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19 Jan 2009 : Column 553

The key measure that I will talk about is clause 25. It is not without its problems, but I want to concentrate on what is good about it. As many Members will be aware, lap-dancing clubs are currently licensed solely under the Licensing Act 2003, and share the same licence as cafés and karaoke bars. Clause 25 will reform this by allowing local authorities to license lap-dancing clubs in the same way as sex shops and sex cinemas via the adoption of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. Clause 25 creates a third category of establishment—a sex encounter venue, defined as a venue where live visual performances for the purpose of sexual stimulation are provided for the direct or indirect financial gain of the operator.

The critical aspect of the Bill, therefore, is that local authorities are now allowed to reclassify lap-dancing clubs as sex encounter venues. The Local Government Association is backing the measure, as it will allow councils to impose conditions on lap-dancing venues when granting licences or to refuse licences altogether. As we know, the current categorisation has been wholly inadequate, and means that local councils could refuse a licence only by arguing that one or more of the licensing objectives under the 2003 Act would be breached. That is possible, but has proved very difficult in practice.

Many of us arguing for a change in legislation did so on the basis of getting the law changed so that local people would have a much greater say over whether to have a lap-dancing club in their area. The reforms contained in the Bill will allow authorities that choose to license lap-dancing clubs or similar as sex encounter venues to be able to consider important factors such as gender equality, the character of a locality and whether a lap-dancing club is appropriate for a local area. The reform will also give local authorities control over the total number of venues licensed in their area and empower local people by allowing a greater number to raise objections on wider grounds. In addition to the LGA supporting these reforms, we should note that the National Organisation of Residents Associations also supports them, as does a wide coalition of councillors and community and women’s groups, including Rape Crisis England and Wales.

The Lap Dancing Association acknowledges that the current legislation does not allow community concerns to be taken into account when granting a licence but supports only voluntary measures to address the problems or argues that they can be addressed by reforming planning legislation. I would argue that that is not the answer either. As we know, the current legislation does not allow for sufficient consideration of wider community objectives such as tourism, regeneration policies or changes to the character of the area, or for the views of women who have to walk past such venues to be taken into account. The vital point is that those issues are unlikely to be addressed through the planning system, even if it were reformed.

The solution contained in the Bill—to create a third type of sex establishment, a sex encounter venue, to exist alongside sex cinemas and sex shops—is the only sensible way forward. As I said, the definition of a sex encounter venue is one where nude entertainment is provided before a live audience for the direct or indirect financial gain of the organiser or entertainer. The nude
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entertainment must be of a nature that, ignoring financial gain, must reasonably be assumed to be provided solely or principally for the purpose of sexually stimulating any member of the audience. That is an important definition, because it should rule out nudity as part of a dramatic performance being covered by the reforms.

Some other issues and concerns have been raised by the Lap Dancing Association. I think that they can all be refuted quite easily, although I do not have time to go into them all now. Its first, and major, criticism of the Bill is that lap dancing is entertainment, not a sex encounter. I would argue instead, as have others, that the fundamental nature of the transaction is that a man pays a woman to take her clothes off and place her sexual organs near his face. The notion that this is not part of the commercial sex industry is not seriously sustainable. The LDA also argues that councils have sufficient powers to impose restrictions on premises’ licences. We know from the operation of the 2003 Act to date that those powers are impossible to operate in practice. The LDA’s third major objection to changing the legislation is that the industry will go underground, but that could be an argument against regulating anything. If it does, it will be the duty of the enforcement authorities to prosecute. In any case, that is an argument for more, not less, regulation.

It would appear to most sensible people that bringing lap dancing into the same category as sex cinemas and sex shops and licensing them is a sensible response to the recent proliferation of such venues, enabling authorities to exercise greater control if they wish to. However, before everyone thinks that we are home and dry, I should like to outline two problems with the proposed reforms and ask the Public Bill Committee to consider them further. The first and most significant problem is that premises holding lap-dancing events less often than once month will be exempt from the reforms.

As it stands, the Bill exempts from the reforms premises hosting lap dancing for less than once a month, but a large number of venues in the UK hold monthly lap-dancing nights and would fall under this category. Lap-dancing clubs and agencies cater specifically for that sub-market, which is likely to grow if the loophole remains, especially given the current economic climate of falling alcohol revenues in the licensed trade. Residents with objections to a venue hosting lap-dancing nights less than once a month in their area will still find themselves objecting under the limited grounds of the Licensing Act 2003. The second problem is that the reforms are not mandatory.

