any more than those poor souls who were caught at Hillsborough understood the nature of the facilities that were available at that ground; they suffered and died as a consequence of the failure of others to take adequate safety precautions. If we passed over that question without dealing with it, Parliament would be failing in its responsibility.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that legal and licensed promoters such as Mr. Goldsmith and Mr. Eavis have never received complaints about safety at their events? For that reason, will he join me in seeking to distinguish between legal and licensed events and illegal and unlicensed events?
I would make a distinction between Mr. Eavis and Mr. Goldsmith. It would be wrong to put them in the same category. The experience at Glastonbury was quite different from the experience of those who attended Mr. Goldsmith's concerts. I have attended a few of them. They were large events for which specially constructed scaffolding was put in place. Mercifully, those events were without incident, largely because a reasonably mature and sensible audience quietly watched lavish performances that were subjected to all the normal safeguards. The hon. Gentleman does this place no credit by associating an affair such as Glastonbury, whatever its merits or demerits, with the opera productions for which Mr. Goldsmith is famous.
I associated the two gentlemen because both are members of the Concert Promoters Association. All members of that association are extremely concerned about the failure of the Bill to distinguish between legal and illegal events.
I believe that the Bill has two purposes, as does the existing legislation. I say again that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) pointed out in an intervention—we are not taking new powers; we are talking about new fine levels. The distinction is clear. A person who obtains a licence has to abide by its conditions. If he or she does not abide by the conditions, an offence is committed. If either of the gentlemen mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) commits an offence, having obtained a licence, no doubt the due process of law will be pursued.
I am more concerned about those who do not bother to obtain a licence because they treat the subsequent fine as part of the costs of the evening. We ought to consider what happens in practice. Even among those who obtain licences—for example, the organiser of the Glastonbury event—there are different attitudes. Therefore, different consequences ensue. Until I became the Member for Epping Forest, in which constituency I now live, I lived in Wiltshire, a couple of miles away from Stonehenge and not many miles from Glastonbury.
The Glastonbury event is permitted because of the huge number of people who turn up at Stonehenge. We have seen the violence that has occurred over the years when the police have tried to move people on. The purpose of today's debate is not to discuss whether the police were right to move them on, but when the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central says that the promoters are given a licence each year because the magistrates think that they are such jolly good people who organise such responsible parties, he may be missing some of the subtleties of the permission which relate to the considerable public order difficulties that might ensue if the people who had been to Stonehenge turned up at Glastonbury in a mood to dispute the magistrates' decision. Safety is immensely important and we cannot ignore it.
There is also the problem of noise. The most recent acid house party in my constituency was held in a perfectly normal residential street. There was nothing remarkable about it except that it contained an unoccupied house which was suddenly filled with hundreds of young people. There were not thousands of them, but no more could have been accommodated in that house although they broke down the doors and spilled over into the garden. The party took place one night without notice and the noise was so appalling that several of the residents who complained had to leave their homes. They had to ring friends or relatives and say, "Can I please come and stay with you as this is just unbearable? We cannot stay here." They had to leave because of the noise and the criminal damage and intimidation that occurred outside the party.
All hon. Members will accept that noise is a problem that is not created only by acid-house parties or large parties generally. It also derives from unneighbourliness particularly in flats, where people suffer very badly. Some of the most trying cases are brought to my constituency surgery by people who complain about bad neighbourliness, particularly noise pollution. At the moment very little can be done, so I welcome the fact that the Department of the Environment is looking at the application of section 58 of the Control of Pollution Act.
There seems to be some scope to find out whether new powers are necessary to deal with a serious problem and irritation. The right to have a great time and to play music much louder than old middle-aged fuddy duddies such as I might enjoy—and that is pretty loud as I am also becoming deaf—must be balanced by an equal right of peaceful enjoyment. It does not seem unreasonable that people should be able to enjoy themselves without making the lives of their neighbours a misery. That is a real issue which any responsible legislature should seek to address.
I mentioned criminal damage. The parties in Essex have produced intimidation and criminal damage to people's cars that are parked nearby and to property, front gardens and outbuildings of neighbouring properties. All that is regrettable and clearly stems from the parties. When neighbours in the vicinity of the most recent party in my constituency had the temerity to remonstrate with the organisers and ask them to turn the music down, they were subjected to considerable intimidation, not by the organisers, but perhaps by those who attended the party. It was a pretty hostile and unpleasant environment for the people living nearby. We have a strong duty to consider their rights as well as the rights of free enjoyment of those who attend the parties.
At least as important as the safety aspect is the relationship between the parties and drugs. There is no question but that drugs are distributed fairly liberally at many such events and many convictions have been obtained in connection with the parties. It is not hyperbole or invention, it is a fact. There is equal evidence that the drugs are guarded by young men armed with everything from CS gas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South mentioned, to firearms and baseball bats. That creates a hostile and dangerous atmosphere. It also carries the prospect of irreparable damage being done to the young people who have the misfortune to become involved in the drug scene at such events.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has been here throughout the debate and has already participated in it. I know that he is desperately concerned about the potential spread of crack. He knows that one of the dangers of crack is that it is so appealing. It can be made extremely cheaply and it is easy to distribute and consume. It would be a black day if that drug were to spread in Britain with the consequences that we have seen in America. There is already a significant danger that that will happen for reasons unassociated with acid house parties, but they will not help in the battle if they are at locations where those substances can be peddled all too easily.
The chief constable in Essex operates an extremely effective and efficient constabulary. The people of Essex have every reason to be proud of the service it offers. However, that service is hard pressed, as bids to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for additional police manpower demonstrate. In that context it seems an absolute tragedy that police resources should be employed in patrolling and visiting acid house parties when quite clearly they should be deployed on real, serious issues of public order that arise in any community without the artificial stimulus to illegal activity that those parties warrant. They are not adequately policed. The role of security guards was rightly shot out of the air by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South. He is right to say that they are not genuine security guards; they are there to guard the proceeds of trafficking or the takings about which the Inland Revenue might hear slightly less than the bank manager. That means that a substantial police presence is necessary, and that police pressure is a diversion of resouces that should be devoted elsewhere.
Everyone who considers the issue is struck by the fact that in many cases technical powers already exist. I am delighted that my hon. Friend, in seeking the best method to obtain the desired results in the circumstances, avoided a great panoply of new powers. He is absolutely right. It is important to stress as often as possible that no new powers are sought. It is also important to satisfy those who are concerned about the matter that adequate powers of control and licensing are available. However, at present there is no adequate system of hitting the profiteers where it hurts—in the pocket.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and I were discussing the matter outside the Chamber—I know that it is a matter of great concern to him, and I hope to hear him address the House in due course—and we realise that the deal is put together by a group of people who do not care how they make their profit and see it as a wonderfully lucrative way to make a lot of money in cash. There are many advantages of cash. I imagine that no receipts are given and I doubt whether the Customs and Excise officers see much of the proceeds of acid house parties or that every ticket is registered for VAT. When those profits are generated the costs associated are not very large in relation to the gross. At the moment one of those costs may be a fine of £1,000 or £2,000. That is a derisory figure in the context of an income of anything from £10,000 to £100,000 or £150,000, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has talked. It is literally treated as an above-the-line item, like rain insurance to a more respectable event organiser. It is just ignored.
The great flaw in the present legislation is not that there are no powers to fine but that the fines are derisory. Organisers laugh, pay the fine, smiling, and walk away secure in the knowledge that if they subsequently offend, the maximum fine will still remain at those low levels of £1,000 or £2,000.
We must always be careful about fines and ensure that they are appropriate. I welcome the Minister's recent comments about the possibility of linking fines on many issues more directly to people's ability to pay. If that principle is generally commending itself—I believe that it will find general commendation on both sides of the House—surely the idea of hitting people in the pocket should apply to this sort of activity which is quite nakedly about making a fast buck and doing so because the penalties fir breaking the law are derisory.
In most cases, £20,000 fines will be adequate. I welcome the fact that prison is offered as an alternative because if even £20,000 were not enough—clearly, there may be a number of counts on which an organiser could be charged—and, in the magistrates' view a great deal more money is being made, it would be entirely appropriate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn suggested, for imprisonment to be used.
If we consider why prison would be appropriate we can think of the appalling safety issues. It was bad enough at Hillsborough and those cases in which genuine mistakes were made. How much worse it would be if there had been such a cynical disregard for elementary procedures to ensure that events were safe. We can think of the implications of exposure to drugs and the effect on neighbours. It then becomes clear that it is entirely appropriate to take these steps.
It is unfortunate that the Labour spokesman on the arts, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, should oppose the Bill. I do not believe that that is the general view of the vast majority of people who might be tempted to vote for his party. The overwhelming number of people in this country will wish us to do something about the problem, as the Bill now seeks to do. The penalties are appropriate and I commend the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South. I hope that the Bill will have a speedy passage through Committee and get on to the statute book quickly enough to enable us to do something once and for all about this appalling blight.
Like many other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on his initiative in ensuring that the Bill came before the House today. Essentially, it substantially increases the penalties on those who promote illegal and unlicensed acid house parties, as well as those who promote legal and licensed events.
In broad terms, acid house parties can be illegal in two ways. First, the event may proceed without the promoter obtaining an entertainments licence from the local authorities. Secondly, sometimes promoters fail to enforce the licence's conditions as agreed between him and the local authority. That means that if a promoter fails to keep noise levels down to the agreed levels or to have adequate crowd control, hygienic or fire arrangements, it can result in a violation of the licence.
It is important to realise that the licensing of such events exists to ensure the safety of those who attend them in such large numbers. Local authority licensing should also aim to protect the interests of the residents who live in the vicinity of the events, which are not only attended by large numbers but can go on for several days. Often, once the event is over, many people remain on the site, camped in fields and so on.
Huge events can be a menace to local communities if they are not properly and efficiently organised. There have been cases of severe damage to homes and properties, noise nuisance, terrific traffic problems and bad behaviour, often resulting from alcohol and drugs. Those attending often move on leaving all their garbage and filth for others to clear up. The impact on communities is sometimes nothing short of disaster.
Such behaviour is not only unacceptable but unfair to local people who have to put up with it. I want to make it absolutely clear to the House that the Labour party believes that tough action must be taken against those who organise illegal acid house parties.
Does not what the hon. Gentleman has just said directly contradict some of the themes developed by the Labour party's arts spokesman, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher)?
