The Licensing Act 2003 - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by The Lap Dancing Association (LDA)



  The Lap Dancing Association is the only established trade body representing the UK's responsible and professional lap-, pole- and table dancing club operators. We represent a third of all lap dancing clubs in the UK. The LDA's aim is to promote the highest standards of professionalism and responsibility towards our staff, dancers, customers and local communities.

  You will be aware that the licensing regime for lap dancing clubs has recently been subject to political and media criticism—in particular the degree of proliferation and the level of scrutiny clubs are subject to. Campaigns by feminist groups are based in a series of misleading myths about the industry. This brief seeks to clarity the situation.


"Lap Dancing Clubs are licensed in the same way as coffee shops"

  This is simply untrue. Unless they serve refreshments after 11.00 pm coffee shops don't even need a licence. Lap dancing clubs on the other hand are covered by the Licensing Act 2003. The Act introduced one type of licence to replace the previously required six forms of generic licence. This change was implemented specifically to introduce more effective controls on premises' licensable activities via local authorities' new power to impose individually tailored permissions. Since the implementation of the Act, over 170,000 individually tailored permissions have been implemented on licensed premises, with conditions appropriate to the risk and nature of the business being applied.

  Those applying for "regulated entertainment" under their premises licence are subject to rigorous scrutiny and a public consultation process. Indeed, premises must also tick Box N on the licence application to state their intention of offering entertainment of an adult nature. Premises licences are tailored to the activities that will be offered by each venue, using a clearly defined operating schedule. This sets out how lap dancing clubs will comply with the four objectives of the Licensing Act:

    —  the prevention of crime and disorder;

    —  public safety;

    —  the prevention of public nuisance; and

    —  the protection of children from harm.

  A lap dancing club's licence is tailored to the needs of the business and carries specific conditions, many of which have been proposed by the operator. Some examples of licence conditions include:

    —  licensed door supervision;

    —  strict age-related admissions policy;

    —  CCTV requirements; and

    —  nature of the entertainment eg partial nudity only.

  The Lap Dancing Association has a code of conduct for operators and dancers which can also be used by Local Authorities as model conditions on a licence.

  The reality is that regulation and restrictions on offering a latte or a lap dance are poles apart.


"Café style licensing means local authorities and local people have little or no say over where or how many clubs set up"

  This again is simply untrue. Concerns about need or whether a new club is appropriate for a local community are, first and foremost, considered under the local planning regime. Local authorities have almost unbounded discretion to grant or reject an application. In considering planning permissions, they also have the ability to adopt local plans setting out policies in respect of certain types of licensed premises, including lap dancing clubs. Additionally, nightclubs are categorised a "sui generis" under the Use Classes Order in planning legislation. This ensures that any operator wishing to turn their premises into a nightclub must undergo a fully consultative planning permission process. Obtaining planning permission is by far the biggest hurdle operators face when opening a new lap dancing club. Many applications are flatly refused at planning stage.

  In addition, the Licensing Act 2003 introduced a right for residents to oppose an application, complain about an existing operator and call for a review of a licence. Contrary to what is claimed by the Fawcett Society, this right is not restricted to those living within 100m of an outlet. The Act does not define any vicinity; residents need only demonstrate that they are affected by an application or outlet. Local residents are able to object to any application on the grounds that it does not meet one or more of the four licensing objectives. Local authorities can only take such objections into account. It is not in the local authorities' power to refuse an application on the grounds of subjective moral objections.

  This was a very significant change from the previous 1964 Act. A single objection can halt a licence application in its tracks and a single complaint can lead to the revocation of the licence. By way of example, in a recent case in Durham, a Council ignored objections from local residents and the Magistrates Court reversed their decision, showing how effective and influential local complaints can be.

  The reality is that planning and licensing restrictions give local authorities and local communities full powers of consultation, complaint and control.


"There has been massive expansion and normalisation of the lap-dancing industry since the Licensing Act came into force"

  The first Lap Dancing Club in the UK was opened in 1995. Industry figures for this year show approximately 150 dedicated lap-, pole- and table dancing clubs across England and Wales, which in fact represents very gradual growth, in the context of a growing hospitality industry. As set out above, the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003 has not made it easier to get a licence for a lap dancing club. In fact the controls in place are more rigorous than the former regime.

  The relatively small growth in lap dancing clubs should also be viewed within the context of an expanding and mature UK leisure industry. There are approximately 57,000 pubs and bars across England and Wales. The reality is that the lap dancing industry is a small but vibrant part of the UK entertainment industry that has grown steadily. It is worth noting that official licensing statistics do not separate out lap-, pole- and table- dancing clubs from general pub, bar and club industry statistics, meaning there is no way for Object and Fawcett Society to substantiate their claim that the number of lap dancing venues has "doubled" to 300 across the UK since the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003.

  The reality is that generating fears of a "massive expansion" supports the case for those with a moral objection to the very existence of the industry. Such subjective assessments can and should have no place in the regulatory regime for a legitimate industry.


Lap dancing clubs are part of the commercial sex industry

  Lap dancing clubs are a small part of the vibrant UK leisure and entertainment industry. They are not sex encounter establishments. Our performers are financially independent, self-employed women. They are not sex workers.

  LDA member clubs have "acceptable behaviour standards" for customers and invest in CCTV and licensed security staff to ensure high standards of management. Each performer is required to observe a rigorous dancers' code of practice.

