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The Lap Dancing Association-a body established in 2008 to co-ordinate industry opposition to the change of legislation, and which according to the Times has spent large sums in its fight against the reform-is wrong to refute the notion that it operates within the commercial sex industry. I believe that it is also wrong in opposing annual reviews of the licence. It has always been the case with sex establishment licences that authorities can take account of changing circumstances in any area. One year is the right period for that periodic review to take place. Surely it must be right that the public and the police are given the opportunity to raise objections after a year so that any difficulties, problems of harassment, or effects on the community can be taken into account.
If I might make a point on Amendment 47, I believe that it would diminish the legislation that we have in front of us. If this amendment became law, operators could sidestep the new legislation entirely by getting variations of their Licensing Act 2003 licence which take no account of issues such as the character of the area, the appropriateness of premises in a locality or gender equality, thus nullifying this legislation.
My amendments are supported by all the major women's rights organisations, including Rights of Women, the Fawcett Society, Object, and by the major campaigners against violence against women, including Eaves, as well as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Because of the strength of feeling from all sides, both outside and inside your Lordships' House, that the Bill is inadequate in protecting vulnerable women and communities, there has been considerable pressure on me to test the opinion of the House, if not today then at Third Reading. Before I take that decision, however, I shall await the Minster's reply. I beg to move.
Baroness Gale: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Gould, and am pleased to support Amendments 36, 37, 43, 53 and 54. She has already outlined the reasons for these amendments, but I will mention a few things in addition.
The purpose of the amendments is to close loopholes in the proposed licensing regime for lap-dancing clubs and to ensure a consistent approach across the country. Lap-dancing clubs are currently licensed solely under the Licensing Act 2003, and share the same licence as cafes and karaoke bars. These lax licensing laws mean that, since the introduction of the 2003 Act, it has become a lot easier for lap-dancing clubs to obtain licences and far more difficult for local communities to have a proper say in whether a licence should be given in their area. The flat exemption for all venues hosting lap dancing less than once a month will leave local authorities powerless to enforce any regulations on such events and could make it difficult to prevent the growth of lap-dancing sub-markets. Venues hosting lap dancing less than once a month are less likely to have facilities and procedures in place to protect the safety of performers, such as separate changing rooms, CCTV and security. It is therefore crucial that these venues are not exempt from the new licensing controls in order for local authorities to apply conditions that will ensure the safety of performers.
I am pleased to have added my name to the amendments of my noble friend Lady Gould. I hope that the Minister will take note of the strong reasons for the amendments, which I am sure he will. I look forward to his reply.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, we have been very well briefed indeed, not only by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, but by Object, Fawcett and Liberty, on these provisions. Certainly, they appeal to me, not least because of the far greater choice that they would give to neighbourhoods. Why should they not have a say? They clearly have had nothing like enough say in where these clubs have been already. That is important.
It is not just that, however. Equally, this route seems to provide for not only a national, rather than local, way of sorting out an equitable approach to these things, but one with far less bureaucracy involved. The more I look at this briefing, the more I think that the Minister must be convinced by what has been said. I hope that, when everybody has finished and he gets up, there will be much praise for this idea and he will accept it as a sensible way forward. I thoroughly support it.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I hope this speech will not be a self-indulgent meander down memory lane, but the Bill and the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, concentrate on Section 2 and Schedule 3 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, in which I take a paternal interest. In 1981 as the Member of Parliament for Soho, I wrote five sides of foolscap in my own hand to the late, great Lord Whitelaw, as he then was not, in his capacity as Home Secretary. I said that there were 164 sex establishments in Soho and that-to abbreviate my argument of long ago-unless the Government did something about it, they would spread throughout the West End, rising first to 264 and then
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Of course, the powers were discretionary and not mandatory. The powers were left to the discretion of local authorities to take up if they wished. Many chose not to, perhaps because they simply encouraged the sex trade to enter their areas. Westminster used the powers to great effect in Soho, which became, for at least a decade, massively the beneficiary of tight controls, welcomed by residents and businesses alike. The amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, seek to make the powers mandatory, as well as to take certain other aspects out of the Bill. I understand her motivation. I have an instinctive hesitation to impose mandatory responsibilities on local authorities, having a personal preference for letting local authorities take the maximum responsibility on their own account, but I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, is adducing arguments which would not have applied in 1982. Naturally, I have no ability to consult the late, great Lord Whitelaw, and certainly no proxy to represent his spirit, but his independence of mind in 1982 might have influenced his judgment on the noble Baroness's issue as well.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, for all her hard work on this issue. Normally we would not want additional mandatory conditions imposed on local authorities, but the noble Baroness has a very good point, which is that it would be better if all local authorities, in this case, took a similar view. If, on one side, a local authority decides to do nothing and another is particularly rigorous, it will create a very difficult situation in the way that she has explained. We support her amendments.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I have three amendments in this group, relating specifically to the transitional arrangements that the Government intend to apply to existing venues, and to the length of licence that a local authority will be able to award to a venue.
