Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill

Petition – in the House of Commons at 9:35 am on 17 January 1997.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr Barry Legg Mr Barry Legg , Milton Keynes South West 9:36, 17 January 1997

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Members of Parliament often have opportunities to condemn drug use. Yesterday was another opportunity for Members of Parliament to speak out. We heard some dreadful remarks from Mr. Brian Harvey of East 17. He condoned drug use, suggested that Ecstasy made people feel better and stated that he used up to 12 tablets a day. I condemn those remarks and I think that all Members of Parliament will probably join me in that condemnation.

However, there was also a promising sign yesterday. I spoke to a 12-year-old schoolgirl in my constituency, who said that she would be taking down the posters of East 17. Most young people are sensible about those matters. They want to hear the message, "No to drugs". We need to speak out and give that message loud and clear.

Today, Members of Parliament have a further opportunity not just to condemn drug taking and the abuses that occur but to change the law to make it more difficult for young people to have drugs peddled to them. The Bill that I am presenting to the House would give new powers to local authorities to close down clubs where there is a serious drugs problem. This is tough legislation, but we need tough legislation.

In the past four or five weeks, we have seen four tragic deaths from drug taking among young people. We have all become aware of the agony of Ecstasy. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the parents of the youngsters who lost their lives. I have met several of them, and they are very brave individuals. They have been prepared to go on television and to talk to the media when they are still suffering grief, with the aim of getting the message over of, "No to drugs" and the dangers that even one pill can pose. Their action is courageous, and I support it; it comes from a desire to do something to stop this menace.

I pay particular tribute to Paul and Janet Betts, the parents of Leah Betts. They helped to inspire me to introduce the Bill. They believe that it will help to save young lives. They believe that if we pass it, we shall be doing something constructive to help crack down on the drugs menace.

Frankly, I fear the possibility of more deaths. The most recent British crime survey was a warning to us all. It showed that 43 per cent. of 16 to 29-year-olds had tried drugs and that 50 per cent. of 16 to 19-year-old boys had tried drugs. In fact, more boys in that age group had tried drugs than had played football in the past three months. That is the scale of the problem with which we are trying to deal. It has been estimated that, during a weekend, up to 300,000 people may try drugs—300,000 people may be at risk.

We can certainly do everything that we can to reduce the demand for drugs. I support the educational programmes, the advertising campaigns and all the good work that is being done in the community to try to convince people of the harm that drugs will do. I think most young people are receptive to that message. Those who say that we should send out a fuzzy message rather than a clear one have got it wrong. A lot of young people want to hear the "No to drugs" message. They want that moral support behind them to make the right decision. I support all those attempts to cut the demand for drugs. I note that the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) shakes his head, and doubtless we shall hear from him later.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

I shook my head because although "No to drugs" has been the message sent out in this country and America for the past 30 years, the use of illegal drugs has increased in every one of those years. It increased last year and it will increase next year. Is it not time to look at new policies on drugs?

Hon. Members: No.

Photo of Mr Barry Legg Mr Barry Legg , Milton Keynes South West

The problem in our country is that we have been too permissive about drugs. We have not spoken with one voice against them. I hope that every hon. Member who speaks today will give out that message so that there is no doubt about it. We cannot afford to give the impression that drugs can be used for recreational purposes—one pill can kill. That must be the message sent from the Chamber today.

I back all the educational efforts to combat drug use, but we must also strike at the heart of the supply.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene and I am particularly grateful to him for allowing me to be associated with his Bill, which is important to us in Dover. No doubt he will join me in congratulating customs officers in Dover who this week arrested a lorry driver who tried to get a consignment of 80 kg of heroin through the port of Dover. We must welcome the fact that control systems are in force to try to cut the supply of drugs through that port and others. It is important that we should maintain our customs controls as well as our borders.

My hon. Friend suggested that we must cut off the supply sources, but does he also agree that we must squeeze every penny of profit from the drug dealers so that they cannot make any money out of drugs?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. That was not an intervention but a speech. I should also prefer to see the face of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) rather than his back.

Photo of Mr Barry Legg Mr Barry Legg , Milton Keynes South West

I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. I know that he works extremely hard in his constituency against drugs and that he makes every effort to support the authorities to crack down on the supply of drugs. I also agree that there is a lot of money involved in the business.

That is another reason for my Bill—a tough Bill that will give statutory backing to the efforts to crack down on the problem. I am afraid that guidelines are not good enough, because there are some unscrupulous people involved in the business who will do anything to circumvent guidelines. We need tough legislation that they cannot get round.

Nightclubs feature prominently in any attempt to strike at the heart of the supply of drugs. In all too many cases, those clubs and the associated dance culture have thrived on the presumption that drugs are a necessary and harmless part of a night out. The message put round in many clubs is, "What's wrong with joining the chemical generation?" Some pop music carries a positive message encouraging young people to take drugs. Incidentally, I was pleased yesterday to note that many radio stations and record companies said that they would ban the music of East 17. That is a welcome development. The nightclub culture is strongly associated with drugs and my Bill will help to crack down on the problem.

I have had discussions with Paul and Janet Betts about the Bill, because they have considered the issues in far greater detail than I have been able to do. They have dedicated themselves to the anti-drugs cause. They explained to me how children like their daughter Leah can go to clubs and be intimidated and threatened by the melee of pushers who may greet them. We have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that such circumstances do not arise.

Under my Bill, if the police believe that there is a serious drugs problem in a club, they may report it to the local authority and recommend to it that the club should be closed down. The local authority would then be able to consider the evidence in the police report and come to a judgment. It could decide to close down the club or vary the conditions of licence. The threat of immediate closure is important, because I must admit that the current law is defective. Public entertainments licences are a privilege and if clubs do not treat that privilege appropriately, it should be removed from them.

Many hon. Members will be aware of the problems associated with Club UK in Wandsworth. Wandsworth council, in conjunction with the police, has been trying to close down the club for 12 months. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) has already observed, there is a lot of money involved in such activities, and the club owners have behaved unscrupulously. They have used every legal device to keep the club open. They have dragged out the appeals procedure to enable them to continue their unsatisfactory practices, which continue to leave young people at risk.

The police have raided that club and found thousands of pounds' worth of illegal drugs on the premises. Its bouncers have been prosecuted and two deaths have been associated with the club. The local hospitals also have problems, because people from the club end up there most weekends. At present, the owners of that club are exploiting the law to keep it open.

My Bill would enable such unscrupulous clubs—they are probably the minority—to be closed down straight away once the police decided that they posed a serious drugs problem and the local authority, having considered the evidence, came to the same conclusion. That is the message that we are sending out. Clubs must clean up their act or be shut down. I suspect that a minority of clubs will face closure because of the Bill. It is a big stick and its main effect will be to send a message to clubs, club managements and owners that they must get their act sorted out. It will be a strong incentive for clubs to put their house in order. They will have an incentive to ensure that they work with the police and local authorities to raise standards and reduce the risks involved. That will the main benefit of the legislation.

I shall briefly describe my Bill in detail. Clause 1 amends the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. It allows a local authority to revoke a licence if it is informed by the police that there is a serious problem relating to the supply or use of controlled drugs at or near the licensed premises". There is a second important condition: the authority must be satisfied that revocation will assist in dealing with the problem.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

I told my hon. Friend before today's sitting that I thought that his Bill was the best private Member's Bill that I have seen; I give it my full support, as do the police and magistrates to whom I have spoken. Will he clarify one point about clause 1? How does he expect the police to define a serious drugs problem? Does he expect the police normally to evidence a serious drugs problem with proof that the club has been raided and arrests made, or will a subjective judgment sometimes be used?

Photo of Mr Barry Legg Mr Barry Legg , Milton Keynes South West

The police force does a lot of work with clubs and is close to the problems involved. The definition would ultimately be a matter for the police, who would have to decide what a serious drugs problem was. It is right that it is left to them to take that decision. I do not think that we can place in law the precise definition of a serious drugs problem; it is up to the police to use their discretion to decide what they consider to be a serious problem. The police would normally regard dealing on the premises as a serious problem. It is up to them to report to the local authority, which will exercise its judgment as to whether it agrees with the police.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I apologise for missing the first two or three minutes of my hon. Friend's speech. Definition is important—it is important to educate the public about what is and what is not acceptable. If we could establish a definition that meant that closure could always be anticipated, that would send a direct and clear message—certainly to children. As a teacher, I know that that would be important. Will my hon. Friend go a little further?

Photo of Mr Barry Legg Mr Barry Legg , Milton Keynes South West

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments. I think that the word "serious" implies that dealing is taking place or that many people are consuming drugs. The definitions will ultimately be subject to overview by the courts. Some cases will end up in the courts—a body of law will produce definitions and the clarity that my hon. Friend seeks will be achieved.

Once the local authority has received a report from the police, it cannot close the club arbitrarily, but has to give its reasons for revoking the licence. After revocation, the licensee has 21 days to make representations to the local authority, which must consider any representations, and either confirm its original decision or retract it. Provision is made for a local authority to amend the conditions of a licence as it sees fit. For example, it could prevent a club from opening on a certain night. A local authority may refuse to renew or transfer a licence following a police report. Clause 1 also allows a court that convicts a licensee of breaching his licence to revoke that licence. The clause also deals with the appeals procedure. The Bill in no way diminishes a licensee's right to appeal. However, it insists that the licence will remain in suspension during any appeals unless a court orders that it would be unfair for the licence to remain in suspension during court proceedings.

Clause 2 amends the London Government Act 1963, which applies in Greater London, to make similar provision to that made by clause 1. Since announcing my Bill two months ago, I have received much feedback from various quarters. The British Entertainments and Discotheque Association—BEDA—has made some most constructive and helpful comments, as have various councils.

Many people to whom I wish to pay tribute have helped me with the Bill; they include the Betts parents. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale), in whose constituency Mr. and Mrs. Betts live, for the help that he has given me with the Bill. He cannot, unfortunately, be with us today because of constituency engagements, but I can assure hon. Members that he has been a great help to me in formulating the Bill and has given it his full support.

There may be three main areas of concern about the Bill, but I believe that in its current form it deals with them. The first concern may be voiced by those who argue that drugs should be made legal. Drugs are a menace to society and the position of such people is unsustainable after all the deaths that there have been. Millions of parents are concerned about the issue and we, as Members of Parliament, have a responsibility to act.

The second argument is that if clubs are closed, drugs will simply move elsewhere. It would be foolish to deny that that may happen to some extent: those who dedicate their time to obtaining drugs will always find them. However, the Bill will help to ensure that drugs are not so casually available. As we all know, temptation lessens with distance. Paul Betts explained to me that most young people do not actively seek drugs, but in many clubs drugs are literally pushed on to them. I hope that the Bill will help to combat such problems.

The third potential criticism is that the Bill will close clubs unfairly. The Bill is intended to be tough. A licence should be thought of as a privilege that must be earned and respected; in no sense is a licence a right. Considerable efforts have, however, been made to ensure that the Bill is not unfair. I hope that the Bill's broad impact will, except in a few cases, come in the form of a threat rather than the reality of closure. Clubs will know that the penalties for laxity exist and that they must therefore establish good working relationships with the police and local authorities. Communication with all three parties will help to ensure consistent and fair application of the law.

The Bill also contains three specific points that will safeguard well-run, responsible clubs. First, the revocation can take place only if the local authority is satisfied that such action will assist in dealing with the drugs problem. It could not, for example, embark on a campaign to close all clubs regardless of how any one, individual club was run.

Secondly, a local authority is obliged to give reasons for its decision and to take account of representations made by the club. After those representations have been made, the local authority must confirm its decision. Those measures are designed to ensure transparency in local authority decisions.

There is a final safeguard: during a legal appeal, a court may rule that it is unfair for a licence to remain suspended during legal proceedings. I hope that those measures will reassure licence holders that, provided they are responsible and make strenuous efforts to combat all drug-related activity, their clubs will not be subject to closure.

I do not claim that the Bill is a quick-fix solution to social problems of drug misuse. It must be accompanied by continued initiatives to crack down on dealers and educate young people. However, it provides a solid base for a much tougher policy towards nightclubs which, as I explained, are the source of our current woes.

Photo of Mr David Evans Mr David Evans , Welwyn Hatfield

When my hon. Friend refers to nightclubs, does he include discos?

Photo of Mr Barry Legg Mr Barry Legg , Milton Keynes South West

I include any venue that needs a public entertainments licence, and I have drafted the Bill accordingly. I have not gone for venues that require only alcohol licences. There are now many clubs whose activities are dubious, but which do not sell alcohol—they sell or provide water and so do not need a drinking licence, but require a public entertainments licence. There are outlets other than clubs that require public entertainments licences and there may be drug abuse on their premises, too. I believe that by using the public entertainments licence system, we shall catch a wide range of premises where those problems may occur. I hope that my hon. Friend will support me.

In any decent society, individuals should not need to be given positive incentives to prevent harm to others. In an ideal world, clubs would combat drugs without Government intervention being needed. However, as we have seen, some clubs have not seen fit to behave in a responsible manner. Clubs can clean themselves up, but if they do not, the Bill gives local authorities the power to ensure that an entertainments licence is just that—a licence to entertain and not a licence to kill.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes 10:01, 17 January 1997

I am delighted to support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg). It is directed in the right way. If we needed any reminder of the need for action, we certainly had it in the past week, with the deplorable and irresponsible words and actions of Brian Harvey and Liam Gallagher. Those incidents underline the way in which the activities of those involved in the music scene, which is so close to young people's everyday lives and aspirations, can undercut all other activities by the Government, voluntary organisations and society in general to contain the horrendous growth in the problem of drug misuse.

Before talking specifically about the Bill, I want to point out that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is duty bound to consider what new guidelines should be issued in respect of the use of cautions by the police. That is especially important after the Liam Gallagher episode at the beginning of this week. It appears that the guidelines are drawn so broadly that the police can technically correctly describe Liam Gallagher as someone who has committed only one offence in police eyes and treat him like any other first-time user on his own account and give him a caution. We all know that for months, if not years, Liam Gallagher has made no bones about the fact that he is a regular user of drugs, and the police should not have let him off with only a caution.

If the use of a caution is appropriate—I believe that it is in many cases—it must be linked with the police directing the person receiving the caution to get some sort of counselling or treatment that will encourage and help that person to stop misusing drugs.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

My hon. Friend mentioned the music industry—we all applaud the fact that it is enormously successful and is a net earner to this country of approximately £1,000 million a year. However, will he join me in condemning the fact that some sections of the music industry are based on a drugs culture? Does he agree that we must send a clear message to the industry that we do not want its success to be based on a drugs culture?

