Memorandum submitted by Peter Stringfellow
have been involved in the late-night leisure business for forty six years and
have operated Stringfellows in
also operate another club in
My management have worked with me in some cases for over 30 years. My two clubs employ some 130 full-time staff and additionally I have a pool of around 400 dancers. I must have at least six registered door supervisors on duty at any one time to ensure that the tableside dancing is provided in accordance with the licence conditions. We have an extensive closed circuit television system in place to ensure good order throughout the clubs. My clientele are mature individuals, both male and female, who like to come to a civilised environment and many come for dinner in the restaurant. The door staff have a very proactive approach to ensuring that nobody enters the premises who are not suitable, either in relation to sobriety, dress or demeanour.
All my dancers are self-employed. They are interviewed and vetted individually by a senior member of staff. All have to provide at least two types of identification and sign a set of working conditions which they are obliged to adhere to. Any departure from these conditions results in their contract to work at the club being immediately terminated. All the dancers enjoy working at the Club and are, of course, under no pressure to do so.
History of the Legislation and the current effect
Government Act 1963
which was in force until November 2005, required premises to apply for a "music
and dancing" licence to provide any form of dancing, including that performed
by persons nude or partially nude. A
similar provision applied in respect of premises outside
The Licensing Act 2003 required the holders of all licences which allowed the sale of alcohol, regulated entertainment or late-night refreshment to apply for "conversion" of their licences under the Licensing Act 2003. Where premises had the benefit of a music and dancing licence under the old regime, with or without nudity, the Rule of Managements were automatically "grandfathered" onto the converted Premises Licence when that came into force in November 2005. Therefore, in relation to converted licences, those with a Rule 4 restriction carried forward the prohibition on having nudity or partial nudity. Similarly, those with a Rule 4 waiver carried forward the benefit of having the ability to provide nude or partially nude entertainment.
I mentioned above, I have two licensed premises, one in Soho and one in
I wanted to apply afresh under the new licensing regime so that the local authority and police could agree appropriate operating conditions for the way forward, because I was advised the change was so substantial that the Council would prefer a new licence, rather than a variation of the existing licence. In doing so, I reduced the capacity of the premises from 900 to 600 so that the local authority and police could agree appropriate operating conditions for the way forward. The Council had a policy against new licences allowing nudity and I had to prove an exception. Importantly, the application specifically referred to striptease, as did the Licence granted by the Council which specifically allowed it.
Under the Licensing Act 2003, an application is still required to allow the performance of a dance and the facilities for dancing. Obviously, the provision of tableside dancing falls within one of these licensable activities. However, being nude or partially nude is not licensable in itself. Therefore, if one was to apply for a new Premises Licence under the new licensing regime for music and dancing and did not make any specific reference in the application to nude or partially nude entertainment, local authorities apparently have not been implying a condition that striptease should be prohibited. Therein lies the problem.
What should have happened when new licences were granted under the new regime is that local authorities should have taken from the operating schedule any absence of reference to nudity as being consistent with the operating schedule and then automatically imposed a no nudity condition. Under the 2003 Act, local authorities have adequate powers to impose such a condition, should they so choose, and many are now doing so.
understand that it is argued on behalf of those that support a change in the
law that local authorities are only empowered to impose such a condition if
there are relevant representations. This
is incorrect as recently identified by local authorities, such as
Effect of a Change in Legislation
I understand that some have proposed to change the 1982 Act to require all establishments which have nudity or partial nudity to be licensed as Sex Encounter Establishments, regardless of whether they have a Premises Licence.
Firstly, I think that any such changes are unnecessary and disproportionate. The licences I hold contain numerous conditions which police the premises to a very high standard. Both of my premises have always been extremely well managed and have never been the subject of any applications to either local authority or the magistrates' court for a revocation of the licence or a review under the new licensing regime.
I were required to apply for a new Sex Encounter Establishment Licence, I would
have the uncertainty as to whether such a licence would be granted. In addition I would be required to pay an
annual fee of at least £29,100 per club (as currently payable in
1982 Act has to be adopted by individual councils. If not adopted, any change would have no
effect. Some councils have not adopted the existing legislation and may not
adopt it with any changes. Furthermore,
having a separate licensing system is inconsistent with the Government's wishes
to have one licensing system for all places of resort and entertainment. I am advised that the 1982 Act was not ideal
for easy implementation (hence its partial repeal in favour of the 2003 Act)
and does not give residents the same protections as the 2003 Act does. Most local authorities will have a "quota" in
relation to the amount of such establishments that they have in an area. For example, in
A way forward
Whilst I certainly recognise that some regulation needs to happen in this area to ensure that establishments do not open in inappropriate locations and with insufficient operating requirements, I do not believe that requiring all establishments to apply retrospectively for a sex encounter licence is necessary or proportionate.
If all local authorities imposed a "no nudity condition" as a result of all new licence applications that would close any loophole that currently exists. In respect of those premises which are mismanaged and badly operated already, with licences either granted under the old or new licensing regime, such operators should be prosecuted or review proceedings brought by the relevant enforcement authority. For example, having seen the television show Dispatches, where premises have a "3ft rule" and that condition is being obviously breached, those responsible should be prosecuted. You do not need to change the law to close down badly run premises.
However, I can see that there remains a small loophole in respect of those premises which were granted a new licence under the new licensing regime and which were not made the subject of a Rule 4 or similar condition upon such licence being granted, due to a lack of understanding by Councils about their powers. I accept and agree that there must be a pressing case to retrospectively require that all such premises be licensed. However, in my respectful view, the Government has to carry out a balancing exercise for existing businesses which have a licence permitting striptease and have gone through the time, cost and effort of obtaining such consents.
Whilst some licences have been granted and can be utilised as such under the new licensing regime, to require properly operated establishments such as my own to reapply for a licence at the risk of such not being granted is unduly disproportionate in the circumstances. At the very least, the Government should consider a position where those premises operating with licences which already specifically allow striptease entertainment are exempted from any proposed amendment to the existing regime. One way of doing this would be to exempt those premises which already have a Premises Licence which specifically authorise striptease. Finally, the thought of my clubs being called "Sex Establishment Premises" is completely abhorrent. What message this would convey to my customers I cannot think! My final plea is please don't use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I have worked long and hard under hard financial conditions to operate and control my two venues, a change in the law will make it even more difficult and uncertain to do so in the current climate.