Increase of Penalties: England and Wales

Part of 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

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.