Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 11:24 UK

Tougher lap dance licensing urged

Fawcett Society campaigner outside Parliament
Councils and women's rights campaigners want tougher licensing

Councils are powerless to stop the spread of lap dancing clubs and licensing laws need to be tightened up, the government has been urged.

In a letter to the Times, councillors said the clubs were "a contradiction to efforts to promote gender equality".

As they are the same licensing category as pubs or cafes residents have less scope to oppose them as sex shops.

The government is consulting councils in England and Wales on licensing laws and says it welcomes all responses.

In the letter signed by councillors from Brighton, London and Warwick on the last day of the consultation, they said councils needed greater regulatory powers because they were "powerless" to stop the spread of lap dancing clubs.

'Hands tied'

"Lap dancing clubs are in contradiction to efforts to promote gender equality," they wrote.

"Yet by boxing lap dancing clubs into the same licensing category as cafes, and concurrently requiring the promotion of gender equality, the hands of local authorities have been tied."

Our towns and cities should be shaped as far as possible according to residents' wishes, not by the presence of unwanted lap dancing clubs in the heart of them
Sir Jeremy Beecham
LGA

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), the number of lap dancing clubs in Britain has doubled to about 300 since 2004.

They say they should be classified as "sex encounter establishments" - as happens with peep shows in London - which would give them more powers to decide where they should be located.

LGA vice chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham said in a letter to licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe that councils were often powerless to respond to residents' concerns about the clubs because of the "loophole" in the Licensing Act 2003.

'Sexist culture'

He added: "Our towns and cities should be shaped as far as possible according to residents' wishes, not by the presence of unwanted lap-dancing clubs in the heart of them."

The councils are supported by women's rights campaign groups Object and the Fawcett Society.

The Home Office, which has responsibility for sex encounter establishment licensing, will be considering all of these in order to decide if action needs to be taken
Government spokeswoman

Kat Banyard, campaigns officer at the Fawcett Society, said "lax licensing" had led to the spread of lap dancing clubs which had a "very different social impact" to cafes.

She said: "Lap dance clubs fuel a sexist culture of treating women as sex objects. Areas surrounding lap dance clubs can become 'no-go' areas for women.

"The only viable solution is to license lap dancing clubs as sex encounter establishments."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which handles some aspects of licensing legislation, said the government welcomed the responses to its consultation.

"The Home Office, which has responsibility for sex encounter establishment licensing, will be considering all of these in order to decide if action needs to be taken and how local communities can be appropriately supported," she added.

The Conservatives have said they would give communities more power to block the opening of lap dancing clubs.

And Labour backbencher Roberta Blackman-Woods launched a Parliamentary bid to get the licensing laws changed to have lap dancing clubs put on the same footing as sex shops or cinemas.

In June licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe wrote to local authorities asking whether the clubs were "adequately controlled" by the existing legislation.

He said it was "clear that the protections and regulations set out in the 2003 [Licensing] Act and elsewhere do not go as far as some people would like".


SEE ALSO
Tories urge curbs on lap-dancing
24 Jul 08 |  UK Politics
City 'strip club culture is rife'
01 Apr 08 |  Business
Pub swaps smokers for strippers
30 Jun 07 |  Surrey

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