Increase of Penalties: England and Wales

Orders of the Day — Road Traffic (Temporary Restrictions) Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:17 am on 27th April 1990.

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Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton South 11:17 am, 27th April 1990

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 24, at end insert 'and the term, condition or restriction which is contravened imposes a limit on the number of persons who may be present at the entertainment'.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

With this, we may discuss the following amendments:

No. 2, in page 2, line 3, leave out 'subsection' and insert `subsections'.

No. 6, in page 2, line 40, after 'licence', insert `and the condition is attached under section 41(3)(b) of this Act'.

Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton South

During the passage of the Bill, which has become commonly known as the acid house party Bill, concern was expressed about its possible effects on genuine promoters of concerts, because my proposals would increase penalties not only for those who fail to obtain licences, but for non-compliance with the terms and conditions imposed by local authorities. The Bill is aimed at catching the organisers of unlicensed events, who often use unsuitable premises such as warehouses, marquees, and even private houses. By so doing, they jeopardise the safety of the many thousands of young people who participate in all-night dancing.

On Second Reading and in Committee, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) argued that the Bill would create a dangerous loophole. I shall explain the implications of removing completely the provisions for imposing higher penalties on organisers who breach licensing terms and conditions. Once in possession of a licence, the organiser would no longer he liable to pay the increased penalty for not having obtained a licence, and he would be subject only to the existing penalties of a maximum fine of £2,000 or a maximum term of imprisonment of three months. That would mean reverting to the previous anomaly whereby the penalty was so derisory and the profits from the events so large that a fine of £2,000 would represent only an incidental expense. An organiser could obtain a licence and then flagrantly disregard all its terms and conditions, placing the safety of thousands of young people in jeopardy. On a Second Reading and in Committee, I promised to reconsider and to devise a formula to overcome that loophole.

I thank the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West for his diligence in discussing the issue with me, and I also thank my hon. Friend the Minister and Home Office officials for their hard work in producing the amendments now before the House.

They restrict increased penalties to organisers who breach the attendance condition. When a council issues a licence, it will stipulate a range of conditions, and the increased penalties will still apply to breaches of any limit on the attendance. There is concern among some people that my amendments weaken the Bill to such an extent that it is not as good as originally drafted. Everyone knows that I should prefer to leave the Bill as it was, but I believe that with the amendments proposed it will be just as strong as it was originally.

There is a temptation for organisers to breach licence conditions to make more money, by admitting more people than the licence permits. It may cover 2,000 people, but a warehouse could—if people were crammed in with a shoe horn—accommodate 10,000. Those additional 8,000 people at £20 a head would generate an extra £160,000. If the maximum fine for such a breach is only £2,000, it would be counted merely as incidental expenditure.

The amendments ensure that an organiser breaking the attendance conditions in that way would still be subject to the increased penalties of £20,000 or six months' imprisonment, or both. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said that he will be tabling an order to add to our amendments the power of confiscation. Therefore, if a person appeared to go legitimate by obtaining a licence, but then disregarded its terms and conditions, it would not prove so profitable for him—given that his additional £160,000 profit would be confiscated. He would also be subject to a fine and possibly to imprisonment. The Bill as amended remains strong and will undoubtedly deter the unscrupulous operator who is willing to jeopardise the safety of young people.

Concert promoters have expressed concern at the possibility of their being caught by the Bill, which led the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West to advance their views in Committee. In my discussions with concert promoters, I sympathised with their arguments, and in Committee I said that there would have to be give and take on both sides. I have given way considerably, but there remains one possible point of concern for concert promoters.