No. I have not yet developed my case. What I and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central said was that we are opposed to illegal acid house events. He went on to say—a point that I shall develop—that we are concerned about some of the side effects of the Bill on the legitimate, decent, traditional promoter of events. Therefore, there is no inconsistency in our arguments.
We support the part of the Bill that advocates substantial increases in penalties for such illegal events. However, it would be a serious error if the Bill, in attempting to tackle the problems of illegal acid house parties, created unnecessary business risks for the genuine and acceptable promoters and resulted in the loss of venues for traditional festivals. That would have serious cultural consequences and would be a bad side effect of the Bill.
What about the views of the entertainments industry? The House should note the views of certain genuine promoters, and I shall refer to a letter which I have received from Mr. Harvey Goldsmith, the president of the Concert Promoters Association. The letter states:
The CPA is concerned that these unscrupulous promoters
—the people who operate illegal acid house parties—
are allowed to run unlicensed events. We are concerned about security and health aspects and or drug abuse. We do not want these
—the printing is not very good here—
illegal events to take place and we certainly do not want to be tarnished by them. We believe that Mr. Bright's proposals for increasing the penalties for these unlicensed events are correct and will give our wholehearted support to these recommendations. However, we believe that Mr. Bright is taking his recommendations too far.
Opposition Members support that. Later in the letter Mr. Goldsmith refers to acid house parties, stating:
These are in the main unlicensed renegade events organised by non-professional promoters. The concern is:
The attraction for the public at these events is that they are seen 'to be the place to go' and because the public know that they are so called 'street events' and obviously antiestablishment. The public that go to these events are quite young and they themselves rarely cause any problems.Mr. Goldsmith goes on to talk about some of the ways in which the promoters might encounter difficulties from council officers who might be antagonistic towards certain events and exploit their powers. He states:
Currently there is a satisfactory element of flexibility with most councils and officers in dealing with numerous problems which may or may not occur during the event. Often it is beyond everybodys control if an abuse of the licence takes place. For example the noise level may go over the agreed limit because the prevailing winds require the sound engineer to increase the volume. Sometimes; portable toilets do not work as efficiently as they should. On occasions concerts over run because it has been felt that, in the interest of good order, this should happen. Under the proposed new amendments an unfriendly officer could cause severe penalties to be imposed where as at the moment one would 'talk out' the problem.
I fail totally to understand Mr. Bright's and the Home Office's logic and their intentions. The faster the unlicensed unauthorised events are irradicated the better for all of us. Why not at least get that element through Parliament and wait for the new pop code to come out before looking at trying to stop professional promoters from doing their business.
That is the industry's view. The Concert Promoters Association feels considerable concern about the way in which the Bill increases penalties for licensed events, bearing in mind that such promoters have had such a good track record so far.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the imposed conditions and recommendations advanced by the Health and Safety Executive could be much more stringent than any of my proposals? If the operators break those regulations, which I understand will relate to safety and to protecting the health of both the staff and the people who attend those events, the fines are limitless. Fines resulting from prosecutions brought by the Health and Safety Executive have been as high as £500,000 and the terms of imprisonment also are limitless. Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that my proposed fine of £20,000 is just a drop in the ocean compared with what the Health and Safety Executive would do if people contravened its terms and conditions.
The hon. Gentleman is way outside the scope of his own Bill. At the moment a code of practice is being drawn up under the umbrella of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. We do not know what will come out of that, but today we are debating whether we should substantially increase the fines for both licensed and unlicensed operators. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue that the penalties in his Bill are satisfactory because in the future it is possible, though not certain, that the health and safety at work legalisation will grant certain powers to local authorities which would include stringent penalties. We cannot pursue the hon. Gentleman's logic at this stage because the code of practice has not yet been drawn up.
As I have said, there is concern in the industry. Genuine promoters feel that the Bill is out of balance, too heavy-handed and will have undesirable side effects. Although the Labour party is opposed to illegal acid house parties, we believe in principle that people should be free to attend events and festivals of their choice and to enjoy themselves. However, that is conditional upon such events being conducted within the framework of the law. They must be legal. I agree with the hon. Member for Luton, South that there is a balance to be struck between protecting the freedom of individuals to enjoy themselves in that way and safeguarding the interests of the community in which such events take place.
In principle, I feel that the system of licensing via the local authorities provides a reasonable way of striking that balance of interests. The mechanism already exists. If it is not being used properly or as effectively as it might, that responsibility must rest with the local authorities. They must reconsider their codes so that they meet the needs and aspirations of their own communities. After all, they can put what they like into their codes; it is entirely up to them.
There is an important issue here. Most acid house parties are designed deliberately to ensure that the local authority does not have any time in which to apply any of its powers under the licensing arrangements. People arrive on site at about the time that the local authority becomes aware of the event. It then becomes a question not only of whether there should be an injunction, but of whether there may be public disorder.
Yes, and that is illegal behaviour. Therefore, we support heavy fines and an increase in the fines allowed by that mechanism. There is no dispute about that.
Although I may be labouring the point about freedom to enjoy oneself—and I do not apologise for that—I believe that some people in this country, including some hon. Members and even some Ministers—although I am not referring to the Minister of State—would like to see a ban on all events that are attended by large numbers of young people. I am sure that many hon. Members who are present in the Chamber now would find that wrong and oppressive and that they believe that all people should be free to do what they wish, provided that they do so with fair consideration for other people and within the framework of the law.
The hon. Gentleman has said that there are Ministers—not including my right hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench, who can answer for himself—who are against large public events. Will he tell us who they are?
Perhaps I should withdraw that comment. I am not prepared to mention names. Although I have been told that certain people are opposed to these things, it would not be appropriate for me to pursue that issue because they are not present to defend themselves. Therefore, I withdraw that point.
However, I know that certain people—perhaps the middle-aged white males who have been referred to—tend to be a little intolerant of young people and say, "We do not want that kind of nonsense taking place." In my view, that is oppressive and wrong.
The hon. Gentleman asks, "Who?" Perhaps he should talk to people about this matter as I have done. I have talked to local authorities, to the promoters and to young people and have looked at the correspondence that has been sent to the House. No one disputes that there is a group of people—I am not sure how big it is or whether it represents a minority or a majority —who believe that young people are terrors and that they should not be allowed to enjoy themselves. In principle, that is wrong and unacceptable.
My hon. Friend must speak for himself. I and many of my colleagues remember going to major music festivals such as that at the Isle of Wight and the national jazz and blues festival at Windsor. We understand such events and we enjoyed them. I promoted a concert at which the best selling album in the world was recorded —The Who Live at Leeds in 1971. That was one of many concerts that I promoted. I faced problems with the police, the local authority, the fire service and so on. I assure anyone considering the Bill that no legitimate promoter has anything to fear from it.
I am interested to hear the way in which the hon. Gentleman promoted himself as a promoter. I should have thought that the House would not wish to ignore the reservations expressed by the president of the Concert Promoters Association about the Bill.
The point that I make is simple. As a Member of Parliament I have picked up a reaction—I should be grossly surprised if other hon. Members had not picked it up—that young people are anti-establishment and like to kick over the traces a little. It is felt that these parties are an opportunity for them to do so, and it is resented by many people. In principle, people should be free to do their own thing—I would encourage that—but they must do it in a way which is fair, reasonable and within the confines of the law. That is my position and I shall not move from it.
What are the prospects for illegal acid house parties? Some people have said that they are a passing fad which will die away. However, the police and the Minister—who seems to be enjoying himself—predict that there will be a resumption of illegal acid house parties this year when the weather warms up. In the short term, it seems that the problem will persist.
Promoters can make huge profits from such parties, so that they will be content, as they have been in the past, to conduct their illegal events and pay the current penalties, which are not too onerous. But what happens in the short term depends on the House. If Parliament takes action, it can protect the country against such abuses.
I have an article from The Guardiandated 3 February entitled:
Police fear acid house boom in spring.
It gives some of the statistics on parties, which I found interesting. It says:
Between October 30 1989 and January 14 1990 there were: 249 parties monitored, 44 stopped in advance by injunctions and other means, 20 raided as a result of police intelligence, 45 allowed to go ahead, 140 never took place, possibly because of advance police action, but also because of `scam' ticketing.
The Minister referred to that problem and the House welcomed his comment that people pay with the intention of going to a party and then suddenly it does not take place. That is disgraceful.
169 arrested for public order offences (organisers or persons with offensive weapons) 57 arrested for drugs offences (possession and dealers) 8 arrested with firearms, including sawn off shotguns and revolvers, 33 arrests for other crimes.
It is clear from those figures that there is a serious criminal dimension to illegal acid house parties. That cannot be refuted.
Apart from a tiny minority of exceptions, all acid house parties so far have been illegal. That means that entertainment licences were probably not obtained before the event took place. Some people have argued that acid house parties are merely occasions when young people go out to enjoy themselves and that no criminal activities take place. The figures that I have just given the House demonstrate clearly that that argument is fallacious. If it were true that parties were merely opportunities for people to dance and to listen to music, I should expect the people who make those claims to support the argument for making the events legal by obtaining an entertainment licence via the local authority. By becoming licensed, an event comes under the control of the local authority, whose responsibility it is to ensure that affairs are conducted in the interests of both those attending and the people who live in the vicinity.
The Opposition will support the Second Reading of the Bill for two reasons. First, we support that part of the Bill which increases substantially the penalties for illegal acid house parties. Secondly, we shall support the Bill today on the understanding—I noted carefully what the hon. Gentleman said in his speech—that in Committee the hon. Gentleman and, hopefully, the Government will give reasonable consideration to any amendments aimed at protecting the interests of genuine and acceptable promoters who operate within the framework of the law. I accept the argument of the hon. Gentleman that if such amendments created unreasonable loopholes in the Bill with regard to operating a licensed event, they could be exploited by the unscrupulous cowboy operators who currently operate outside the law to make a profit from illegal parties. Clearly we shall take that into account.
If the promoters do not co-operate to protect the genuine promoters and the availability of festival sites—we are worried about losing such sites—regretfully we may have to oppose the Bill in its later stages.
Although the Bill is directed at music festivals, it could result in even local barn dances and more traditional festivals falling foul of the new penalties. Clearly we shall need assurance on that in Committee, if the Bill receives a Second Reading today.
