Prosecution authorities and club owners told a Commons select committee that proposals to introduce licences forcing rave organisers to introduce "chill-out" areas for dancers and to employ paramedics would help reduce the death toll. The committee, meeting in Ayr where three youngsters died after taking ecstasy at the Hanger 13 nightclub, was told that "model rave licences" should be introduced throughout the UK.
MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee were taking evidence on the Licensing Bill, which ministers introduced after the deaths at Hanger 13. The proposed legislation, which defines a rave as "dancing to an emission of repetitive beats", gives the Scottish Office new powers to draw up model licences regulating all rave venues north of the border. The pilot scheme enjoys cross-party support and, if it proves successful, it will be introduced in England and Wales.
The licences will enable Scottish local authorities to impose tough new safety conditions on rave clubs. Organisers will be required to provide "chill-out" areas with freely available water to prevent dancers dehydrating; stewards will be forced to search all ravers thoroughly and paramedics must be on hand to treat anyone who falls ill.
With the number of ecstasy-related deaths topping 50 for the first time last year, club owners believe the new licences will help prevent further fatal overdoses. Fraser MacIntyre, manager of Hanger 13, described the Bill as "the way ahead".
Mr MacIntyre added that almost every club in Britain had a drugs problem and he called on local authorities to examine the new licences. "It's the same everywhere be it Ayr or any other town in the country. Young people want to dance. Some want to take drugs - illegal drugs. We need to create a safe environment. The kind of measures contained in the Bill will help to prevent deaths."
Mr MacIntyre was backed by doctors and Sheriff Neil Gow QC, who called ecstasy "a dance with death" in his report into the Hanger 13 deaths.
Although councils in England and Wales have the power to withdraw licences from clubs thought to be unsafe, no detailed guidelines have been drawn up covering raves.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Scottish health minister, is expected to tell members next week that the Government wants to introduce the new regulations by the end of the year.