HL Deb 20 June 1990 vol 520 cc1007-24

8.30 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Perhaps I may start in an unorthodox but appropriate way by saying what the Bill does not set out to do. It does not set out either to create new offences or new powers or to prevent anyone's legitimate enjoyment; it sets out simply to raise the penalties for certain existing offences from the levels which were appropriate when they were enacted to a level which is appropriate today. The increase required to do this is very large indeed because the amounts of money which can be made by breaking the law have become very large indeed. Indeed, I would not be proposing the Bill to your Lordships if I did not believe that the need was both pressing and real.

The need has been occasioned by the recent development of a form of exploitation of the young which puts them in considerable danger. The organisers of this exploitation arrange events which have been featured a good deal in the news lately and which your Lordships may have noticed mentioned frequently in the media. The ostensible purpose of these events is to bring young people together in very large numbers to listen, and perhaps to dance, to a particular kind of music. The music is known as acid-house music and because of this the events have become known as acid-house parties. The name highlights the motivation of the young people attending these events. However, they have been given another name and that is pay parties, which highlights the motivation of the organisers who bring the young people to such events.

The young people pay to go to these parties and they pay with a vengeance, even if nothing goes wrong. They pay up to £30 for a ticket. Moreover, as there may be up to 10,000 people present at a single event, your Lordships can perhaps see why an increase beyond the present limit of £2,000 as the maximum fine for the relevant offence is called for.

Organising a large musical event is not an offence, nor should we wish to make it so. This is not a killjoy Bill, and it has not been drafted with killjoy intentions. However, your Lordships may be interested to know something more about these particular events. Perhaps we should start with the music. Let us take, for example, its volume. In one case of which I received details it was not just clearly but offensively audible at a distance of five miles downwind. In that instance the police received 980 telephone complaints in the space of one-and-a-quarter hours. On another such occasion, the sound was produced by 72 speakers, each of them 4 feet tall, arranged in two banks of 36. On a third such occasion, 50 speakers were operating in an enclosed barn.

I do not underestimate the health hazard to those young people attending such events which the details reveal. Nonetheless, they are not the principal danger which is involved and which makes it necessary to increase the penalties applicable to those who promote and run these events. The effects on the surrounding population are also worth considering. They are exceedingly unpleasant and those in the immediate area suffer most —naturally, because of the noise and, unnaturally, because of the organisers' habit of employing large numbers of heavyweight security staff, sometimes equipped with sticks and staves and often accompanied by Rottweiler dogs. Their job is not to protect the customers; it is to prevent any interruption of the proceedings. On occasion, the steps taken to prevent interruption are more elaborate and constitute in themselves a hazard to those attending the event.

In a third instance which was quoted to me, the organisers of an event which was held in an abandoned warehouse locked all but half of one entrance and filled the approach road with parked vehicles so that it was impassable —not only to police vehicles, which may have been the intention, but to any vehicle, including fire engines and ambulances. That compares with an example quoted in another place about an event held in a warehouse in Accrington where no fewer than 5,000 young people had to enter and leave through a single door. On that occasion the approach roads were blocked off at a distance of half a mile from the venue.

During the three years that I was the Minister responsible at the Home Office for the fire service, I became acutely aware of the need for a means of rapid evacuation of buildings in an emergency. The alternative is very often the death of large numbers of people under horrific circumstances. In cases such as those I have cited, the danger of fire is very real. An eye witness account from Essex tells of a meeting of 3,000 people in that county at which the generator was faulty and where the power cables on the floor produced sparks throughout the performance. There is every prospect that some such unlicensed event will one day produce a dreadful toll of casualties.

The very great annoyance caused to the general public by the sudden, unexpected descent of anything from 2,000 to 10,000 young people at night on a single place, with no planned arrangements for traffic or parking, is in itself a matter of interest. However, when the purpose of the descent is to hear levels of noise more appropriate to psychological warfare than to innocent entertainment, I suggest that it becomes a nuisance sufficient to cause your Lordships active concern. To that concern should be added the concern that young people naive enough to be attracted to the events are often subject to exploitation at every stage. Suffice to say that at one such event held in a large empty building there was no water supply and no provision of toilet facilities and that those present were charged £1 for the use of an ordinary bucket on every occasion.

Noble Lords will also realise that such assemblies are fertile ground for drug pushers. I do not say that they are staged in order to promote the pushing of illegal drugs; indeed, I understand that some such meetings are drug free. But at others if the police arrive, those in possession of drugs drop them on the floor at once, as is their normal practice, and the cocktail which can be swept up from the floor could be enough to wipe out a battalion.