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

I absolutely endorse my hon. Friend's comment and I believe that responsible sections of the industry would also endorse it, without any qualifications or qualms.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), who is here today, must also apply themselves to the question whether it is within the law for anybody—not only people such as Brian Harvey and Liam Gallagher—to advocate breaking the law. That is what they are doing when they say to young people, as Mr. Harvey said: if it makes you feel better and gives you something to do at the weekend and you go out and have a good time, I don't see why not, man, because life's too short, you know what I mean. He should know that life is too short and that he is shortening the lives of many young people by advocating such behaviour. I hope that, even if he is unable to address that aspect of the problem that we are debating today, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can look into it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West mentioned that he wished that the industry could have tackled the problem itself, without legislation being required. That is the proper attitude. Mention should be made of the London Drug Policy Forum's excellent initiative, "Dance 'Till Dawn Safely", which provides guidelines for the operation of clubs and a health and safety code of practice. The initiative was launched at the Ministry of Sound a few months ago and was warmly welcomed by the music industry. The House should give praise where praise is due and commend both the London Drug Policy Forum and the Corporation of London, which was the motivating force behind the initiative. The forum's chairman, Peter Rigby, deserves our particular thanks.

Sadly, such efforts have proved not to be sufficient, which prompted my hon. Friend to introduce the Bill. He was right to emphasise the description of the Bill as being applied to a serious problem relating to the supply or use of controlled drugs at or near the licensed premises". I repeat, a serious problem.

Any responsible club owner or operator should have no qualms about the Bill, as was confirmed to me last night, when I was lucky or unlucky enough to participate in "The Midnight Hour" television programme. A representative of the Ministry of Sound also appeared and he made it absolutely clear that he had no qualms about the Bill's effects in respect of his premises. However, he went on to say that he had been to innumerable clubs where he had seen dark figures skulking in a corner with a bagful of Ecstasy and selling it to anyone they could persuade to approach. They were taking such a businesslike attitude that, even in that gloom, they would hold up the £5, £10 or £20 note to whatever light there was, to see whether it was a forgery. There is a need for the Bill and, sadly, there are clubs to which it will apply.

Another element underlying the Bill, although not included in its provisions, is the way in which clubs police their environment. The Ministry of Sound has no difficulty with its doorkeepers and operators. They are usually referred to by that rather rude term, "bouncers", but they have an important function in running such clubs. The Ministry of Sound has no need for national or local training guidelines because it has its own security men, well trained and well directed. However, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will keep an open mind as to the need for such guidelines, because if there is a widespread need for higher standards of policing at club doors and on club premises, there may be a need for better training of those club security forces.

Whatever popular stars say, drug misuse will put their and anyone else's abilities at risk and adversely affect their ability to achieve and to lead a healthy life. We all know—my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West mentioned it—of the tragic deaths that can come about from drug misuse.

Moreover, drug misuse causes problems for the entire community, especially as a result of drug-related criminal activity and the strong fear that it engenders in many people. The Bill will have a beneficial effect, not only on the operation of the music environment and young people, but on everyone in every community, urban or rural, because it will help to stop young people being lured into drug misuse.

The Government's strategy, "Tackling Drugs Together", correctly accepted that there is no single reason why young people choose to experiment with drugs and that no single action will prevent them from trying them out. That is why there is a need, which is being met, for a co-ordinated range of preventive actions to tackle drug misuse. Inaction or bad action in any part of that spectrum of activity will undercut the efforts on all fronts and erode the considerable common purpose of the very many people, throughout our country, who are involved in tackling the problems of drug misuse and persuading people of the dangers of being lured into it.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West for introducing the Bill, which I believe that the House should support.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West 10:12, 17 January 1997

Methylenedioxymethyl amphetamine, MDA, Ecstasy, is a chemical product that should never be taken for recreational purposes. It marinates the brain in serotonin—it floods the brain with a substance that we should rarely have in the brain. Those who take it risk their mental health. I will yield to no one in my opposition to the use of chemical products in the way that Ecstasy and other substances have come to be used, but nowhere have we identified the risk involved and what the Bill's effects should be.

I am frequently accused of advocating the legalisation of drugs. I have never advocated the legalisation of any recreational drugs, and the next newspaper that says that I have will pay my election expenses. I do not take drugs. I have a ferocious objection to medicinal drugs, which we vastly overuse. I have never used an illegal drug and I have not smoked for about 30 years. I do take a drug, which is a drug of the House, a drug of my generation and our generation of Members of Parliament, because I take the occasional glass of beer and other alcohol.

Let us consider what is happening in the country. There is a huge gulf of misunderstanding between us—and our generation—and the generation we are trying to help. I know the agony of the Betts family. There is no worse bereavement than the loss of a child, unexpectedly, for no purpose, which they have suffered. We all, as parents, want to give them a consoling hug and to try to help them in the terrible torment that they have suffered, which is continuing. We understand their campaign, and the need to work out the process of grief. We all commend the work that they have done, so I do not say what I am about to say lightly. All those factors do not mean that we should switch off our critical faculties and refrain from asking about the value of the campaign of saying no.

Regrettably, the Bill is framed in the light of the well-intentioned but mistaken views of 10 or 20 years ago. We have moved far beyond them. We would say to our young people, "Say no to any chemical product; say no to those drugs," but have we forgotten what we felt when we were 15 or 18? All young people know that they are immortal—as did we when we were young. Others may die, but they will not. They are risk takers—that is part of being young. Saying no to them is often a perverse incentive for them to take such products.

Let us examine the serious drug risk. Introducing the Bill, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) did not quote one figure on Ecstasy deaths. I have asked many parliamentary questions to discover the extent of the risk and the reason for deaths. The hon. Gentleman quoted four deaths this year. There may turn out to be no deaths this year.

The death that received a great deal of publicity on the "Today" programme was the death of a young girl a fortnight after Leah Betts died. It was described as an Ecstasy death. At the inquest, it was found that the young girl had taken an unknown quantity of alcohol, one Ecstasy tablet and 30 coproxamol tablets. The coproxamol tablets were enough to kill her three times over. Do we have a Bill on that?

Two hundred and fifty deaths a year occur as a result of coproxamol. Government figures show that, over five years, 34 deaths occurred in which Ecstasy was the only drug involved and 53 occurred in which Ecstasy was one of the drugs involved. That is a very small proportion of the deaths in clubs. We could name the clubs.

I wish that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West had heard the following when he spoke about a serious problem: in the period when there were 34 Ecstasy deaths, there were 650 deaths from alcoholic poisoning. That is not people choking on their vomit or walking under a bus, but people who have gone to a club and, because of the irresponsible behaviour of the club owners and bar staff—perhaps on an 18th birthday—taken a cocktail of alcohol containing a huge amount of vodka or gin and died, within hours, of alcoholic poisoning. We talk of 10 Ecstasy deaths a year.

Photo of Mr Barry Legg Mr Barry Legg , Milton Keynes South West

I made some estimates of drug usage each weekend. The hon. Gentleman needs to appreciate that this is a private Member's Bill, proposing a solution to a specific problem—closing a loophole—which is what private Members' Bills should be about. Whatever views he has on other issues—he is free to introduce Bills—I hope that he will support my Bill.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

I cannot support the Bill. Many other people do not support it either, and I believe that it will do more harm than good. Indeed, it will cause more deaths.

Why do people die from taking Ecstasy? The Leah Betts case attracted the most publicity of recent years. The advice current at the time was that someone who has a bad reaction to the drug should take water. Leah Betts was not killed by Ecstasy; she was killed by a combination of Ecstasy and an excessive amount of water. The drug meant that her kidneys were not working properly, so she could not discharge water: she died from an excess of water. If she had taken Ecstasy alone she would have been all right; if she had taken water alone she would have survived. The combination killed her.

Other Ecstasy-related deaths are almost all the result of overheating. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West would only listen, he might learn something. Why, for instance, are there Ecstasy deaths in this country but not in Holland, where about a million people regularly take the drug? There has been only one death there in all these years. The reason is to be found in how Ecstasy is taken in our country. The problem is not the chemical itself, bad though that is; the problem is overheating.

The clubs allow people to dance continuously to that extraordinary music which sounds so alien to all of us. Not for them the three foxtrots that we might have danced a long time ago; they dance for hours on end in overheated surroundings. The autopsies prove that these people die of heat stroke.

If we want to avoid more deaths, as we all do, we must attack the cause of those deaths, which is bad treatment—after the event sometimes—with excess water. That causes a small number of deaths, but the main cause is overheating, because Ecstasy alters people's judgment.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

The hon. Gentleman is doing the Bill a disservice by accentuating so heavily the deaths that result from taking Ecstasy in a small minority of tragic cases. The real problem is that anyone taking any amount of Ecstasy puts his body at risk of internal bleeding in the short term and of brain damage in the longer term. I therefore plead with the hon. Gentleman not just to stress the death count, because every single pill of Ecstasy taken erodes a person's good health and possibility of a happy life.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

I started by making that point, but I am happy to repeat it. We politicians have a responsibility to introduce laws that are practical and which will do good. I, too, applaud the splendid document that the hon. Gentleman mentioned; it represents a major advance in ideas of how to reduce the harm caused by drugs. It is no good Parliament or anyone else telling young children to say no. That policy has failed year in, year out. Every year we hold a drugs debate. Every year, hanging over the Chamber in that debate, is a statistic that mocks our efforts. Every year more people use drugs than before—that is true of the past 20 years. Next year, again, we shall be told that more people are using illegal drugs.

The Government's policy statement, "Tackling Drugs Together", was a major event in itself. It stated: Efforts should therefore also be made to protect those who are at risk by a range of responsible measures, often expressed as `harm minimisation"'. That is the best we can do, because drug use is now endemic among our young people. Whatever laws we bring in, that is set to continue.

The great damage that this Bill might do has been described by that highly responsible body, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which has written to many hon. Members pointing out the difficulties. The Bill would stop drugs being sold in clubs. For goodness sake! In my constituency, there is some use of amphetamines, less of crack, and some of LSD, but the fashionable drug among children is alcohol. They do not buy it in clubs—they buy it during the day in supermarkets. They then consume it outside the supermarkets, where they can buy it at a third of the normal price. They enter the clubs already inebriated. If the Bill is passed, the source of supply will move from the clubs to the streets, where there will be even less control or restraint. That would merely serve to increase the dangers.

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West mentioned people who support the Bill, but all the outreach workers and those working on harm minimisation are critical of its effects. They say that drug use will continue, and that by far the most dangerous drugs in circulation are alcohol and tobacco—the drugs of our own generation. We know, for instance, that young people who smoke are 22 times more likely to go on to illegal drugs than non-smokers; and 95 per cent. of first-time hard drug users are people under the influence of alcohol. No wonder, then, that young people with a different drug of choice turn to us and say, "There you are in your Parliament with its 15 bars telling us not to do drugs—you standing there with a glass of whisky in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and a couple of paracetamols in your pocket for your headache tomorrow morning." I remind the House that, in 1994, 585 people were killed by paracetamol; in the same year there were three deaths from Ecstasy. That puts the matter in perspective.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that deaths from paracetamol usually occur because people consume too much of the product—often by accident—either because they believe that twice the dose will cure the cold more quickly or because they do not realise that it is included in other products?

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

Paracetamol is contained in 570 products—most people do not realise that—and among medicinal drugs it is the major killer. I have been active in ensuring that such products are properly labelled, and in trying to get the antidote included. We can solve this problem easily. The drug destroys an element of the liver called methonime. A product containing the antidote is now available, and I hope that everyone will start to use it. We could easily solve the paracetamol overdose problem, but I am afraid that the cynical drugs trade is wary of any campaign against paracetamol, knowing that a campaign for a safe form of the drug would involve advertising just how deadly dangerous products like Night Nurse and Lemsip are.

I do not question the intentions of the Bill's promoter, but I believe that it would be wrong to rush it through the House, in view of all the objections from serious people who say that it could do harm. Good practice in clubs means allowing young people to chill out in a designated area so that they do not overheat. Some clubs already do that and have water to hand, but they make sure that the amount of water drunk is limited. We must therefore tell young people, "Don't do it, but if you do do it do not overheat, and drink no more than a pint of water an hour."

The conscientious clubs would be penalised by the Bill. That is not my view, but that of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. It says that evidence that clubs are implementing good practice could be taken as showing that the club has a serious drug problem. The police might ask why the club is bothering with a water supply and chill-out area, why it controls the length of time that the music goes on, and why it has such good ventilation. Clubs run by responsible owners could then be penalised by the Bill. I carry no brief for greedy, irresponsible and cynical club owners who have no respect for the lives of their customers, and I have no objection if their clubs are closed down because of their behaviour.

We have many drug problems, and today we had the bad news about children who drink alcohol: half of 13 to 14-year-olds and more than three quarters of 15 to 16-year-olds have drunk alcohol in the past month. They are drinking not conventional drinks, but alcoholic pops. This country spends £100 million trying to persuade young children to drink alcohol—a gateway drug to other drug use—and we know that it is drunk by 13 to 15-year-olds. I seriously suggest to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West that, when a party of 18-year-olds celebrates someone's birthday in a club and somebody buys over the counter a large amount of vodka or gin and laces somebody else's drink with it, causing that person to die—there are 150 such cases every year—that club should be closed down because it had some control over the drink that was supplied.

It is difficult to oppose a Bill that seems, on the surface, worked to be beneficial, but the House must consider seriously the truth of the drugs epidemic that we are suffering and look for practical measures to deal with it. The Bill is framed in an out-of-date philosophy which has never worked and can never work.

I once said that one of the main faults of this House is that it introduces tabloid politics that are framed and dictated by tabloid newspapers. This well-intentioned Bill is framed in ignorance. It is written with a great deal of prejudice and it is a poor example of tabloid politics dictated by the tabloid press. It could cause more deaths than it would prevent.

Photo of Mr Michael Neubert Mr Michael Neubert , Romford 10:33, 17 January 1997

The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is clearly sincere and well intentioned, and appears to be knowledgeable about the technicalities of the drugs scourge. Ultimately, however, he is misguided in arguing with so much qualification against the Bill and its consequences. Although he may rail against tabloid papers and so-called "tabloid politics", the great merit of tabloid newspapers is that they provide a clear, simple message that everyone can understand. On the subject of drug abuse, the House must give out a clear, simple message that cannot be misunderstood. That is why emphasising all the technicalities which seem to cast doubt on the central proposition that drug abuse is essentially evil is against the best interests of the great mass of the British people, and that is to be regretted on this occasion.

My first obligation is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on introducing the Bill, which will be valuable if it reaches the statute book. I also congratulate him on having the chance to introduce a private Member's Bill—an opportunity which, in 23 years in this place, has not so far come my way. He has taken good advantage of it and is to be commended for doing so.

I support the Bill strongly, having constantly campaigned against drug abuse. I do not believe in the prevailing liberal tendency to go soft on soft drugs—that would be the beginning of the end. I am glad that the Bill appears to have the Government's support in the person of the Home Office Minister who is present today. It will be an additional weapon in our armoury.

I must, however, enter a caveat, and the nature of my reservation will become clear when I describe my personal experience. It must be said that my experience is limited—nightclubs are not my natural habitat—although my constituency of Romford has some claim to be the night spot of the south. We have several excellent clubs which provide entertainment for young people. While people of my generation may find it difficult to understand what pleasure can be gained from such experiences as late-night clubs and discos, we see every night of the week that many young people like to congregate and meet their fellows in such places.

