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18 Jun 2008 : Column 945

The Prime Minister: The whole House will be pleased to have heard of the ceasefire that has been announced between Hamas and Israel—thanks to the work of the Egyptians, whom I praise. I hope that it will bring greater peace to Gaza. It is important that the message also goes out that Hamas must stop the rocket attacks that have been doing so much damage to civilians in Israel. It is also important that, as the President of the United States said only two days ago, the Israelis stop the settlement programme that is causing so much distress among the Palestinians. I believe that President Bush sent a very important message this week that he will put the weight of the American Government behind a settlement in the middle east. That is the way I believe we can get an end to the poverty, unemployment and distress that is causing so much damage in Gaza and the west bank. Britain is ready, along with other countries, with an economic plan to underpin a peace settlement, but that peace settlement must be based on a security agreement, which only the Palestinians and the Israelis should sign. I hope that it moves forward quickly.

Q7. [211612] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Three cheers for the Irish, Mr. Speaker! How can the Prime Minister expect the people of this country to obey our laws and to trust the Government if the Government themselves flagrantly ignore the European Union rule that if a treaty is opposed—rejected—by just one country, it falls?

The Prime Minister: It is the Conservative party all over again; there it is, viscerally anti-European, and the truth is that it has not changed a bit. We all know the agenda of the hon. Lady and many Conservatives: they do not just want to defeat the treaty; they want us out of Europe altogether. That would be bad for Britain.

Q8. [211613] Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The extortionate prices that some pharmaceutical
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companies charge the national health service is a matter of continuing concern to doctors, patients and nurses. Are the Government discussing that with the industry, and what plans are there to cut the cost of new drugs to the NHS?

The Prime Minister: I hope that the whole House will welcome the fact that a new agreement has been signed with the pharmaceutical companies on the supply of drugs. It will save more than £1.5 billion on the cost of NHS drugs over the next five years and it will speed up the adoption of new drugs by the NHS. It will also mean that, when the Secretary of State for Health comes to the House with his proposals for the new NHS constitution and the Darzi review, we will be able to do more in future years to improve the NHS, which has already been transformed under this Labour Government.

Q9. [211614] Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Prime Minister’s special adviser on criminal justice, Louise Casey, has said that interviewing 13,000 people revealed that they felt cut off and remote from the criminal justice system. In the light of the fact that his Government have passed 50 pieces of criminal justice legislation, what steps will he take to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system?

The Prime Minister: Overall, crime has come down by 30 per cent., and it is as a result of more police on the street and the greatest investment in policing in our history. People need to feel safe as well as be safe, and it is important that we have measures that build community confidence in the policing and justice system. That is why Louise Casey has proposed that we strengthen community payback, so that young people who commit crimes return to their community to put their efforts into community work; that is why she wants to see an expansion of neighbourhood watch; and that is why we want community champions. That is also why we need CCTV and DNA, and it is wrong for the Conservative party to turn its back on those things.

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Sex Encounter Establishments (Licensing)

12.32 pm

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I beg to move,

This Bill arises from my experience in Durham, and that of many other hon. Members, of the application of the Licensing Act 2003 to lap-dancing clubs. Several hon. Members—too many to be named as sponsors of this Bill—from all political parties share my contention that at present the law is simply inadequate to deal with lap-dancing club issues. I accept that this might partly be a lack of confidence among local authorities about how to use the Act, including over-cautious legal guidance, but nevertheless it appears that too many lap-dancing clubs are gaining licences where local residents, the police and others deem them to be totally inappropriate.

My Bill does not seek to ban lap-dancing clubs; it merely seeks to strengthen and add to the criteria that can be taken into consideration in deciding when to license a lap-dancing club in a particular location. It therefore seeks to strengthen the role that local communities can play in deciding whether a lap-dancing club is appropriate for their area.

My own unfortunate experience in Durham outlines all too clearly the need for the Bill. In August 2007, the city council approved an application, despite record objections, for a lap-dancing club on the main thoroughfare into the city, adjacent to the bus station and on the main route from the railway station, and in very close proximity to our wonderful cathedral and world heritage site. The city council appeared to dismiss objectors as moralists, even though the objectors in the main stopped arguing on the basis of the four licensing objectives. The decision to grant a licence to a lap-dancing club in that location caused outrage in the local community, to the extent that local residents took an appeal to the magistrates court—which they won.