If, due to circumstances beyond their control, they were compelled to breach the admissions limit, they might find themselves in trouble. For a major pop festival somewhere in the country 60,000 tickets may be issued—and even though provision is made for additional ticket sales on the day of the event, 1,000 people or more might be left without tickets outside the venue. If the decision was made by the organisers in consultation with the police to admit those 1,000 other people, because that would be safer than having them block the roads outside and risk public disorder, technically the organisers would be in breach of the limit on numbers. However, given that that decision would be made with the co-operation of the police and possibly of the licensing authority, it is inconceivable that the promoter would risk prosecution.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson

Will the hon. Gentleman make clear whether he is referring only to all-ticket events or also to events for which there is only an estimated attendance, with the actual number of admissions being monitored by the police? Unless admissions are strictly registered and there can be no argument about the numbers attending, all kinds of difficulties might arise.

Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton South

I understand that major events are usually all-ticket. The tickets are numbered and there are methods of counting people in through the gates. Therefore, there can be no dispute about the number of admissions. The majority of people buy their tickets some time before the event, but the organisers make a fair estimate of people just turning up on the day and reserve an additional number of tickets for them. However, if there is a miscalculation and more people without tickets turn up than has been anticipated, someone has to decide that, on safety grounds—provided that more people can safely be accommodated in the arena—it is possible to admit another, say, 1,000 or 2,000 people, to a large-scale event, rather than leave them outside, blocking the roads. Such a decision must be made on the spot by the police and the organisers.

The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 says: It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this paragraph to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid commission of the offence. If, even after all that, the local authority or the police, in co-operation with the organiser, allowed extra people in and an overbureaucratic person decided to take the matter further, there is, I am told by my legal advisers, adequate defence for that. That would occur only in extreme circumstances.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea , Mid Ulster 11:30 am, 27th April 1990

Safety must be first and foremost in importance. If the change in numbers is not made on the ground of safety, it may lead to a disaster and calls for inquiries, with claims, arguments and the allocation of blame. That disaster would have caused a nightmare for so many homes. Such changes must be made only on the ground of safety.

Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton South

That point is uppermost in my mind. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that, during the passage of the Bill, and during the many inquisitions to which I have been subjected by the media, I have said that my driving force is to ensure the safety of young people. That is why the amendments home in on the one area in which safety could be jeopardised by unscrupulous operators, and that is why I insist that in this area we retain increased penalties in connection with the control of the number of people who can enter a particular area, whether an outside area or an inside area such as a warehouse or other temporary accommodation, being used for dancing.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the concern for safety, which we all share. Nevertheless, it is possible for good intentions to result in bad law. I am still bothered by the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about proof of numbers and what happens if there is a dispute. I know that the last thing that the hon. Gentleman would want is for the Bill to become a matter of disrepute through errors and controversy. Will events covered by the Bill have to be all-ticket events? If not, which events will be covered? If there is a dispute about counterfeit tickets, what will happen? I am not clear about those points, which are central to this discussion.

Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton South

If the hon. Lady were to look at the terms and conditions imposed by local authorities, I am sure that she would appreciate that I am merely increasing the penalties, not changing the structure of the law. The terms and conditions are imposed by local authorities and change according to the particular event that is being licensed. The terms and conditions are constructed by the local authority on the advice of fire officers and the police so that provisions can be made for the safety of spectators and participants. The numbers allowed are based on safety—whether the building can be evacuated quickly, for example—and on sanitary arrangements. Even a village hall that is licensed for dancing has a maximum number imposed on it.

For large events, the local authority will usually stipulate clearly the way in which the numbers are to be monitored, either by numbered tickets or by having a correct way of counting people through turnstiles or gates. We are not, of course, talking about obtaining a figure accurate to one or two. With large events, the aim is to get it about right and no one would argue with that. With illegal parties, we are talking not about 1 or 2 per cent. extra people, but about doubling, trebling or increasing even more the number of people. We are talking about people being crammed in and their lives being endangered, with the promoters making a fortune in the process. That is what has been happening at the so-called acid house parties.