My only experience was during the last general election campaign, which coincided with a charitable fund-raising event called "Trading Places". The daughter of the owner of one of the clubs in my constituency, Hollywood, challenged me to change places with her for one day. I took up the challenge in the spirit in which it was made and, for one day, she became the Conservative candidate for Romford, going around in a pinstripe suit with a blue rosette. At the end of a long day taking her round and letting her see what it was like to be a parliamentary candidate, I took her place at the nightclub and presented the entertainment programme there. That gave me a unique opportunity to communicate with literally hundreds of young people in my constituency and from elsewhere, which I would not have had in any other way. I acknowledge that my interest and experience are limited to that. My impression was that the club was well run and sought to maintain high standards. I remember standing at the door and watching how people were checked as they came through. Anybody wearing dirty jeans was rejected because that was not in accordance with the standards that the club was trying to impose.

A more serious problem developed with another club in my constituency called Secrets. It attempted to run a club in north London where the ethnic mix of the community was very different and the nature of the club changed. This is relevant to my hon. Friend's Bill because the club's owners and operators experienced a great deal of difficulty when they became the object of drug dealers' attention through no fault of their own. Although the Bill is well intentioned and will be effective in so far as it goes, it tends to say that the problem starts at the club door. It is clear from that club's experience that that is not solely the case.

That successful club became the focus of criminal interest. Even people who travelled to that part of north London by train were regularly mugged between the station and the club, so even before they reached the club they were subjected to criminal assault and robbery. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West acknowledged that, on the whole, club owners are keen to run well-regulated establishments. That particular club went out of its way to solve the problem, which was not of its making, by providing buses to take customers from the station to the club so that they would not be assaulted on the streets. Once customers reached the club, however, criminal elements brought other pressures to bear on the club, and this has not been expressed enough so far in the debate.

Powerful criminal elements—particularly in London, from which I come and about which I speak—are trying to move in on any club that succeeds in bringing large numbers of young people together, and that is what occurred in this instance. There was an ugly incident involving the shooting of someone who was not involved in the fracas. Knives were produced and, even though a police station is located opposite the club, the police were not able to intervene effectively. My caveat is that it is not enough to believe that if clubs are well regulated, no other pressures will contribute to the serious problem of drug abuse in this country.

This week the BBC "Panorama" programme broadcast the first instalment of a two-part series on drug abuse, and we should not underrate the extent to which drug abuse threatens our society: it is one of the major issues of our time and hits close to home. The first programme found that some 70 per cent. of property thefts in Leeds are committed to finance drug taking in that great city. I am sure that much crime in other cities, including London, derives from the need of drug takers to finance their habit.

Drug taking is a very serious problem. Those of us who are fortunate to lead ordinary working lives cannot imagine the life of the drug taker who lives by the day or by the hour, robbing in order to obtain easy money to pay for a quick fix. It is a life that one would not wish upon anybody. That is why I think that it is dangerous to prevaricate about the different causes of drug taking and to include alcohol and cigarettes in the same category as other drugs. Although they are drugs, they are not of the same nature as the chemical drugs about which we are concerned today. Drugs destroy lives: that must be our simple message.

The threat posed by organised criminals in our midst is obvious. Since the episode that I described—which led to the club owners withdrawing from the operation and deciding never again to attempt to run a successful club in north London, thereby depriving people in a fairly underprivileged area of that form of entertainment—another incident has occurred in Ilford, near Romford. A bouncer was shot dead and two other people were injured as a result of a person being refused entry to a club. That illustrates the point that, although clubs may be well run, it will not necessarily stop the abuses or dissuade the criminal elements who attach themselves to such venues. We do not know the full circumstances of that incident—no one has been apprehended and charged with the offence—but it appears that some people will go to any lengths, including shooting those who stand in their way, in order to enter clubs to peddle drugs and make money.

I welcome my hon. Friend's Bill. I support it strongly and I believe that it will provide an effective sanction. However, we must recognise that we are all involved in the campaign against drugs. The police, in particular, must be prepared to work with the clubs to combat the problem. I know that they are doing so but, ultimately, society faces a major threat. We must not create the impression that by passing the Bill—I hope that it will receive its Second Reading this morning—we are effectively preventing drugs from being peddled to young people who congregate in clubs. I acknowledge that, as the hon. Member for Newport, West said, people will find other ways of procuring hard drugs. However, ensuring the good running of clubs is a step in the right direction and therefore I welcome the Bill. I am glad that the Government support it and I wish it a speedy passage to the statute book.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge 10:43, 17 January 1997

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on his good fortune in gaining second place in the ballot—I say that with some feeling as I achieved only 20th place. I am glad that he has had the opportunity this morning to discuss an important landmark Bill which he hopes that Parliament will enact in order to save the lives of young people who are exposed to drugs, particularly in badly run and improperly supervised clubs of the kind to which several hon. Members have referred. One hopes that the Bill will end the series of tragedies that have deprived parents of their children who have been tempted to try drugs such as Ecstasy.

I listened with considerable attention to the speech by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who made an interesting contribution to the debate. I am sorry that he does not support my hon. Friend's Bill, but he raised some points that should be considered carefully—particularly his reference to the increased consumption of alcohol and the increasing availability of alcoholic pops and similar products.

There is no doubt that people's awareness of the association between public entertainment venues and the misuse of drugs was heightened tragically by the harrowing media reports of the death of Leah Betts. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Leah's parents, whose dignity and calmness in the face of losing their daughter helped to bring forward the proposals. Since the death of that beautiful young woman, there have been further media reports about the drug-related deaths of young people whom this country can ill afford to lose and whose deaths occurred in preventable circumstances.

The death of Leah Betts and the subsequent trial of the student who admitted helping to supply her with an Ecstasy tablet illustrate the fact that action is necessary. According to a report in The Times of 12 December last year, the person who was supposedly responsible for security at the club concerned is no longer alive, as he was implicated in the supply of drugs and was shot in a triple killing in 1995. That gives hon. Members some idea of the kind of people behind the supply of dangerous drugs.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, public attention has been focused on the problems arising from attempts to close Club UK in Wandsworth. The licensing committee refused to renew its entertainment licence in May last year and I think that it is important to examine the timetable of events. The club had been associated with two drug-related deaths and undercover police operations suggested that drugs were readily available on the premises. That was confirmed in March last year by council officials. The club lodged an appeal and the hearing against the closure order began in November. Judgment was reserved on 19 December and the decision to uphold the council's refusal was announced only on 6 January. That is a good example of the amount of time it takes to close a club when there is clear evidence of a drugs problem. My hon. Friend's Bill is important because it aims to overcome that delay and deal with matters promptly.

At the Conservative party conference, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced proposals to make possible the revocation of public entertainments licences and the closure of premises with immediate effect in cases where there is clear evidence of a serious problem relating to the supply or consumption of controlled drugs on or near the premises. The Home Secretary's message at that conference was clear. He made it absolutely clear that it is not good enough to try to persuade children at school and in the home not to experiment with drugs. Action is needed to stop drugs getting into their hands: action at ports, on the streets and, most importantly, in the clubs.

I ask the House to remember that Leah Betts took just one tablet of Ecstasy bought in a club. Hours later she was dead. My right hon. and learned Friend made it clear that we owe to Leah's parents, and to millions of other parents, the duty to stop pushers poisoning our children. That is one reason why I am in the House today to support my hon. Friend's Bill which, as we know, has Government support and, indeed, the support of many hon. Members. In Churchill's immortal words, we are here to take "action this day" and not allow the problem to drag on any longer, where a year can elapse between clear evidence of a problem in a badly run club and its effective closure following appeal.

The Bill is important because clubs, as we all know, are a magnet for drug pushers. Bad clubs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) pointed out so clearly in his most interesting speech, are a particular magnet for the criminal fraternity, who fasten on to them because they know that they will provide them with a ready market among vulnerable youngsters. Sometimes it appears that the clubs themselves—the bouncers, managers and owners—are in on the act. The police often know which clubs these are. I am not talking about all clubs—I am talking about bad clubs and badly run clubs.

Hon. Members will know of some of those clubs. The police certainly do, but they cannot close them because they do not have the necessary powers. Even if they succeed in getting a licence revoked, the owner can appeal and prevaricate. There is then a delay, during which the club continues to offer both entertainment and drugs to the youngsters who frequent it.

The danger therefore remains, and it cannot be allowed to persist. That is why it is important that the law be changed. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Newport, West is right in saying that if the Bill is enacted, it will make the situation worse. The Bill is directed at bad clubs and the delay that occurs between evidence becoming available and the closure order coming into effect.

We hear much in the House and read in the media about drugs, which is a generic term to describe a group of various drugs which exist and are used for very different purposes—mostly medicinal. It is important to make it quite clear what we are talking about. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 controls dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs which are designated as "controlled drugs". The primary purpose of the Act is to prevent the misuse of controlled drugs. It does that by imposing a total prohibition on the possession, supply, manufacture, import or export of controlled drugs, except as allowed by regulations or by licence from the Secretary of State.

Schedule 1 includes the hallucinogenic drugs, such as LSD and cannabis, which have virtually no therapeutic use. The production, possession and supply of drugs in this schedule is limited, in the public interest, to research or other special purposes.

Schedule 2 includes the opiates, such as heroin, morphine and methadone, and the major stimulants, such as amphetamines, and quinalbarbitone. A licence is needed to import or export drugs in this schedule, but they may be manufactured or compounded by a licence holder, practitioner or pharmacist or a person lawfully conducting a retail pharmacy business.

Schedule 3 includes a small number of minor stimulant drugs, such as benzphetamine, and other drugs that are not thought so likely to be misused as the drugs in schedule 2, nor to be so harmful.

Schedule 4 includes the benzodiazepines. The restrictions applicable to schedule 3 drugs apply to those, with a number of relaxations.

Schedule 5 contains preparations of certain controlled drugs, for example, codeine, pholcodine, cocaine and morphine, which are exempt from full control when present in medicinal products of low strength. The hon. Member for Newport, West referred to some of those in his remarks.

A wide range of drugs that exist in our society are controlled by the Act. It is exceedingly dangerous for some of those to get into the possession of the criminal fraternity, sometimes to be modified by them, to be diluted, watered down or interfered with in some way that alters their purity, which in itself can constitute a serious danger to anyone taking such a drug.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) made a very important reference to safety at clubs. He spoke about the responsibilities that some club officials have in supervising the entertainment that takes place in them. I have looked into the matter because I am interested in the part that the running and supervision of clubs can play in making it safe for young people to enjoy entertainment on licensed premises.

In February last year, the Home Office issued a draft circular on the health and safety of young people at dance events and clubs. It provided model licence conditions, designed to encourage measures to improve the health and safety of young people, with particular emphasis on reducing the availability and acceptability of drugs.

The conditions were intended not to be prescriptive but to enable local authorities and agencies, as well as the organisers of dance events, to devise conditions that meet local needs and circumstances. That seems to be moving in the right direction. The model conditions in the circular were prefaced by the following general considerations.

First, the onus is to be placed squarely on the holder of the licence to provide health and safety measures, irrespective of whether drugs are being taken, which meets one of the points made by the hon. Member for Newport, West.

Secondly, the criteria for granting licences should include the availability of rest facilities in a cool environment; the monitoring of temperature and air quality; and the provision of information on the dangers posed by drugs. All of those are highly desirable.

I share the views of the hon. Gentleman, who spoke about some of the music that is played nowadays, the incredible noise that it generates and the heat generated as a result of dancing for long periods, which in itself is a great danger.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

I should like to add to the list that my hon. Friend just enumerated the availability of free water, because many clubs, unfortunately, take advantage of the need to drink a lot of water in order to sell water at an exorbitant price.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

That is a very valuable point. It meets squarely the observations made by the hon. Member for Newport, West. It is clear that the heat generated in these clubs as a result of dancing for long periods requires access to water, and it is important that that should be included in a regulatory regime.

When my hon. Friend the Minister replies on behalf of the Government, I hope very much that he will have something to say about the outcome of the consultations that have been taking place. I hope also that he will tell the House what conclusions the Home Office has reached as a result of the contacts that it has undoubtedly had with local drug action teams or reference groups.

Local authorities play an important role. They are often best placed to attach any necessary conditions in the light of local needs. Councillors, in representing their wards, know their local areas intimately. They are well placed to be able to participate in the decisions taken by local authorities. It is important that we get on with implementing proposals that complement the Bill's provisions. Particular emphasis needs to be placed on the reduction of the supply of drugs by searches of visitors where there is reasonable suspicion that drugs are being carried and on the provision of first aid.

It is clear to me that the views expressed by the Home Office reflect closely those set out in the London Drug Policy Forum's paper entitled, "Dance 'Till Dawn Safely"—an activity that, perhaps a few years ago, every Member of this place has enjoyed and one that we would like to see the young people of today enjoying. We want them to be able to dance safely till dawn, free of drugs and with the availability of water and proper rest facilities.

I feel quite strongly about the question of doorkeepers. In its 1994 report on police, drug misusers and the community, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs commented: There is a limit to the extent to which enforcement and security action can be taken to prevent drug dealing at such events. Even the most vigilant action by door staff cannot prevent drugs from being smuggled into raves, particularly as staff cannot legally conduct strip or intimate body searches, and may encourage drug taking before entering the venue. In any case, it is claimed that door and other security staff are frequently involved in the drug dealing that takes place and we comment later in this chapter on the need for regulating and training such staff. I hope that this element of the problem that exists at clubs will be considered. I do not know whether it will come strictly within the ambit of the Bill. When it is discussed in Committee, however, there might be an opportunity to consider the position of doorkeepers and others involved in the regulation of clubs.

Another interesting report on the topic of doorkeepers and security staff was directed specifically at the private security industry. The Select Committee on Home Affairs noted that the evidence provided by the British Entertainments and Discotheque Association, which represents the nightclub industry, on the conduct of door supervisors' required some attention. The Merseyside police force conducted a survey which revealed that of 476 door supervisors, 279 had previous convictions, including 28 for drug offences.

The Association of Chief Police Officers reported that a local regulation scheme which involved the positive vetting and training of door supervisors, combined with the power to revoke registration, had led to a 50 per cent. reduction in criminal offending in the first six months.

BEDA, representing the nightclub industry, advocated in its evidence a national statutory scheme of registration rather than self-regulation because there would be insufficient participation in voluntary schemes. The Select Committee's main conclusions were that there should be better access to criminal records for the industry as a whole, that no statutory controls beyond better access to criminal records were needed in most parts of the country, and that statutory measures were necessary for the contract manning/guarding sector.

All these matters, although not appearing in every clause of the Bill, are part of the overall problem of regulating and supervising organised clubs which provide entertainment—it is mostly music and dancing, and principally for young people.

The Bill represents an enormously important first step in dealing with the problems that we have been discussing. Taken as a whole, it is probably a problem that we shall never solve, but it is one that we can tackle and reduce to perhaps a less dangerous level. I strongly support the Bill. I welcome it and I hope that it will reach the statute book quickly so that local authorities, the police and other agencies, working together, will be able to identify where drugs are being supplied to young people, thereby putting their lives at risk, and to close the offending clubs straight away. They should not be allowed to continue in business for another 12 months while lawyers argue on their behalf at one appeal after another, thus dragging out the procedure while the business continues unchecked.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West has my full support and I wish his Bill every success.