I think that your Lordships will agree that that is a danger to which young people should not be unnecessarily exposed. I also hope that noble Lords will agree that they should not be exposed to being roasted or suffocated to death in the event of a fire. In fact, it may be felt that there ought to be legislation to prevent such incidents occurring and to secure that massive entertainments such as these are held only with notice and approval given and under proper supervision. Why, one may wonder, have we not legislated for this already, given that these parties have been in the public notice since at least last summer? Of course the legislation already exists; the appropriate requirements are already there. However, at present the promoters and the organisers can snap their fingers at them because, though the powers suffice, the penalties when compared with the rewards are derisory. I say that existing powers suffice because I understand that Her Majesty's Government have kept in touch with the police on the subject and that they do not at present seek to acquire any further powers.

I turn now to deal with the Bill itself. It will perhaps help your Lordships if I put the proposals in the legislation into the context of the existing framework of entertainment licensing law. As is often the case, the simple objective is rendered difficult by the circumstances under which it is undertaken. The situation differs slightly as between different parts of the United Kingdom and I shall start with England and Wales.

Under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, or, in Greater London, the London Government Act 1963, responsibility for the licensing of premises which are used for public dancing, music and similar public entertainments is vested in the local authority, the district or London borough council, in which the premises are situated. The public entertainment licensing law applies automatically to events held indoors throughout England and Wales and also to those held out of doors in Greater London. Outside Greater London it applies only to outdoor musical events which are held on private land, and then only if the local authority concerned has taken the necessary steps to adopt the relevant provisions in the 1982 Act. Licences are required for the provision of either live or recorded music.

Whether an event is a public one or not is ultimately a matter for the courts to decide in the light of the particular circumstances of each individual case. Broadly speaking, however, the question turns on whether any member of the public, on paying for admission, if that is required, could attend the entertainment. Although the organisers of acid-house parties have vigorously argued to the contrary, it seems fairly clear that many such events for which there is what amounts to an admission charge, which large numbers of people attend and at which there is music for them to dance to would require to be licensed under the public entertainment licensing law.

In general, the law in England and Wales does not seek to control private music and dancing entertainments in the same way as it does public ones. There is, however, an exception. The Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967 enables all local authorities to take powers to require the licensing of private events involving music or dancing which are promoted for private gain on a basis which is broadly comparable to the licensing of public entertainments. Thus, if it were to be held in a particular case that a particular acid-house party was private and not public entertainment, then because of the high profits the organisers freely admit to making from such events it could still be required to be licensed under the 1967 Act, provided of course that the local authority concerned had already adopted its provisions. I understand that authorities are inclined to do that.

In Scotland there is no equivalent to the 1967 Act, but public music and dancing entertainments there are licensed on generally the same basis as those in England and Wales, under the provisions of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. The general purpose of that licensing system is to ensure that places which are used for music and dancing entertainments have adequate standards of safety and hygiene and that any possible nuisance to the local community is kept to a minimum. Therefore, when considering applications for the grant of an entertainment licence, the licensing authority has regard to the views of the police and the fire authorities to whom advance notice of the application must be given.

The licensing authority has a wide discretion over whether to grant entertainment licences and may when granting such a licence attach to it a wide range of terms, conditions and restrictions. The law makes due provision for applicants aggrieved by a local authority's decision to refuse to grant a licence or by any particular terms and conditions that have been inserted into the licence to appeal to the local magistrates and subsequently to the Crown Court. It is an offence under the 1982 Act to provide and in certain circumstances to allow premises to be used for music and dancing as a public entertainment unless a licence has first been obtained from the relevant licensing authority. If the local authority has adopted the 1967 Act, however, making those provisions for private entertainment for private gain is also an offence.

The penalties for those offences against the entertainment licensing laws vary in detail according to each Act. That brings us to the meat of our business. The offences of holding an unlicensed entertainment or breaching the terms or conditions of a licence under the 1982 Act, for example, are punishable on summary conviction with a fine of up to £2,000. I remind your Lordships in that context that the tickets cost £30 each and the numbers involved can be as high as 10,000. The same maximum fines apply to similar offences comitted in Greater London, but under the London Government Act 1963 offenders may also be sent to prison for up to three months instead of or in addition to the fine. The maximum penalty for breaches of the 1967 Act is a fine of up to £1,000 or up to three months' imprisonment, or both. The maximum penalty for holding an unlicensed public entertainment in Scotland is a fine of £1,000, but breaching the conditions of an entertainment licence attracts a fine of up to £400 only.

All those maximum penalties are now so relatively light in comparison to the huge profits that certain unscrupulous people have recently begun to make that they no longer provide an effective deterrent to breaking the law. The organisers of illegal acid-house parties and those who assist them can easily afford to ignore the law. It has therefore become necessary, as a matter of urgency, to bring those events under effective licensing control and to ensure that people tempted to organise them in the expectation of realising huge profits are deterred from continuing to operate outside the law.