Although a promoter may have excellent intentions about running a legal event, in a large crowd there is always the chance of a few hotheads causing trouble and breaking the terms of the licence. I have talked to Mr. David Burton, the environmental health manager of Mendip district council, who monitors the Glastonbury festival. He feels that the existing penalties are realistic for violations of the conditions of licences, and he is working at grassroots level. The Bill seems to be unnecessarily heavy handed on licence violations and could have the undesirable effect of making certain venues no longer available. [Laughter.]The hon. Member for Gravesham, (Mr. Arnold) laughs, but the risks for the promoters would be too great.
If a local authority and the police feel that a licence should not be issued, the council has discretion not to issue it. The fines could be so onerous that many people whom we would support and who operate legally might feel that the risk of incurring them was too great, because it is sometimes difficult to control everybody at such events, and might withdraw from holding the events. That would mean that the venues of traditional festivals would be lost. That is our anxiety and why we believe that the Bill is too heavy handed.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the environmental health manager on the ground in the Mendips—and there is no better place for such a manager to be than checking these matters on the ground. Others on the ground include the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), some of whom complain, with reason, about pollution to water courses, nuisances, noise and access. What message does the hon. Gentleman have for legitimate concert promoters about their duties to local residents? Does he agree that they have a positive duty to minimise nuisance to local residents, such as the constituents of my hon. Friend?
Naturally; I completely support that. The terms and conditions of the licence provide the mechanism for ensuring that responsibility to the local community. The licences are adoptive licences and it is for the local authority to insert the terms and conditions. If promoters fail to adhere to its terms and conditions, the council merely has to revoke the licence in future. If people are in the promotions business, it is not in their interests to ruin their opportunities of running a concert or festival in future. From my discussions with the head of environmental health on Mendip council, I believe that the existing arrangements for licensed events work perfectly satisfactorily. Local councils have discretion to determine the terms and conditions governing the issue of a licence. It is then up to local people to make representations to local councillors if they feel that they want those conditions enhanced.
The people in the legitimate part of the entertainments business are well known, and they all know each other well. They are also known to the police. In addition, there is a six-week cycle for issuing a licence. From the time the application is made, representations against it can be made. That is a safeguard which local authorities must ensure exists.
If an event organiser were to violate the conditions of the licence, he would know that that would threaten his chance of getting a licence in future, so business opportunities would be lost. Obviously that is a powerful stick which local authorities have. It is important for them to ensure that the conditions in the licence are sufficiently comprehensive. I know of one local authority which has laid down in the licence only conditions about loud music. The matter is for it to decide, but I believe that that is too limited. A comprehensive set of criteria is needed to enable the local authority to carry out proper monitoring of an enforcement at these events.
I question the value of increasing the penalties for violations at legal events provided in the Bill because of the serious side effects that could arise from imposing heavy fines. We could lose those venues because promoters would fear huge fines and the loss of profitability on an event. The Committee must consider that thoroughly. We must protect the interests of legitimate promoters and ensure that we do not knock them out of business and replace them with undesirable cowboy elements. If we succeed, we shall give the country good service. Many people who have been affected by the undesirable aspects of acid house parties would welcome that and breathe a sigh of relief to think that the House of Commons has taken action on this important issue.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me relatively early in the debate. I apologise to Members on both Front Benches for the fact that I may have to leave for my constituency before my hon. Friend the Minister has completed his speech.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on doing so well in the ballot and on using his opportunity with such good sense and judgment to introduce this Bill. He has chosen a measured approach to deal with this difficulty. Although I shall make one or two points which are important for my constituents, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) that we are seeking to curb irregularities, not to diminish the pleasure of young people.
I detected in the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) a certain reverse agism in categorising young people. I hope that he will also remember that they are affected by the serious negative consequences of these large gatherings. They may be trying to sleep through the noise or be stuck in the traffic jams. They, too, suffer from these difficulties.
The hon. Gentleman may have read the witty article by Mr. Peter McKay, that famous Fleet street diarist in which he said:
Young people will be young people",
pooh-poohing the efforts of many of us to reduce the numbers of these parties. He wrote that he was listening to the
Terrible droning noise—that familiar sound of the middle aged and old being outraged by the young.
That is a legitimate point and we must bear it in mind.
The fact is that serious problems are raised by acid house parties—not only drugs problems, although that is one of the most important. We heard about two deaths in Leicestershire. In many ways these parties are the successors to the original blues parties. They are not the sort of parties that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I tend to go to. Many of them start at 4 am, when I would be detained in the House.
Although the parties need an entertainment licence, the police have to rely upon a mishmash of relevant laws, none of which addresses the specific problem. The Bill will be extremely helpful.
My hon. Friends have already spoken about the complete lack of a deterrent and the way in which the law is being brought into disrepute by the failure to take action. The fine is so modest that it is merely seen as an on-cost by the organisers, who then take their enormous profits and move on to organise another party.
I have spoken to the Nottinghamshire police about this problem. They do an excellent job in my constituency all year round. Although there has been only one attempt to hold a party in Nottinghamshire, the police are extremely concerned. There was an attempt to hold a party at the end of last year at or near Ratcliffe on Soar power station. The police received advance notice because of widespread advertising in Birmingham and London as well as in Nottingham, and they were able to persuade the promoters to cancel the party.
We are aware of the danger of the drug problem escalating in the midlands. The Nottinghamshire police feel that the parties appeal to young, usually responsible, people. But there is not only evidence of corruption at those parties, but a calculation to corrupt. We should be anxious to protect young people from such corruption.
The Nottinghamshire police have been extremely successful in dealing with a number of drug problems, and my hon. Friend the Minister will be delighted to hear that, in the past six months alone, there have been three significant seizures of crack in Nottingham and a seven-year prison sentence was handed down. The police have a good record on keeping drugs out of our schools in Nottingham, which is extremely important.
My hon. Friend the Minister has already spoken about bogus ghost parties where young people are ripped off by the promoters who take the money to the bank. A culture of deceit and organised crime hides behind such parties. There is the business of hiding the location of the party from the police, and the surreptitious way in which the tickets are sold as well as the alternative location that can be called upon if the primary location is discovered.
The parties are a local nuisance and are redolent of the 1960 pop festivals. There is a lack of consideration for local people and the misery caused to them. Such is the nuisance caused that, in some cases, the noise from the parties has been heard 10 miles away. Problems also arise from traffic congestion, parking and the size of the crowds.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (M r. Norris) has already spoken about safety, and its importance cannot be minimised. The emergency services would have great difficulty if they had to gain access to such parties. The lack of access combined with the lack of suitable facilities and proper safety equipment is extremely important. Policing such events is extremely difficult, and it would be virtually impossible for the police to take action when so many people were gathered in such confined space.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can give me advice on three matters that have been brought to my attention by local authorities. First, schedule 1 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 clearly encompasses quasi-private events and case law supports that. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would help enforcement if that was spelt out? If my hon. Friend cannot give me an answer today, I should be grateful to receive a letter so that I can reassure the local authorities. Secondly, given the precedent that we have set on drug offenders, does he think that those who are convicted of law breaking under the Bill should be obliged to forfeit their ill-gotten gains? Thirdly, given my hon. Friend's particular interest in protecting young people and making parents more responsible for the crimes of their children—I appreciate that that does not have a direct application today—I hope that he will keep under review whether further Home Office measures are required to protect young people from the innate corruption of acid house parties.
I hope that the Minister will consult closely with the police and the local authorities. Despite my absolute conviction that we never want to see such a party in Gedling, I do not want to be regarded as a party-pooper —the phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South. I am not a regular reader of Melody Makerany more but I wish the Bill every success. I do not believe that it will exert a downward pressure on enjoyment, as feared by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West. The Bill is sensible and prudent, and I am glad that the Opposition support it. I hope that it will have a speedy and successful journey through Committee.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting private Members' time and I shall be brief. The announcement of the closure of the Wheal Jane tin mine in my constituency, which was supported by the Department of Trade and Industry, has just been made. I do not know whether a statement has been sought and I would appreciate your guidance on whether there is any way in which I can raise this tragic blow for my constituency on a Friday, which I appreciate is a difficult time for the House.
It might be for the convenience of the House if I spoke now, and convenient to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) if I answered his three questions before he goes off to his constituency.
My hon. Friend raised a point about the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 about which I shall write to him. That was very much a Committee point and my hon. Friend is in grave danger of finding himself on Standing Committee C as a result. I shall support any application he makes to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection.
My hon. Friend also raised an important point about confiscation with which I agree. I accept his strictures and we need to implement an order under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 as quickly as possible so that criminal proceeds of more than £10,000 are confiscated after conviction. If we do that we shall make life much more difficult for those who promote illegal entertainments.
My hon. Friend was also concerned about the very young who might attend such parties. I do not believe that anyone in the House would consider it stuffy or old fashioned if I said that there are moral dangers for young people aged 13 or 14 who may go to an acid house party. They may be exposed to drugs for the first time in their lives.
I shall continue to keep under review the suggestions of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that we should do more to make parents responsible for children and for children's offending. Five years ago such an idea would have been received with outrage by the Opposition and some opinion in the country, but it has now found its time and has gained widespread assent.
Now that I have answered the three points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling I wish him a safe journey there, wherever it may be and no acid parties.
We all suffer from boundary commissioners giving otherwise properly named places strange names for boundary purposes.
I note that other hon. Friends are present and I should be interested to hear their contributions if they are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) is present, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor), who has already made a contribution, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) who has had constituency problems as a result of such parties.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), whom I have always thought of as a politician-barrister, I shall now think of him as a pop promoter, politician and barrister. We look forward to hearing more about what he has to say about his past career in promoting musical festivals and long-playing records in the dark ages of 1971 and 1972.
My most important introductory point is to express the gratitude of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and myself to our hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for introducing the Bill. The country will be shocked if the Bill does not receive a Second Reading or does not make speedy progress in Committee to become law before the summer. If it does not make such progress, the country will know who to blame. I welcome the fact that the Opposition have said that they will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South is well known in the House for taking up difficult issues of considerable public concern, through private Member's legislation, and seeing them through successfully to the statute book. All of us here this morning will remember that in 1984, my hon. Friend took through a Bill to outlaw what were known colloquially as "video nasties". It was a difficult Bill on a difficult issue. My hon. Friend was deluged with additional work in seeing the Bill through to the statute book. Now five or six years later, we find him taking another difficult law and order issue head on. My hon. Friend is not frightened to debate the issues with the outside world, with interest groups and with those who will continue to make large sums if his Bill fails.
