§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Blackburn asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What extra powers they are contemplating giving to police forces to deal with the problems created by the increase of acid house parties throughout the country.
My Lords, the police have adequate powers to deal effectively with any criminal offence, including disorderly behaviour, which may occur at these parties, but we shall be discussing with chief officers whether any extra police powers are needed to prevent or to stop illegal parties from taking place.
We are reviewing the existing entertainment licensing and noise control laws in order to see whether the requirements and penalties need strengthening.
§ Lord Taylor of Blackburn
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure he is aware of the nuisance and disturbance caused to residents in areas where these parties are held. While the Minister is having discussions with the Chief Constables' Association and the various local authorities, will he consider that the people who organise these parties should give adequate notice to give time for objection from residents, local authorities and anyone else who feels aggrieved about these parties being held in their districts or areas?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, that these parties create a great nuisance and a considerable amount of noise. There is already a requirement to give advance notice under the entertainment licensing laws, but the trouble is that people do not do that. The forces in the South-East have decided that a formal intelligence unit is needed to co-ordinate information about these parties. The important point is to know when the parties are to take place, and where. The purpose of the unit will be to give forces better warning of the likely parties in their areas and to target the main organisers.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, the noble Earl graciously corrected me on the Question before last, so will he accept this respectful correction? I understand that "acid" is an American term for LSD. I was so informed by a noble Lord before I came to the House this afternoon. That is the reference.
Is the noble Earl aware that there is grave public concern about the growth of these parties and that the police are most anxious to have powers in two directions: first, that instead of leaving it to local authorities they should be allowed under a criminal 782 law, not yet in existence but encouraged to be in existence by the police, to be able to say that the noise nuisance if aggravated constitutes a criminal offence? Is he' also aware that owners of disused properties such as warehouses are being paid huge sums of money for permission for youngsters to congregate to hold these parties, where there is a great danger that fire and other disasters may occur? Will he accept that on this side of the House we should be happy to co-operate if there were short, sharp and quick legislation to deal with these matters?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his usual constructive manner. I am also appreciative of the fact that he corrected me, as he thought, over the terminology "acid" having something to do with LSD. I congratulate the noble Lord on being so up with the technological terms relating to these drugs. However, I should like to point out to the noble Lord that I too was under the impression that ac id referred to LSD. I am informed that it is not that but is the type of music that is played. There are not drugs at all acid house parties and therefore it would be wrong to consider that all such parties are drugs related. However, on occasions drugs have appeared.
I am sorry, but the noble Lord was good enough to correct me and I wanted to correct him. I shall take his points into account. but I remind him that under Section 58 of the Control of Pollution Act there are substantial penalties for breaking noise requirements. The penalty for breaching an order can be a fine of up to £2,000.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, will the noble Earl accept the fact that the House has enjoyed this acid exchange?
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, one fully acknowledges the nuisance caused by some parties to local residents. However, does the Minister agree that throughout history the younger generation has enjoyed shocking the older generation? Therefore, the more hysterical the older generation becomes about so-called acid house parties, the more stimulated will be the younger generation to try to attend. Is it not time that a sense of proportion was adopted towards this transient phenomenon?
My Lords, the noble Lord has put his finger on a good point. The young people like the parties; the older people dislike the noise. Therefore, there must be a law to decide the matter. One must have licenses from local authorities and keep within various laws. If that is done and authorities are notified beforehand, everything is fine. The trouble is that people do not do so and in that respect they are breaking the law.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, having regard to the remarks addressed to him, is the Minister aware that 783 the public is concerned not only about noise but about what was found at recent parties—namely, offensive weapons, dogs kept by security guards to attack the police and matters which are of grave concern to the police since they involve criminals as well as young people trying to enjoy themselves, to which we have no objection?
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Where such incidents happen they are contrary to the law and at present the police have sufficient powers to deal with them. The difficulty arises where numbers are large, and we are trying to investigate that matter. I remind the noble Lord and the House that by the end of August the Metropolitan Police had closed down approximately 130 acid house parties. Therefore, attempts were made to hold more parties than the number which actually took place.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, will the Minister ensure that new regulations will not affect innocent barn dances that are held all over the country? We had a barn dance a week ago and someone telephoned the police to say that an acid house party was taking place. It was an innocent barn dance and as we knew the local policeman well everything was all right. It would be a pity if new regulations had such an effect.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will be able to continue his barn dancing for as long as he wishes. I am sorry that his presence at that recent dance should have given the impression to others that it was an acid house party. It is perfectly all right for people to enjoy themselves provided they keep within the law. The point of having the law is to take account of noise and its offensiveness to other people and of safety and hygiene. Organisers break the law when they do not take precautions to inform people and it is that to which we must address our minds.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, does the Minister agree that we have already exceeded our normal time for Questions by seven minutes and that it is time we moved on to the next Question?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for fishing me out of the water. However, I like to think that the length of time already spent has not been my fault.
§ Lord Taylor of Blackburn
My Lords, the subject is of sufficient importance to be aired in this Chamber regardless of time. I do not believe that we have greatly exceeded our allotted time. I thank the Minister for his reply and I also thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. None of us wants to spoil the acitivities of young people; we wish to encourage them. We merely want them to be aware of the rest of the community living in the particular area. Will the Minister try to speed up his discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the local authorities?
My Lords, the discussions are taking place as a matter of urgency because we realise the concern felt by many people about the holding of such parties.