The Bill will enable the summary courts in England and Wales and in Scotland to impose fines of up to £20,000 or sentences of up to six months' imprisonment on people convicted of holding unlicensed music and dancing entertainments or using a place for which an entertainment licence is in force in contravention of any term or condition which limits the number of people who may be present at the entertainment. The penalties for other offences under the Acts which the Bill seeks to amend remain unchanged.

Clause 1 amends the provisions in three Acts (the London Government Act 1963, the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982) which have effect in England and Wales or may be adopted by local authorities there for the licensing of music and dancing entertainments. Clause 1 prescribes a new maximum penalty on summary conviction of a fine of £20,000 or six months' imprisonment, or both, for offences under any of the provisions which concern the use of a place for such an entertainment in respect of which no licence is in force. The new maximum penalty will apply also to offences under those Acts concerning the use of a licensed place for such an entertainment in contravention of any term, condition or restriction of the licence which limits the number of people who may be present at the entertainment. The penalties for other offences in the 1963, 1967 and 1982 Acts remain, as I said, unchanged.

There is only one other clause in the Bill. Its description is shorter. It amends the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, which enables local authorities to impose a licensing requirement on inter alia any person proposing to provide public entertainment. At present, the 1982 Act provides relatively modest penalties for engaging in such activities without a licence or for a breach of licence conditions. That clause seeks to modify the existing penalties in Section 7(1) and (2) of the 1982 Act by applying the new higher penalties in respect of public entertainment licences granted under Section 41 of the 1982 Act.

It was originally the sponsors' intention that the increased penalties provided for in the Bill should extend to all breaches of the terms and conditions of an entertainment licence. However, following concern expressed in another place that to do so might lay the organisers of legitimate licensed events open to penalties which were much too severe, including the threat of imprisonment, for what might be relatively trivial breaches of the licence conditions, the compromise arrangement now evident in the Bill was agreed. I believe that some of your Lordships are aware of those proceedings. It will still enable the enhanced penalties provided for to be imposed when more people are allowed to attend an event than is stipulated on the licence. I revert to my illustration of large numbers of people in constrained spaces and the danger that that constitutes. That is the greatest temptation of course to the organisers when possible breaches of licensing conditions are contemplated, as it is the one that offers the organiser the best chance of making more money.

Breach of a condition relating to noise will not now render a licence holder liable to the increased penalties in the Bill. That may seem a pity but noise nuisance can already be dealt with under the Control of Pollution Act 1974. Any of your Lordships who may be concerned about that omission should be aware that the Department of the Environment is at present undertaking a thorough review of that and other legislation relating to noise nuisance. I have no intention of extending those provisions in the Bill.

I should perhaps conclude by saying that the Home Secretary has announced that he intends to make an order using powers given to him in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to give magistrates in England and Wales the power to order the confiscation of profits, where they exceed £10,000, of those convicted of the offences that I have listed. Together with that order, the provisions of the Bill will, I am sure, go a long way towards protecting young people from unacceptable risks and peaceful citizens from unacceptable disturbance caused by unlicensed events.

The Bill does not seek to ban all large public musical events as such or to prevent any legitimate entertainment; it does not create any new powers or offences; it merely brings the penalties up to date. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Elton.)

8.48 p.m.

Lord Cobbold

My Lords, before turning to the substance of the Bill I should perhaps declare what is, I suppose, an interest in its outcome, in that I am the holder of an annual music and dancing licence for 15,000 people in respect of Knebworth Park, which own, and I am also the holder of a special variation to that licence for a maximum of 120,000 people to cover an open-air charity rock concert due to take place at Knebworth Park at the end of next week which will probably be the largest musical event to take place in Europe this summer.

The objective of the Bill, as has been clearly stated by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is to deter the holding of so-called pay parties, acid-house parties or raves, as they are commonly known, without a licence. It also covers, as the noble Lord has told us, certain other musical events and entertainments of a public nature. It is not about drug abuse, as he said, and it is not about noise pollution, both of which are covered by other Acts of Parliament.

It is the pay parties or acid-house parties which have been very much in the news that have given rise to the legislation. These parties have increasingly attracted the cowboy and criminal element who cut costs by ignoring the basic principles of safety and organisation, elbowing aside legitimate promoters who take the trouble to obtain a licence. Bona fide promoters have a professional interest in providing proper facilities for the safety and welfare of those attending and in minimising the inconvenience caused to those living in the vicinity of an event. They will wish to obtain another licence in the future.

When first proposed in another place, the Bill caused great concern to legitimate concert promoters and licence-holders because it sought to apply the same increased penalties to those who obtained a licence as well as to the cowboy operators who did not. Happily, the sponsors of the Bill took note of these concerns and therefore I am able to support the amended Bill now before your Lordships. The Bill has I understand, also now received the support of the Concert Promoters' Association. The proposed increased penalties now apply, with one exception, only to the use of a place for entertainment in respect of which no licence is in force. For those who take the trouble to obtain a licence, the proposed new increased penalties apply only in respect of an infringement of a condition which imposes a limit on the number of persons who may be present at the entertainment.