My hon. Friend and his extremely small staff are having to deal with the Bill. He deserves the help of the whole House in its progress and he deserves the admiration of the country for showing how private Members can bring forward successfully a major piece of legislation and see it through to the statute book.
Let us be clear what we are talking about and let us have no more loose talk about acid house parties. As I said earlier, the illegal entertainments are pay-parties where promoters make substantial sums—often from parties that never happen. It is a deeply corrupt practice. Many young people pay £15, £20 or £30 for tickets for ghost parties that never happen. The use of the phrase "acid house parties", with its implications of drug taking and glamorous music, is part and parcel of luring young people into believing that the parties are glamorous and exciting occasions. Perhaps they sometimes are for those who seek excitement.
However, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) told us this morning about the dangers that are implicit and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling spoke of the moral dangers for very young people who go to such parties. Let us have no more glamorous titles. The parties are a way for evil and corrupt men to make a lot of money.
My right hon. Friend raises a serious point, which is that some of the pay-parties do not take place, thereby providing illicit gains for the promoters. The Bill does not deal with that point. Will my right hon. Friend's Department have a further look at how we might get at those criminals?
My hon. Friend is on to a good point. We shall, of course, look at the matter further. Various offences concerning conspiracy and other alleged offences are already on the statute book and they might, if sufficient evidence is found, be enough to bring a successful prosecution in court. However, I shall consider my hon. Friend's point and I shall write to him as soon as possible to give him a list of the categories of offence on the statute book. I shall see whether my hon. Friend believes that we need to fill any chink in our legislative armour further. I am grateful to him for making that point.
Let us consider the up-to-date figures on pay-parties in the south-east of England. In Gravesend—I pay tribute to the police there—there is the police intelligence unit which monitors parties in East Anglia, in the south-east and in the Metropolitan district. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher has just talked about parties that are advertised, but never happen. From 31 October 1989, when the unit was set up, until 4 March 1990, the latest date for which we have accurate information, 161 parties were advertised in the south-east, in East Anglia, and in the Metropolitan district. Tickets were sold at £20 or £30 to innocent people, yet the parties never happened. Sixty four pay-parties were prevented by the police.
Thanks to the work of the police, to whom I pay tribute and who would greatly prefer to be out and about on their normal policing duties, another 32 parties have been stopped since the unit was set up. The unit has also monitored arrests over the same period. I can confirm the figures given by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). There have been 261 arrests under public order offences; 76 concerned drugs, eight concerned firearms and 69 concerned other crimes. Those figures also apply to the south-east, East Anglia and the Metropolitan district.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) spoke about the dreadful events in Accrington and nearby in his constituency where organisations trying to promote employment were broken into and their furniture was destroyed so that an acid house party might take place. The police in Lancashire advise us that several unlicensed parties are being held each weekend, usually in warehouses.
On the weekend of 24 and 25 February, the police stopped one party before it began and another that was already under way. Among the equipment of the party-givers at the party that was stopped before it began, there was a sawn-off shotgun. That is the style in which pay-parties are now developing. On the weekend of 3 and 4 March, the police concentrated their resources on a night club that party organisers had designated as a rendezvous point and prevented many people from locating the parties. Several arrests have already been made which range over alleged offences relating to public entertainment laws, to drugs and to the possession of an offensive weapon.
I am happy to report that the police are receiving excellent co-operation from local authorities. I pay tribute to local authorities and to environmental health officers, who are moving more swiftly as they have become used to applying the law. They are flexing their muscles under the present public health and other legislation. Those who seek to operate illegal pay-parties must watch out for local government officials in the coming party season, which will begin soon.
I have given what I hope is a useful review of the present position and statistics. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South gave a vivid explanation of the problem that the country faces. As he explained, the Bill seeks to introduce substantial increases in the penalties for certain existing offences against the law governing the licensing of entertainments that involve music and dancing. That is strongly supported by all my hon. Friends who have spoken so far and I should be surprised if any hon. Member dissented from that line. My hon. Friend's motive for seeking to make these changes is, as he pointed out, the need for urgent and effective action to be taken to curb the recent development of these parties, especially since last autumn.
I am sure that the House will be grateful for the way in which my hon. Friend described the enormous problems that these events can cause for people adversely affected by them. Chiefly, these are the residents of the areas selected by the organisers for their parties. I am a bit disappointed not to have heard more from the promoters of legitimate events about the sort of action that they take to minimise the offences, nuisance and noise that affect local resident3. We all have rights: young people have rights, but young and old people who do not go to the parties have the right to enjoy a certain amount of peace and quiet.
I recognise that more could be said on that point by the promoters, but they have nevertheless made the strong point that the fines and possible prison sentences against those who operate in an unlicensed and therefore illegal way should be made more severe.
I am happy to have that assurance from the hon. Gentleman. He will, however, recognise that ordinary people who live in the surrounding areas have to suffer a great deal of unjustifiable disturbance, such as traffic congestion, litter and other forms of harm to their environment—and, worst of all, a long period of unbroken noise deep into the night—
My hon. Friend is correct. Noise is one of the worst effects. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, know better than most of us what the effects of late-night sittings are, as you so often adorn the Chair deep into the night. What a pleasure it is for me to come occasionally to answer an Adjournment debate at 4 am when you are in the Chair. Most of us in this place know the effects of broken sleep, and these parties always seem to run late at night, often beginning on Saturday and continuing through the night and for most of the next day. Such disturbance of people's peaceful environment at weekends is unacceptable to any reasonable and decent community. There is a world of difference between wanting people to enjoy themselves and trying to strike a balance between their right to do so and the right of others to a peaceful environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South also laid considerable emphasis on the potential dangers to young people who attend these parties. As my hon. Friend said in his vivid speech, they are often held at short notice in a deliberate attempt to circumvent the activities of those who are responsible for the enforcement of the laws on noise control and entertainment licensing in buildings such as the disused warehouses and farm outbuildings mentioned by my hon. Friend. Such buildings are usually unsuited to the purpose, lacking even the basic facilities that are necessary to health and safety.
I guess that no illegal pay-party that has ever been held in this country could have been licensed. Those who buy tickets to attend them should beware lest they find themselves going to places that lack the basic amenities which would help them enjoy their evening—proper toilets and refreshments are part of going out, whatever one's age. Parties held without such facilities would be unpleasant, at least for some people.
An acid house party took place satisfactorily a few weeks ago in Wales. If the licensing procedure is properly followed, there is no reason why people should not go ahead with such parties.
The hon. Gentleman is usually extremely alert, but for the past three or four minutes I have been talking about unlicensed parties. If he reads Hansardon Monday he will be able to confirm that, and I look forward to receiving his handwritten apology once he has read the record. I have nothing against licensed parties—well conducted—for any group in society.
I know that some of the more open and forthcoming organisers of these events make great play of the fact that they let the police and fire services in to inspect their venues and that they take action on their recommendations. However, that is often done only at the last minute and the authorities cannot make the sort of detailed inspection that should usually precede the issue of a proper entertainment licence. There is no doubt that the development of pay-parties has given rise to a number of serious problems on which quick and firm action is required. I will hear no criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South for bringing forward his Bill before publication of other arrangements for regulating entertainments of various sorts. He has acted promptly, for which the House should be grateful.
It has fallen in the main to the police and local authorities to take action under the existing law, and they can employ a number of provisions against these events. The police already have adequate powers to deal with criminal offences that might occur at pay-parties. We have heard the list of arrests given to the House by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and by me, so we know how the police have been using their powers—and a good thing, too. They have powers to deal with offences connected with the misuse of drugs or with threats to public order. They also have wide powers under the common law to prevent breaches of the peace and public nuisance. They work closely with local authorities to prevent the holding of unlicensed parties.
Because the organisers are flouting the entertainment licensing requirements and organising their parties in as much secrecy as possible, the police in south-east England have set up an intelligence unit to strengthen their co-ordination and intelligence arrangements. Can my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South inform the House of how secret these parties usually are? Does he think that almost all of them are arranged in secret, or that merely some of them are?
Most of these parties are planned secretively and it takes a considerable amount of intelligence work by the police to discover the rendezvous points. It is not merely a question of finding out where a party is; often that will not be discovered until half an hour before the off. The arrangements are made by broadcasting on pirate radio or CB radio. The latest and most trendy way of doing this is to use runners with Vodaphones who rush to the rendezvous point and tell the convoy where to go next. I accept that there are parties that are planned properly, but only those with a licence dare disclose where they will be held.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's evaluation. He has made it plain that secrecy is part of the success of an illicit pay-party. If such parties were not secret, the authorities would properly prevent them from taking place. I guess that it is secrecy that has led to problems in Kent, for example. I know that these problems have concerned my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham. I pay tribute to the Kent constabulary for what it has done to try to stamp out the appalling nuisance that has occurred in the constituencies of my right hon and hon. Friends.
The police unit concerned with this issue is in Gravesend. Its aim is to target party organisers so that potential sites are identified early and appropriate action is taken. This may involve speaking to landowners, who may have been misled, as has happened on a number of occasions, about the true nature of the event that is about to take place on their land. There have been one or two deluded landowners. They have been surprised to learn that they have been invaded by a pay-party.
The local authority could be involved in taking legal action to ensure injunctions to prevent breaches of the entertainment licensing laws or control of noise nuisance legislation.
The police have done a marvellous job in preventing many illicit parties. Where it has not proved possible to do that, their concern has been to try as best they can to ensure that there is safety at parties and to minimise the disturbance and inconvenience that is caused to the local community. I have heard—I have asked for further advice from within the Home Office on this—of one pay-party that was held in a warehouse in Lancashire in the past month. It was a disused warehouse and some signs within it pointed towards some doors which were marked "Exit". When people opened the doors they found a sheer drop into a stream or river below. When the warehouse was closed, some of the fire exits had been removed. It was a redundant building.
That is an example of the safety problem that young people face. It is only through good fortune, I believe, that young people have not been seriously injured or have not lost their lives. We and the police will have to work so hard in the spring, summer and autumn of this year to ensure that there is not loss of life. I do not think that it is stuffy or boring to tell young people to watch it. That applies to being ripped off by unscrupulous operators who charge large sums for parties that do not take place and to being alert to the danger of being lured into a building that could be turned into a fire trap if something went wrong. The result could be conflagration and the collapse of floors, leading to serious injury and death.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been fatalities and that there was a recent example in Italy where at a so-called rave-up 60 young people died? That is a graphic example of the dangers that are being run.