Amendment 42 was tabled in Committee. I have returned to it to allow the Minister to give us a little more detail than he elected to do then. Many owners of relevant venues are extremely concerned about their long-term investment in premises. We have heard from many in the industry who feel that the Government
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Amendments 45 and 46 go in a rather different direction from the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould. Like my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, we would prefer to see local authorities given more flexibility, not less. There will be plenty of local authorities in this country for whom these provisions will be entirely unnecessary. Even where there are some relevant venues within a local authority's area, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that planning restrictions and general good sense can, and do, prevail when there are no objections to their continuing. I therefore would like to see local authorities able to decide whether these potentially expensive and bureaucratic provisions are strictly necessary in their area, and whether they feel they have to go through the rigmarole of licence renewal every year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has tabled an interesting amendment with regard to exemption for infrequent use and I look forward to the Minister's response. In the mean time, I take the opportunity to probe him a little further on the power in sub-paragraph 4 of new paragraph 2A in Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act for the national Government to amend the monthly exemption. Under what circumstances would this power be used? Surely such discretion would be better left to local authorities, which would be better placed to know whether the current legislation was causing them problems.
Finally, I would like to comment on the government amendments in this group. The noble Lord has moved a very small way and at least has addressed the implication of contact in the term "encounter". However, it was the reference to sex that women working in this entertainment industry most objected to. It is disappointing that the Government have not appreciated this. It is very hard not to feel sympathetic to the dancers. Since a film must show,
before it is considered necessary to slap a restricted rating on it and remove it to a cinema licensed under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, it appears that in many cases, if the dancers were performing in a film, it would lead to, at most, an 18 certificate from the British Board of Film Classification.
Of course, not all clubs providing this sort of entertainment are safe and legal and I have to agree with the wish of the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, to improve the law to ensure that dancers are kept as safe as possible. I also agree that the location, number and type of clubs offering erotic dancing is a matter in which local communities should have a say, but I do not see how labelling dancers as sex workers will achieve either of these things.
Lord Brett: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate and note the strength of feeling in a number of quarters on these issues. Amendments 36, 37, 43, 52, 53 and 54 seek to address issues related to the optional nature of these provisions and the exemption of infrequent events. I am sympathetic to the concerns expressed by noble Lords on this matter. However, the Government continue to believe that it is appropriate that these provisions remain optional for local authorities and that they contain an exemption for infrequent events. Keeping the provisions optional for local authorities recognises that while the presence of sex establishments can raise concerns in many communities, the issues are not necessarily relevant to all communities. A number of local authorities chose not to take action under the provisions of the 1982 Act and some local authorities may choose not to take action under the provisions of the Bill. However, I listened with care to the contributions of noble Lords, particularly those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Gould and Lady Gale. I appreciate the concern that these provisions could provide a postcode lottery for local people. Therefore, I commit to bring forward an amendment at Third Reading to address concerns regarding the lack of a statutory duty on local authorities to consult with local people on adopting these powers when they come into force. This, of course, means consulting with the police and local communities. I hope that this will overcome the fear that lap-dancing establishments can be established against the wishes of, or in ignorance of the wishes of, local communities.
On Amendment 43, we do not agree that premises which provide relevant entertainment on a one-off or infrequent basis, such as a strippergram booked for a birthday party in a pub, should be classed as sexual entertainment venues and regulated in the same manner as lap-dancing clubs that offer relevant entertainment every night, or even every week. For this reason, the exemption should remain for such infrequent events, which will continue to be regulated under the Licensing Act 2003.
Amendment 52 also appears to address concerns regarding the exemption by introducing the concept of a personal licence. However, this amendment is unnecessary and is not workable in practice. Currently, sex establishment licences, although granted to a named individual, regulate the provision of entertainment or services at particular premises. Therefore Schedule 3 to the 1982 Act is designed-as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said-for granting or refusing licensing and issuing of conditions based on the location and character of known premises. While the local authority could impose general conditions on a personal licence, it would be unable to impose conditions specific to a particular premises.