The purposes of this, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has explained, is to deter an unscrupulous promoter from obtaining a licence for, say, 5,000 people and then selling 10,000 tickets or more which would generate more than enough cash to pay the fine subsequently imposed. This is a condition which legitimate promoters can accept and which can in normal circumstances be controlled.

There is, however, one technical point that I should like to raise. The wording of subsection (3A)(b) in Clause 1 relating to the infringement of a limit on maximum numbers under an existing licence is prima facie somewhat ambiguous in that it might be interpreted to mean that in the event of an infringement of a condition imposing a limit on the number of persons attending being broken, any infringement of any other condition of the licence would also attract the proposed increased penalties.

I understand that discussions have taken place on this point between representatives of the Concert Promoters' Association and officials at the Home Office and that the Home Office is of the opinion that no such ambiguity exists and that the new proposed penalties would apply exclusively to the question of maximum numbers. However, I would welcome the Minister's assurance on this point.

I close by making a few general points. In passing legislation of this kind we must be careful to avoid creating a Catch-22 situation: "I can't hold a party without a licence, but they won't give me a licence". The licensing procedure is lengthy and tortuous. My licence in respect of the Knebworth event next week runs to six pages and 60 conditions. The licence is not easy to obtain. In the case of pay parties in particular, local authorities and police forces, although required to be fair, often entertain negative prejudices and can easily find reasons to object.

The costs involved in meeting the conditions imposed by a licence are considerable. The police naturally set the level of police presence which they believe to be necessary for the event in question. The promotor has to pay the bill and there are no real procedures in this sense for arbitration in the event of disagreement. In the case of the Knebworth concert next week—admittedly a very large event —your Lordships may be interested to know that the police bill is £64,000.

Rock concerts were considered to be a bit way out when we started them in the early 1970s. Now they are sedate affairs, with corporate hospitality tents like Wimbledon. Fashions change. I am sure that many of your Lordships can remember the fun of all-night parties, breakfast perhaps in Grantchester or watching the sun rise over the Serpentine. We owe it to the young not to make it impossible for them to enjoy themselves, even if at times it involves a bit of cat-and-mouse activity with the authorities and some disturbance to neighbours.

The demand for pay parties is obviously great and is unlikely to go away as a result of this legislation. If therefore local authorities refuse to grant licences, it will only encourage the cowboy and criminal element to fill the demand. In supporting the Bill, I urge the Minister to encourage local authorities and police forces to identify sites in their areas which are suitable for properly licensed functions and where young people can enjoy themselves as they wish in safety and with minimum disturbance to local inhabitants.

8.55 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has introduced the Bill with his usual clarity and fluency. I do not imagine that he expects me to welcome it with open arms —if so, his assumptions are correct —even though I freely acknowledge that the Bill does not create a new offence, which is certainly a refreshing change, and even though I acknowledge that many of the problems which he has outlined are real. However I believe that they can be dealt with by other methods.

The Bill is essentially aimed at protecting both young people and those members of the public upon whom those young people may suddenly descend. Both are admirable aims. However, we must remember two points about young people. First, they tend to go in for transient enthusiasms and crazes. Secondly, they enjoy and always have enjoyed shocking the older generation.

In the ordinary way, the so-called acid-house craze might have died the same natural death as hula-hoops did a generation or so ago. However, because the tabloid press hyped the whole business to such an extent —to use jargon appropriate to the problem —the older generation has overreacted. By this, I do not mean those members of the older generation directly affected by these parties, who have every right to object. I mean the older generation who merely read about it in their papers. The spectacle of people holding up their hands in horror, with their eyes bulging and their hair standing on end like characters out of a Bateman cartoon, is an irresistible incentive for younger people to maintain their enthusiasm for these parties, which in the normal way might have waned.

What are the problems that we face? Drugs? As we have heard, these are only a factor in a small number of such parties. We already have tough laws to cope with drugs. Drink? No, because alcohol is always banned at such parties. Litter? Yes, certainly, but existing litter laws are strong enough if only magistrates would make use of them instead of imposing the derisory fines they normally do. Noise? Yes. Here perhaps the law is deficient: I should be happy to support any law tightening up the penalties for creating the noise that causes great nuisance and distress to other people. Cars parked dangerously on the verges? Yes, again that may be so in some cases, but we also have laws to deal with them. Fire? Yes, if the parties are held indoors. Here again, I imagine that existing laws are adequate if they are properly applied.