My instinct is that there is a serious chance of that happening in this country because of the way in which parties are organised. It is only by good fortune that it has not happened. We have heard of cables sparking on the floor and of cables passing through sheeting of various sorts. Such arrangements could easily lead to fire, and it is only due to good fortune and luck that there have not been fatalities on a large scale.
My right hon. Friend referred to a warehouse in Lancashire. He may be interested to know that there has been a great deal of concern about the matter. A Granada television programme called "Up Front" will be shown next Friday. It will be produced in the warehouse and will highlight for young people throughout the north-west the very dangers to which my right hon. Friend has referred.
Most young people want to go out to enjoy themselves and not end up injured or dead. I hope that the programme will have an impact on young people and make them cautious about spending their money on parties that do not take place and cautious about where they go because they might end up seriously injured, disabled or, worst of all, dead. My fear is that such results could ensue, and that is why the Bill is so important. That is why it is a critically important part of our prevention strategy. That is why I believe that nothing and no one should stand in the way of the Bill. No one should seek to stop it reaching the statute book.
The concern of the police is always to ensure safety. That is the concern, too, of local authorities, which also wish to minimise the disturbance and inconvenience that is caused to the local community. That is why we have local entertainment licensing laws. We have discussed within the Home Office and with the police—the discussions have been led by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary—what further action might be necessary in respect of pay-parties. The police have not thus far considered it necessary to seek additional powers, but they are concerned that with the return of better weather in the next few months we shall see an upsurge in the number of pay-parties. They are concerned also that, unless something is done, police resources will be tied up. That would not be a good thing. Therefore they join the Government in supporting the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South to secure a substantial increase in the penalties for offences against existing entertainment licensing laws, in an attempt to prevent parties from happening in the first place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has explained in some detail the framework of the entertainment licensing laws in England, Wales and Scotland. Unless the House requests me to go over it again in greater detail, and I do not see any of my hon. Friends rising to suggest that I should impose that on the House, I shall not do so, because my hon. Friend has done it as well as I could have done. He explained that it is already an offence to provide and, in certain circumstances, to allow a premises to be used for music or dancing as a public entertainment or, provided that the local authority has taken the steps necessary to adopt the appropriate Act, as a private entertainment that is being promoted for private gain, without a licence being obtained in advance from the relevant licensing authority in the main district or regional council—that is why the Association of District Councils is so interested—and in the London borough councils.
I know that the organisers of pay-parties often say that they are perfectly lawful activities which do not require to be licensed. That is not for me but for the courts to decide.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South explained, whether an entertainment is public depends on whether there is evidence that any member of the public could attend the entertainment on paying admission, if required. On that basis it seems to us that at many pay-parties there is what amounts to an admission charge. Large numbers of people attend and there is music for them to dance to—there is post-dated Coca Cola for them to drink, as we were advised earlier—and that sort of party would normally be required to be licensed under the public entertainment licensing law. If it were suggested that a particular party was a private entertainment, it is our view that because of the high profits that the organisers freely admit they are making from such events, a licence could legitimately be required under the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967, which concerns entertainments that are not public but which are promoted for private gain.
The penalties for offences against entertainment. licensing laws, which vary in detail between each particular Act as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has already pointed out, are relatively light. On some occasions they are very light in comparison with the huge profits that unscrupulous people have begun to make by promoting unlicensed entertainments. Unfortunately, those penalties no longer provide a deterrent. Part of the running costs of an entertainment are to provide for the payment of such future fines.
The organisers of pay-parties and those who assist their endeavours by knowingly allowing their premises to be used for such events can at present afford to ignore the law, because they are making so much money. It is therefore necessary as a matter of urgency that those events should be brought under effective licensing control and that the organisers and others involved should be deterred from continuing to operate outside the law.
The Bill is an important element in the achievement of that objective. It will enable the summary courts to impose fines of up to £20,000 on people convicted of particular offences against the entertainment licensing laws that I have mentioned, or to send them to prison for up to six months, or both. If the Bill gets through, and people are brought to trial I guess that the courts will impose the maximum penalty, including prison sentences in the worst cases, and I judge that they would be right to do so.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary also intends to use his powers under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to give magistrates in England and Wales authority to order the confiscation of profits that exceed £10,000. That is an important provision: when we took the Act through its Committee stage we made great play of the fact that we did not wish offenders to be undeterred by the penalties because they knew that they could keep the proceeds of their crimes.
I warn the organisers of illicit pay-parties that it will not be long before that order is debated, and that once it has received all-party assent—as I am sure that it will—they will be faced not only with fines of up to £20,000 and /or six months' imprisonment under this excellent Bill, but with the possibility of confiscation of their equipment and the proceeds of their crime. Ours is a twin-track approach, combining the aim of a private Member to increase penalties with the Government"s aim to improve our ability to confiscate the ill-gotten gains of people who prey on the young by laying on unsafe and expensive entertainments—or entertainments that never happen.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has considered providing for a similar confiscation power in Scotland. He is awaiting a report from the Scottish Law Commission, and will announce his intentions later this year. As hon. Members know, statutory provison in Scotland is different from that south of the border.
My hon. Friend's Bill, together with the order from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, will go a long way towards reducing both unacceptable disturbance and damage to the environment—sometimes permanent, damage, involving the loss of trees and the pollution of water courses and hedgerows. It will minimise the risks to young people's safety, and do much to reduce the noise pollution suffered by local residents. We do not seek to ban enjoyable events that are properly organised, as has been suggested in the popular press; our aim is to make it no longer worthwhile for the organisers of pay-parties, and others associated with them, to continue to operate outside the established licensing system—whose commendable objectives are to secure the health and safety of those attending events, and to regulate the nuisance caused to the neighbourhood.
I am happy to say that the Bill has the Government's full support. We shall give it every assistance, and I hope that no one hinders its safe passage to the statute book, where it is badly needed.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on his continuing good fortune in the ballots for private Members' Bills and on his choice for his second Bill which, like the first, is timely and far-sighted.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, there was absolutely no doubt about the need for my hon. Friend's Video Recordings Act 1984, in response to growing public concern about video nasties, as articulated by the admirable Mrs. Mary Whitehouse. My hon. Friend is now responding to growing public concern about the potential tragedy and disaster that large-scale, uncontrolled gatherings of many hundreds, or even thousands, of people might cause. I am pleased to have been asked to be one of the co-sponsors.
The Bill seeks to protect people, particularly young people, from all dangers, obvious or otherwise, that are inherent in any large-scale event. Many of those dangers have become evident as a result of the disasters of recent years: there is the danger caused by crowds of people being packed together in premises that were neither designed nor built for the purpose, with inadequate entrances and exits, no toilets and no first aid facilities; the danger of criminal involvement in terms of drugs, theft and vandalism; the danger of traffic congestion that prevents the emergency services being able to assist in case of fire or structural collapse.
In addition to providing protection for those who take part in the events, the Bill would protect those who live in the neighbourhood and those who use the roads leading to the events. Far from being a killjoy Bill, as has been suggested, it must be regarded as an anti-killjoy Bill. Such events would take place at nobody's expense, as ought to be the case.
The national press would have us believe that these events, which it describes as acid house parties, take place in the home counties—around London and the M25 where 100 parties were broken up last year. However, they are much more widespread. Last August bank holiday, 3,000 people gathered at a former bus station in my constituencey for such a party. The sheer volume of people and the threat to public order that they constituted resulted in the chief constable of Dorset having to obtain aid from Hampshire to disperse the partygoers. There were some arrests.
My hon. Friend's Bill has the full support of the chief constable of Dorset. He is drawing up new contingency plans to deal effectively with such gatherings, should they again descend on Dorset. Successful and attractive family resorts such as Bournemouth, where tourism represents a major industry on which many hundreds of small businesses and many thousands of jobs depend, cannot afford adverse publicity such as this. The local authority must have the power to control and determine whether, and when, such gatherings can take place, as provided for in the Bill. For that reason, my borough council has asked me to support it.
My hon. Friend's Bill would deny to nobody, of any age, the right to go to a party and enjoy it in the company of others, provided that they do so in safety and at no one else's expense, either indoors or outside. However, I thought that it might help if I were to find out what young people in my constituency think about the Bill. I approached the heads of all the secondary schools in my constituency and suggested that an appropriate class or group of young people might care to discuss the Bill's provisions and let me have their conclusions. I am delighted with the constructive and considered responses I have received and I thank those from Summerbee school, Avonbourne school, Winton school, St. Peter's Roman Catholic school and the Wentworth Milton Mount school who wrote to me. Most of them accepted the need for local authority control. Many pointed out that responsible party organisers will have nothing to fear from seeking to apply for a licence. The consequent awareness of the police, the ambulance service and the fire service should be regarded as being in the best interests of all those involved, not least those running the events commercially, because they want to build on a reputation for safety.
However, several of my younger constituents made the point that the term "acid house" with its consequent association with LSD and other drugs has resulted in a misleading perception of such events which the national press and the media generally have only sought to exaggerate and exploit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South said, acid house is a completely separate description for a style of music deriving its term from Chicago slang, and that to avoid that misleading and damaging image, such events nowadays are more frequently termed wrath parties, rages or raves. My hon. Friend has already demonstrated that he is aware of that new terminology for such events.
The consistent point that came through strongly from my younger constituents who wrote to me about the Bill is that young people, in the company of many others if that is their choice, should have the right and the freedom to enjoy loud music, bright and flashing lights and the availability of alcohol for those of age, and I do not dissent from that. One common fear running through many of the comments I received was that once local authorities obtain the powers that the Bill would give them, local councillors would prove to be so prejudiced against such parties that they would refuse most if not all applications.
I know my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South well enough to know that if he thought that that would happen, he would not be introducing the Bill. He will recall the many times when he and I organised large-scale Young Conservative functions outdoors as well as inside, attracting many thousands of young people successfully, enjoyably and without problems, even if they sometimes clogged up the rural lanes of Essex. Of course we informed the police and the other supporting services which were at hand.
