Memorandum submitted by Peter Stringfellow
I have been involved in the late-night leisure
business for 46 years and have operated Stringfellows in Upper
St Martin's Lane since 1980. In the 1990s, I saw an opportunity
for a well managed Gentlemen's club, similar to one I had run
highly successfully in New York, to offer striptease in a sophisticated,
well policed, and attractive environment. Accordingly, I set out
obtaining the necessary consents and permissions from the relevant
local authority, in this case Westminster, which took me many
years and a great deal of time and cost. My premises in St Martin's
Lane have successfully operated since that time, with the support
of the relevant local authority, residents and the police. Indeed,
the good practices that I have forged and developed have become
best practice in Westminster and elsewhere.
I also operate another club in Wardour Street,
W1. Both venues are located in substantially commercial areas.
Both of my clubs are purpose built and laid out for tableside
dancing and both include substantial restaurants providing high-end
cuisine and alcoholic drinks but only at premium prices. There
is no discounting and members of the public who wish to enter
either establishment have to pay a minimum entrance charge of
£20, unless they are a member or intend to dine at the club.
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
The London 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 London under the Local
Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.
Many councils, including Westminster, had a
specific condition contained in the Rules of Management, which
applied to all premises which were granted licences which prohibited
nudity or partial nudity without the consent of the council. This
was commonly known as "Rule 4" and if you wished to
disapply that condition, you had to apply to the relevant local
authority for what was called a "Rule 4 waiver". That
meant that any premises operating in Westminster and other local
authorities that had such a Rule of Management had to have a waiver
before providing nude or partially nude entertainment.
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.
As I mentioned above, I have two licensed premises,
one in Soho and one in Covent Garden. The Covent Garden premises
have the benefit of a Premises Licence, which was converted under
the transitional provisions of the Licensing Act 2003. This has
the benefit of a Rule 4 waiver, so as to allow the provision of
striptease and similar entertainment.
In relation to Soho, the premises previously
had the benefit of a music and dancing licence. However, when
I took on the premises in 2006, I decided to apply for a new Premises
Licence under the new regime so as to regulate and restrict some
of the activities being provided at the premises, as they had
been previously operated as a rather rundown and problematic nightclub.
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
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.
I 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 Westminster and Tower Hamlets, which are
now automatically imposing no nudity conditions, whether or not
there are relevant representations and where it is consistent
with the operating schedule (in other words where it is not mentioned).
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.
If 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 Westminster), such a fee being difficult to justify
in terms of enforcement cost. If one or both licences were refused,
one or both of my business would have to cease trading and I would
lose everything that I have worked for all of my long working
The 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 Westminster, only eighteen sex encounter premises
are allowed in Soho. Whilst I support the need to prevent the
proliferation of such establishments, particularly those badly
managed, the risk of having to apply for a new licence, when I
have been operating perfectly properly and with a legitimate expectation,
is one almost beyond comprehension.
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
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.