With the sole exception of noise, where existing legislation may well be deficient, all the nuisances and dangers arising from these parties seem to be remediable by existing legislation and existing penalties. However, as someone is bound to point out, what about entertainment licences? Yes, indeed, entertainment licences. These licences have always seemed to me a peculiarly British concept, Victorian in origin, no doubt, but with Cromwellian undertones, based on the supposition that public entertainment is something basically rather immoral which ought to be regarded with the greatest suspicion and should be severely rationed. Where permitted, it should be closely supervised by the powers that be.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, has just given us an example of the tremendous problems he faces in obtaining a licence for his extremely well-run functions. Many people both here and outside the House object to the enormous profits being made by the promoters of these parties. However, one only obtains enormous profits where the law of supply and demand is interfered with by governmental or other outside agencies. This assumes that the supply is elastic, and in the case of entertainment it most certainly is. If the supply were allowed to come into balance with the demand, the massive profits would shrink very rapidly.

As I said at the outset, where parties are held indoors a fire risk is undoubtedly always present. It is only right that indoor entertainments should be supervised for that reason. However, such a consideration does not apply to parties or gatherings held out of doors. If acid-house parties, pop festivals and other such gatherings are to be so controlled, why should political gatherings not be similarly controlled? After all, at the latter gatherings the threat of violence is far more ever-present.

It was extraordinary to hear a police chief criticising the organisers of such a party for holding it near a river or a canal on the grounds that someone might have fallen in. One might just as well try to ban Henley for the same reason, particularly as Henley, unlike the so-called acid-house parties, is far from being a teetotal occasion. I cannot greet the Bill with enormous enthusiasm but I am realistic enough to acknowledge that in the present paternalistic and somewhat puritanical climate in which we live my reservations are unlikely to count for very much.

9.3 p.m.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth

My Lords, I support this Bill wholeheartedly. I congratulate my noble friend on introducing it. I also commend all he has said in doing so. He spoke a great deal about the dangers for young people of modern so-called acid-house parties and similar gatherings. He also spoke a good deal about public entertainment licensing and the legal framework which exists under that heading.

I speak in my capacity as chairman of the National Noise Council. I wish to speak particularly about the noise that is caused by such gatherings as those known as acid-house parties, pop concerts and the like. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, talked about licensed parties being essential and desirable. I agree with that. He suggested that parties which make an enormous amount of noise —the legal parties make an enormous amount of noise too —are all right provided they are held in the right place. I hope there are such places for such parties. As my noble friend said in moving his Bill, the average acid-house party can be heard five miles away.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, said that the younger generation had always made a lot of noise and the older generation had always had to tolerate the younger generation to some degree. However, in my young days I do not remember any party taking place which could be heard five miles away. I am a great lover of Henley. I agree that there is a lot of alcoholic entertainment at that event each year, part of which I enjoy myself. However, I believe it is unlikely that any noise from Royal Henley, in my considerable experience of it, could be heard over half a mile away. I consider that these modern parties represent an enormous noise problem.

As regards the general problem of noise, as my noble friend quite rightly said, the noise review working party of the Department of the Environment is presently sitting. The findings and recommendations of that committee will feature in the Government's environmental White Paper which is to be published in the autumn. Noise has always been a problem. We all accept that. However, it is in my submission as chairman of the National Noise Council more of a problem today. We have amplified music and that is the worst problem of all. Singing is performed at a louder tone that I can ever remember in my youth. It appears that there are those in society who have to make a noise to emphasise somehow or other their failure to succeed in life. They inflict their loud noise on those who are more successful.

There are many aspects of the noise problem. I wholly support the provisions of the Bill in that the control of such gatherings as acid-house parties through increased penalties —I wholly agree with that —and increased powers for environmental health officers would be very much in the public interest. As regards the control of these parties and similar gatherings, I suggest, with my noble friend, that control is urgently needed. This is a public problem of considerable magnitude. I and the council over which I preside believe that the creation of a serious noise nuisance should become a criminal offence. I also agree that current penalties for noise conviction are inadequate. They should be increased in line with those suggested in the Bill. Local government control of such gatherings and of the noise that they emit should be greatly strengthened.

In moving this Bill my noble friend talked of the present powers for the control of noise. He mentioned the Control of Pollution Act under which such control as we have over noise is exercised at this time. I should remind noble Lords that under the previsions of that Act a local authority must be satisfied that a nuisance is to occur before serving a notice or seeking an injunction to prevent it. Before any action can be taken by a local authority, there must be identification of the persons who are to be involved in the creation of the nuisance. We have been told tonight that there are cowboy organisers of acid-house parties and similar gatherings. What easy hurdles those two requirements are for the cowboys to jump. These and other substantial restrictions heavily limit at this time control of the enormous public nuisance which large gatherings involving loud music present.