I hope that local authorities will take the view that every application for a licence should be granted provided that they are satisfied that safety rquirements have been met and that adequate car parking and so on have been provided by the organisers and that the event is properly insured. However, I accept that local authorities may wish to place a limit on the numbers according to the premises, and that under present circumstances the police must have access to such events. It is a fact of life that where young people gather there is a widespread danger that drugs will be available and there can be no let-up in the war against drugs and those who push them.
In conclusion, my hon. Friend is right to resist the demands from the Association of District Councils for additional measures and penalties to enforce the Bill. I hope that he will continue to do so in Committee. Should the Bill prove to be inadequate, it can be amended and strengthened in the light of its working. As it stands, it should enable young people to enjoy their music and their entertainment in a safe and secure environment at no risk to themselves and without nuisance to anybody else. I hope that it will receive a Second Reading.
I have cancelled a series of meetings in my constituency today to be here not only to support this valuable Bill, but to wish it good speed in getting on to the statute book well in advance of summer and the high season of pay-parties. I am disappointed that not a single Labour Back Bencher or member of the Liberal or minority parties is taking part in, or even listening to, today's debate. That demonstrates, at best, indifference to the problem.
Before my hon. Friend castigates the Opposition too much, I have sponsors from the Labour party who have all written to me apologising for the fact that they cannot be here because of constituency engagements. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), who hopes to be here within the next few minutes, has also given me a handwritten apology. I have support throughout the House.
I wish that those hon. Members had been here, because this is an extremely important Bill. I am here not least because my constituents have been very much the victims of what has gone on in pay-parties in recent months.
During the evening of 9 September last year the people of Meopham parish in my constituency, who live along the sub-standard A227, were suddenly invaded by 5,000 young people travelling in hundreds of cars who were trying to jam themselves into a field remote from even that A road, tucked away behind the village of Meopham.
The chaos was indescribable, although I shall try to describe it because it will demonstrate the scale and complication of the problem we face. The A road was jammed with vehicles, three abreast. If emergency services had wished to get down that road, for whatever purpose, related or not to the event, they would not have got past. The drivers of those vehicles abandoned them in residents' drives, on the highway itself and even on Meopham's historic cricket green. The police were overwhelmed. The writ of law and order and the civil rights of local residents were trampled into the mud.
Sanitary provision at the event was totally inadequate. The revellers resorted to fouling the gardens of local residents. An adjacent scout camp site, with young cub scouts in camp was invaded. A brave scout leader, who intercepted the intruders, was attacked and injured to the extent that he had to go to hospital.
Throughout the night the disorder frightened residents and the deafening, amplified throbbing sound from the so-called party kept everyone awake. The view which dawn exposed to local people was reminiscent of a wartime evacuation. Cars and their sleeping passengers were scattered in their hundreds around the village, including on residents' properties. Debris was everywhere and blowing about. The party resounded throughout Sunday, and the field of battle was left only late in the day. Local people were left to recover ready for the working week.
One can imagine the residents' feelings the following Sunday when they heard the same cacophony wafting on the wind, as though they were in for another onslaught of harassment. Although they had to put up with the noise, it was the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) who had to take the brunt of the onslaught of another pay-party at Wrotham, two miles away. My constituents were also treated to the sound effects of yet another such event at about the same time, wafting on the breeze from West Kingsdown. This is a new but thoroughly dangerous phenomenon.
Our local police chief superintendent Ken Tappenden warned recently of the dangers. Speaking only last month he warned:
Safety standards at these events are so low that disaster could strike at any time. When thousands of people just drop into a field, when you have criminals running the parties, when you have drug-taking, then you have all the elements of a major disaster. Hundreds of young people could be killed or injured. The police were especially worried about the infiltration of East End criminals who saw pay-parties as an easy way of making a lot of money.
Why is so much money involved? Tickets for these parties, cost about £15—and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has mentioned that ticket prices are now rising to £20 or even £30 a time. As there are as many as 15,000 tickets per event, and they are sold in advance, arithmetic will show that the revenue involved in each such event amounts to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds.
Purchasers are advised to ring specific telephone numbers or to listen to certain radio frequencies at set times.
My hon. Friend has given a clear description of the horrors that faced the constituents in that village. Can he estimate the sums of money that might be made by the organisers? He has rightly been speculating about the enormous ticket prices, and it might help the House if he could give us an estimate.
If one weighs up the rudimentary facilities provided to these people, the ticket prices and the thousands of people involved, the organisers could well clear over £100,000 in the course of only one weekend. That is a significant amount and shows the commercial pressures that apply.
If the purchasers roam around on a Saturday evening, waiting for the off and to find out where the events will be held, and if they then find out from telephone calls or from listening to pirate radio frequencies, the atmosphere of mystery adds to the excitement for the revellers, but creates traffic chaos and a practical nightmare for the police. The consequence of that way of marshalling people for a party at no notice has created large unruly convoys, causing conditions in which the police may be overwhelmed. There was a nasty incident on the M25 when not only were the carriageways blocked, but the policemen concerned had to run for their lives.
Let us take the event in Meopham to which I have referred. Clear information was available only at 7 pm on the Saturday night. An injunction had to be started from scratch, be obtained from a magistrate, and served on the organiser. In the event, the confusion was such that he could not be identified and it was served on the farmer, who ignored it. The penalty available was not imprisonment but a maximum fine of £2,000. Given the figures that have just been mentioned, that is petty cash. In the circumstances, it was a valiant and rapid response by Kent police and Gravesham borough council, but it was ineffective given the state of the law.
So what can we do? We need good intelligence and heavy penalties. We need good police intelligence to combat such events before they even take place. I am glad that a good start has been made. A joint intelligence unit for the south-east, staffed by eight police forces with additional input from the Metropolitan police, has been established in Gravesend in my constituency. It has monitored the planning of some 249 parties, and headed off many of them or stopped them. I should like to pay tribute to the outstanding work carried out in anti-social hours at the Gravesend police station.
However, we also need heavy penalties, and this is where my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South is doing us all such a service with this Bill. It provides for fines of up to £20,000 and—this is an important point—for sentences of up to six months' imprisonment. The current maximum of £2,000 and no custodial sentences outside Greater London is derisory.
When that is combined with the announcement of our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that he favours giving magistrates powers to order the confiscation of profits made by those convicted of organising illegal parties or of allowing their land to be used for them, we are at last making progress. I urge my right hon. Friends to get a move on in bringing forward that order.
We are not killjoys. Thousands of young people enjoy powerful musical events. Conservative Members have made it clear today that in the past they have attended such events and favour them taking place. Indeed, there is no great difference between the pleasure of such partygoers and that of many thousands of Kent residents, including myself, who choose to listen to performances of the 1812, artillery and all, in a valley alongside Leeds castle. At the end of the day, each to his own enjoyment. The only difference is that the events that I described at Leeds castle are properly organised for access, parking, sanitation, noise control and safety and emergency cover. Those are all requirements of the licensing authorities. They are necessary for the events that we are considering today.
The organisers of pay-parties should obtain licences in advance and satisfy the necessary requirements. By all means, let them do so confidentially in advance with the authorities in order to maintain a certain element of mystery, which is part of the enjoyment. My hon. Friend's Bill is an important measure to safeguard the peace and quiet of our constituents, while enforcing the limits within which the parties may operate. It has my wholehearted support.
I endorse all the praise expressed by my hon. Friends to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) for introducing the Bill. It deals with a matter which I raised in the House in questions during the autumn, as a result of events in my constituency. I am delighted that there is clear support from my right hon. Friend the Minister today.
It is essential that the Bill is seen not only as an excellent private Member's initiative but as part of the overall sweep of legislation that the Home Office may introduce. The measure must fit into a careful pattern of legal attempts to clamp down on the criminals who organise such events.
I wish to make it as clear as possible that I and my hon. Friends do not wish to interfere with the rights of young people to enjoy themselves at parties. It may not be credible, but once upon a time I was a right raver. But time passes and I look back forlornly at the enjoyment of my youth. All-night parties were more enjoyable than all-night debates.
Young people who are tempted to enjoy the party atmosphere must be protected if they are being tempted to an event where safety is not held as a prime factor by the organisers. The most worrying factor in what we have called acid house parties but what my right hon. Friend the Minister has properly called pay-parties, is that young people who have a justifiable desire to enjoy themselves at parties are, without realising it, deliberately and cynically put at risk by the organisers. Many parents have written to me about that. They feel that they cannot stop their teenage children going out to enjoy themselves, but they are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers to which teenagers are submitted.
We must take careful note of the fact that the organisers leave everything to the last minute. Clearly, they attempt to evade even the existing powers under the various Acts listed by my right hon. Friend the Minister. Parties have always gone on, but the difference with acid house parties is their magnitude and the locations. Surrey police have stated:
more sophisticated sound systems and visual equipment has meant that the organisers of these parties have looked elsewhere for more suitable premises"—
suitable in the sense of enormous—
to 'house' their so called social events. Empty warehouses, factories, offices, shops, cinemas, recording studios etc., are the most common premises which have proved ideal for holding such events. More recently aircraft hangars and marquees that are able to house up to 15,000 people have been used.
None of the premises listed are adapted to cope with the parties held in them. They do not comply with health and safety regulations or fire protection regulations. Clearly, they do not have the various lavatory and other personal facilities required.
The secrecy in the organisation of these parties causes great anxiety and is a good indicator of the organisers' motives. It would be useful for the House to hear what my Surrey police have said about how the parties are called.
youths congregate at a set location i.e. street, public house etc. and await 'the word' with regard to the location of the proposed party. Posters have also been observed displayed in social clubs, youth clubs, public houses, record shops and even Afro-Caribbean hairdressers. A more recent development has been the use of local pirate radio stations operating on the FM band for communicating this information. It has also been known for commercial radios to have carried such messages. Much use is made of telephone answering machines that give callers the location of meeting points and ticket sale locations. These machines also, at a certain time just prior to the commencement of the party, sometimes state the location of the party.
It is very much at the last minute that the location is given.
As my hon. Friend the Minister said, sometimes there is no location and people who have paid in advance do not get a party, but that is a separate matter.
When at the last minute a location is given, people move off from the collecting point in convoys. That causes massive additional difficulties, not just at the ultimate site to which they are moving. For example, at an acid house party near Reigate a massive convoy went around the M25 and parked on the hard shoulder. People then left their cars and walked across fields to the location. The M25, like other motorways, can be dangerous. We can imagine the potential chaos when cars are parked without lights in the dark, particularly with people leaving them and then returning to them in various states and conditions. Those are serious side effects and are directly related to the organisation of the ultimate event.