  We do not condone illegal activity. Any demand for sexual services from a customer will result in eviction from the premises. Performers are clearly warned that making any inappropriate arrangements will lead to dismissal from the Club.

  The reality is that, while lap dancing is a sexy industry, sex is not for sale.

  We would also cite that on average, our clubs derive 70% of turnover from sale of alcohol, and 30% from dances. The performance of lap dancing is ancillary to alcohol sales.


Requiring lap dancing clubs to have an additional Sex Encounter Establishment Licence (SEEL) would give local authorities greater control

  There is a campaign calling for the "reclassification" of lap dancing clubs. This is in itself a myth. The imposition of a Sex Encounter Establishment Licence (SEEL) regime would not constitute a "reclassification", but rather a secondary licence and additional layer of regulation.

  In reality, an additional SEEL licence would do nothing to increase local authorities' power to control the operation of and activity within lap dancing clubs. It would leave existing bad practice and irresponsible operations untouched. The only thing a SEEL regime would do is to give local authorities the power to refuse outright an application for adult entertainment provisions.

  Local authorities already have considerable powers to regulate the opening and operation of lap dancing outlets, and need to be made more aware of the full extent of them.

  The SEEL was introduced under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. Its purpose is to regulate those establishments offering entertainment of an adult nature that do not sell alcohol, such as sex cinemas and sex shops. As such premises do not sell alcohol, they do not require a regular premises licence and therefore fall outside of any form of regulation. The SEEL was therefore developed to provide regulation for these establishments.

  When the SEEL regime was introduced, there was some discussion as to whether its provisions should be extended to cover adult entertainment provided in licensed premises. The matter was also raised during the passage of the Licensing Act 2003. Both times it was agreed that the licensing regime was the most appropriate mechanism for regulating this type of entertainment. Dual licensing was explicitly rejected.

  While we very much share concerns about unregulated or inadequately controlled establishments, the LDA does not support current suggestions that lap dancing clubs should be required to hold an additional SEEL. Two licences would be an unnecessary and costly duplication of regulation for the established industry, which will not improve standards, help protect the dancers or prevent opportunistic pubs from offering unregulated strip nights. All of this can, however, be effected through the Licensing Act 2003.

  The reality is that the imposition of SEELs on already licensed premises would involve huge practical problems for licensing authorities and operators, as a robust and detailed description of nude or partially nude entertainment would have to be drawn up. If not, the licence could inadvertently capture everything from traditional burlesque—made popular today by Dita Von Teese—to naked actors on stage in the theatre—like Daniel Radcliffe in Equus. Impromptu performances by stag-do strippers could also find themselves in breach of licence conditions.

  Furthermore, the SEEL would simply cost operators an estimated extra £8000 per year to run their businesses in exactly the same manner as before, but under a bad name. Neither our clubs nor performers would accept the "sex industry" label.


"Lap dancing clubs create no go areas for women and increase sex crimes"

  There is no evidence to suggest that lap dancing clubs create no go areas for women, or increase sex crimes.

  Groups opposed to lap dancing clubs base this assertion on a one-sided small scale report in Camden, conducted by Lilith and Eaves Housing For Women. The report can in no way be held up as an independent, unbiased analysis of the impact of lap-dancing clubs. The author says "Of course it would be wonderful if strip clubs could be eradicated tomorrow".[9]

  The report associates increases in rape and indecent assault specifically with the presence of lap dancing clubs in the area, despite the fact that these licensed venues represent just 0.35% of the late night entertainment venues in Camden. Camden has approaching 2,000 pubs, 129 licensed entertainment venues; of these only seven are lap dancing clubs.

  Metropolitan Police statistics in fact show that:

    —  Rape offences in Camden fell by 53% between 1999-2000 to 2007-08.

    —  Other sexual offences in Camden fell by 3.8% between 1999-2000 to 2007-08.

    —  Latest figures show that residents of Camden are less likely to be a victim of a rape or a sexual offence than residents in Westminster or Islington (boroughs used for comparison in the report),

  The reality is that there is no evidence to suggest that there are significant problems relating to other forms of disorder, anti-social behaviour or public nuisance surrounding the operation of lap dancing clubs. Indeed, all the evidence points to the contrary. For example, analysis of Birmingham police call-out statistics reveals 14 incidents per lap-dancing club as compared to 77 per conventional nightclub.[10]

  There is simply no evidence to demonstrate a causal link between the opening of lap dancing clubs and crime.


"Lap dancing clubs do not comply with local authority obligations under the gender equality duty"

  Gender Equality Duty requires Local Authorities to "proactively promote gender equality". We can only assume that the anti-lap dancing campaigners are trying to suggest that granting licences to clubs where self employed women dance freely under their own volition is somehow discriminatory.

  The reality is that this is clearly not true.


"Lap Dancing objectifies women"

  Objectification is an entirely subjective attitude and we simply support a woman's right to do the job she wants. To suggest that women who are confident in their naked bodies are somehow anti-feminist is wrong, and sets the feminist debate back half a century. Dancers are self-employed and frequently financially stable individuals. There is an enjoyment and pride in their profession, for which they train and rehearse with great skill.

  Our criticisers have obviously never visited a lap dancing club. The reality is that, if they had, they would realise that although the girls take their tops off, it is definitely they who wear the trousers.

November 2008

9   Lilith Report, p13. Back

Research conducted by Bill Martland, Lap dance clubs and crime and disorder: Modern myths and reality, 2006. Back

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