The provisions in the Bill are highly commendable and the National Noise Council welcomes them. I shall end on the broader principle of the issue of noise and public responsibility with regard to noise control. I speak from a sense of great suffering at this time. I have two homes, one in the peace and quiet of the countryside of Northumberland and one in Westminster. My flat in Westminster was until very recently as peaceful as my home in Northumberland. Unfortunately, a local authority block of flats has been opened and from about five o'clock in the evening until eleven o'clock each night and all weekend a certain number of children make an amazing amount of noise. It occurs to me that acid-house parties and pop concerts have a time limit placed on them but the children in the courtyard below the flat where I live provide a continuous performance.

The current problems of noise in this country are considerable. I welcome the Bill and wholly support it in that it approaches substantially a very real problem.

9.8 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, not only for bringing forward the Bill but also for his very clear explanation of what it means. I was glad that he gave the reasons for the need for this legislation, making it clear that his wish was not to prevent entertainment but to meet the concern which I am sure that we all share.

That concern is very clear: the promoters of acid-house parties permit dangerous and unsafe conditions while they themselves make vast sums of money. Although none of the speakers this evening has first-hand knowledge of such parties, I have been given detailed descriptions by young people who have had first-hand experience of them. From those descriptions it is clear how very clever those non-professional promoters are. They recognised that there would be great demand from young people for such entertainment. One reason, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, is that it is very difficult to obtain a licence, and licences impose restrictions relating to the termination of the party and so on. Therefore, such an idea would be very attractive to young people.

Such parties are also attractive to young people because of the glamour associated with them; they are secret events. Young people must regard acid-house parties as the place to go, and see them in a favourable light because they appear to be anti-establishment. I cannot think of any more enticing reason for young people to attend a party.

The organisers clearly have a very clever system of operation. The membership is given a telephone number which they must ring in the evening, as late as 10 o'clock, to find out the venue. Entrance tickets are sold in advance so that there is no exchange of money at the event itself. For their tickets, which as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, can cost as much as £30, members will get music, soft drinks and the venue itself. There will be no sale of alcohol and no money will change hands. Only members will attend. That is the justification for not requiring licences.

The noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Monson, gave reasons for concern about acid-house parties. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, was less concerned about those defects in that he felt that other legislation could cover everything except perhaps the fire risks within the buildings concerned.

Lord Monson

Fire and noise.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

Often the organisers and their responsibilities are unknown to anybody. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, very dangerous and unsuitable buildings are used. Large profits are made but they are not used for security, providing toilet facilities or for the general safety of the audience. There seems little doubt that there is a drug culture at the centre of such acid-house parties and a considerable amount of peddling of drugs takes place. As the noble Lord also said, there has been violence at the events which has often been caused by the security guards hired to protect the promoters.

I also find it worrying that the police, in their attempts to prevent the gatherings taking place at all, have been placed in the position of acting in an irregular manner. For example, they have set up road blocks to prevent people getting to the event and I understand that there have been occasions when they have sealed off motorway service stations. That is a very unsatisfactory situation, but it has been the only way in which the police have been able to deal with the problem.

The noble Lord, Lord Elliott, focused most of his remarks on the subject of noise, and I do not think that there is anybody in this House who would not agree with him. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, this Bill is not going to be able to relate to that particular problem. From my knowledge, the noble Lord's Bill has attracted a great deal of support not only in the other place but also from the Institution of Environmental Health Officers and the Association of District Councils, which have spoken out srongly in favour of these measures. It is also a fact that the Bill —and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said so, as has the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold —was much improved from its original form during its passage through the other place.

The was a serious concern about the original proposal by the sponsor, Mr. Graham Bright, that there was a real risk that the provision of the Bill might well penalise many innocent licence holders who were conducting their affairs in a perfectly legal way. However, at Report stage the sponsor of the Bill and my honourable friend in another place, Mr. Stuart Randall, came to an agreement to amend the Bill. The result of this amendment is, as the noble Lord said, that licence holders would only be charged increased penalties for any breach of the attendance limit imposed as a condition of the licence. This of course is the best way of trying to prevent the satisfaction of greed by allowing far too many people to come to these parties.

Although I was relieved and reassured by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, who said that he had no more anxieties at all, I still felt from my not so experienced understanding of this Bill a slight concern about organisers such as, say, those of the Glastonbury Festival who find out that the limit of 75,000 people for whom they have a licence is in fact exceeded. Perhaps it is a beautiful day and more than 75,000 people come to the festival, but the organisers could not have anticipated in any way that this would happen. I should be grateful for an assurance from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that the organisers would not be liable for the increased fine for exceeding the limit mentioned in their licence when they themselves could not possibly have foreseen it. I also look forward to an answer to the more specific question that the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, asked.

Perhaps I may end by saying that we on these Benches certainly support these measures. We feel that they will go some way—perhaps a long way —towards curbing what are clearly insecure, dangerous and in many ways unsavoury events. I was not at all sure that I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Monson, when he said that he felt that they might be transient, because knowing the amount of money that is being made at these acid-house parties it seems unlikely that the promoters will give them up and that young people will suddenly no longer want to go to them. I feel that certain measures are necessary, I am happy to welcome them, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to answer my one concern.