Photo of Mr David Evans Mr David Evans , Welwyn Hatfield 11:05, 17 January 1997

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on introducing a Bill that is needed to help combat the war against drugs. I deplore Brian Harvey of East 17 for his comments. It seems that Ecstasy has already taken an effect on his brain. I wonder what Paul and Janet Betts think about his remarks. They have been courageous in bringing the drugs issue into the forefront for the nation's consideration and are to be congratulated. They continue to appear on television and radio programmes to put their point of view with great clarity. My hon. Friend, who has helped them, should similarly be congratulated.

The Government cannot afford to take their eye off the ball. The drugs industry has grown up, as it were, and so have the ways of pushing and dealing. Focus points for the selling of drugs are discos and nightclubs. The aim behind the Bill is to curtail the trade in clubs, and it must be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The need to introduce new measures has been brought home to the House by the tragic incidents of teenagers losing their lives as a result of taking illegal substances at discos and nightclubs. If we can prevent such tragic incidents, we must do so.

My daughter, Amanda, has sung and danced in many clubs over the past two or three years. She would tell the House that she is offered drugs every time she performs at one of those clubs. I am nervous for her. She is a strong girl, but she has told me time and again that there is a great temptation just to try drugs.

We must give the police and local authorities the power to close clubs where drugs are freely being pushed. It is essential that they have that power. We must enable police chiefs to target clubs where drugs are sold. They can then take the evidence to local authorities and then to magistrates, who will have the power to shut the club immediately, irrespective of whether the owner has been convicted. That is a necessary step in the war against drug dealers, those evil reptiles who prey all too often on innocent teenagers.

The club owners are not always innocent parties in respect of the drugs trade in their own clubs. Sometimes they are aware that drugs are sold. They could even be taking a percentage of the profit. It is right to target such clubs.

As a result of a number of high-profile drug incidents, nightclubs claim that they have cleaned up their act. That is just not true. Their new attitude is supposed to be reflected in signs on walls that state, "Customers found in possession of illegal substances will be handed over to the police and prosecuted." All too often, the rhetoric does not match the reality. An investigation by a national newspaper, The People, discovered that in clubs such warnings went unheeded, and did not seem to be rigorously enforced. It discovered clubs in Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester that professed to be anti-drugs, but where drugs were freely available and changing hands for money. The selling of drugs is illegal. Nightclubs and discos are not exempt from that rule, and should not be allowed to frustrate the law by having the conviction of the licensee postponed, thus allowing the club to continue to operate and be a lucrative den for dealers. The Bill would close that loophole and the drug clubs.

Club owners have a responsibility to ensure that no illegal activities are taking place on their premises. By not clamping down on drug taking, they are, in effect, condoning it. The same applies to the forces of law and order. It is the responsibility of Members of Parliament to give the police and local authorities the power that they need to put drug-infested clubs out of business. The police must work with local authorities to marginalise drug abuse, which, unfortunately, is all too readily becoming part of mainstream culture. That trend must be reversed.

The Executive, legislature and the judiciary have a responsibility to take a leading role in the fight against drugs, which invade and destroy our society. The Executive, in the shape of the Home Secretary, have taken the lead in the fight, and he has given his full support to this private Member's Bill. I urge the House to do the same, and—just as important—I urge the judiciary to back the Government in their fight against drugs.

The Government have taken steps, and it would be right to remind the House of some of those measures. The Government spend £500 million every year tackling all aspects of the drugs problem, from gathering intelligence on international drug barons to operating drug education programmes. The Government's comprehensive strategy to combat the drugs menace is three-pronged: reducing the supply of drugs, the demand for drugs and the health risk that drugs cause.

Drug traffickers and drug dealers earn immense profits from the destruction of other people's lives. The Government have increased the penalties for drug peddlers. The maximum sentence for trafficking in class A drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy, has been raised from 14 years to life. The Criminal Justice Act 1993 strengthened the powers of the courts to confiscate the profits of drug trafficking and laundering drugs money. The Crime (Sentences) Bill will introduce a stiff minimum mandatory sentence of seven years for those who are convicted on three separate occasions for trafficking in hard drugs. The Security Service Act 1996 has enabled the Security Service to support the efforts of law enforcers to fight drug trafficking.

The current sentencing structure must match the Government's stance, and, in turn, reinforce the sort of society that we want to create. I regret that that was not reflected in the recent sentencing of a high-profile performer, Liam Gallagher of Oasis. That individual was let off with a small fine. As a result of that incident, it has become apparent that first-time drug offenders are usually only cautioned. That is outrageous. Gallagher cultivates a loutish image, and has boasted about spending up to £300 a day on cocaine. He should have been dealt with in such a manner as to wipe that smug grin off his face.

Instead, those whose duty it is to combat the destructive impact of drugs on the young have displayed a forbearance so permissive as to make parents weep.

The forces of law and order should realise that they are sending the wrong signal to society with that lenient approach. It is morally reprehensible. A liberal approach to drugs has a corrosive effect on society. Ultimately, the position of a tough Government is undermined if the other branches of the state are sending different signals to society.

We have recently heard much about the crime-fighting concept of zero tolerance. Zero tolerance cannot be applied selectively. All minor offences must be punished. Being found in possession of a quantity of drugs should be treated as a serious offence, irrespective of whether it is a small quantity or a first-time offence. If individuals fear being caught with drugs, they are less likely to purchase them, thus hitting the dealers. However, the system currently in operation does not punish possession—that is wrong. I propose a system of zero tolerance for drug abusers, which would mean that those found in possession of an illegal substance would be given an automatic gaol sentence. If I thought that it was remotely possible, I would advocate the death penalty for those in possession of drugs. That works in Singapore and Malaysia, so why not here?

The drug culture has been divided into hard and soft drugs. Consequently, we have downgraded the possession of so-called soft drugs, so that both possession and abuse are no longer stigmatised or properly punished. We have conferred on them a degree of acceptability. Society and the sentencing structure need to send an entirely different message. Cannabis possession and use should be stigmatised by society, and should result in an automatic gaol sentence. It is an illegal substance and it should not be legalised. Many teenagers start out by smoking cannabis, thinking it to be non-addictive—which it most certainly is not—and many go on to harder, more powerful substances. That underlines my argument for a no-nonsense, zero tolerance approach to all those caught in possession of or using illegal substances.

Liberal solutions to social problems are not the answer. An overweening liberal ethos has infested British institutions and should be eradicated. The end result is programmes such as BBC's "Panorama", which, when reporting on Britain's drug problem, tend to reinforce the liberal agenda that declares that young men in non-industrial areas have no option but to turn to drugs, that prison does not work and that the law cannot cope or solve the problem. Too many young people have been misled by the Liberal Democrats' call for the legalisation of cannabis into thinking that if it is okay for the wacky baccy party, it cannot do any harm. One youngster told his dad, "If it's okay for Paddy the pot, it's okay for me." That is absolute nonsense.

Young men in non-industrial areas know the difference between right and wrong. They should take advantage of the new, flexible labour market and—dare I say it—get on their bikes and look for work. Youngsters should face up to reality and should not be excused for rejecting it. The reality is that work will not come and seek them out; they have to go and find it. Prison does work, and the law can provide some order and some solutions. A society without a strict set of rules will become overrun and dominated by the activities of those who are ignorant of their responsibilities to others, and who indulge in anti-social behaviour. The need for strong disincentives is overwhelming. As Charles Murray said: If the risk of imprisonment goes down, crime goes up. As well as strengthening the forces of law and order, we should also concern ourselves with factors related to the increased use of illegal substances in Britain's nightclubs. It is a well-known fact that drug gangs and cartels operate in our big cities. Those gangs live off the profits of selling drugs, often to vulnerable and impressionable teenagers. Such teenagers are targeted in pubs and clubs. Those same gangs often control the doormen, whose job it is to turn away the very people who may be the drug dealers. It is a bitter irony that in many cities bouncers are dependent on drugs getting into nightclubs so that their bosses can make a profit. It is perverse. The job prospects of a doorman should depend on his preventing drug dealers from entering nightclubs.

An exposé in The Sunday Times on drugs in Britain's cities revealed the extent to which gangs control the flow of drugs and the places where they are sold. The chief of one city drug gang was alleged to control 100 bars. The article quoted a gang member who revealed that the gangs need to control the doors of the pubs and clubs so that they can get their dealers in to sell. In some clubs 95 per cent. of clubbers will be on some sort of drug. That remark—not from a politician or an academic—shows how drugs are being pushed, the importance of doormen in the drug chain and the pervasiveness of the drug culture. It also shows that much more still needs to be done to stiffen the moral fibre of the nation to reject the drug culture and the punishment for those involved in promoting the filth.

Drug taking should be seen not as a life style choice but as a fast route to prison. The drug culture and the criminal culture need to be smashed.

A key problem may be the fact that there is no unitary body responsible for overseeing the appointment of nightclub doormen. I understand that there are pilot projects under way, but it may be necessary to contemplate a national register of nightclub doormen. All persons wishing to be doormen should need to apply for a licence from an approved body.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West has already stated his intention that one of the longer-term consequences of the Bill should be to foster a more co-operative relationship between clubs, police and local authorities. I welcome that objective, which should be strengthened. A strategy for regulating doormen should be formally established and properly implemented. It should then be an offence for a nightclub owner to hire a doorman who did not possess an approved licence. That would hand the authorities some measure of control over the individuals responsible for overseeing those who are allowed to enter nightclubs. For instance, if an applicant had a previous drugs-related conviction or known underworld connections, it would seem sensible to bar him from controlling the entrance policy of a nightclub. It is an overdue regulation.

If the process could be devolved to local level, all the better. I am not in favour of centralisation, but it is important that such a system is comprehensive and properly enforced. Proprietors who are convicted and lose their licence should be blacklisted and prevented from owning or working in another nightclub. It may be advisable to establish a nightclub proprietors blacklist.

I also support the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) for the establishment of a national telephone line, so that people could volunteer information about drug dealers. It would be based on the same principle as the benefit rip-off line which, according to early indicators, is a huge success. That scheme saves the Department of Social Security money; a drug dealers line would probably save lives.

I support the Bill. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but we can—and I hope that we shall—take further steps to clean up Britain's clubs and close down the drugs trade.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North 11:23, 17 January 1997

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who made an excellent speech. There is something of a cultural divide between his speech and that of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), which I shall address in a moment.

We have to choose between a permissive attitude towards drug taking, regardless of its legality, and a non-permissive attitude. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield mentioned Singapore. I recently visited Singapore and was struck by the clean and upright social environment there. Although there may be anxieties about civil liberties, I have little doubt as to which society the majority of my constituents would prefer.

While many of us who inhabit leafy suburbs and comfortable middle-class surroundings indulge in the fashionable liberalism of the late 20th century, most of our constituents live in more adverse circumstances and face the consequences of excessive tolerance of soft drugs, for example. How much petty crime is generated by people trying to raise money to pay for a drugs habit has been mentioned.

Hon. Members have to consider seriously whether to take the fully permissive route which legitimises drugs, and to include in the framework of society social rules about the use of those substances, or whether to adopt the only practical policy and stick with the illegal status of drugs and condemn their use—in which case we shall have to move somewhat in the direction advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield. Creating a permissive atmosphere around the use of drugs because enforcement does not represent the best use of police time or of our courts and punishment system would put us in danger of fostering the very culture that we wish to eradicate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on scoring so brilliantly in the ballot for private Members' Bills. I have not yet perfected that skill, but I shall keep trying, although I have been asked to pilot through someone else's Bill this Session. I also congratulate him on his choice of topic. There is growing anxiety, and a sense of powerlessness, among parents about the drugs problem.

I regret that the hon. Member for Newport, West is not in his place and I apologise for commenting on his speech in his absence, but no doubt he will read my remarks in Hansard. I am amused that he regards the Bill as prejudiced, tabloid-inspired politics. Conservative Members are not usually denigrated by the Opposition for representing the ordinary man in the street. I find it difficult to apologise for that. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West should be proud of the service that the Bill will do the House and the country.

I shall reply to the remarks of the hon. Member for Newport, West. He was extremely well informed and produced many facts and figures of great interest and relevance to the debate. I am pleased that hon. Gentleman has returned to the Chamber. There is no doubt about the relevance of his comparisons between drugs. He said that the drugs culture is reflected in the increasing recorded evidence of drug use that the "Say No to Drugs" campaign has apparently failed to address. We are always told how unreliable statistics can be. I wonder how much drug use would increase, and how much more appalling the statistics would be, if we were not saying no to drugs. Just because the problem has become more severe does not mean that we should give up on the policy. It is rather like saying that, because the war went rather badly for Britain in 1939–40, we should have given up and let Hitler take over the country. That would not have been a good argument in 1940 and the hon. Member for Newport, West is not making a good argument in this instance.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

There is clear proof that drug prohibition throughout America and the free world is not working. The prohibition of alcohol in 1920s America did not work. A royal commission should look at drugs policy so that we may examine harm reduction and not continually rely on a policy that is leading to an increase in drug use by giving a greater incentive, the profit motive—in a criminal and entirely irresponsible market.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North

I shall make a couple of points in response to the hon. Gentleman, the first of which I shall repeat because he was not in the Chamber when I first made it. The increasingly permissive attitude of the law and order authorities towards minor transgressors who use soft drugs is fostering the drug culture. If there were a zero tolerance attitude to drugs, people, especially young people, would not think that a little casual drug taking was all right. Unfortunately, that is the attitude that we have fostered by concentrating on the big guys rather than on minor drug infringers. Liam Gallagher and other, similar, cases give that impression, which is counter-productive to the "Say No to Drugs" campaign.

The hon. Member for Newport, West is fond of making comparisons with alcohol, but I do not think that they are legitimate. We face a rising feeling that drug taking is a fashion, especially among the young. That was most prominent in the 1960s at the big pop festivals, where cannabis was fashionable. People took the view that a little bit of cannabis smoking was all right. They said, "I am grown up and I can handle it." But more research has shown that the long-term use of such drugs is considerably more harmful than popular mythology first supposed.

In the 1980s, there was the same phenomenon with cocaine. Happily, no one has suggested that a little heroin is all right, but cocaine became the designer drug. It was said that it would not do anyone any harm. Again, we heard people say, "I can handle it, I am grown up enough." But as I have said, such drugs cause damage and we are now in the era of Ecstasy.

The hon. Member for Newport, West made it plain that he is not in favour of the legalisation of drugs. I am one of the many people he corrected; he sometimes gives the impression of being in favour of some substances. I fully accept that that is not the case, and it was important for him to put that on the record. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the physical damage of Ecstasy, and that needs to be emphasised. However, I fail to see how parents of young people who are trying to get their children off these substances are served by the creation of an atmosphere that hinders the effort to prohibit or restrict the supply of such substances.

The atmosphere of drugs must be shown to be not only morally wrong because it is against the law, but damaging. The hon. Member for Newport, West seemed to suggest that drug taking is on a par with other happenings in society and is therefore all right. That is extremely damaging to the fight against drugs.

