clubs under attack
more crap legislation on the way
"Clubs, parties and festivals are the few areas in our culture we can express freely out creativity, where barriers of race, class, tribe, sexuality are transcended. Yet this freedom of expression continues to be squashed." SchNEWS
Dance Until Dawn Guidelines
Barry Legg's Private Members Bill
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The rave scene has been under attack in the UK ever since the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act in 1994, which criminalised people organising or attending unlicensed free outdoor festivals, characterised by a 'marked succession of repetitive beats'. The result of this legislation was to force people into legal clubs whilst at the same time creating a vibrant underground party and illegal festival scene.
Now it seems the focus is shifting to the supposed cataclysmic consequences on society of the use of ecstasy at clubs. With an election looming, there's much political mileage to be made from clambering up on the moral high ground, playing on the fears of ill-informed parents and making the streets safe for 'our kids'.
In a campaign designed to terrify teenagers from using ecstasy, the tragic death of Leah Betts has been used to symbolise the dire consequences of ecstasy, and held up as a warning to all those who are considering trying the drug.
As a result of the ensuing tabloid-led moral panic and opportunistic politicians, there are currently two separate sets of government proposals currently working their way through the parliamentary process.
The first is a paper entitled "Dance until Dawn - Safely" released by the Home Office. This is a set of guidelines and recommendations for local authorities when granting public entertainment licences. With input from respected organisations like Release, Lifeline, the Scottish Drugs Forum and Megadog, there are some sensible points contained within the paper, like the provision of free drinking water, good ventilation and chill-out areas. However, some of the other guidelines are so ill thought out that they make the rest unworkable. These include the provision of increasingly stringent searches, anti-drug notices, stricter security, exclusion of convicted offenders, installation of CCTC cameras, and some truly bizarre 'crowd calming' measures.
The first idea - which was laughed out of the paper - was that there should be intervals of silence during the evening so that dancers could calm down and not get 'over excited'. This was amended so that DJs will be legally bound to ' quieten things down' if people start whipping themselves into too much of a techno-frenzy. How this ludicrous law could be policed defies the imagination, but you'll know if there's police in the house when a soothing Perry Como tune follows the Chemical Brothers.
The second proposal is a Private Members Bill by Conservative MP Barry Legg, publicly launched with Leah Bett's parents by his side. Entitled the Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill, this has already received its second reading with no opposition and is likely to become law in March. This will provide councils with the power to shut down clubs immediately if the police merely suspect drug taking or dealing. At present, clubs can stay open pending appeal, but this new legislation will permit instant closure of clubs on the merest suspicion of wrongdoing - justified or not. As Legg states: "my bill will allow local authorities to clamp down on clubs that are involved in encouraging the use and dealing of controlled drugs."
When asked how his measures complement the draft Home Office (Action Against Drugs Unit) guidelines for local councils on the safety of young people at dance clubs, Legg replied: "By giving local councils the discretion to impose immediate sanctions against clubs, the Bill will help to ensure that their guidelines are met by clubs."
And it's not just Legg who has decided to go into overdrive on the drugs issue. During the debate on the bill, David Evans PM (Welwyn Hatfield) went completely over the top with this quite incredible outburst:
"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?"
A rousing speech indeed - but one can't help but wonder why he seems so concerned about the fifty 'E' related deaths that have occurred in the past decade, when 110,000 people die every year from tobacco related illnesses and 30,000 die every year from alcohol abuse?
Like a lot of election-led, knee-jerk legislation, there are a host of inherent contradictions and problems in the implementation of both Legg's Bill and the home office guidelines.
For instance, it would surely make safety conscious organisers fearful of having drug information stalls at events, as this could easily be construed that they are aware of 'drug misuse' and could face immediate closure. Or what's to stop unscrupulous promoters 'snitching' on rival clubs? Or even the police eventually becoming the arbiters of which clubs can stay open or not?
It would also inevitably affect free festivals like the Hackney Homeless and the Deptford Urban Free who would now have to find extra resources to comply with the new licence requirements. Already, the traditionally trouble-free Brighton Freedom Festival has fallen victim to the new guidelines after the council demanded that closed circuit cameras and a large police presence would have to be provided.
This also sends out shockwaves to smaller clubs who might now have to finance extra security measures to comply with this new legislation - the cost of which will naturally have to be recouped from you, the punters.
Of course, it's obvious from those within the scene that these measures will do absolutely nothing to stop people taking drugs and will simply drive the scene even further underground, with all the inherent increased safety risks. It's evidently clear that people do not respond to endlessly regurgitated scare-mongering headlines about the 'evils of ecstasy', and a policy of information and education would be far more useful in preventing further deaths.
Ecstasy is not without risk, but that risk should be taken in context. People should be made aware of the potential dangers with responsible information and let them decide accordingly.
Just like we all do with those far more dangerous drugs, tobacco and alcohol.
L A T E S T N E W S:
We'll keep you posted for developments.
NEWS ARCHIVE :
19 Mar 97 22:43 GMT S5460 By Andrew Evans, Lords Staff, PA News
Government concession secures club drugs crackdown bill
The Government tonight bowed to Liberal Democrat demands to water down plans to allow councils to close down night clubs where there is a serious drugs problem. It was the second Home Office concession to the party in less than 24 hours as ministers struggled to get their legislation through Parliament before prorogation on Friday.
