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Criminal Justice (Raves)

Volume 472: debated on Wednesday 20 February 2008

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 powers in relation to illegal raves.

Last July, I had an Adjournment debate on illegal raves, in which I described how devastating raves can be for farmers, local residents and the surrounding environment and wildlife. I know that Members on both sides of the House have, like me, received heartfelt complaints from constituents about raves held in their area. This is not just about Norfolk; it is an issue that affects rural communities across the country. My constituents have told me about the appalling mess that those attending raves can leave, including syringes and other drug paraphernalia and even human excrement. Farmers have told me of terrified animals, unbearable noise levels for hour upon hour through the night, and the impact of the antisocial behaviour of rave attendees.

The Government have talked tough on antisocial behaviour, and we have seen the introduction of numerous initiatives designed to tackle antisocial behaviour on our streets and in our towns, but what about our rural communities? Farmers in the country have to endure hundreds of trespassers entering their land in convoys of 50 or more vehicles, rubbish strewn over their fields and drug use on their land. There is huge damage to the environment and property. The clean-up and repair costs reach into the thousands. That cannot be a fair way to treat people who are trying to make an honest living. The countryside is not a theme park, and its residents have every right to protection under the law.

I want to make it clear that I and other Members have not been raising this issue in such a persistent way in order to be killjoys, or to deny others pleasure and fun just for the sake of it. I am sure that those who attend these unlicensed events enjoy themselves enormously, but that enjoyment comes at a very high cost to those living in the area. This is not a victimless crime.

There are excellent venues for licensed live music events—High Lodge in Thetford forest, for example—where people can enjoy concerts that are properly and safely organised. Unlicensed music events have nothing to do with the altruistic values of young people. They are hugely profitable to the organisers, who employ a get-rich-quick formula that tramples on the rural economy. Costs are minimised, no tax is paid and there is no regard for anyone, or for anything but profit. Even if no charge is made for people attending a rave, money changes hands for drugs and alcohol. Rural communities must deal with the terrible repercussions, week in, week out. Last week, it was the village of Weeting in my constituency that suffered. This is simply not fair.

The problem lies in the inadequacy of current police powers. The police in Norfolk are working extremely hard to tackle raves. They are gathering intelligence on organisers, and collaborating with neighbouring forces in order to pool resources. However, the police are looking to the Government to allow them to be more proactive. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 gives the police powers to direct those preparing for a rave away from a site, and to remove any vehicles or property that they may have with them. These powers are not enough.

Despite the distress that an unlicensed music event might cause to local residents, or the damage that it might do in rural areas, the existing definition of a “gathering” stands in the way of appropriate policing in rural areas. The law seems to suggest that because loud, continuous music is disturbing only a relatively small number of people in a rural community, it is acceptable. If successful, my Bill would expand the definition of a rave to address that issue. It would create two new offences: of organising a rave, and of transporting sound equipment for use at a rave. People convicted of organising such events would face a tough penalty, providing a strong deterrent. In short, my Bill would make it much easier to prevent raves from happening in the first place.

The police have told me that they have the necessary intelligence on regular organisers, but that can be frustrating because it is not an offence to organise a rave. I shall illustrate that point. Last week, riot police were called out to disperse more than 1,000 revellers as they congregated in my constituency. More than 100 police officers, with dogs and a police helicopter, were used. The operation was, to Norfolk constabulary’s credit, successful. However, I dread to think how much it cost. Norfolk police are already struggling with a tight financial settlement, without needing to spend an exorbitant percentage of police funds on stopping raves. Under the Bill, the police could have used the intelligence that they clearly have in order to arrest organisers and seize equipment before the event happened.

During my Adjournment debate last year, the Minister was genuine in his support for local residents who suffer the effects of raves, but what positive action has been taken since then? The Minister passed my comments to the sub-group on raves, which has been set up by the Association of Chief Police Officers working group on public order. It has now been six months since that took place, and I have heard nothing more.

In the light of the fact that little progress seems to have been made on this issue since last summer, I am pleased to present my Bill to Parliament in the belief that, if successful, it will make a substantial difference to the lives of those affected by raves. Members of the National Farmers Union and of the Country Land and Business Association have expressed their support for what I am doing, for which I thank them. I now urge the Government to lend their support, so that the police can have the powers that they want, and so that local people can feel protected from this persistent and destructive form of antisocial behaviour.

The Bill’s sponsors come from across the House, which indicates just how widespread the problem is. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Christopher Fraser, Sir Paul Beresford, Mr. Laurence Robertson, Sammy Wilson, Mr. Humfrey Malins, Mr. Julian Brazier, Dr. Tony Wright, Mrs. Siân C. James, Mr. David Drew, David T.C. Davies, Mr. Dai Davies, and Bob Russell.

Criminal Justice (raves)

Mr. Christopher Fraser accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 powers in relation to illegal raves: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed [Bill 69].