I want to thank the Minister for taking the issue seriously. He will know that my interest in this area arose because of a proposal to have a lap-dancing venue in a totally inappropriate location in Durham. Residents there are very much behind the legislation, but they stress that it is important for the loophole to be tightened so that it is not possible for those operating lap-dancing clubs to use temporary events notices as a way round the legislation. This is a serious issue and I hope that it will be addressed by amendments in Committee so that we get an important piece of legislation that gives local communities a greater voice. On the question of whether the provisions should be mandatory, we need to be careful that we do not have a postcode lottery, where some communities get more say over lap-dancing clubs in their area while others do not, because their local authority has not taken the legislation on board.

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7.41 pm

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), who I thought made a very thoughtful speech.

This is the 26th major crime Bill introduced by this Government, but we still have a police force that is weighed down by bureaucracy and excessive paperwork. The overall level of crime has come down slightly, but we all know that knife crime is up sharply, and that violent crime is up by nearly 80 per cent. This is a skeleton Bill in many respects, and a great deal of legislation will flow from it in the form of statutory instruments—an arrangement that always worries me.

On policing, we know that 14 per cent. of all officers’ time is spent on patrol, whereas 20 per cent. is spent on paperwork. According to the No. 10 strategy unit, it takes 11 and a half hours for a police officer to process an arrest, and the Flanagan report was rightly critical of the burden of bureaucracy facing our police forces throughout the country. One of my regrets is that the Bill singularly fails to get a grip on that problem. Why have the Government not gone further on the Flanagan report? Surely this is a wasted opportunity.

I mentioned the senior appointments panel in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). Clause 2 places the panel on a statutory footing, and I ask the Minister why. Will that not create extra cost, and will it not be yet another bureaucratic body? Why, for example, will the panel members and the panel chairman be paid? Surely it would be far better to find volunteers to do such work, particularly when the budget is under so much pressure. I hope that that point will be looked at carefully in Committee. I have every confidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) will get a grip on the matter, because it is important.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members have spoken about the provisions in the Bill that deal with prostitution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said a moment ago, Her Majesty’s Government are right to try to protect vulnerable children from exploitation. They are right to try to tackle the exploitation and trafficking taking place. I believe that the level of trafficking is quite appalling, but I have concerns about the creation of a strict liability offence. I am concerned about the removal of intent—or, as we lawyers call it, the mens rea. There is a chance of unintended consequences, and the provisions are riddled with anomalies. When there are prosecutions, they will be a lawyer’s dream.

I take on board the points made by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), and I thought the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who is not now in his place, made a number of excellent points on this subject. I endorse what the Bar Council recently said when it pointed out that the offence as currently drafted risks convictions that may be seen as unfair by reasonable people. Such convictions would bring the criminal law into disrepute, particularly given the stigma that would result. I urge the Minister to look at that matter again.

The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made an impassioned and impressive speech, and I can tell her that that those of us who are picking one or two holes in these provisions do not in any way want to be
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soft on child trafficking. We do not in any way want to stand up for the people who feel they have to, in unfortunate circumstances, go and use prostitutes. We are concerned, however, about bringing in credible law that will stand the test of being put through the courts.

I believe that the under-18s involved are the real victims. They need practical help and support, and should not be criminalised. I agree with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), who talked about harm reduction. The Bill does not abolish the power to prosecute a child over 10 for offences under section 57 of the Street Offences Act 1959, although it does amend that legislation. It is a big mistake that it does not abolish the power to prosecute those children. I have received briefings from a number of eminent organisations, including one from the YWCA, which makes it clear that

Similar comments were made by Barnardo’s and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. An overwhelming number of briefings and conclusions have been put to right hon. and hon. Members, saying that the Government have missed an opportunity. Furthermore, I think that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing said in response to a debate on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill last year that the Government would consider this matter further. I am disappointed that the Bill today does not address this point. I hope that the Minister will tell us why it does not, and give us some assurance that the Government will look at the matter again.

The provisions in the Bill dealing with extradition worry me, because again we have a wasted opportunity. The Extradition Act 2003 made various amendments to the law as it then stood and implemented in this country the European arrest warrant, which removed the requirement of dual criminality for certain offences. A UK court had always had to determine that a prima facie case had been made, but it is now enough if a European arrest warrant is issued by an EU country in respect of a listed offence.

My concern is that such offences are so broad that many are meaningless. Some are described as “computer-related crime”, or “swindling”. We recently had a extradition case between Poland and Lithuania involving a young adult who was charged with piglet rustling. That type of case brings extradition into ill repute. The Government should take a long hard look at the European arrest warrant, and use the Bill as an opportunity to tighten it up and improve the situation. The Government seem to be peddling the presumption that all EU countries have the same fair and equal systems of justice. That is a dangerous assumption, because it manifestly is not the case. We are in danger of a serious backlash on the European arrest warrant unless the Bill is used to do something about it.