Interestingly, the magistrates thought that the application from Vimac—the company that owned the pub—contravened all four of the licensing objectives, three of them strongly. Therefore, residents thought, in December 2007, that they were home and dry, but it was not so—I and they soon learned that Vimac had decided to seek a judicial review of the decision in the High Court. I have to admit to feeling utter dismay on behalf of my constituents. I realise that the Government could either go on trying to convince local authorities that they had sufficient powers to turn down lap-dancing clubs, even when that proved difficult in practice, or they could simply amend the legislation to make it easier for the clubs to be refused where they are inappropriate.

At first, I thought of asking the Government, as part of their review of the Licensing Act 2003, to put in a new clause that would license lap-dancing clubs as a separate category from bars and restaurants, but I got the impression that there was significant resistance to that suggestion. Thankfully, at that point I was introduced to Object, an organisation campaigning for changes to the licensing of lap-dancing clubs, and to its excellent solicitor, Phil Kolvin, who confirmed my suspicions in that respect.

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Object and Philip have pointed to a much easier mechanism for achieving the end that I have set out. In London, lap-dancing clubs are considered to be sex encounter establishments under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. Sex encounter establishments are defined as venues where nude entertainment is provided for the purpose of sexual stimulation, and I think that the House would accept that that is a straightforward definition of lap-dancing clubs.

Licensing lap-dancing clubs in that way enables local authorities to refuse a licence when the applicant is unsuitable to hold a licence, where there are enough sex establishments in the locality, or when granting a licence would be inappropriate given the character of the locality and neighbouring premises, or the layout, character or condition of the premises involved. A much wider range of factors can be taken into consideration than is possible under the Licensing Act.

However, there are two major obstacles: first, under the 1982 Act, lap-dancing clubs can be categorised as sex encounter establishments only in London. Secondly, if a premises already has a licence for a bar or restaurant under the Licensing Act, it is exempt from the provisions of the 1982 Act. Because of that exemption, even in London most lap-dancing clubs do not fall under the 1982 Act. It is that loophole that our campaign is aiming to close, by allowing local authorities to license lap-dancing clubs as sex encounter establishments outside London. That would restore powers held by local authorities prior to the Licensing Act and enable them to decide on the quantity and location of lap-dancing clubs in their areas.

The way forward seems pretty straightforward, and that is why my Bill would amend the 1982 Act by extending the category of sex encounter establishments to outside London, and removing the exemption under the 2003 Act. What is being proposed is really common sense: it was clearly not Parliament’s intention to have lap-dancing clubs treated the same as bars and restaurants, and altering the 1982 Act prevents us from having to argue for changes on this issue under the 2003 Act.

I say that because it seems to be very difficult to make changes under the 2003 Act. I thought that I was back in a sociology seminar when, some time ago, I had to explain why we should not disturb the conceptual underpinnings of the four licensing objectives that uphold the 2003 Act. In order not to have to do that, we can amend the 1982 Act instead.

I was very heartened by the response from the Minister in my Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall about the Government’s willingness to engage constructively with the provisions of my Bill, and I have also been encouraged by more recent ministerial responses in the other place. That is good: consideration of and engagement with this issue are good, but action is what is needed.

The Government are clear that they want to be on the side of the people, and I agree that they should be. This is an excellent opportunity for them to put that sentiment into action. Come on, Government: be on the side of the people on this! In the main, local people are sensible about these issues. Most of us agree that there are areas in cities and towns where adult entertainment is suitable, and even areas in which it could grow, but that does not apply everywhere. People can choose not to encounter
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these premises if they are restricted to certain areas in cities and towns, but not if they are on a main street or thoroughfare.

Not surprisingly, the Lap Dancing Association is not happy with the Bill. It wants a voluntary code, but that will not do, as it simply would not empower local communities. Indeed, it would leave the present system intact. The association has specific arguments against the Bill that I believe can easily be dispensed with. It argues that lap-dancing clubs are not sex encounter establishments, and that they merely provide legitimate entertainment. That is fine: saying that local people should have more say over the location of lap-dancing clubs does not mean that the clubs are illegitimate; it simply acknowledges that they might be undesirable in some areas. The association says that it is easy for such premises to lose their licence, but my experience, and that of many other hon. Members, is that getting a review or a revocation of a licence is extremely difficult. Lastly, the association says that this is about banning nudity. That is not so. If that were the case, we would be trying to ban lap-dancing clubs.

