HC Deb 29 June 1965 vol 715 cc320-3

3.55 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower local authorities to require safe and hygienic conditions in entertainment clubs; to authorise the registration of such clubs by local authorities and the exercise of powers in connection with such registration; and for connected purposes. The object of my proposed Bill is to permit a local authority to require that an entertainment club be registered with such authority and to see that the club's premises are safe, have satisfactory lighting, ventilation and sanitation, and are provided with adequate fire precautions. The Bill would also permit entry by an official of the local authority and by the police.

My colleagues and I who were on the Private Bill Committee on the Manchester Corporation Bill heard some rather horrifying evidence from the Chief Constable of Manchester and from its fire officer about the so-called clubs to which I refer. They are unregistered, unlicensed, coffee-dance clubs, "beat" or jazz clubs. They are not licensed premises, as no alcohol is served in them, and they do not come under the Refreshment Houses Act because they do not serve the casual public, entry being as though to a club.

I realise that young people must have somewhere to go to take part in or enjoy jazz and "beat" music, and we were told that there were in Manchester a number of such clubs to which no exception was taken. But the chief constable gave us evidence of seven or eight clubs which were in empty warehouses, seedy office blocks and cellars to which young people came from far and wide, sometimes from as far as 40 miles or more away in coach loads, as Manchester served neighbouring towns and a large district, including towns as far afield as Bradford.

These clubs served coffee, tea and "Coke", and they were used often by girls who were missing from home, by absconders from approved schools, by traffickers in drugs and by people with serious criminal convictions. They were dirty, we were told, and badly lighted, and some had disgraceful sanitary facilities. In one case there was only one toilet, behind a blanket, which was used by both men and women. One such club had been operated by a man with convictions for robbery, burglary and housebreaking, another by a man with 30 convictions for larceny. We were told by the chief constable that some of the frequenters of these places had been convicted of supplying or possessing drugs. Apart from "purple hearts", Indian hemp was mentioned, and in one case heroin. Some of those resorting there usually carried offensive weapons.

These clubs in Manchester go under exotic names such as the "Forty Thieves Club", and the "Heaven and Hell Club". The police, although not having powers of entry, did get a warrent for a raid on one of them, and at two o'clock on a Sunday morning earlier this year they found 42 young people there of ages from 13 to 16. There were seven aged 13, nine aged 14, 12 aged 15 and 14 aged 16. When these young boys and girls were taken to the police station and their parents were told, the reaction of the parents was one of horror. They had no idea that their children were there in such surroundings and they were very grateful for being told about it. But, naturally, they also said, "If there are such dreadful places, why are they allowed to exist?". That, I think, is a question we might ask ourselves.

The fire officer told us of mean basements so packed that it was scarcely possible to get in, of no means of escape except through the entrance and of one case where the ceiling was a draped canopy fabric with infra-red heaters within 10 inches. Another had a nailed-up exit and was full of loose tables and chairs.

If these "beat" clubs had been licensed premises, serving alcohol, their use would certainly have been refused by the magistrates, and we must ask ourselves why young people particularly should have to use such perilous and dangerous places. So, quite naturally, the Private Bill Committee, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, gave Manchester Corporation the Clause for which it was asking, namely, power to register such clubs and to refuse to register if the premises were unsafe, or unventilated, or had unsatisfactory sanitation, or were not provided with adequate protection against fire and a second means of escape. It was also given power to impose conditions relating to public order and decency and to strike a club off if it was being conducted in a disorderly manner, or was the resort of criminals. It also gave power to the police and officials of the local authority to enter such clubs.

The question arises whether such powers are required by any other public authorities in other parts of the country. On making inquiries in London of magistrates, welfare officials and the police, I am satisfied that these powers are so required. I found much the same state of affairs in the south of England.

There are about half a dozen such coffee or "beat" clubs in Soho, one or two in the suburbs and possibly in seaside resorts and in Birmingham. Admission to the London clubs is generally by membership fee of 5s., with perhaps an entry fee of 7s. 6d. or 10s. Similarly, the police in London have no power of entry into these places. A scribbled list of members is kept by the door and that constitutes the club. There is no committee, only the owner.

These places are often frequented by boys and girls who begin to be picked up by the police outside the clubs from 2 a.m. onwards every Saturday and Sunday mornings and often their case is for care and protection. One welfare officer told me that the clubs seem to have no fresh air or ventilation, are decidedly sleazy, often have an appalling stench and that some young girls sleep all night there.

In one raid by the police with a warrant, the floor was found to be covered with "purple hearts" and "black bombers"—a sort of alternative drug—and knives and other weapons were stuck down behind the seats. On one occasion, an 18-year-old boy had parcels of 1,200 "purple hearts" on him, tied up in parcels of 10. These cases are not unusual in London. In last week's issue of the local newspaper, in my constituency, on the front page there were two cases headlined. The first was: 60 drug tablets in one weekend. That referred to a 19-year-old boy. When asked by the magistrate where he got the tablets he replied: I picked them up in the West End. They are being pushed at me in coffee bars. The other headline was: Student held on hemp charge. This referred to a 23-year-old student.

Another case brought to my attention is that of a 16-year-old boy who was a good athlete. He followed a "beat" group to London from his village, 40 miles away, and became addicted to "purple hearts". He now suffers very bad health as a result. One wonders how these drugs leave the manufacturers and are distributed among boys and girls.

My Bill would be permissive and would enable local authorities to take powers similar to those we gave to Manchester. I hope that the council of your own constituency, Mr. Speaker—Westminster—might find it useful. There are exceptions to the ambit of the Bill. It would exempt charitable clubs, local authority youth clubs, sports clubs, clubs for physical training and recreation, all normal clubs where drinks are served and, of course, licensed premises, theatres, cinemas and places for public amusement and dancing. All these are exempted.

The proposed Bill has the support of church and welfare organisations, magistrates, chairmen of juvenile courts and others, including hon. Members on both sides of the House. It would become a useful Measure and today, at its first hurdle, I hope that it will commend itself to hon. and right hon. Members.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gresham Cooke, Mr. Brooke, Mr. Holman, Sir A. Meyer, Mr. English, Mr. Dance, Mr. Harold Lever, Mr. Tilney, and Mr. Lubbock.