In the case of non-EU countries, we all know that the Home Secretary, by way of Order in Council, can remove the need for specified countries to produce prima facie evidence to support a request for extradition. We know about the arrangement with the United States through the case of the NatWest or Enron three, but
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similar Orders in Council have been used to bring in such procedures in the case of countries such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Turkey. That concerns me a great deal. The key point in the case of America—I assume that it is the same for the other countries—is that there is not genuine reciprocity. If we are to make changes to our law and put the liberties of UK citizens at risk, there has to be full reciprocity.

Mr. Burrowes: On reciprocity, may I draw my hon. Friend’s attention again to the case of my constituent Gary McKinnon, who is subject to extradition on the basis that he hacked into American computers? In court tomorrow, he will challenge the Home Secretary’s decision to extradite him. Does my hon. Friend not agree that Gary McKinnon is a prime example, and perhaps a better example than the NatWest three, of a victim of laws that do not demand proper reciprocity? He has admitted guilt and is asking to be prosecuted by the courts in this country.

Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not least because he has given me some injury time for my speech. I could not agree more about Gary McKinnon. The offence that he committed is very serious in America, but not so serious here for a variety of reasons. If we were trying to secure an extradition from America of someone who had committed a similar offence, a prima facie case would have to be made in the American court by the extraditing country. In this case, no such requirement exists.

I am very concerned also about the Raoul Weil case. Very few people in this country will have heard about it. He is a 49-year-old Swiss national who lives and works in Switzerland, and he ran the global wealth management arm of UBS in Zurich and was also based in London for a time. He was involved in putting together a number of products for high net worth individuals, which were basically aimed at reducing their tax liability, and he fell foul of the US Internal Revenue Service. He was in charge of a private bank at the time of the alleged offences, so last November the Americans charged him with conspiracy to defraud the US through tax evasion. If convicted, he faces a long period in jail and a huge fine. He is considered a fugitive because he has not flown to the States to get himself arrested.

What is so worrying about that case is that although UBS has clearly upset the Americans, no one has charged Weil with doing anything to hurt his homeland or contravening any EU or Swiss law. The logic of the case is that any employee in any non-American tax jurisdiction is vulnerable unless they comply not just with their own laws but with American law. I hope that the relevant part of the Bill will be reconsidered carefully, and that protection will be given to people such as Raoul Weil, Gary McKinnon and the Enron three. Let us hope that this fag-end Bill will be examined in Committee and really improved.

7.53 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I wish to focus on part 3 of the Bill, which is about alcohol. I very much welcome the proposals, but I would like the action to go further and include some of the measures
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that were in my ten-minute Bill on alcohol pricing and promotions. In particular, my concerns are about the impact of alcohol on young people. I welcome the fact that the proposed measures are directed particularly at drinking among young people.

We all know the general figures for alcohol consumption, but among the young the figures are getting very much worse. By the age of 13, more young people are drinking than not, and by the age of 15 one third are drinking once or more a week. Among those aged from 11 to 15 who drink regularly, the average weekly alcohol consumption has risen from 5.3 units in 1990 to 11.4 units in 2006. Those figures are provided by the Royal College of Nursing and show a high level of alcohol consumption among very young children—well over the Government limits for adults. The issue is not just the amount that young people are drinking; it is also where they are drinking it. Research shows that one third of 15-year-olds drink, and that one third of those do so in public places. All the provisions about drinking alcohol in public places are therefore particularly important when it comes to young people.

I was grateful to the National Association of Head Teachers for supporting my ten-minute Bill. It was concerned about the impact of drinking with regard to young people missing school, turning up late or turning up with hangovers. The Police Federation was supportive because of the obvious links between drinking and crime, which are particularly bad in the case of young people. One third of all deaths caused by alcohol are from injuries suffered when people are drunk, and that is most common among 16 to 24-year-olds. Young people are more likely than others to be involved in alcohol-related crime, and are the most likely people to be injured or killed as a result.

We know from the British Medical Association, which also supported my Bill, about the serious consequences of the increase in drinking for the physical and mental health of young people. Over Christmas in Northamptonshire, there was a very welcome reduction in the number of people arrested for drink-driving; the number of arrests fell from 112 to 98. However, among 17 to 24-year-olds the figures did not go down. In fact, the county police said that while young drivers formed 10 per cent. of all drivers, they formed 35 per cent. of those arrested for drink-driving. It seems that we need to consider specific measures to deal with the particular problems associated with young people and alcohol. On that basis, the relevant measures in the Bill are particularly important, even though they might seem draconian and even though people might ask why we should adopt them rather than others.

There are to be increased penalties for selling alcohol, which chimes with the public’s concern not just about the symptoms of children’s drinking but about trying to cut it off at source. People are concerned about the fact that however much one might try, there is still a pattern of young people drinking at home before they go out or drinking in parks, perhaps because they cannot get into on-licences. They are certainly drinking alcohol obtained from off-licences.

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