Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 19:02 UK

Lap dance clubs may be limited

Dancer
The Fawcett Society says lap dance clubs are 'degrading' to women

Ministers are concerned at the increase in lap dancing clubs in England and Wales and may limit them in future.

Culture minister Gerry Sutcliffe has told councils the clubs could be categorised as "sex encounter establishments" for licencing purposes.

Outside London they are currently treated the same as bars and restaurants for licencing - making it difficult for residents to block them.

The move has been welcomed by womens' campaign groups.

Sex encounters

Mr Sutcliffe has written to local authorities outlining plans to consider "limiting the increase in these establishments and controlling the activities that take place within them".

This will include considering whether or not lap dance clubs should be classified as "sex encounter establishments" under the 1982 Act.

Areas surrounding lap dance clubs can become 'no go' areas for women
Kat Banyard, Fawcett Society

Currently, lap dance clubs outside London are treated in the same way as any ordinary bar or restaurant.

Local authority chief executives have been asked if there are issues related to lap dancing that cannot be "adequately controlled" by existing legislation.

Sex shops

Labour MP Roberta Blackman-Woods is amongst those who say they should instead be licensed as "sex encounter establishments", to put them on a par with sex shops and sex cinemas.

The UK's first lap dance club opened in 1995 - and critics say an "inadequate licensing regime" has enabled the numbers of clubs to rise to at least 300.

Ms Blackman-Woods said while it is not impossible for councils to turn down these applications if they think they would be inappropriate, it is difficult and should be easier.

She outlined her concerns during the introduction of her Sex Encounter Establishments (Licensing) Bill, which is unlikely to become law due to a lack of parliamentary time.

'Moralist' argument?

She told how an application for a lap dancing club on the main road into the historical town of Durham led to many objections by residents.

However, the city council "appeared to dismiss objections as moralist".

"This caused outrage in the local community, to the extent that local residents took an appeal to the magistrates' court, which they won," she said.

But the company owning the club is now seeking a judicial review of that decision in the High Court.

'Nude entertainment'

"I have to admit to feeling utter dismay on behalf of my constituents," she said.

"I realised the government could either go on, trying to convince local authorities that they did have sufficient powers to turn down lap dancing clubs - or simply amend the legislation and make it easier for them to be refused when they are inappropriate."

Lap dancing clubs in London are considered "sex encounter establishments" under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.

These are described as venues where nude entertainment is provided for the purpose of sexual stimulation.

Ms Blackman-Woods argued that this was surely an apt description of exactly what lap dancing clubs do.

'Concerned'

Lap dancing clubs are currently considered under the Licensing Act 2003. If they already have a licence for a bar or restaurant under the 2003 Act, they are exempt from the provisions of the 1982 Act.

"Because of this exemption, even in London, most lap dancing clubs are not considered under the 1982 Act," the MP said.

She argued that this was not about "banning nudity", just that adult entertainment was suitable for some areas of cities and towns, but not everywhere.

The government's new aproach was welcomed by women's rights campaign group the Fawcett Society, which argues that lap dance clubs "normalise the sexual objectification of women".

"Areas surrounding lap dance clubs can become 'no go' areas for women - but current licensing rules mean local authorities cannot treat a lap dance club differently from a coffee shop," the society's campaigns officer Kat Banyard said.


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