The large promoters have a code of conduct. They are drawing up a new code of conduct and they bear safety very much in mind—in fact, they are as concerned as we are. I know that there is general agreement from those promoters with what I am trying to do and that they are happy with the compromise that we have reached. I repeat to the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) that the specific terms and conditions are and must be worked out by local authorities. The House could not dream up a law to cover all the eventualities of organising an event at local level, whether in a field, a warehouse or even in an existing place of entertainment. I know that the professional organisers believe that our compromise is the way in which it should be done.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot , Wanstead and Woodford

Is not the point of the Bill that it would simply increase penalties for something that is already illegal and subject to penalties? The point of increasing penalties is to avoid their becoming merely an incidental cost—a flea bite compared with the huge profit that can be made from acid house parties.

Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton South

That is absolutely true, as I have explained. The main thrust of the Bill is to bring everyone within the law and to ensure that people have a licence before they run an event. We shall hit their pockets if they dare to go outside that law. The problem to date has been that the fine of £2,000 has been wholly insignificant to people who can make £250,000, so such people have ridden roughshod over the law. They have not even tried to obtain a licence and have gone ahead without one. We shall be requiring everyone to obtain a licence.

I want to satisfy the House and my colleagues who have supported me that the amendment will not create the loophole that I was frightened that we might create when we debated the matter on Second Reading and in Committee. Reverting to the existing penalties on all terms and conditions with the exception of numbers is the right way. The only way in which the unscrupulous operator can make the cash to enable him to pay an insignificant fine is for him to allow more people to attend. We have buttoned that up by ensuring that that is one condition that he has to obey. If he does not, he will be subject to the increased penalty of £20,000 or six months' imprisonment and confiscation. It would not be worth his while to break the law and jeopardise the lives of young people. The bona fide operator has nothing to fear and there is a defence if more people have to be let in to an event on safety grounds, on the advice of the police.

Photo of Mr Hugo Summerson Mr Hugo Summerson , Walthamstow

My hon. Friend has spoken about penalising the organiser of such parties. Assuming that it is possible to find the organiser—and that may sometimes be difficult—it may be that the event has been organised by several people. If the organisers can be traced, I presume that the maximum fine of £2,000 could not be shared among them, but would be levied on each separately.

Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton South

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) knows that I am not a legal man. I take his point about catching people. The police are confident that the investigative side of their operations can pinpoint people. Much detective work will be needed, because one does not necessarily target the first person who looks as though he may be in charge. These chaps have a long record of hiding behind others.

The cloak and dagger method of organising such events is unbelievably sophisticated. I have witnessed several recently, and I noticed that, without the Vodaphone or the Cellnet phone, the organisers might have been in trouble. The police are collating evidence and information on a regional basis and they have every confidence that they will be able to pinpoint organisers. I do not know whether the organisers would be dealt with separately, but my interpretation is that they would all be subject to the same fine. My legal advisers are nodding that that is the case. I hope that that answers my hon. Friend's point.

The amendments will enable the Bill to proceed to the other place. Having carefully taken account of all the anxieties expressed in Committee, I commend the amendments to the House.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

We are here today to increase penalties to help to stamp out acid house parties, which are generally illegal. I have not heard one dissenting voice against substantially increasing the penalties. Hon. Members seem to be in complete agreement on the need for tough action against the unscrupulous promoters of illegal acid house parties whose main aim is to make money, irrespective of the law.

In terms of increased penalties, at the heart of the debate has been the extent to which the Bill should distinguish between the actions of promoters of illegal acid house parties and the actions of traditional, legitimate promoters of musical events. As it stands, the Bill is unacceptable because it fails to target the real troublemakers. It massively increases penalties for legitimate promoters of musical events whose past performance just does not warrant such heavy-handed action. The Labour party shares the views of legitimate concert promoters who regard the Bill in its current form as not only unfair but unjustified. We do not see why legitimate concert promoters should be lumped in with the promoters of illegal acid house parties whose track records are nothing short of appalling and quite irresponsible. 'The amendments would correct the problem, and I welcome that move.