The Ecstasy culture has become pervasive. I have taken the trouble to speak to people who are not of my generation, but are perhaps 10 or 15 years younger, about the sort of life style that they lead. Ecstasy is a stimulant which apparently enables people to survive an entire weekend or longer without sleep. Its attraction is that it puts people in a high state of excitement and enables them to dance effortlessly for hours on end to curious music. It is the cause, although perhaps not the direct cause, of the overheating that was referred to earlier. It enables the recipient to undertake the excessive and prolonged physical exercise which his physical condition may not be able to sustain. All the problems about overheating follow.

People finish work on Friday evening, get on Ecstasy, and party all weekend. We are talking not about deprived, unemployed or socially victimised young people, but about career people, manual workers, people who work at desks and those who are employed in the City. They present themselves as fit for work on Monday, no doubt topping up their bodies with some sort of substance to keep them going through the week. As I have said, Ecstasy creates excitement and obviates the need for sleep. People who take it convince themselves that it is not doing them any harm as long as they do not take alcohol with it. We hope that they have learnt that, but we have no idea of the long-term effects of taking the drug. No research results are available, because nobody has been taking such drugs for more than a few years. No doubt this is another fashion that will run its course and people will turn to something else.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

Although my hon. Friend is technically correct, there are strong signs that, in the long term, Ecstasy may cause extremely serious paranoia of one sort or another.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North

I am interested to hear that, and noted what my hon. Friend said earlier about the effects on the brain of the excessive use of the drug and the unnatural substance that it creates in the body.

I shall speak briefly about the argument against legalisation. We have semi-legitimised a life style by our over-tolerant attitude towards minor drug use; legalisation would legitimise it. The hon. Member for Newport, West spoke about alcohol and tobacco abuse. It is difficult to control the use of those substances because they are legitimate, but research shows that the substances we are debating are much more dangerous—the hon. Gentleman may contest that on the basis of his figures—because much smaller amounts are used to produce much more instant and dramatic effects.

The problem with legalising these substances is that it would legitimise the whole culture, which is already out of control. We should not only say that the substances are illegal, but tell opinion formers such as the bands East 17 and Oasis that they have a duty of good citizenship. That duty means that sentences for such people should go far beyond the punishment that an ordinary citizen should be handed out in the same circumstances. There is a shortcoming in the law in respect of public figures, especially role models for young people such as East 17 and Oasis, who are caught red-handed setting a bad example and taking such substances. The idea that it is acceptable to hand out a caution—it was not even a fine—is ridiculous. I think that there was a case involving a footballer who had committed a crime in public and who was given an exemplary sentence. Exemplary sentences should be available for people who set bad examples to society.

People who regard themselves as responsible users of soft drugs, in respect of whom the argument for liberalisation and legalisation is often advanced, should be told that, if they are responsible adults capable of handling the drug, they should not be taking it at all because of the poor example that it sets to others. If that does not happen, we will be driven towards the Singapore model of more and more draconian punishment. That is not inherently desirable, but our constituents will inevitably demand it.

I have an observation to make about the general state of the law and order debate. It used to be an eccentric right-wing monopoly to make crime an issue in politics. Now, the Conservatives are being chased by the Leader of the Opposition and his new Labour magicians as fast as they possibly can to try to keep up with the law and order reforms that we are putting through the House. So terrified are they of being divided from us on any law and order issue that they no longer dare oppose our law and order legislation, even though many of their Back Benchers are crying out for them to do so. However, I understand that the Labour leadership have recently crumbled and will not back all the provisions of the Police Bill; shame on them.

We need to create a new legal structure in which we positively encourage good citizenship. I recall the debate that followed the statement by Frances Lawrence about good citizenship. Good citizenship cannot be taught in isolation. Morals cannot be taught; they are imbued in use by the structures in which we grow up. A moral society not only teaches children that drugs are wrong; schools must assert the authority that they represent. It goes right down to getting children to hand in their homework on time, put on their uniforms properly, turn up on time and behave like responsible citizens so that they can avail themselves of the opportunities offered by schools and so that the temptations, when they arise, are far less alluring.

In a way, the Bill is about removing temptation. The powerlessness of the police and the authorities in the face of clubs is at its core. They are a legitimate target. The Bill provides that local authorities may revoke a public entertainments licence if informed by the police that there is a serious problem relating to the supply or use of controlled drugs at or near the licensed premises, and if they are satisfied that their action will assist in dealing with the problem.

Legitimate, well-run clubs have nothing to fear. The police know which clubs are seriously co-operating with them in tackling drugs, and which are not. Some people suggest that all clubs will be caught up in a draconian process that indiscriminately disperses the drugs problem to other areas. What do they think our police do? Do they think that they are automatons directed by legislation? Of course they are not; they are highly intelligent and responsible people to whom we owe a great debt, especially in the fight against drugs. I have no doubt, certainly when speaking for the police in my area, that they will use the power with restraint and responsibility, and where it is needed.

What about issues such as water and bouncers? If it is evident that bouncers are part of the drug promotion culture of a club, the police will clearly take that into consideration when assessing the matter. That is not a separate issue, but something that I hope the police will be empowered to consider when deciding what action to take under the Bill. They will be looking for management who seriously co-operate in dealing with the problem; where management are obstructive, we need to give the police the power to deal with and punish them. The ultimate punishment for management is not a criminal prosecution that requires a burden of proof beyond all reasonable doubt. We need some effective and simple remedy. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West put it well: a public entertainments licence is a privilege. The authorities should be able to withdraw it if it is abused.

The Bill will not solve all the drug problems in society, and this is by no means the only drugs problem, but it is one matter on which we as law makers can act, and act decisively, to help in the fight against drugs. It removes a temptation that is being put in front of our young people. As a parent, I would like my children to grow up with one extra temptation removed, one avenue to drug taking blocked off. It is legitimate for us to do that, and I support and commend the Bill.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 11:47, 17 January 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on his good fortune in gaining a high enough place in the ballot to secure this opportunity, and on his choice of topic. I do not intend to oppose his Bill, but I have some criticisms, and a suggestion that would resolve them. However, the Bill is worthy of moving forward and it will make a difference.

Before I discuss the Bill in detail, I should like to make a few observations on the thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin). It is true that every town, village and city has a problem with drugs. We must be equal to those problems in proposing strategies to deal with them. He made some interesting comments about tolerance, which I shall discuss shortly. However, an otherwise thoughtful speech was somewhat spoiled by an unnecessary attack on the attitude of the Opposition. We have been consistently supportive of the Government's approach on this subject. We were among the first to go on record as supporting the Green Paper, "Tackling Drugs Together", and we have supported it in speeches in the House and elsewhere. The hon. Member for Colchester, North will confirm that we try to be constructive and helpful in forging a consensus across the House.

The hon. Member for Colchester, North also made a point about the Police Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the shadow Home Secretary, suggested amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords last night, not because we were chasing the Government—as the hon. Gentleman put it—but because we listened to the legitimate concerns of a range of people, including people within the judiciary. After wide consultation, I think that we have arrived at a set of amendments that will do two things. First, they will protect the genuine civil liberties of individuals and secondly, they will provide the police with a workable system to pursue what they rightly consider an important part of surveillance. So perhaps the hon. Gentleman need not have made those points.

I have made it clear on every occasion when I have had the opportunity to do so that the Opposition do not believe that there is any case whatever for decriminalisation or legalisation of soft drugs. Without going into great detail on the arguments, I simply state two reasons why it is most important that that is the case. First, the statistics prove that there is ambiguity among young people about whether it is acceptable to take drugs. If one questioned young people closely, most of them would understand the dangers of heroin, but they are often wholly unaware of the short-term and long-term dangers of so-called softer drugs such as Ecstasy and cannabis.

So any argument in favour of decriminalisation or legalisation is bound to send out completely the wrong signal to young people. It would in effect say that Parliament and the Government in some way condoned the taking of those currently illegal substances, or might consider doing so. The proposal of the Liberal Democrats is to set up a royal commission. The problem with that is that, while they do not send out that signal directly, the indirect message from the establishment of such a royal commission is that we might consider legalisation or decriminalisation in the future.

Photo of Mr Michael Neubert Mr Michael Neubert , Romford

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, from a different standpoint, the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) also muddied the message? It must be a clear message. It should not be confused or blurred by the rather rational considerations that he brings to the problem, which do not get through to the young people who need to hear the clear message that we are trying to give this morning.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend takes a different view and expresses his views in very different terms from me. I should point out—he would be the first to make this point—that his views are distinctively his own and not those of the Opposition. However, my hon. Friend has made an important clarification this morning: he has made it clear that he is not in favour of legalisation. He considers the dangers of certain drugs—most prominently cannabis, I presume—to be no less than those which confront people who use alcohol and tobacco, but I understand that the only legalisation for which he argues is in certain cases for medical purposes. I think that that is a fair summary of his views.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

That is exactly right. The clear message that we should be giving is that the actions that we are taking at present are not working and are perversely leading to more drug deaths and drug abuse. It happens every year. I want to see a royal commission examine the possibility of replacing the present drugs market, which is criminal and irresponsible, with a market that can be rigidly policed and controlled and can reduce the use of drugs. The test of the Bill is whether it will reduce or increase harm. I believe that it fails on that test.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I do not want to prolong this argument. I have covered the argument about a royal commission and the faults with that proposal. I will leave it at that. I shall make some other observations about my hon. Friend's speech a little later.

The purpose of the Bill, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West clearly stated, is to make it easier for local authorities and the courts to close clubs where there is a serious problem with controlled drugs. That is a laudable objective and certainly one that we support. There are some difficulties with it that need to be discussed because we are dealing with the matter as a piece of legislation. I hope to make a suggestion later as to how we might deal with them.

Under clause 1(3), the Bill will apply when a report is received from the chief officer of police that there is a serious problem relating to the supply or use of controlled drugs at or near the place. There are two obvious areas of concern. First, what constitutes a serious problem? It is not defined in the Bill. Therefore, there is a danger that the Bill will effectively produce subjective legislation, which could lead to inconsistent implementation and so weaken the Bill's authority. There is some evidence for that. There is already some inconsistency, which has been presented to Members of Parliament by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.

The AMA says: The Metropolitan Police have made it clear that they support implementation of the Code of Practice and would not take it to indicate 'a serious drug problem'. However, there are other areas of the country where the problems may arise. For example, reports state that Devon police already routinely oppose the issuing of licences for dance events. The legislation may be applied routinely where there is only subjective rather than factual evidence of a problem.

The AMA suggests a possible definition of "a serious problem", which is: Prior to an application being made to a local authority, convictions have been obtained for serious offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 that have taken place on the licensee's premises, and/or, the club licensee is complicit in serious offences under the Act taking place on his or her premises and the level of evidence obtained clearly demonstrates this. Perhaps that definition could be improved, because at some stage we need to provide an adequate one.

Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter , Basingstoke

I am a little surprised by the hon. Gentleman's argument. Does he not accept that in scores of items of legislation we accept "reasonable excuse" as a legitimate defence, which is interpreted subjectively by the magistrates court, the county court or whatever? Surely the Bill could provide for such a subjective interpretation based on the evidence of "a serious problem".

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am quoting the view of the local authority association. Given that the Bill is designed to give local authorities the power to close a club, we should take notice of the AMA's views. I am not citing its opinion in order to argue against the Bill, but we need to discuss the definitions provided in it. We may have to take action to mitigate against the possible difficulties outlined by the AMA. I stress, however, that I am not using its evidence to argue against the Bill.

The hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) referred to the problems expressed by the British Entertainments and Discotheque Association. That trade association of the club industry represents more than 700 clubs across the country and it has suggested: In a fiercely competitive climate there is scope for one club to 'sabotage' another with accusations of drug dealing. Although there is no reason to believe that local police would be swayed by such tactics, they would be under an obligation to investigate such allegations. There is a danger that valuable police time would be wasted because the definition provided in the Bill is too loose.

The Bill also refers to the powers a local authority may have to close a club which is situated near to a known area with drug problems. That is a rather vague notion and it could place responsibility on a licensee for public property over which he has no control. It is a policing matter because clubs could not provide the security staff in public places in lieu of the police. That problem must also be dealt with during the Bill's passage.

Last year, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West said in an article: Well run clubs that have taken robust efforts to prevent drug misuse have nothing to fear. I hope that that is the case. There are many such clubs which have taken considerable time and care to provide proper training for their staff. Some of them have proper drugs policies which they operate responsibly and properly in co-operation with the local authority and the local police. I hope that none of us intends that they should suffer under the Bill.

It is also worth noting that BEDA, which represents most clubs in this country, has stated: It is therefore important that a safeguard is built into the Bill to ensure that the police do not 'ambush' clubs where a problem has not traditionally existed. In these cases the worst offence committed by the licensee would be naivety. That is a fair point and for those reasons BEDA has proposed the use of a written warning whereby Government drug action teams could provide written instructions to a club about what improvements could be made. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West may argue that that is unnecessary because there is scope within the Bill for a council to change the conditions of a club's licence. Given the risk that the measures contained in the Bill could be interpreted inconsistently, however, we should allow for a more productive co-operative approach.

A written warning would allow scope for productive changes to be made at a given club. If those proposals were not adequately implemented, there would be scope for strong action against the offending club.

The Bill would allow for the immediate closure of clubs. I accept that the behaviour of the management of the club at Wandsworth, which has been cited more than once today, is justification for such a power, but it is one of the most controversial measures in the Bill and raises a number of problems that should be addressed.

The AMA has voiced concern about repercussions that may arise if a club's licence is revoked following an allegation that is subsequently proven to be unfounded. In those circumstances, a local authority may be liable to be sued by the licensee for damages and loss of income. That could involve substantial amounts of money. As protection against that, local authority associations would support clarification from the Government—not the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West—about what criteria should be used when revoking a licence.

Under the heading "Financial effects of the Bill" it states: The Bill will not involve any significant increase in public expenditure. We need clarification about the position of local authorities in the circumstances described by the AMA; otherwise, additional costs may be involved.

The closure of a club would also have a dramatic effect on its employees, who may be entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. It is therefore important that the terms governing the closure of a club are clear and consistent. There are concerns about encouraging good practice. A letter that we produced following the publication of a document by the Home Office Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs stated: We recommend that criteria for the granting of licences for raves and other such events by local authorities should include:—the availability of free cold water—provision of rest facilities in a cool environment often called chill-out facilities— —monitoring of temperature and air quality—provision of information and advice on drugs—compliance with a regulatory scheme for the selection, training and management of door staff'. The point was covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) and others—including, I believe, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby).

The AMA has expressed concern that the emergency revocation of licences could become counter-productive in reducing drug misuse by penalising existing good practice. Where good practice exists, I hope that we can bolster rather than undermine it.

Finally, I wish to raise a subject that has been mentioned by many hon. Members. The issue of door supervisors—doormen, bouncers or whichever term one wishes to apply—has been raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge and, I believe, by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) and others. The hon. Member for Uxbridge spoke of statistics contained in a good briefing provided by the House of Commons Library in its research paper 97/2. It mentioned a survey done by the Merseyside police which revealed that of 476 door supervisors, 279 had previous convictions, including 28 for drug offences. That is clearly unacceptable.