The organisers are cunning. Surrey constabulary has said:
The organisers' secrecy over the venues gave little chance for preventive action. If time had permitted there is every likelihood that the local authorities concerned would have taken out injunctions.
The injunctions would be under the powers that local authorities have at present. Obviously, the organisers know that to avoid effective injunctions, they must give no notice whatever. That has forced the police to use various detective methods to find out whether an acid house party is taking place, such as the movement of large vehicles, power generators or whatever. They also rely on local people keeping an eye on local land and buildings where unusual activity is taking place.
The purpose of the entertainment licensing system is to provide a uniform system of control to ensure public health and safety in places of public resort and to minimise the nuisance caused to the immediate neighbourhood from the entertainment that is licensed. Any respectable organiser would accept that and comply with it. It is self-evident that we are dealing with organisers who particularly want to evade that system by using every possible cunning device. I am concerned that such tricks have been used and about their implications.
A pay-party took place in my constituency at Effingham, a pleasant farmland area in the heart of Surrey. Last August bank holiday the village was effectively invaded. The figures are difficult to get at, but it was reported variously that the number of young people arriving from all over the country reached 10,000 at least, possibly several thousand more. The organisers came equipped with amplifiers, laser lighting, generators, food outlets and their own so-called security guards, to whom I shall refer later.
Even though the police got wind of the fact that four large generators were destined for the Guildford area on the Friday, the precise location was not confirmed until 4 pm on Saturday—just a few hours before the party was due to get under way. Not surprisingly, given the late stage and the number of people involved, the police decided on the grounds of public safety that it was better to allow the event to go ahead. That is an important point as it has been alleged that the police could have stopped it. At such a late stage, however, the police had wider considerations. If several thousand people had been turned away frorn the event they may well have gone on the rampage through Effingham. There would have been a danger to the village if the police had tried, at the last minute, to prevent the party from taking place.
The party went on until Sunday afternoon by which time a number of arrests had been made, including arrests for assaults on police officers and drug-related offences. Seventy police officers had to be deployed to respond to incidents of crime and public order and to supervise the safe dispersal of the people leaving the event. By 10 pm on Saturday evening more than 1,000 cars were parked in lanes and side roads close to the venue. That gives some idea of the task faced by the police and also the difficulty faced by the emergency services should they have needed to gain access.
The organisers were issued with a notice from the Guildford borough solicitor and the environmental health officer prohibiting any nuisance under section 58 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. Unfortunately that was too little and too late to satisfy the people of Effingham and the surrounding district. In any event the offence currently carries a maximum fine of £2,000, without the possible three-month prison sentence available if such an event takes place within Greater London. That fine would have hardly deterred the organisers.
The Minister asked about figures to demonstrate the profit made at such parties. Independent evidence from the Surrey constabulary states:
Entrance money is known to be from £5 and £20 per head"—
we know that the larger figure is now more common—
In the latter case this sometimes includes the cost of transport and drinks. In the case of the larger parties attended by in excess of 10,000 people this nets approximately £100,000 for the organisers".
That is after a fee of a few thousand pounds for the hire of the land given to the landowner or the supplier of the building.
In terms of the profitability of such parties the figures are higher than that, because other things go on, for example, the sale of drugs. The police say that on the figures available:
controlled drug purchases of heroin, ecstasy and cocaine of between £60 and £100 per head are not unusual. Therefore overall takings in the region of £30,000 to £90,000 for just one party are not an exaggeration
I must be careful not to make allegations, but the organisers of the parties may have an interest in the drugs sold at them. Whether they do or not, it is clear that there is a massive commercial benefit from holding such parties, yet none of the basic safeguards that would be protected by the current licensing system have been applied. The absence of safeguards is an outrage and an insult to the people going to the party. It also has horrible implications of a disaster waiting to happen as in some cases, there is a massive danger of fire.
My constituents, of course, complained. I live about five miles away from where the party took place and I heard the noise at that distance. These are not completely harmless events. They are extremely dangerous and we should ensure that that is well known. The organisers of the party in Effingham even had the cheek to sue the police. As one of the local newspapers, the Surrey Advertiser, said, the police were sued by the acid house party group because they attempted to interfere in activities at that party. That is not only a cheek, but another sign of the fact that the organisers think that they are above the law. They must be brought quickly back under the law.
I have been listening with great interest and growing concern to everything that my hon. Friend has said, especially when he spoke about the experiences of his unfortunate constituents in the village of Effingham in Surrey. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that local residents winkle out the names of the organisers and that maximum publicity is given to those who have caused the trouble? Most importantly, the Inland Revenue, could then know the names of those who have been making substantial illicit profits.
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. According to the Surrey Advertiser,the people who issued the writ were acting on behalf of the party organisers, Joustyle Limited, which also trades as Karma Productions. I am sure that the various authorities are already aware of that, but if not, I am happy to put it on record.
All this has an extremely worrying impact. There is an impact on the local community. We tend to gloss over that, but I am sure that all hon. Members will understand the dismay, distress and fear when local residents, who have been kept awake all night, find that the party is still continuing on Sunday morning. They see people relieving themselves in gardens and being ill on front drives. The blockage of cars meant that some of my constituents were unable to go to church in their cars on Sunday morning as they wished to do. Such inconvenience is wholly unacceptable and has nothing to do with the sensible provision of enjoyment for young people.
Another danger is that young people will fall foul of the temptations offered by the drug dealers and there are a serious range of problems for the police. The manpower that the police need to put into the field to cover the parties often leads to other elements of the county being seriously underpoliced. I do not want to draw too much attention to that, but it must be taken into consideration.
It is outrageous that such events can take place when, for example, we are arranging for many professional sporting events, which may attract smaller crowds, to have rigorous checks and safety regulations. Exits must now be plentiful and clear. Sprinkler systems must be in operation and trained stewards must be on hand to marshal the crowds. We prevent smoking in certain areas and admission is often only by ticket purchased on a controlled basis in advance. Those measures have been introduced to enhance safety at sporting events, yet none of them apply at these parties, although they can be attended by many more people.
These events must be stopped. Currently available powers are inadequate. My hon. Friend's Bill does not propose new laws, but it provides proper penalties. The combination of the £20,000 fine and up to six months' prison sentences is critical.
If the acid house or pay-party tendency is allowed to continue it will lead to deaths, particularly if these parties are held indoors. Because of the profits associated with them they will also inevitably lead to conflict between criminal groups. That has already happened at one of the parties in Surrey. The security guards who are brought in are no more than thugs with Rottweilers, and it is likely that they will attack the police—as they did in Reigate —and, eventually, each other because of their desire to ensure that the massive profits come to them, not to anyone else.
The cost of extra policing to local residents must be borne in mind. When the police seize drugs, the proceeds from them should perhaps be directed back to local police forces instead of being confiscated centrally. That is a wider issue, but one about which my local police force feels strongly.
I support the Bill, confident in the knowledge that Guildford borough council, one of the boroughs in my constituency, has given me great encouragement. Surrey constabulary, for which I have only the greatest praise, has devised various instructions and ways of trying to prevent these parties from taking place, and has been successful on some occasions. The police have also given me a great deal of information, and if I had had longer I would have used more of it. The important thing is that the Bill should receive a Second Reading, pass through Committee and reach the statute book in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South and of many of his colleagues in the House who thoroughly endorse the Bill.
I welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) in introducing the Bill, and I congratulate him on the good use of his opportunity. My hon. Friend, the other sponsors of his Bill and I stress that we are in no way seeking to destroy the fun of young people. I must tell the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) that no one who runs entertainment for young people within the law has anything to fear from the Bill.
I am probably one of the few hon. Members who has experience of promoting entertainment. In a past incarnation I was the chairman of the entertainments committee at Leeds university union, when I had the privilege of promoting some of the biggest names in entertainment, who came and gave concerts at the university. One of my best memories is of handing a cheque to Elton John for £250 for a night's work—a sum that would fill him with horror if he were given it today.
We used to organise concerts for 2,000 people in two halls, with bands playing simultaneously. Artists such as Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Free played at the university. Those of us who are 40 or more and who attended these concerts as undergraduates know the problems involved in them, but we are not trying to prevent young people from enjoying what we enjoyed.
We also recognise that there is a great deal of fun to be had from open air concerts. I well remember the Isle of Wight music festivals and the national jazz and blues festival, which was promoted on racecourses all over the south-east in the late 1960s. They were major events that were enjoyed by many people, including some who are now Members of this place. Of course 20 years have passed.
We know that there is much to be enjoyed at such events. I cannot emphasise too strongly that we are not in the business of destroying young people's fun. On the contrary, we are concerned to protect them in a way that will free them from risk so that they can enjoy the music that they go to hear and the entertainment generally that they seek. The Bill will enable them to do exactly that. It will prevent them also from being exploited by the organisers of some acid house parties. It will stop young people from being damaged by attending them.
The Bill does not do anything that is especially radical. It does not create new offences. Instead, it provides teeth for the existing legislation. It requires all those who run acid house parties to obtain a licence from the local authority. If the organisers break the conditions of the licence, a heavy fine or a sentence of imprisonment will be imposed upon them. If they fail to apply for a licence, they can be fined up to £20,000 or sentenced to six months' imprisonment. That might seem draconian in some respects, but when we consider how acid house parties have been operated over the past few years it is clear that there is a national problem.
Many of the parties have been run in dangerous circumstances. There has been a lack of safety and dangers have faced the attenders, the customers. Major disruption has been caused to the locality in which the parties have taken place. The issue was regarded so strongly by the local authorities which were charged with the responsibility of providing an entertainments licence under the current legislation that they, through the Association of District Councils, wrote to the Home Office in 1988 and called upon the Government to take action. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State arid my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary have been considering the matter for some time.
I hope that the public will realise that it is not only Conservative local authorities that are calling for action to be taken in respect of the problems that arise from acid house parties. It is an issue that crosses party lines; it is recognised by Labour and Liberal-Democrat local authorities as well as by Conservative authorities. It is recognised that the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South has rightly identified in a splendid Bill needs to be dealt with urgently.