If an event is illegal—that is, with a promoter failing to obtain a licence—the promoter will be liable to enhanced penalties, which are six months' imprisonment and/or a fine of £20,000. If, however, a promoter goes down the legitimate path and obtains a licence but, with prior intent, breaks the terms and conditions of the licence by admitting more people than he should—by printing and selling more tickets—he will also be liable to enhanced penalties. Exceeding the capacity of a venue in that fashion is the only way in which increased penalties can be triggered against a promoter who has obtained a licence. If violated, all other terms of the licence will incur penalties only at the existing level—that is, a £2,000 fine and/or three months' imprisonment.

11.45am

My legal advice suggests that there could be an ambiguity in amendment No. 4. I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that the amendment does what the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) intends. That is to provide that exceeding the capacity agreement in the licence will be the only violation for which enhanced penalties will be invoked, and that violations of any of the other elements of the licence will not invoke the enhanced penalties. My legal advice suggests that the amendment could be interpreted to mean that, if the crowd capacity agreement were violated, that, as well as any other violation in the licence agreement, would be liable to increased penalties. That was not the intention of the hon. Member for Luton, South in drafting his amendment, but I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify that point.

Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton South

My intention is what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) believes it to be, and that is that increased penalties would merely be for those who broke the numbers rule. If they broke the numbers rule and other rules, they would be subject to the lower fine—that is, £2,000. That is the purpose of the amendments. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman giving me notice of his concern. I am advised that the amendments do what I want them to do, and that is merely to trigger an increased fine for those who break the numbers rule and certainly would not take account of the increased penalties for breaking any other term or condition.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point about his intention. Our legal advice seems to conflict. I should like the matter clarified. If my advice on the interpretation of amendment No. 4 is correct, I would expect the error to be corrected, perhaps in another place. I look forward to the Minister's comments on this rather technical legal matter.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot , Wanstead and Woodford

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he explain precisely where the ambiguity arises, because I have not been able to find any such ambiguity in my reading of the amendment, untutored as it has been? I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would go into that point a little further.

Photo of Mr Stuart Randall Mr Stuart Randall , Kingston upon Hull West

The advice that I have received from lawyers is that the problem arises because of the word "include" in both the original Act and amendment No. 4. This is complicated legislation. That is why I am anxious that we take more advice and ensure that the legislation fulfils the desires of the hon. Member for Luton, South, with which I utterly agree. I should like to leave that as an open question, instead of suggesting emphatically and finally that the wording is either right of wrong.

The amendment is encouraging because in its intended form it is supported by the Concert Promoters Association, which represents the promoters of such events throughout the country. It is interesting that the association also supports the notion of increased penalties for promoters of illegal—I stress the word "illegal"—acid house parties. The association feels strongly about that. It is encouraging to see concert promoters behaving so responsibly and condemning the outrageous behaviour of some of the people we described in Committee as cowboys.

It is important to recognise that there are times when a promoter has to violate the conditions of the licence in the interests of crowd control. If many additional people simply turn up to an event, what does one do with them? Does one say, "Look, you have to stay outside", because if one does, those people might go to the nearest town and cause trouble in that community. That would be unacceptable. On the other hand, the group of people could be outside the fence and start kicking it down. That would mean further trouble. Careful judgments based on practical experience must be used in such matters and sometimes additional people, over and above the number agreed in the licence, should be allowed into an event to keep the crowd calm and in good humour.

It would be absurd for a promoter to be convicted in such circumstances. Although the licence would have been violated, the promoter would, in my view, and, I am sure, in the view of the courts, have been seen to be acting responsibly. In practice, I would expect a promoter to discuss potential crowd problems with the local police officer who would attend the event and with the local authority official who might also attend. I would expect them to reach an agreement that the terms of the licence could be exceeded in the interests of safety.