During the summer I had a long discussion with the licensing officer of Liverpool city council, Mr. Wibbley. The council has introduced a registration scheme that it is in the process of implementing. Mr. Wibbley made the same point as many others have made to me: because it is difficult to establish a local registration scheme, it needs to be carried forward on a statutory national basis. The Select Committee on Home Affairs produced an excellent report on the subject a year or so ago, and we should continue with that approach. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), will make some welcoming comments on that subject.

I would go one step further. If we are to have a registration scheme for door supervisors, it seems logical that we need a proper regulatory regime for the private security industry. Interestingly enough, many of the more reputable companies in the private security industry support that proposal. It would be an important step towards dealing with the sort of problem highlighted in the survey conducted by Merseyside police.

I do not want to be negative—as I said at the beginning of my speech, I want the Bill to be given a fair wind and to make progress today. Nevertheless, there are clearly problems—the AMA, whose members will have to administer the scheme, say so—which must be dealt with. I hope that the Minister can provide some help with a suggestion that I wish to make. As there will be problems with the implementation of the legislation, the Home Office needs to issue a comprehensive and clear code of practice to deal with the problems raised by many hon. Members today. If the Minister can give an assurance on that issue—I hope that he can—I believe that this well-intentioned and sound legislation could become a practical proposition and could provide a useful tool for local authorities and, ultimately, the courts to deal with the problems experienced in clubs up and down the country.

There is a considerable club industry in this country. Much of it is well run by respectable companies and people with proper and legitimate interests, but a minority of clubs provide a clear route for drugs to be transferred to young people at a cost. If the Bill helps to undermine those problem clubs, it will be doing a good job. I wish the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West well and assure him that he will not face any opposition from Labour Members.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

rose in her place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West 12:10, 17 January 1997

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am pleased to welcome the Bill and I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on bringing it forward.

The Bill was foreshadowed in a speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary at Bournemouth, which has already been mentioned today. He said that clubs, which are places of entertainment and against which we have no objection in principle, are, unfortunately, magnets for drugs use and represent one of the aspects of the drug problem. While many clubs are well run, others are not and are tolerating the organised supply of drugs in and around their premises. The Bill gives police and local authorities better and more flexible powers to deal with the minority of clubs which have not addressed the problem in any other way. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I express the Government's total backing for the Bill.

It is a sad fact that I stand here discussing a measure to do with drugs against a background of a frighteningly large and wide-ranging problem, not only in this country, but elsewhere throughout the western world and beyond. Too many young people are taking drugs and getting into trouble as a result. Many ruthless and unscrupulous people are making large sums of money out of drugs, intimidating people and criminalising and undermining society. In many parts of the world, such people are undermining the institutions of the societies in which they live through organised crime, in which, increasingly, drugs play a central role.

Against that background, 12 years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) founded the all-party committee on drug misuse, of which he is chairman. He has been chairman of that group for several years, and I had the honour to serve as its secretary for several years. I was sufficiently alarmed, partly by what I had seen in this country and partly as a result of having lived in a large American city in the 1970s, to publish a volume entitled "Heroin: Threat to a Generation" which was published in 1985. In it I said—it was nothing new even then—that unless we could find a means of attacking the problem, it would have disastrous social and human consequences for a whole generation. That has happened, it is happening and the problem that we are discussing today is only one aspect of it.

The international background is not easy. Some areas of the world are pretty much out of control of their own Governments—for example, in parts of Latin America and south-west Asia, drugs are freely grown and form the foundation of an enormous enterprise and there are those who have a huge vested interest in keeping the trade going. In some areas, the growing of coca plants and opium poppies is protected by private armies run by those who process and distribute drugs to the rest of the world. It is an immense problem.

In this country, we are now perhaps 10 or 20 years behind America, where a vast market for drugs was created in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, with a problem of similar magnitude to that which I first witnessed 20 years ago in the United States. It is a business that is hard to stop. About 50 million passengers arrive in Great Britain every year, and millions of pieces of cargo. We have a huge traffic in marine vessels, from yachts to large cargo vessels. Drugs may be imported in a myriad of different ways.

I have been in parts of the world that are especially dangerous to us. I visited Colombia; the cocaine barons have a grip on large parts of that country. Unfortunately, in many other countries in that area—the Caribbean and beyond—drug barons have enormous power and it is very difficult for local police and customs to do anything about it.

Recently I visited Turkey, where there have been repeated scandals throughout the hierarchy of police and Government, where it is extremely difficult to control the drugs trade and where the political will is always in doubt.

Turkey's problems begin with its geographic position, as do the problems of the Caribbean. An enormous problem is that we do not have the co-operation that we need from some key Governments worldwide. Our customs, police and intelligence services, in tackling those problems, are always in difficulties because of doubts about security of intelligence and the political will of some Governments.

On the receiving end is a generation of children and young people who are at risk not only from the physical and mental effects of drugs, such as the long-term effects of Ecstasy use, some of which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes described. There are also the social effects of young people being criminalised, being rendered almost unemployable and being driven into crime by drugs, and there are the combined effects of drugs on society.

With nostalgia, I saw in the Gallery earlier a group of children from the school that my son attended some years ago, when he was five years old.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

Order. The Minister is hallucinating.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. I hesitate to intervene on the Minister, but he should well know that he should not be referring to people in the Gallery.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

I accept your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Young children go through a period of innocence before their teens. They are in danger when they arrive at a certain age—we can debate what that age is—but it is becoming increasingly apparent that we must start telling children about drugs in primary school, as soon as they are old enough to get the message, because they are in extreme danger in today's society. I welcome the Bill, which—in a fairly draconian way—addresses one of the most serious aspects of drug use.

It is not going too far to say that many parents live in terror of their children becoming involved in drugs. Whereas some reservations have been expressed from some quarters about the Bill, most parents, grandparents and people who look after children will welcome the Bill as a forthright way to attack drug dealers and organised drug supplying.

I shall now comment briefly on what has been said during the debate so far. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes lamented the fact that clear messages are not being communicated to young people. He mentioned the issue of a famous pop star who was cautioned as a result of being found in possession of cocaine. I share his concern. In fact, when the news broke I spoke to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to express my concern. He gave me a number of assurances. What is more, the Home Secretary is looking into the whole question of cautioning following that case. I certainly do not underestimate the damage that such examples can do to the message that we need to give young people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes also suggested that remarks made by people in the public eye who perhaps have more fame than brain should constitute an offence when they appear to incite others to take drugs. Under section 19 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it is indeed an offence for a person to incite another to commit an offence under the Act. So we could certainly look to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether such views may fall into that category.

I am glad to say that the person involved in the most recent case—the member of East 17—issued a whole-hearted retraction afterwards. Whether he himself or others with influence over him were responsible for that I do not know, but I am glad that the full consequences of what he had said were brought home to him promptly. That is a step in the right direction, but it does not detract from the damage or absurdity of what he said 24 hours earlier.

My hon. Friend also discussed whether such clubs, playing that type of music and designed to allow people to dance all night through, can be completely clear of drugs. I believe that clubs certainly can ensure that there is no organised supply of drugs in or near the premises. I reinforce what he said about the Ministry of Sound. The measures that it has taken meet the approval of the police in that part of London and of many others who have inspected the arrangements. They include ensuring that those in charge of security staff do not come from the local area. The Ministry of Sound gets them from an agency in the midlands—

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that this is an important Bill, and I seek your guidance. Those of us who have been listening to the debate this morning know how important it is to air all the related issues before the Bill is proceeded with. You are also aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of how that may curtail the opportunity to discuss other Bills on the Order Paper.

The next Bill is of great importance, especially to all the old-age pensioners in this country. I wonder whether all Members present in the Chamber and seeking to catch your eye will bear in mind the fact that, on another occasion, they may find themselves in the same position as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), who is waiting to introduce a Bill that offers great advantages to all old people. I therefore seek your help and guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

That is not a point of order for the Chair; it is the hon. Gentleman's point of view. He has been here a long time and he knows the procedures of the House.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty , Falkirk East

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty , Falkirk East

No, it is not the same point of order. I have not been in the House for as long as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) and I have travelled down from Scotland today because I am interested in the next Bill on the Order Paper. I heard our Front-Bench spokesman say that we do not oppose the drug misuse Bill and there will therefore be no attempt to block it—it will have the House's support. Is there any way in which we can move procedurally to curtail the debate on this Bill to give us time to debate the next Bill, for which I have travelled from Scotland—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. The hon. Gentleman is simply trying to pre-empt my discretion. I have already ruled on that matter. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows the rules of the House.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, a club that brings its security staff—

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

No, I shall not give way.

If a club that is vulnerable to local drug dealers brings its security staff from another part of the country, it is taking positive action to ensure that there is no collusion between security staff and local drug dealers. As they come from a different area, they do not know each other. That is an important part of the policy of a club that appears to be as close as we have to a model because it does not tolerate the organised supply of drugs.

Secondly, that establishment maintains close contact with the local police. I understand that it sometimes has plain-clothes police officers on the premises, and that fact is probably well known to people who would like to carry on drug-dealing activities in the club. Its policy is to follow up every single offence that is discovered.

The important point is that, despite all that, the club is hugely successful and in great demand. As far as I know, it is full on most Friday and Saturday nights at least, and that cannot be explained just by its location and the fact that it has good marketing. Some of its appeal may be that people who go there are not assailed by drug dealers the moment that they walk into the place, and that is an attraction to some people, contrary to what is sometimes said about those clubs. So there is an example. A club can bar all organised sales of drugs and be very successful, and that is what is behind the Bill. The Bill is aimed at clubs that do not take such measures and I am afraid that there are a large number of those.

One of the motivating factors behind the Home Secretary's original interest—expressed in his speech at Bournemouth—in legislating in this way, and his delight that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West has introduced such a Bill, was the example of the Ministry of Sound and other clubs, which proved to us that such an establishment can be run without the drug dealers being in charge.

I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby) also welcomed the Bill. He said that we should proceed with the model conditions of licensing, which, apart from the security aspects that the Bill deals with, should include the provision of water and other safety measures. Those do not condone drug use at clubs but are sensible measures for the welfare of young people within clubs. I hope that we shall introduce those soon, as they complement the Bill. He also mentioned regulation of the security industry, particularly bouncers. I am glad to remind him that a circular recently went out for consultation on regulation of the security industry, particularly vetting for criminal records. Part of that document referred to the very question of bouncers in clubs and I hope that it will be decided that those should be included.

All the voluntary schemes that already exist—various hon. Members have already referred to them—are welcomed but we still need some kind of national scheme to ensure that all clubs come into line.

I also compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), who is not in his place. He made several points in support of the Bill and said that we must adopt a no-nonsense attitude to drugs. I would not like to comment on whether that approach should include introducing the death penalty for possession of drugs, as he suggested. However, he is moving in the right direction by saying that we cannot condone drug taking. Some people suggest that perhaps drugs do not pose a major problem and that those caught breaking the law in that regard should not be charged with an offence. That is a dangerous path to tread and it will send the wrong messages to young people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) raised several important points. He mentioned various nightclubs in his constituency and referred to recent drug-related shootings and other acts of violence at clubs. That is one of the by-prod+ucts of allowing clubs to remain magnets for drugs. However, I stress that there will be such violence only if club managers allow it to occur. If they make it clear that drug dealing in or near clubs will not be tolerated, criminals will have no reason to threaten each other or fight over ownership of the pitch.

I think that my hon. Friend will agree that the Bill is designed partly to address that problem. Drugs not only damage young people's bodies and lives but bring violence in their wake. For example, some alarming incidents in recent years have revolved around the right to supply drugs to a particular establishment.

As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) represented the voice of common sense. Importantly, he welcomed the Bill from his position as a parent. Very few of those who favour legalising drugs or who are unconcerned about the drugs problem are parents of young children. All parents are terrified about what may happen and, as my hon. Friend said, we must argue strongly against a permissive line on drugs or calls for legalisation.

The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) made a number of comments which, taken alone, may sound fairly sensible. He referred to the alcohol problem in this country and to accidents with pharmaceutical drugs, such as overdoses of paracetamol and other legal pharmaceutical products. However, those facts should not confuse our message to young people that illegal drugs are dangerous and must be avoided. We must be careful not to confuse that message. I am cautious about the hon. Gentleman's remarks, although they contained a perverse logic.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that few deaths could be attributed directly to Ecstasy, pointing out that they were due to overheating, water intoxication of the brain and so on. However, that is only one step away from saying that we should not worry about Ecstasy—that is what it sounds like to the man in the street. The hon. Gentleman must decide whether he favours legalisation of Ecstasy. I hope that he does not.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

The Minister referred to what I said about the dangers, the special perils, of Ecstasy. Will he address the question why there have been virtually no Ecstasy deaths in other countries—one in Holland, where 1 million people have taken it, and none in other countries? It is a particularly British phenomenon because of overheating and people taking excess water to cool down. That is the real problem. That is what we should address, and we should not take the line that the Minister is taking. The Bill will not reduce harm.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

I am afraid that there are Ecstasy deaths in this country that originate from the fact that it has been supplied and taken.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

It is an absurd argument to say that it is the fault not of the drug that is being taken but of the things that people do after taking it. If they did not take the drug, it would not matter what they did.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

I thank my hon. Friend for reinforcing the point that I think I was making: the fact that Ecstasy is being supplied—particularly in clubs, although it could be supplied elsewhere—is at the heart of this. At the same time, we need to ensure that people in clubs do not die from other problems. Those deaths are, generally speaking, Ecstasy-related, so I find the argument of the hon. Member for Newport, West extremely dangerous, and ask him to try to clarify what his attitudes to drugs really are.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned drugs that are diverted from clubs and sold on the street. Well, so be it. Disruption of drug supply is a key target of all police forces. It is a valuable objective. We cannot necessarily defeat drug supply, but the more we disrupt it, the more we make it difficult and dangerous; that is an end in itself.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) made a number of sensible points with which I could not in any way disagree. I welcome the fact that he condemned legalisation. He also said that, in addition to this measure, we need a scheme to regulate doorkeepers. I hope that, as a result of the consultations that are taking place, we shall see a scheme by which the vetting of criminal records in particular will form part of the regulation of the security industry, including bouncers and other security staff at clubs.

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks that, if the Bill becomes law, as I hope that it will, it will be accompanied by guidelines from the Home Office as to how it should operate, which I hope will provide some assurance to people who believe that the Bill is too strong.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister both for giving way and for giving me that assurance. Can he also assure me that he will engage in thorough consultation with local authority organisations so that their views can be taken into account when the guidelines are drawn up?

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

Yes. It goes without saying that we would want the views of those who would have to administer the proposed legislation, which is not only the police but local authority licensing committees. It would be contradictory to write guidelines without knowing exactly how they felt about them.

This country faces a difficult and dangerous situation over drugs for a number of reasons. One reason—perhaps it is subsidiary, but it is one about which I am increasingly concerned—is the underlying campaign for legalisation that bubbles within parts of the media, and which comes out occasionally on television programmes that purport to be debates but which I rather consider as campaigns for legalisation.