Last night Home Secretary Michael Howard, faced with a Liberal Democrat threat to filibuster on his Crime (Sentences) Bill, conceded greater discretion to judges to set aside mandatory minimum sentences. Meanwhile, Lord Harris of Greenwich (Lib Dem) had threatened to try to block the passage of the Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill unless it was made fairer to club owners.
The Bill, which is being piloted through Parliament as a backbench measure, allows councils to close down clubs, without warning, if this would significantly help to deal with a serious drugs problem "at or near" the club.
But Liberal Democrat peers had protested this could mean clubs being closed as a result of drug peddling on land, such as public car parks, over which they had no control. Ministers had previously resisted this objection.
Tonight the Bill's sponsor, Tory Baroness Anelay of St Johns, and Home Office spokesman the Earl of Courtown conceded the Bill would only apply where the nearby place was "controlled by" the club's licenceholder. Lord Gladwyn of Clee, for Labour, commented: "In the interests of getting this Bill on the statute book, I reluctantly acquiesce." Lady Anelay added: "I appreciate I must be realistic. I accept these amendments as the way forward for this Bill." Lord Courtown said: "The Government wants to see this Bill make progress and hopes these amendments will be accepted."
Peers also accepted amendments from Lady Anelay requiring councils to observe Home Office guidance on how to use their new powers. She said this would meet the club trade's fears that some councils would be over-zealous.
The House approved other amendments from Lady Anelay to ensure that clubs that were closed down only temporarily were able to get back their late-night licences quickly.
Peers then passed the Bill, which now returns to the Commons for confirmation of Lords amendments in time for the Bill to receive Royal Assent before prorogation on Friday.
CLUBS DRUGS CRACKDOWN BACKED IN LORDS
PA 6 Feb 97 21:37 GMT S7879 By Andrew Evans, Lords Staff, PA News
New powers for councils to close nightclubs where drugs are peddled were backed tonight by the Lords. The Public Entertainments (Drug Misuse) Bill, which has already cleared the Commons with Government and cross-party support, gained an unopposed second reading from peers.
The Bill, sponsored in the Commons by Tory Barry Legg (Milton Keynes SW) and in the Lords by Tory Baroness Anelay of St Johns, responds to pledges made by Home Secretary Michael Howard at the Conservative Party conference.
It gives councils in England and Wales powers to close down nightclubs, without notice, where police have identified a "serious problem with controlled drugs". The council would have to be satisfied that closure would assist in dealing with the drug problem and would have to tell the club why. The club would have the right to appeal, but it would have to remain closed while the council -- or the courts -- were considering its appeal.
Lady Anelay told peers: "This Bill is designed to give local authorities the power to close down those clubs where the owners cannot or will not deal effectively with a serious problem of drug misuse on or near the premises."
Councils currently can revoke a club's public entertainments licence after a court conviction for breaching the licence conditions, and the club stays open during any appeal process. She said her measure "can help to prevent every parent's nightmare from becoming a reality".
Lord Meston QC, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "We fully support the principle of this Bill that those who assist or knowingly promote drug supply or use at licensed premises should, where necessary, be put out of business quickly and firmly." But, warning of problems in some of the details, he said: "The vagueness of the wording is likely to lead to a lot of room for argument and may well create inconsistency between different licensing areas."
The president of the Society for Individual Freedom, Lord Monson (Ind), stressed: "Everybody in this country, sympathetic or unsympathetic, deserves justice. " "There does seem to be a fear, justified or otherwise, that under this Bill people may no longer be presumed innocent until proved guilty." Tory former chief whip Viscount Ullswater, a director of Rank Leisure, pointing out that the Bill would not affect pubs, commented: "It might be seen to be stricter with the young than it is with the adult population." Also highlighting problems with the Bill's wording, he stressed the measure would need "careful scrutiny". A founder member of the all-party parliamentary drug misuse committee, Baroness Masham of Ilton (Ind), said: "I have some sympathy with the entertainments industry over some of their wishes to see the Bill amended."
She stressed: "It is important to make this Bill as workable as possible." Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for Labour, backed the Bill but called for early publication of Home Office codes of practice. He conceded the Bill had not received "proper scrutiny" in the Commons. The Earl of Courtown, for Home Office ministers, declared: "The Government fully supports this Bill. "We accept that the provisions in the Bill are tough, some would say Draconian, but that's precisely the intention." "It provides tough powers to deal with a very serious problem. Responsible local authorities trying to deal with the problem of drugs in clubs deserve our support." He told the House: "The Government's view is that this Bill closes a serious loophole and makes an important contribution towards protecting our young people from the menace of drug misuse." Responding to the debate, Lady Anelay expressed confidence that police and local authorities would interpret the Bill's provisions responsibly.
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Sources: SchNEWS 24.01.97/ Maxim 05/96/ House of Commons Hansard Debates for 17 Jan 1997 (pt 1) http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/ / "Dance till dawn - safely (A code of practice on health and safety at dance venues". is available from the London Drug Policy Forum 0171 332 3084 / 3484). Check out http://www.foobar.co.uk/users/ukcia/groups/clcia.html http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/tash_lodge/
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