On the approach proposed by the noble Baroness, a person would need both a personal licence and permission under the 2003 Act if they wished to provide more than six events at premises that were not sex entertainment venues. This would be likely to cause significant confusion about which legislation was responsible for regulating the provision of relevant entertainment in these circumstances. While the Government firmly believe that the exemption for infrequent events is a proportionate measure and should remain in Clause 27, I can reassure
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Amendment 42 would render these reforms virtually useless and prevent local people having a greater say in the regulation of many existing venues and other venues that may open in the future. That amendment goes even further than the changes that the industry has been calling for. It is the Government's intention that where a local authority adopts this legislation, all venues in the area offering relevant entertainment should be regulated under Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. The transitional arrangements mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, will set out the process for migrating existing businesses to the new regime set out in secondary legislation. In line with the commitment we made in Committee the Government are publishing a consultation on these arrangements that outlines proposals for dealing with existing lap-dancing clubs.
The Government are sensitive to the concerns of industry about the impact that these reforms may have on existing businesses. Noble Lords have expressed these concerns today and in Committee and we have met with industry representatives on this matter. However, we are conscious that the concerns of industry must appropriately be balanced with the legitimate concerns of local communities, which these reforms aim to address.
Therefore, given that we know of instances whereby under the existing regime lap-dancing clubs have been allowed to open despite widespread local opposition, we are proposing that all lap-dancing clubs be required to apply for a sex establishment licence if they wish to provide relevant entertainment. This will give local authorities when they adopt this legislation the necessary powers to deal with local concerns regarding existing businesses.
We recognise that existing businesses will need time to comply with the new regime. Therefore, we are proposing a transitional period of one year from the time that the local authority adopts the legislation. During that period, existing venues will be allowed to continue to operate under their existing permissions so that they have time to comply.
In the consultation paper, we made clear our intention that the new category of sex establishments introduced by Clause 27 will replace the existing and largely overlapping category of sex-encounter establishments which applies in the London boroughs, where they have adopted the relevant provisions. We intend to repeal the sex-encounter establishment category in its entirety, using the power to make consequential provisions under Clause 111. Clearly, we would not wish to have two definitions that attempt to regulate the same or similar types of activity in this area. The consultation will run until 14 December and we will look carefully at the responses before making any final decisions. I hope that I have explained why the Government are not able to accept Amendment 42 and that noble Lords will not move it.
The Government also have reservations about Amendments 45 and 46. As I explained in Committee, requiring businesses to renew their licences on an
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Lap-dancing clubs offer entertainment that is fundamentally different from that offered by other entertainment venues such as nightclubs and pubs. The annual renewal process ensures that local people have the opportunity to raise concerns on an ongoing basis and allows the process of considering a licence for renewal to take into account any changes in the context or circumstances of communities. The grounds on which local authorities can refuse to renew a licence are set out in paragraph 12 of Schedule 3 of the 1982 Act. If a local authority decides to refuse to renew a licence on any grounds, it must explain the reasons for doing so. There is no evidence that a local authority will refuse to renew a licence unless it has good reason. However, if an applicant is not satisfied with the reason provided, they can seek a judicial review. On these grounds, I hope that noble Lords will not press Amendments 45 and 46.
I will respond to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. We will consider whether to use the power to remove the exemption in consultation with local authorities. If they indicate that there is a serious problem with the exemption, we will be able to use that power to ensure that problems are not replicated across the country. I hope that that meets with the approval of the noble Lord.
The decision to change the name to "sexual entertainment venue" goes some way to meeting concerns. It would be difficult to claim that lap-dancing clubs do not have a connection with sex, at least in the male mind, in the same way that "sex cinema" and "sex encounter venue" do. However, "sexual entertainment venue" is a more neutral term that I hope will be less offensive and avoid giving the impression that sex is for sale at those venues. I hope that the amendments put forward by the Government address the concerns that have been raised by noble Lords.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton: My Lords, I thank everybody who has spoken today, and also the many noble Lords who cannot be here but who have indicated their support for my amendment. I regret that the Minister has not accepted it. The Government have failed to appreciate the great strength of feeling on this issue.
I accept and appreciate that the Minister has said that they will think again on one or two aspects, and will come back to the matter at Third Reading. I will read carefully what he said, because he covered many overlapping amendments in his reply. I was unhappy
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