Within the media, a number of people would like to see an alteration in the law. We see that occasionally break out among members of the entertainment industry.

We have already discussed the member of East 17 and his absurd remarks yesterday. Coupled with that are certain attitudes among some senior professionals, whether in the social work sector or elsewhere, and particularly among those working with drugs, who I find have especially permissive attitudes towards drug use. The more we condone drug use among those already using drugs, the more we confuse the message to what I would hope to be the majority of young people who are not using drugs, and probably never will.

We run great risks if we allow those who purport to be the experts on drugs to adopt an agenda that is based on the needs and attitudes of those who are already involved in drugs. We should think about those whom we are trying to steer away from drugs, especially the very young. We are hampered because there are many people in quite influential posts who are soft towards drug policy. I am glad that the Bill cannot be described in any way as soft. It is a draconian measure that confronts the problem full on.

The police and customs, in trying to deal with drug distribution and drug dealing generally, find themselves up against some extremely dangerous and well-organised people who form the opposition. It is apparent that drug dealers, and those who finance them, are extremely well off. Those who stay out of gaol and who remain in business have enormous profits at their disposal, which allow them to buy themselves protection. They generally have people working for them who are armed and able to frighten others. They have good communications.

It must be said that the advent of mobile telephones, especially digital telephones, while being a great boon in many ways, has made life much easier for many criminals, including drug dealers. It is now much more difficult for their communications to be detected and for the police, customs and others to follow them up, to gather evidence of the sort that would be necessary for a trial and to bring them to justice.

Drug dealers generally have good financial organisation. Anyone who deals in drugs in a big way has to dispose of a great deal of cash, which then comes back to him. There are too many ways in our deregulated international financial markets to launder money. That is why we have gone to great lengths in the United Kingdom—our endeavours have been mirrored in most other countries in Europe and beyond—to check on deposits made at banks. We invite all financial institutions to report suspicious deposits. I am glad to say that we have a sophisticated mechanism that is designed to try to stop dealers being able to dispose of the proceeds of their crimes.

There is evidence that some lawyers are aiding and abetting organised criminals, including drug dealers, in a way that is contrary to the law. That is unsatisfactory. It has happened often in other countries and I believe that it is beginning to happen here. We are up against a well-organised opposition. Some large-scale British drug dealers, including those involved in Ecstasy and those who have made large profits out of clubs, live abroad, in Holland and, typically, in Spain, which has become something of a haven not because of any deficiency on the part of the Spanish Government but because of difficulties with extradition and different legal systems. Those people organise the importation of drugs, including Ecstasy, into this country from Spanish territory. We cannot collect evidence against them. We can liaise with those other countries, but it is up to their police forces and customs to collect evidence that would enable us to extradite those people and bring them to trial.

Paradoxically, the other disadvantage that we face is the high standards of evidence that our legal system requires before we can obtain a conviction. People involved in the large-scale importation of drugs—whether it be heroin, cocaine or Ecstasy—often stay a long way away from the drugs in which they are trading, and from the physical currency that they are making from that trade. It is hard to get at them so as to obtain evidence that is good enough to convict them. They know that, so in order to get at them we must look more and more to an intelligence-based system for the police and customs.

Various measures have been introduced in the past—the Bill is another one of them—to tighten the law so as to free the hands of the forces of law and order and help them to get to criminals who trade drugs on a large scale. We introduced confiscation of assets legislation under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I was able to make all the points that I was concerned to make on the Bill in a 22-minute speech. I concentrated my remarks on the provisions of the Bill. Interesting though the Minister's speech is—on another occasion I would like to debate this matter with him—it is not entirely relevant to the Bill. Will he make progress, so as to give my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) a chance to present her Bill?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The Minister has been entirely in order so far.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman found my speech interesting. I shall continue for a little longer if I may.

Financial institutions make disclosures to the police about transactions that imply money laundering. A series of laws has been put on the statute book that has changed the burden of evidence, so that it is more difficult for people who deal in large quantities of drugs and make large quantities of cash from it to hide those profits from the authorities. People who are brought to trial for drug offences are made to prove that the assets that they have at their disposal are not the proceeds of crime. That has helped us to pursue such criminals. No one should underestimate the difficulties of finding evidence against them.

We have recently proposed much stronger penalties for drug traffickers. Under the Crime (Sentences) Bill—which has just completed its passage through the House—we have proposed that persistent traffickers in class A drugs should receive a minimum seven-year sentence. That policy has found favour on both sides of the House and among public opinion.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that no one has spoken against the measure proposed by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg). We recently debated the Finance Bill. As on many occasions, the House was divided on controversial issues and the Treasury Minister who replied to the debate spoke for 20 or 30 minutes. Today, the Minister has already spoken for 45 minutes about a measure that has not been opposed. Is it not clear that the Minister is trying to stop the Cold Weather Payments (Wind Chill Factor) Bill getting on to the statute book and he will stand accused by every old-age pensioner in Britain?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

That was not a point of order for the Chair, but a point of debate.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

Many parents of children who have been in trouble with drugs, particularly as a result of having attended clubs, will have heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and will know how dismissive he is of the legislation.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea , Mid Ulster

I have listened with care and no one could disagree with the Minister. In fact, no one has disagreed. Surely he is pushing the issue over the top and although he is properly in order, he should bear it in mind that he is sending a message to the community. As drugs certainly kill, the Bill, which appears to have unanimous support, should be allowed to progress and we should move on to something else that kills and let people have proper cold weather payments.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Is it a new point of order?

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

Yes. There will be opposition to the Bill as I have criticised it, but let me make it clear that I have no intention of opposing the Bill and nor has any other hon. Member.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

It is not for the hon. Gentleman to judge what any other hon. Member will do.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

Various points of order have further delayed the debate, but I shall proceed towards my conclusion.

The Bill provides for confiscation and changes the burden of proof. A Bill is currently before the House to increase sentences for large-scale drug traffickers. In addition, the Police Bill contains proposals to give the police more flexible powers to gather evidence against major organised criminals and drug traffickers. I very much hope that that Bill, which also addresses the issue of bringing large-scale drug traffickers to book, will not be impeded by Parliament. The problem is now so serious that we need new measures to deal with it directly.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister is well aware that our approach to the Police Bill, which has no bearing on today's debate, was covered in an earlier speech to which I responded. The Minister is simply repeating the same arguments.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

The Bill is part of a series of tough measures that is required to address a problem that has become so serious that previous legislation is not sufficient to bring to book those who are putting our children in danger.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West on introducing a tough measure that addresses the specific problem of drugs in licensed premises. It will have a great effect and is probably the single measure that will attack drug dealers most directly. It will symbolise the tough attitude that we need to address the problem of drugs. Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend and I hope that his measure will become law.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

rose in her place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport 12:54, 17 January 1997

It is reassuring that the Minister who replied to the debate—

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Bill has been debated for almost three and a half hours. It has been made clear that there is no opposition to it and we are waiting to debate other private Members' Bills. Surely this is an abuse of the rights of Back Benchers.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

The hon. Lady is entitled to her view, but I have made the Chair's view clear. All Bills are important.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bowden Mr Andrew Bowden , Brighton, Kemptown

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House would very much like to discuss the next Bill. When will you feel able to accept a closure motion?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

I do not pre-empt judgments. I listen attentively and take the feeling of the House.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

I am reassured about the Minister who replied to the debate because he was secretary of the group that he formed with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) to deal with drug abuse on an all-party basis. It is reassuring that the issue which many of us as parents feel powerless to deal with was responded to by a Minister who has taken such a long-term interest in it.

Those of us who approach the issue of drugs need to learn a new vocabulary and adopt a new attitude to life. We need to read, talk and listen and we must try not to preach. We should try to do all that while still maintaining our standards and trying to guide the young. There are no 20-year-old hon. Members, but if there had been, I suspect that we should have heard some very different contributions to the debate. Statistically, about 21 per cent. of the 20 to 24 age group have tried LSD; 28 per cent. have tried speed; 45 per cent. have tried cannabis; 12 per cent. have tried Ecstasy; and some 15 per cent. have tried magic mushrooms.

Those people do not see themselves as junkies on a slow decline to the gutter. They see themselves as discerning consumers who will decide for themselves what to take and when. If Brian Harvey of the pop group East 17 has made a contribution of any kind this week, it was to tell the world that occasionally he has taken 10 or 12 Ecstasy tablets a day. Perhaps that will persuade those who take an occasional Ecstasy tablet and who think that they can use it as a recreational drug that will not be habit forming to realise that that will lead to an increase in use.

After a while, one tablet is not enough and two, three, five or 10 or, in the case of Mr. Harvey, 10 or 12 will be needed. Mr. Harvey has recanted and I hope that people who think that they will not become addicted to Ecstasy or other drugs will learn from that.

I am told that the characteristic of the 20 to 24-year-old age group is to enjoy staying up all night. Those people listen to loud repetitive music and many of them enjoy the novelty of taking drugs. All that wanes with age. Some 55 per cent. of people in the 25 to 34-year-old bracket drink regularly; only 1 per cent. take LSD and 2 per cent. have taken Ecstasy. Some people in the 45 to 54-year-old bracket will have tried drugs in the 1960s and kept away since. The statistics show that some 13 per cent. of that group have tried cannabis in the past; 2 per cent. have tried LSD; and 1 per cent. have tried magic mushrooms. I am told that, statistically, 0 per cent. have tried Ecstasy and 0 per cent. have tried cocaine. For people in that age group, Ecstasy was not available when they were young and cocaine does not impinge on the statistics.

People in that group were part of the hippy culture. It was all right to take drugs such as cannabis and LSD that were thought to expand consciousness, but stimulants such as cocaine were thought to be anti-social. Now, a rave culture has eradicated those rules; nothing is regarded as out of bounds or unhip. Thirty years ago, all drugs were regarded as powerful substances that controlled the taker and dominated his or her life style; now, the opposite seems true to the young. Older teachers or social workers lecturing to the young on drugs find that those in the audience know more about the subject than the lecturer—or at least they think that they do. In the even younger age group, 3 per cent. of 12 to 13-year-olds, and 14 per cent. of 14 to 15-year-olds, say that they have taken drugs at some time.

Drugs are a massive problem. In any one year, 6 per cent. of the population, some 3 million people, take an illegal drug, and 1 million Ecstasy tablets a week are consumed, almost all in the dancing and entertainment context. Many people think that little harm is involved, but there is a major medical problem. There have been about 50 known deaths from Ecstasy in five years and 1,400 deaths from heroin. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has concluded that drug taking has become a teenage rite of passage.

Dr. John Henry, a psychiatrist at Guy's hospital and a drugs specialist, made comments that were echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Lewes and for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) when he said: There are enough biochemical reasons to make us concerned about Ecstasy. I believe we have a natural experiment which is rolling and we will only know the outcome of it in 20 years or more. That is daunting.

David Bryce, who runs drug rehabilitation courses in Glasgow, said: An ecstasy user will look at a junkie and sneeringly tell you that will never be him. But the junkie will laugh and tell him: See you next year. I visited a drug rehabilitation unit in my part of Hampshire: it was unnerving. I was told that some of the young people there would come off their habit—I am talking about serious habits, mainly heroin—but that statistically, some of them would go back to their habit. I was told that the latter group would almost certainly be dead in 18 months.

There is a massive criminal problem associated with drug distribution and taking. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the criminals involved in the distribution of drugs, which is one of the biggest businesses in the world. There is also the problem of the addict who steals and takes to crime in other ways to pay for his habit. It is estimated that a heroin habit costs about £10,000 a year. Few addicts can earn such money; they need to steal.

A third criminal problem relates to motoring, an issue that has concerned me and on which I have done some research. In the United States, one in three young people—

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Is motoring covered by the Bill?

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

Indeed not, but I am putting my remarks in the context of the fact that most hon. Members are middle-aged, or even older. We find it difficult to understand the young rave culture that takes people to the clubs that are so much involved in drug taking. I will not make a significant point about this, but—

Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for hon. Members to filibuster to prevent another Bill from being debated?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. The hon. Lady should know that if I sensed a filibuster, I would stop it immediately. A few seconds ago, she will have heard me asking the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) whether his remarks were relevant.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Is it a new point of order?

Photo of Mr Ted Rowlands Mr Ted Rowlands , Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney

Yes. A few minutes ago, you said that you would take the feeling of the House. May I register the feeling of thousands of old-age pensioners in my constituency who want the next Bill to be discussed?

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

That seems like a point of argument to me, not a point of order. Of course, I was referring to the whole House.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

I have spoken for eight minutes and I put my name in to speak some time ago. I have discussed drugs and clubs with my local police force and magistrates. I find it monstrous that I have been interrupted several times by hon. Members accusing me of filibustering. I resent that. It is simply not true.

To conclude the point on motoring offences, which involves young people, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I welcome the three-year research programme by the Department of Transport, the Home Office, the Coroners Society and the Association of Chief Police Officers, to establish the incidence of drug use among fatal road casualties.

The fourth problem relating to drugs and criminality is that of drugs in gaols. It is a significant problem. I am told that some people who have been found guilty of possessing or dealing in cannabis may be sent to prison, where they have to give blood samples to be screened for drugs. Cannabis stays in the bloodstream for three weeks, whereas heroin stays for two days. So some people who seek to avoid being caught out by blood tests switch from cannabis to heroin.

I submit, following the points made by the two Labour Members who have been present for the whole debate—the hon. Members for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) and for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn)—that it would be wrong to consider decriminalisation of drugs. I quote John Lawn, a former director of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, who told a Senate committee investigating legalisation: Drugs are not bad because they are illegal, they are illegal because they are bad. So how should we face up to all those problems? First, we need as wide as possible a dialogue between parents and children, old and young, police and those who might take drugs. I pay tribute to the police force in Hampshire, with which I have had some discussions. I am greatly impressed by the maturity of its approach and of its judgment, and by its determined attempts to do all that it can to reduce and eliminate drugs in Hampshire.

Secondly, we need to take some practical steps to ensure safety in clubs. Some of my honourable colleagues have more experience of that than me. I listened with interest to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, who talked about the promotion of safety measures in clubs in London. That is an important issue, to be expanded and developed further.

I have already mentioned the possibility of the acceptance of soft drugs, but the reverse is the answer. We should adopt an attitude of minimum tolerance. I am sure that expectation is the most important thing in education of the young and that if we expect a lot of them, we shall get a lot. If we expect little of them, we shall get little. Therefore, minimum tolerance is the better line.

There has also been some mention of cautions for first offences, particularly that given to Liam Gallagher. When I spoke to my local police force some time ago, I was surprised to find out that there was no standard procedure for giving cautions to those guilty of a first offence involving drugs. I was told by a policeman whose task it was to administer cautions that he had been given no guidance or training on how he should administer such cautions. It would be appropriate to set some general guidelines on exactly what constituted a caution.

I welcome the Bill. In my researches, I learnt a great deal about the ownership of the clubs that the Bill will control. I discovered to my surprise that there were seven major operators, but that between them they accounted for only 16.5 per cent. of admissions to clubs and 13 per cent. of revenues. That proves that most clubs are independently owned. We can control not only the major companies, which are often subsidiaries of listed companies, but the individual operators and proprietors. I believe that they will be amenable to the pressure that will be available to the police under the Bill.