The most important feature that we have to consider is the protection of the young people who go to acid house parties. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State spoke of a warehouse in Blackburn, Lancashire, where an acid house party took place last month. He told us—this was reported in the press—that there were exit signs over doors which if opened would have led to no fire escape or staircase. Anyone who opened them would have been faced with a huge drop, resulting in death. That is typical. The organisers of acid house parties are using old warehouses, tents in fields or other premises which are often derelict. There are obvious and immediate dangers.
The legitimate promoter of a concert is subject to a series of rules and regulations that bear on numbers, fire safety, electricity and lighting. They relate to a range of matters and they are designed to protect those who attend these events.
At the ad hoc acid house party it is not the organiser who is in danger but the customer and the performers. Promoters have been exploiting those who attend by selling drugs. In a recent case a promoter of an acid house party was sent to prison for 10 years for peddling drugs at the parties.
There is also a problem because of the lack of safety and access to such parties. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) gave a good example of a field being used for a party in his constituency. Suddenly 5,000 young people descended upon it. The cars that brought them blocked the lanes adjacent to the field. If there had been an accident due to lack of adequate fire and safety precautions it would have been impossible for ambulances and fire engines to get through. A legitimate promoter takes safety factors into consideration In addition the local authority issues an entertainment licence for an event and would ensure that there was proper access, but that does not happen in the case of illegal acid house parties.
The local inhabitants of the area surrounding the party are also affected. They are hurt more than any other people and there is nothing that they can do about it. They can call the police but if it is an impromptu party the police will have had little notice of it, and the local authority will know nothing about it. Thousands of young people can descend on a site causing noise, traffic congestion and disruption to the local inhabitants.
I speak from personal experience. The location of some of the parties is amazing. A few months ago I went to a housing estate in the middle of Skelmersdale to meet members of the residents' association. They told me that acid house parties were taking place on the estate and they took me to the site of the parties, which was a flat. Hundreds of young people were milling about. It caused disruption, particularly for parents with young children trying to sleep through the noise of traffic. The Bill will ensure that those problems—the noise of traffic and the disruption to people's lives—will be controlled.
I suspect that the major fear of the general public is that the Bill will restrict freedom to party—to use the expression of those who attend—but of course it will not.
The whole House accepts that the promoters of acid house parties or entertainment events of any kind have responsibilities to the public living in the immediate vicinity and to the young people who attend. At the moment the amount of money that can be made by promoters of pay-parties is so enormous that they can afford to pay a fine of £2,000. If one makes thousands of pounds from a party—I am informed from investigations into the matter that many promoters do—£2,000 is just part of the overheads and a small amount, so they can drive a coach and horses through the law and disregard the consequences. The Bill is intended to deal with cowboy operators—the people who do not care about their customers or the inhabitants of the area surrounding the party and are only interested in making vast amounts of money.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West must also bear in mind that, having obtained a licence, a promoter may then completely ignore the local authority's terms and conditions. He will be as guilty of endangering the lives of his customers and the community as an unlicensed acid house party organiser. The law cannot be sterile in that regard; it cannot stand back and do nothing.
A local authority may impose requirements involving exits and gangways, and ban fire hazards such as accumulated rubbish and unsafe electrical equipment. Those of us who remember the Bradford City football ground fire will know how dangerous rubbish can be. A local authority may require the provision of adequate sanitary appliances and proper ventilation and—most important of all—stipulate a maximum number who may attend, and the provision of adequate fire-fighting equipment. Any legitimate licence holder who breaches those requirements must be dealt with as severely as anyone else.
A licence holder making vast amounts of money may ignore important safety provisions precautions because a £2,000 fine is not worth worrying about. That could mean sending many people to their deaths, or at least laying them open to the possibility of injury. Parliament cannot afford to take such an attitude.
The hon. Gentleman may be underestimating local authorities' ability to sus out the cowboys. Such people are probably well known to them. In any event, a genuine promoter will know that if he fails in the way that the hon. Gentleman has so eloquently described his chances of obtaining a licence in future will be nil.
I take the point. Nevertheless, I believe that my hon. Friend's suggestion of a maximum fine of £20,000, with the option of six months in prison, would constitute a big deterrent for cowboy operators hoping to escape the full force of the law. That is a maximum, however, and would not be used in every instance. I am a lawyer. The maximum penalty that can be imposed by the criminal courts is, I have found, rarely imposed. The court considers the breach of the licence conditions, the circumstances of the breach, the circumstances surrounding that evening's events and then weighs up the seriousness of the breach. A promoter who puts the facts properly before the court and who has acted reasonably will not be in difficulty as a result of my hon. Friend's Bill. Magistrates will realise that he has done his best to stay within the law and they will deal with him accordingly —in contrast to the way in which they will deal with the cowboy operator. A maximum fine of £2,000 is insufficient to deal with potential cowboys who apply for a licence and then completely disregard the conditions attached to it.
If an illegal acid house party takes place, the local authority can issue a licence after the event, to the effect that a statutory nuisance—that of noise—has been committed. However, the nuisance has been committed; it does not help those who suffered as a result of the nuisance to deal with it after the event. Members of the public can prosecute in the magistrates courts, under the noise abatement provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, alleging breach of privacy. They have to prove in court that enjoyment of their property has been disturbed. However, as prosecution takes place after the event, such measures are inadequate. My hon. Friend's Bill would provide local authorities with more powers. They would be able to deal with noise nuisance more forcefully. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health is considering whether noise at acid house parties is causing damage to health and whether anything can therefore be done to control noise levels at such parties.
We must prevent dishonest promoters of acid house parties from exploiting young people for personal gain. We must ensure that the legislation is strong enough, which it is not at the moment, to deal properly with such people. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) has promised to introduce measures which will lead to the confiscation of profits over £10,000 made at illegal events when the promoters of such events have been found guilty in the courts. That will add to the deterrent provided by my hon. Friend's Bill, and that fact should be made known to the public.
Finally, the legitimate operators of events such as some of the acid house parties that have been promoted for public entertainment will have nothing to fear if they run a legitimate event, ensure that drug dealers will not be there exploiting our young people, prevent any criminal activities from taking place, work with the police on car parking, traffic and nuisance, approach the local authority for a licence and adhere to its conditions. Our young people will then be able safely to enjoy the entertainment that those operators present. The House wishes to encourage operators who provide proper, legitimate entertainment for our children. We do not wish to encourage people who are interested only in making a quick buck at the expense of our young people and without concern for their safety. The Bill will deal with such people. I commend my hon. Friend's efforts and I hope that all hon. Members will rally round to support it and ensure that it reaches the statute book.
I shall intervene only briefly in this important debate. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) on his enterprise and good sense in producing the Bill and thank him on behalf of my constituents, because in west Kent we have suffered as severely as any other part of the country from the so-called parties that were held last year.
All hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have referred to the disruption that was caused, which was absolutely acute. The noise disturbance was frankly horrendous, stretching over miles of countryside as a result of the use of amplifiers turned up to sextuple forte so that the sound carried a huge distance. There was any amount of high-powered lighting revolving, blinking and flashing and any amount of traffic. I also received abundant first-hand evidence from parents in my constituency of their teenagers having been approached by people seeking to peddle drugs. Other hon. Members have spoken about the attendant risk of violence to persons, theft and so on. Those occasions are extremely undesirable and I am delighted that the Bill has been introduced.
I wish to refer to one aspect that was not mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. I recognise that it bears on the particular responsibilities of another Government Department, although it relates directly to the issues addressed by the Bill. As we all know, large sums of money are being made out of these occasions. In principle that money is subject to tax. Last year I asked my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer what action the Inland Revenue was taking to establish the taxable income being obtained by farmers and landowners allowing their land to be used for such purposes, by those allowing their buildings to be used for such purposes and by the so-called party organisers. Undoubtedly thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pounds are being made as a result of those activities.
I sought an assurance from my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor that the full resources of the Inland Revenue would be applied to make certain that those sums were properly declared in the tax returns of the individuals concerned and would be made fully subject to the tax regime. I received a somewhat po-faced reply to my inquiries. I understand that the Treasury tends to give such replies, particularly on issues concerning people's personal tax liability.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister and the officials in his Department will liaise most closely with Treasury Ministers and Inland Revenue officials. I hope that positive and active steps will be taken to identify the farmers, landowners, building owners and party organisers concerned and ensure that a full declaration of income is made and full liability to tax achieved from the large sums of money which are being coined.
I give an undertaking to my right hon. Friend that I will, at the beginning of the pay-party season —as spring comes, so the numbers of parties will multiply —draw this matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I shall tell him of my right hon. Friend's strong view on the need for the Inland Revenue to take action. I suppose that that feeling is reflected not only in the House but among many ordinary citizens in the country at large.
I ask my right hon. Friend riot to defer making representations until the start of the party season. The point I made has equal validity in relation to the past season. I hope that when those concerned complete their tax returns for the financial year 1989–90 the year we are talking about—the full panoply of the Inland Revenue's investigatory powers will be applied to ensure that full declarations are made and the full amounts of taxation are assessed, on those concerned.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South for allowing me to make this brief intervention, I congratulate him on his Bill and wish him success in carrying it through to receive Royal Assent at the earliest possible date.
With the leave of the House, I shall make a few comments at the end of this lengthy and extremely interesting debate.
I repeat that the Bill is designed not to stop parties, but to make them legal and, therefore, safe for young people to enjoy themselves, and to prevent one person's freedom from interfering with that of another. It is all about balance, as I said earlier.
One hare almost got out—the idea that perhaps the Bill would have some effect on the village fete. I am pleased that outdoor garden fetes, bazaars and other similar entertainments are not required to be licensed as open-air, public, musical entertainment under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, because the music is incidental to them. I hope that will assure vicars, scout masters and women's institute presidents that their fetes are not under threat.
I thank my colleagues in the House, particularly the sponsors, my right hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) for their support and for allowing the Bill to achieve its Second Reading today. I also thank the Home Office staff for their advice and work in helping to draft this difficult and complex Bill. I thank the Essex police for briefing me and giving me the opportunity to see, on the ground, how these parties are organised.
I also thank my staff: my office has been brought to a standstill during the past couple of weeks because of the burden of work on the Bill. I thank Dr. Christopher Thompson, my researcher, who has worked so hard in helping me to draft my speech and briefing me on my various interviews. I paticularly thank my secretary, Barbara Kyriakou without whom I would not have been able to come here today and propose my Bill as I have. I commend the Bill to the House.