In the event of an unco-operative local official or police officer not agreeing to that, the promoter would have a defence in law if, without agreement from those officials, he had to violate the conditions of the licence. I hope that such circumstances would not prevail regularly. One hopes that there would be full co-operation. As the hon. Member for Luton, South said, part of that defence arises from the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 in which schedule 1(12)(3) states: It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under this paragraph to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence. Although I am not a lawyer—I note that lawyers are present—I take that paragraph as meaning that in extreme circumstances a promoter could allow extra people into an event because he could show that he took "reasonable precautions" and exercised ''due diligence". Will the Minister confirm that he sees that provision as a defence in such circumstances?

Will the hon. Gentleman also confirm my research that a similar defence exists in Scottish law, in section 7(3) of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982? There should be consistency in the law on such defences. It is important to note that no such defence would apply to events held in central London because the London Government Act 1963 does not contain such a defence. That means that promoters in London would have to rely on the discretion of the courts and the magistracy and that they do not have the defence in law that is enjoyed by promoters who operate in the rest of the country. Clearly that is inconsistent. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell me whether he intends to take steps to overcome that inconsistency in defence and whether he knows of any legislative vehicle that might be passing through the House that could be used to deal with it.

Opposition Members believe that, if these amendments are accepted, they will appreciably improve the structure of the Bill. Accordingly, we shall give them our support.

Photo of Sir Peter Lloyd Sir Peter Lloyd , Fareham

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) has explained, in his usual thorough and balanced way, the circumstances that have led him to propose that the increased penalties for offences against the entertainment licensing laws for which his Bill provides should, where the offences concerned arise from the breach of the conditions of a licence, apply only where the condition that has been contravened is one that imposes a limit on the number of people who may be present at the entertainment.

As my hon. Friend persuasively explained, he has tabled these amendments to meet the Opposition's belief that his Bill, as originally drafted, would, in providing for the same new maximum penalty for the offences of breaching the terms and conditions of an entertainment licence as for holding an unlicensed entertainment, unjustifiably lay open the organisers of perfectly legitimate, licensed events to harsh penalties for trivial or unintentional breaches of conditions and thereby put at risk the continuation of very many of the concerts and pop festivals that they now promote.

As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) will recall, I made it clear in Committee that the Government supported the Bill as it stood and that we considered that it was necessary to provide for substantial increases in the penalties available for both categories of offence. As has been said, the need for increased penalties to deter the organisers of illegal, unlicensed acid house parties was never in question. We supported my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South in his contention that it was necessary at the same time to provide for the same increased penalties to apply when the terms and conditions attached to a licence were breached. He considered, as we did, that without such a provision, the way would be open for an unscrupulous organiser to obtain an entertainments licence from a local authority and then flagrantly disregard conditions imposed, for example for reasons of public safety—which was a point that worried the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) in his intervention—safe in the knowledge that the increased profits that he was likely to make would more than cover the fines under current legislation.

12 noon

As I said in Committee, the authorities will not prosecute for footling transgressions. The courts are well able to distinguish between major and minor breaches of the law and adjust penalties accordingly within the maxima. That is their job and they do it every day. In other areas, their competence in doing it is seldom questioned. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South made clear, he is anxious to meet the fears that some promoters of legitimate licensed events sincerely hold. I believe that they are unjustified. My hon. Friend has perhaps gone further to accommodate them than the Government would have liked. For example, a breach of a licence condition that fixed the permitted noise level at an event will not, if these amendments are accepted, attract the higher penalties for which the Bill provides. If our anxieties about the possible loophole that would be created if the Bill did not provide for increased penalties for breaches of licence conditions are indeed justified this may in time prove a real weakness.

We share with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and all other hon. Members who have spoken on the Bill, including the supporters and Opposition Members who have criticised this aspect of it, the view that the overriding need is to take effective action against unlicensed events. We also recognise the value of providing an increased penalty for a breach of a licence condition in cases where the licensing authority has imposed a limit on the number of people who are permitted to attend the licensed event. I assure the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West that my legal advice is that such a measure would affect only numbers and not other conditions. As he requested, I shall satisfy myself again that the advice that I have been given is absolutely correct.