The Bill will undoubtedly strengthen the hand of the police in dealing with clubs. That I welcome. It is an excellent Bill. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) referred to another aspect of club control—the control of doorkeepers. I am concerned about that, and it should be the subject of further legislation.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North has already referred to the 1994–95 report of the Home Affairs Select Committee into the private security industry. It revealed that of the 476 door supervisors questioned in Merseyside, 279 had criminal records, of whom 28 had criminal records for drug offences. It strikes me as extraordinary that someone who is responsible for policing the door of a club to ensure that access is given only to the appropriate people and who controls conduct within that club should, in some cases, have a criminal record for drug offences. We must deal with that problem.

Before the publication of Home Affairs Select Committee report, a report along the same lines was produced by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. It revealed that 60 per cent. of police forces encountered difficulties in obtaining full co-operation from doorkeepers at clubs. It was thought that 20 per cent. of them were involved in dealing.

I welcome the Bill, as well as the many other measures that have been taken to inform young people at schools and colleges about the damage caused by drugs. I am sure that the Bill will achieve its purpose and that it will have a successful passage through the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on introducing it.

Photo of Ms Audrey Wise Ms Audrey Wise , Preston

rose in her place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins , Blackpool South 1:11, 17 January 1997

I should like to join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on his success in the ballot and on choosing the subject of his Bill.

Despite the mutterings and fulmination from the Opposition, it is absolutely right that the hon. Member who is lucky enough to come second in the ballot should have his Bill thoroughly considered before we proceed to discuss Bills, however worthy, introduced by hon. Members who were not so lucky in that ballot. I have not yet been lucky enough to secure any of the high places in it, but those who are lucky and who introduce such worthwhile measures should have their Bills thoroughly considered by the House.

My hon. Friend will recall that when the result of the ballot was announced, I was one of the first hon. Members to tell him that I wanted to support the Bill. It is important that we should deal with it in depth. I put my name down in advance to speak in the debate and I have been in the Chamber throughout.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have now spent in excess of three hours and 40 minutes discussing a Bill on which there is no opposition from any corner of the House. If there was any room for doubt, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) made it absolutely clear that he would not oppose it. I do not wish in any way to challenge the judgments made by the occupants of the Chair, but statistics and arguments are now being repeated ad nauseam about a Bill on which there is no disagreement. I cannot for the life of me see why we should continue to debate the Bill.

A clear pattern of filibustering is beginning to emerge among those on the Conservative Benches. It has the clear intention of thwarting the passage of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise). Frankly, those outside the House will be dismayed and upset by the behaviour of Conservative Members who are trying to thwart my hon. Friend's Bill.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Is it a new point of order?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith , Chingford

Yes. We have just heard a claim about filibustering, but the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), spoke for nearly 25 minutes, which is far longer than most of the speeches made by Conservative Back Benchers. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

I can sense that the House is getting a little distressed about this morning's proceedings. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I sense that just a couple more hon. Members want to make a contribution to the debate, as is their right. It is right that those hon. Members, who each represent a significant electorate, should have the opportunity, if they so choose, to make their speech. Let us progress and see how we get on.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

I hope that it is a new point of order.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Further to the previous point of order, and for the correction of the record, I spoke for 22 minutes and kept my remarks strictly to the Bill. The Minister spoke for 44 minutes and before he did so he said to me, "I intend to wander far and wide in my speech." He did just that.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins , Blackpool South

I can promise the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth)—

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

On a different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask through you whether the Clerk can furnish us with details of the last time a non-controversial Bill introduced by a private Member had to be debated for three hours and 40 minutes, as it seems to be unprecedented? I appreciate that there are sometimes controversial Bills, but the Bill that we discussing is not controversial and is being used to hold up legislation proposed by other hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

The hon. Lady entered the House with me, and if she were to spend a little time in the excellent Library of the House, she would find all sorts of useful information on that subject. I call Mr. Hawkins to proceed on the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins , Blackpool South

So far, the annunciator screen has recorded my contribution as lasting for five minutes, but I have spoken for less than one minute. All the time is being used up by fatuous and bogus points of order from Opposition Members. I can promise the hon. Member for Knowsley, North that I shall speak more briefly than he did and make entirely fresh points.

I have received three detailed submissions from important organisations with serious concerns about the Bill that they want raised. Given the number of clubs in my constituency, it is important that BEDA, the Business in Sport and Leisure organisation and First Leisure Corporation should have their concerns about the Bill—which I have copied to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West—fully considered by the House.

Business in Sport and Leisure has told me that there are tremendous variations in the procedural requirements and consistency of approach of local authority licensing committees towards their jurisdiction over public entertainments licences. Business in Sport and Leisure's submission to the Home Office in the review of public entertainments licences at the beginning of 1996 contained headings that largely related to local authorities controlled by the Labour or Liberal Democrat parties. Those headings included: "The frustrations of working with Local Authority Licensing Committees"; "Councillors abdicate responsibility"; "Evening Hearings Unfair"; "No legally Qualified Person Present"; "Bored with a case"; and "Concede or be delayed". Such headings about the inconsistency of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Opposition coalition-controlled local authorities tell their own story.

Since 1993, Business in Sport and Leisure has been asking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and his colleagues at the Home Office to issue guidance to local authority licensing committees to ensure some consistency, and I was delighted to welcome my hon. Friend's remarks this morning. Business in Sport and Leisure continues to believe that it is necessary to have clear guidelines. I have no doubt that what may emerge in Committee will help.

Business in Sport and Leisure understands that the intention of my hon. Friend's Bill is that any new powers given to local authorities will not contain any legal safeguards to ensure that owners and operators are given adequate protection. The organisation's concern is that if the powers to shut nightclubs were wrongly used in a draconian way, they would drive the misuse of drugs in clubs underground and on to the black market. I know that that is not what my hon. Friend intends or what the House would want.

There is a concern that it is the Bill's intention to deal with drugs only in premises with a public entertainments licence, not in other premises such as pubs, which have only liquor licences. I am sure that in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West and my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to address that problem. There is a danger that, without the right protection, there will be large numbers of cases in the High Court involving the right of club owners to natural justice.

Business in Sport and Leisure has made it clear to me that it supports the considerable amount of work carried out by BEDA—the trade association of the nightclub industry—with Home Office officials, to consider how to combat drugs in nightclubs. BEDA has been, and still is, undertaking a public information campaign on the dangers of drugs—which I strongly support—making information available through its 700 members. BEDA has campaigned for several years for the introduction of the national licensed door supervisor scheme and has prepared detailed information about my hon. Friend's Bill.

BEDA has proposed a system that I hope my hon. Friend will he prepared to consider when the Bill goes to Committee. It provides for written warnings to be given to clubs before local authorities shut down the premises and for speedy hearings in relation to such decisions. That is in line with the enforcement practice of section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, which makes it clear that written warnings are required on the basis of "minded to prosecute". Those warnings were introduced to ensure natural justice. BEDA has also requested that, if a club is shut, that club should have the right to an expedited hearing to appeal against the closure.

An alternative proposal by Business in Sport and Leisure is that the current procedures for the revocation of liquor licences might be used to provide powers for the revocation of a public entertainments licence. Although local authorities do not currently have the power to revoke a public entertainments licence, magistrates have the power to revoke a liquor licence at any time. That reinforces the argument that BISL is not, in any way, trying to undermine the spirit of my hon. Friend's proposals—indeed, it strongly supports the spirit behind the Bill. All the reputable trade organisations are determined to make it clear that they are as keen to crack down on drugs as my hon. Friend and me.

Under the system for the revocation of liquor licences, the premises with the liquor licence continue to trade, but the case is normally heard within three or four weeks. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is speed of decision making that is vital in this respect. The existing legislation could be amended and used as a framework for introducing similar powers for local authority licensing committees.

A further concern felt by BISL is that the club could be closed if it was found that drugs had been abused at or near the premises". I ask my hon. Friend to clarify the definition of "near", which is clearly an important point—we do not want cases brought under the Bill to fall because of uncertainty about that. BISL believes that there is a real danger of the Bill not working as my hon. Friend and I intend it to work, unless some amendments giving guidance as to the Bill's application are made in Committee. There is plenty of evidence that we need to lay down precisely what is intended, so as to avoid inconsistent interpretation, which would undermine my hon. Friend's aims. It will not have escaped hon. Members' notice that, over the new year period, as well-known a name as the David Lloyd health and tennis club at Heston suffered a well-publicised drugs incident. We fear that there will be continuing problems if there is any lack of clarity about whether, for example, a car park attached to a premises is covered by the Bill.

BEDA suggests that there should be a written caution that would recite the police's concerns and request that the licensee and/or the owner propose ways of dealing with the problem. The licensee and/or the owner could be given a specified, very short, period in which to issue written suggestions on how to deal with the problem to the police, who would then monitor the situation. That would act as an additional safeguard for the benefit of the public. The local authority could then consider the conduct of the licensee and/or the owner during the period of the caution, to ascertain whether it was then necessary to close the premises.

I have worked closely with Superintendent Dick Taylor of Blackpool police in connection with Blackpool's difficulties with its large number of clubs. He and his predecessor, Chief Superintendent Ken McKay, have managed to maintain a balance between cracking down hard on drugs and allowing tourist resorts such as Blackpool to benefit from having thriving clubs. It is clear that the reputable section of the trade—companies such as the First Leisure Corporation and the Rank Organisation—is just as keen as my hon. Friend is to ensure that a tough stance is taken against drugs.

The chief executive of the First Leisure Corporation, Mr. John Conlan, has written to me to say: Drug misuse is unfortunately a widespread problem in the society today". However, he is concerned that there should not be any concentration on the discotheque and nightclub industry to the exclusion of pubs, bars and other public places. It may be that my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to pursue the question of further legislation that extends wider than my hon. Friend's Bill.

Mr. Conlan writes to emphasise: A number of major UK public companies are involved in the ownership and operation of discotheques. They passionately care about the eradication of drugs misuse and will fully support any Bill that seeks to do so", but they wish to ensure that it treats all licensed premises in an even handed fashion". I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West will wish the Bill to do so, and I congratulate him again on introducing this much needed piece of legislation.

Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter , Basingstoke 1:24, 17 January 1997

Perhaps because I have waited nearly four hours for the privilege of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I can be brief because the debate has covered almost all the important points that should have been made. I shall, however, make one or two observations that have not been emphasised.

Before I do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, first and foremost I join my hon. Friends who have caught your eye and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) on his good fortune in being drawn so highly in the ballot and on his choice of subject.

Opposition Members have said from a sedentary position that the Bill has no opposition in the House. That is the case, but outside the House there is a principled concern about one or two points and it is unfortunate that such concern has not been expressed greatly in the debate.

I wish to draw attention to the point made by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North. I too have received communication from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. It makes a valid point about the need to clarify the concept of a "serious problem". We should debate that matter, and I hope that it may be debated in Committee.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I asked the Minister to clarify that concept, and he said that the Home Office would issue guidance that would resolve that problem.

Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter , Basingstoke

I welcome that.

My two final observations follow from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins). I too received the briefing notes or commentaries on the Bill from the British Entertainments and Discotheque Association and Business in Sport and Leisure, and it is important that, in this Second Reading debate, we place on record more of the anxieties that they feel about aspects of the Bill. I must emphasise, as they do, that they support the Bill's overall objectives, but they believe that some aspects should be fully debated, and I hope that they can be in Committee.

One of those aspects is the caution. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West acknowledged in his opening speech that the Bill is a tough measure. I have no objection to tough measures, but I want to ensure that, in the process of being tough, we do not undermine or devalue natural justice. We must ask ourselves whether, as suggested by those organisations, an amendment should be made to the Bill to the effect that club owners or operators should be cautioned before the revocation process is put in train. That is a valid question which should be discussed in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South underestimated the strength of the case that the expression at or near the premises detracts from the Bill. The argument goes that it is entirely wrong to hold the owner or operator of a club responsible for activities conducted on premises or in locations for which he is not responsible.

I know of a parallel in my constituency: excessive noise made by people leaving clubs late at night or in the early hours. The club owners do all that they can responsibly to encourage orderly departure from their premises, but ultimately they cannot be held responsible for what people do in locations for which they are not responsible. I believe that the expression "at or near" must be considered carefully in Committee.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

If a club were being used as the place where contact was made, and the drugs and the money to pay for them changed hands outside the club; if it could be demonstrated that the club was the place where the deal was done, that surely would suffice and enable the proximity to be relevant.

Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter , Basingstoke

Yes, I would accept that. Perhaps something to that effect could be included in the Bill in Committee.

I believe that there is more to be said, but I know that the House is anxious to accelerate the debate. I therefore close by stressing my support for the Bill in general, and likewise my belief that some of its aspects have been insufficiently considered today and need further discussion in Committee.

Photo of Mr Barry Legg Mr Barry Legg , Milton Keynes South West 1:29, 17 January 1997

We have had an interesting debate this morning and I am grateful for the many useful contributions to it. We began with my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert)—who is no longer here—outlining the drug problem in his constituency. The Bill will certainly help to combat that problem; I know only too well of the serious criminal elements that can sometimes be involved.

Definitions in the Bill have turned out to be among the key issues. The Minister responded to the Opposition spokesman by saying that guidance will be issued once he has held full consultations with the local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) discussed the phrase "near the premises". I am not sure whether he was here for my opening speech this morning, when I made the point that any local authority, before revoking a licence, must be satisfied that such revocation will help to deal with the problem. It cannot simply close down a club for the hell of it or because of drug activity nearby. There must be a reason for closure that will help to solve the problem, so if the problem takes place beyond the confines of the club in premises nearby, the authority will not be able to close it down.

I wish the Minister well when drawing up the guidelines. "Near the premises" is certainly a difficult issue. We cannot define it too narrowly, because we might end up saying that drug dealing 10 yd from a club was covered by the Act but dealing 11 yd away was not. The Minister faces quite a challenge.

There was also some discussion of what constitutes a serious drug problem. Here we must rely heavily on the police exercising their discretion. We heard an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) in this connection. He offered examples of how closely clubs are working with the police to ensure that their premises are properly run. The Bill will enhance such co-operation.

Perhaps the Minister will bear in mind some words of the fourth American President, James Madison, when he comes to look at the guidance. Madison said: The rules of legal interpretation are the rules of common sense. I am sure that my hon. Friend will try to be as precise as possible when issuing guidance; I am equally sure that my Bill will bring about a real improvement in the drugs scene. I reject the comments of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who suggested that the Bill would make matters worse. I have every confidence that it will make them better, that it will better protect young people, and that Members of Parliament who support it are supporting legislation that will be both workable and successful.

Question put and agreed to.Bill accordingly read a Second time.Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills), That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Legg.]Question agreed to.

Photo of Mr Michael Morris Mr Michael Morris , Northampton South

Order. I remind the House, as I did on a previous occasion this Session, that the Chair has regularly deprecated proceeding at once from Second Reading to Committee. It means that hon. Members who may have wished to table amendments have no real opportunity to do so.

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment; read the Third time, and passed.