9.18 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the House may find it helpful if I intervene at this stage to explain that the Government fully support this Bill. Before doing so, however, I must first thank my noble friend Lord Elton for the informative and helpful explanation he has given of exactly what this Bill seeks to do, and why it is so necessary that it should get on to the statute book as a matter of urgency.

Illegal acid-house parties, a phenomenon that has developed over the last 18 months to two years, pose considerable dangers to the safety of the young people who attend them. I think that that is the concern of all of us. They also cause enormous problems in terms of noise, traffic congestion and other general disturbance for the residents of the areas selected by the organisers for their events, and for those living further afield who may be kept awake by the very loud noise emanating from these parties. And they place considerable burdens on the police and local authorities who are responsible for dealing with the many breaches of the criminal law, the entertainment licensing law and the law on noise pollution which inevitably seem to occur on such occasions.

My noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth is, as he informed us, the Chairman of the National Noise Council, and he drew our attention to this in some detail. I can tell my noble friend that on 5th October 1989 my honourable friend Mrs. Bottomley announced an urgent Department of the Environment review of existing best practices by local authorities in tackling noise nuisances at acid-house parties, with particular emphasis being placed on whether local authorities view the present powers under the Act as adequate. There is, moreover, evidence of the growing involvement of serious criminal elements in the organisation of such events, attracted by the opportunity they afford both for making lots of money and for peddling drugs.

It has fallen, in the main, to the police and the local authorities to take what action they can under the existing law, and there are a number of different provisions that they have been able to employ in this context against illegal acid-house parties. The police themselves already have adequate powers to deal with any criminal offences which might occur, be they concerned with, say, the misuse of drugs or threats to public order. They also have very wide powers under the common law to prevent breaches of the peace and public nuisance. The Government very much welcome the vigorous action taken by police forces in different parts of the country to tackle the problems caused by these events. We consulted the police in the usual way before reaching any conclusions on what further action needed to be taken to bring these parties under control, and we have kept in touch with them since, as this Bill has made progress through another place. They did not, at the outset, consider that they needed any additional powers to deal with these parties, and I can tell your Lordships that that remains their view. The Government accept that. Should the police come to take a different view, in the light of developments in the future or decisions in cases that have yet to come to court, we shall give the fullest consideration to any arguments for change that they put forward.

The police and local authorities have had some success in preventing a number of illegal acid-house parties from getting started. Where this has not proved possible, the police have done what they can to ensure the safety of those attending the event and to minimise the nuisance caused in the immediate neighbourhood and beyond. However, as my noble friend pointed out, those are essentially the objectives of the existing entertainment laws. The problem is that the penalties for offences against those laws are now so comparatively light when compared with the huge profits that can be made by promoting illegal, unlicensed parties that they no longer provide an effective deterrent against breaking the law. The organisers of these events, and their assistants and associates, can happily afford to ignore the entertainment licensing laws totally when setting them up. It is necessary, as a matter of urgency, that the penalties for the relevant offences against those laws should be increased substantially, as my noble friend's Bill proposes, so that these events are brought under proper licensing control and the organisers and others involved with them are deterred from continuing to operate outside the law.

My noble friend's Bill forms an important element in a package of measures to be taken to secure that objective. As he said, he has the support of the police and the local authorities in his endeavours, as well as that of the Government. The anxieties expressed in another place that the provisions in the Bill might hit bona fide organisers of legitimate, licensed events in a harsh and unjustified manner have, we believe, been met by the amendments that were made to it there.

I can give the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, an assurance that the contravention of some term, condition or restriction of a licence which does not impose a limit on the number of people at an entertainment does not attract the increased penalties provided by the Bill. It is only under the legislation in force in London (Schedule 12 to the London Government Act 1963, which is amended in Clause 1(1) of the Bill) that the contravention of each term, condition or restriction of a licence is a separate offence. In that case the Bill provides for the increased penalty to apply only to a term which imposes a limit on numbers.

Under the other enactments amended by Clause 1 of the Bill the offence consists of a contravention of the terms, conditions or restrictions generally. Here, the increased penalties apply only where the terms, conditions or restrictions are contravened, including the limit on numbers.

I should perhaps close by saying something about the other measures that are to be taken, in addition to this Bill, to tackle the problems arising from illegal acid-house parties. The Home Secretary has already announced that he intends, once the Bill becomes law, to use the powers given to him under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to make an order giving magistrates in England and Wales the power to order the confiscation of the profits, where those exceed£10,000—which is the lower limit laid down in that Act —from those convicted of the offences to which it applies. Your Lordships will be aware that this Bill extends to Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland has considered whether to make provision for a similar confiscation power to apply there. However, he has concluded that it would be premature to do so before he receives the report from the Scottish Law Commission on the question of a general power to order the confiscation of the proceeds of crime he expects later this year.