For the reasons that I have stated, the arrangement in the Bill is less than the Government advised. However, I realise that it is more than the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West wanted. I have been impressed by the statesmanship that he has shown in agreeing to the compromise and the constructive ingenuity of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South, in producing it. In such an atmosphere of agreement and cordiality it would be churlish of me to withhold the Government's blessing, not least because, even if it is changed as proposed, the Bill will still be a great improvement on the law as it stands. It would greatly increase protection for party-goers and attenders of events as well as, most importantly, the general public. In that spirit I commend the amendments to the House. However, we shall keep a careful eye on breaches of other licence conditions. Should our earlier fears prove justified, we shall certainly take action of our own to remedy any deficiencies in the legislation.

I recognise the point made so well by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West about the absence of a "due diligence" or "best endeavours" defence in the London Government Act 1963 and the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967 to match its reassuring presence in the 1982 Acts that govern public entertainment in Scotland and in England and Wales outside London. The absence of such a defence is not a great practical problem, because, as I said earlier, the authorities will not hasten to prosecute for footling breaches of the law where due diligence has been exercised or where a technical offence has been committed in the interests of safety. The courts are well able to assess degrees of culpability. The scope of the Bill does not, alas, present us with an opportunity to remedy that absence. The Home Office will examine what other opportunities there might be to do so. I can answer the request of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West affirmatively. I should be glad to discuss with him and my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South the possibility of finding a remedy outside the debate.

I have no hesitation in saying that the Bill is a good Bill, even if amended in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South proposes. I congratulate him on bringing it this far and I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West on his contributions from the Opposition Front Bench. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly on the matter. I am glad that he and my hon. Friend managed to come to a constructive agreement. I am sure that the Bill will be valuable and useful and I hope that it will have a speedy passage through this House and another place.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I shall not detain the House for long, although before I heard the speeches that have been made so far I had intended to detain the House for longer. When I read the report of the proceedings of the Committee on the Bill I was much impressed by the criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). I was not aware of the careful negotiations and alterations which had taken place. At first glance I did not understand the significance of the amendments, but now I do. They have reassured me.

Labour Members always find it interesting when Conservative Members have to understand that market forces are not necessarily the best regulator in all circumstances and that the untrammelled workings of free enterprise can be damaging. If we are considering people's welfare, we must always seek a balance between market forces and the overriding needs of the community. The Bill is a good example of an instance in which Conservative Members have understood that. There was a danger that they would go too far in their zeal and enter into a measure which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West said in Committee, would have had a detrimental effect on all sorts of festivals which we do not want to damage.

I never go to such festivals. I detest crowds. I am very sensitive to the problem of crowd safety. I had to stand back from the issue and remind myself that those who like such events must retain their freedom to attend them. The House must not simply impose its tastes and preferences on other people.

I came to the debate in a hostile frame of mind, having convinced myself that the Bill would restrict people's freedom. However, I am reassured by the fact that the Government are not keen on the amendments. That in itself commends them to me. I am reassured and impressed by the immense amount of work that clearly has been done by my hon. Friend. I congratulate the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright), on his willingness to accommodate genuine fears. It is much better if we can come to an agreement on these matters.

I continue to have some anxieties on proof of numbers. Of course, we understand the hon. Gentleman's answer on village halls and the imposition of restrictions on them. My scepticism arises because the need to take care about numbers causes problems with judging high numbers. Although I have not participated in pop or traditional festivals, I have participated in demonstrations and know that estimates of attendance, especially at outdoor events, vary wildly. I retain some anxiety about that, but, as my hon. Friend approves of the amendment, I am willing to accept that that has at least been considered carefully.

For once I sympathise with the Government, who are worried about noise levels. Noise causes anxiety, annoyance and distress to many people. I thought long and hard about this and concluded that if the numbers aspect was satisfactorily dealt with, it would have the spin-off of probably taking care of the noise element. Many hon. Members would be willing to look carefully at matters relating to noise in any sphere and in any legislation. I certainly feel that we have not found ways of doing enough to stop noise pollution. Although I am tempted to think that many of these events are noise pollution by their very existence, I must not give way to that view. For those reasons, I am willing to accept the assurances and the work of my hon. Friend.