Let me emphasise the point again, loud and clear, that local communities need more say about whether lap-dancing clubs should exist in their neighbourhood. The Bill seeks to give more say to local people, and that is what it is all about. I hope that all hon. Members will back the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods, Ms Celia Barlow, John Battle, Peter Bottomley, Dr. Vincent Cable, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Dr. Ian Gibson, Barbara Keeley, Julie Morgan, Greg Mulholland, Dr. Phyllis Starkey and Lynda Waltho.

Sex Encounter Establishments (Licensing)

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the licensing of sex encounter establishments in England and Wales; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 123].

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Orders of the Day

European Affairs

12.43 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I beg to move,

I am delighted to open the traditional pre-European Council debate today. The House will know that my statement on Monday addressed the Irish referendum result— [ Laughter. ] The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) might not agree with me about much, but I hope that he will at least agree that my statement addressed the result, which is all I am claiming for it at this stage. I am happy to reassure him that he will have plenty of opportunity during this debate, and even during my speech, to re-engage with those arguments. The Irish referendum result, and the view of the Irish Government, will be an important part of this European Council, and I will cover that issue today. However, the Council’s agenda is dominated by key global issues, from rising food and oil prices to international development and climate change, and there can be no doubt that the Europe that we need over the coming years must be not only competitive and secure at home but outward-looking and actively engaged on the world stage. We are talking about the new agenda for Europe, which is needed more than ever, and which is at the heart of the Government’s approach to the EU.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Cannot the Secretary of State see that the problem is not Ireland’s, but the EU’s, and that the peoples of Europe are trying to say, “We don’t want more legislation and regulation from this machine, and we don’t want this machine to get more efficient at ramming things down our throats”?

David Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman will know from the answer that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) on Monday that I do not describe the Irish decision as a “problem”, as he does. I regard it as an Irish referendum decision, and the Irish Government have said that they want to take time to respond to it. It seems reasonable that we should allow that. I have heard people from right across Europe say that they want to respect the Irish decision. Part of that respect is to honour the Irish Government’s request that they be given time to decide their next move.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the date on which the constitution was due to come into force—1 January 2009—can no longer be met?

David Miliband: I am sorry to be pedantic, but the treaty does not say that the treaty laws will enter into force on 1 January. It says that they will enter into force either on 1 January 2009 or when all 27 countries have deposited their articles of ratification in Rome. The test is whether there are 27 ratifications, and unless there are 27 ratifications, the treaty laws cannot come into force.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab) rose—

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David Miliband: I should be happy to give way to my hon. Friend, but I will address the issue later.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): He’s your hon. Friend.

David Miliband: He is my friend; that is why I say that I should be happy to give way to him, but I will address the point substantively later in my speech. Is he content to wait?

Kelvin Hopkins: I should like to intervene. The Secretary of State said that other member states respect the Irish decision, but quotes from leading politicians in Europe suggest the opposite. Axel Schäfer, the SPD leader in the Bundestag, said that

That does not sound like respect to me.

David Miliband: Of course I have to respect the SPD leader in the Bundestag, but I prefer to respect the leaders of the SPD in Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier—the German Foreign Minister—and, of course, the German Chancellor. Looking right across Europe, Spain, which is on the left of politics, and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who is on the right, have addressed the issue, as has the Swedish Foreign Minister, who is also on the right. The Czech Republic is governed by what is seen as a centre-right party; the Czech Minister for Europe has been absolutely clear about the need not to draw what he calls dramatic conclusions, and the need for ratification elsewhere to proceed. Today, I looked at the work of the leader of the UMP party in France. On Monday, we heard a lot about a Franco-German plot to bulldoze the Irish decision. If my hon. Friend reads Le Figaro this morning, he will see that the leader of the UMP party—President Sarkozy’s party—makes it absolutely clear that he agrees with the consensus around Europe that we should respect the Irish Government’s determination to address the issue in their own time.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): Will the Secretary of State give way?

David Miliband: No. I will come back to the issue later, but it is important that we also address the major international issues that the Council will address. At the top of the agenda will be oil prices. Every British family knows that petrol prices are rising. Demand for energy in the developing world is growing fast. In fact, I think that I am right in saying that demand in the developed world is static, but demand in the developing world is rising; that is what is driving up demand. It is becoming more difficult and costly to access the world’s remaining oil reserves. The Prime Minister has set out the steps that we want Europe to take to help

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