Taken together, the measures in this Bill and the introduction of a power to confiscate the profits of those convicted of the offences against the entertainment licensing laws should go a long way towards reducing the risk to the safety of young people and the unacceptable degree of disturbance to whole communities caused by the recent proliferation of illegal acid-house parties. It is not sought to ban all such events outright. But they need, as a matter of urgency, to be brought within the framework of existing controls. The way to do that is, in our view, effectively to deter the organisers from continuing to operate outside the law by threatening to hit their pockets very hard, and perhaps by sending them to prison. My noble friend's Bill therefore has the full support of the Government.

9.26 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I most grateful to the Minister for that forthright support, and for the emphasis that he gave to my principal concern on moving the Second Reading: the safety of the young people concerned. I recognise the very geat inconvenience and sometimes suffering endured by those in the locality. However, I sought to make it clear that the principal intention of the Bill is to limit the danger and that the matter of inconvenience —which is very largely one of noise—is the subject of a separate initiative by the Government in which I do not doubt that my noble friend Lord Elliott will have a very close and effective interest, and receive much sympathy from myself and others.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, gave his support in principle for the Bill, which I warmly welcome. It comes from one who has revealed an expertise on a grand scale. I expect to see his name in the Guinness Book of Records any day now if his event is the success that we all hope it will be. I hope that it will not attract hostility from the neighbours for any good reason.

Because of the fear that it might attract some local hostility, some noble Lords may not be too dismayed by his revelation that it is not very easy to obtain a licence to give entertainments for many thousands of people, generating a good deal of noise and traffic.

I am grateful to my noble friend for answering in terms the specific question of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. I do not need to repeat the reply.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to the media hype which accompanies every new phenomenon: in particular, that affecting the young. I certainly accept that that happens. However, I hasten to assure the noble Lord that not a single example was taken from the media. My evidence came from eye witnesses and the police, except for one example that was given by a Member of another place.

I shall read the remainder of his speech with great care. If I may paraphrase, the central theme seems to have been that there are sufficient powers already, and that the Bill is therefore superfluous. I remind the noble Lord that there is not a single new power in the Bill. I began by referring to the existing powers and said that there was no intention to add to them. Nor is it intended to add new offences. That might also offend the noble Lord, who might feel that I was part of nanny state. Having sat on the Front Bench for some years, I am notably not that. However, I am a member of society who believes that when the young and naive are tempted by the excitement of attending a large illicit and secret event, they should not be exposed to the danger of being roasted or suffocated to death. Secondly, they should not be subject to the other dangers attendant on such large congregations in unsupervised cicumstances, or with supervision by those not interested in the welfare of the "punters", as they are called. Thirdly, inconvenience and obstruction should not be caused to emergency service vehicles.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will regard the Bill merely as doing what it is intended to do. That is, to raise penalties in order to keep them in step with changing circumstances. He may then feel a little less hostile towards it than he appeared to be when he spoke. His resignation towards being ineffectual in amending the Bill may change to satisfaction when allowing it to go forward

Lord Monson

My Lords, when the noble Lord reads my speech in Hansard, he will see that it was not as hostile to the Bill as he imagined. Nor do I dissent from some of the remarks that he has now made. I acknowledged the fact that the Bill does not create any new offences and I praised it for that reason.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. When I am fathering a Bill, I find myself if not like a tiger with her cubs, at least like a hen with her chickens. Therefore, I am unusually defensive and fierce when perhaps that is unnecessary.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Elliott for his support. I recognise that he would gladly go a great deal further than the Bill provides. He will understand that we wish quickly to put legislation on the statute book. The earlier intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggested that the best way of achieving that is to be content with what we now have in hand. I look forward to receiving his support in that respect.

I welcome the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. In particular, I welcome her recognition of the intense difficulties faced by the police, who nevertheless propose no new powers at present. She mentioned the support of the Association of District Councils. That is most welcome because the councils will principally be concerned with the provisions.

The noble Baroness asked what would happen if the legitimate organiser of a proper event found that, because it was a lovely day, many more people attended than were expected or for which the event was licensed, and that there was no means of keeping the people out. I cannot answer for the courts in such a case. It would depend on the circumstances. First, the local authority must consider whether there should be a prosecution for a breach. If it were minded to be unreasonable, it would need to recall that it is a defence for someone charged with such a breach of condition to say that he took all due diligence to avoid committing the offence. If the breach is involuntary, a licence holder may escape prosecution or the severest penalties. I cannot speak for the courts, but I can say that there is a good defence of reasonableness. One would expect the licensing authority to be reasonable, and the applicant for the licence to have an estimate of what the most jubilantly successful event might produce. I thank noble Lords for their attention, patience and diligence.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.