I should like the hon. Member for Luton, South to deal with one point when he replies. Are we imposing extra work on local authorities? If so, do they have the wherewithal to carry it out? Labour Members are worried that the House is always so willing to impose duties and responsibilities on local authorities while, unfortunately, Tory Members frequently treat us to unedifying displays of hostility towards and criticisms of them. Yet on many issues, such as this Bill, the Government are willing to accept that the local authorities are in the area, understand the circumstances, and so will do the job. Generally speaking, I agree with that, but I am worried about our willingness to give them extra work without ensuring that they have both the staff and resources to carry it out. That is my one remaining anxiety.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My hon. Friend rightly spoke of the burden that may be imposed on local authorities. Is not that particularly relevant, as acid house parties have often been held in premises or on airfields or places where it is doubtful whether contributions commensurate with the nature of the disturbance have been paid to the local authority in rates? In future the uniform business rate will apply. Local authorities could well incur costs which are not covered by contributions, particularly as these events often involve only occasional use. That can put such a promoter at an advantage compared with someone who regularly offers an entertainment in proper premises, and so pays the appropriate contributions to the local authority.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

I accept my hon. Friend's valid point. He explained it so thoroughly that I shall not repeat it. It illustrates the need for the Government to ensure that they provide adequate resources through grants for all the duties of local authorities. One cannot expect a local contribution for every eventuality, especially in the circumstances that my hon. Friend outlined. We must learn the lesson that local authorities are essential and the House must ensure that they have the necessary wherewithal. That is perhaps not so much the case on this occasion, but it certainly is on many others.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot , Wanstead and Woodford

Is that not a bit of a red herring, because the Bill is only about increasing penalties?

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston 12:15 pm, 27th April 1990

Yes, the Bill is about increasing penalities, but from listening to the speeches I understand that it is also intended that people will apply for licences. I apologise if I have got that wrong. We want local authorities to do more work. We do not want the organisers of parties to relieve local authorities of work, as it were, by not applying for licences. I do not think that my remarks are improper or unduly protracted. There is a definite interface between the responsibilities and funding of local authorities, and it is legitimate to mention it.

I accept the intentions behind the Bill. The worries that occurred to me as I read the Committee proceedings have been assuaged. I thank the hon. Member for Luton, South, for co-operating with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West.

Photo of Mr Graham Bright Mr Graham Bright , Luton South

I shall respond briefly. The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) said that Tory Members must recognise the need to control market forces. I run a business in the food industry and I am more than aware that we must recognise the law and work within it, not simply respond to market forces.

This is a local authority-led Bill. Local authorities want increased penalties and have campaigned for them, and I have responded to their request. The Bill does not give them more work. It provides the increased penalties to enable them to say and mean no when they refuse a licence. People will not be able to ride roughshod over them. The hon. Lady also mentioned money. In Essex alone, 90 policemen must be employed at weekends to try to control acid house parties. If we get rid of the problem, it will help local authorities in both respects. I know that local authorities will be pleased if the Bill is passed.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 2, in page 2, line 3, leave out 'subsection' and insert 'subsections'.

No. 3, in page 2, line 5, after 'conviction' insert— '(a) in the case of an offence to which subsection (3A) of this section applies,'. No. 4, in page 2, line 6, at end insert— `(b) in any other case, to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to both.(3A) This subsection applies to—(a) any offence under subsection (1) of this section; and(b) any offence under subsection (2) of this section where the terms, conditions or restrictions which are contravened or not complied with include one which imposes a limit on the number of persons who may be present at the entertainment.'. No. 5, in page 2, line 27, at end insert— 'and the terms, conditions or restrictions which are contravened or not complied with include one which imposes a limit on the number of persons who may be present at the entertainment'.—[Mr. Bright.]