Examination of Witnesses (Questions 281
TUESDAY 25 NOVEMBER 2008
Q281 Chairman: Good morning. Can
I welcome representatives of the Lap Dancing Association, Simon
Warr the Chairman, Chris Knight the Vice-Chairman and Kate Nicholls
the Secretary, as well as Peter Stringfellow who is the owner
of two clubs.
Mr Stringfellow: May I make a
point? I am not part of the Lap Dancing Association and that is
how I would like to be treated, just in case someone thinks we
are altogether. I am here to represent my views.
Chairman: We understand, thank you. Paul
Q282 Paul Farrelly: Peter, you just
heard me trying to explore some of the implications of the dual
system of licensing and how people can or cannot take advantage
of the different routes and also how it seems a little bit absurd
to have peep shows regulated in one way and lap dancing clubs
in another. Can I just ask you a straight question, why do you
think the sex encounter licensing regime would be an inappropriate
way to regulate lap dancing clubs, given some of the controversies
and concerns we have heard?
Mr Stringfellow: I welcome that
question, it is very direct and I think that is why we are all
here really. Can everyone hear me because I could not hear properly
over there? I am a bit deaf in the left ear but I still could
not hear properly. However, I got the general gist of it, the
lady does not like lap dancing. Number one, I will jump to how
I would like to have finished this. My clubs are both in the centre
of London. Westminster have been regulating my licences since
1980. I applied for the waiver of the number four licence to allow
me to go into striptease in 1996. Westminster had a waiver which
said "no nudity" on every licence that was applied for.
I had to go to court and tell them that I wished to do nudity
before a legendary chap called John Bull who allowed after a whileafter
many consultations and many meetingsto give me that particular
waiver. May I say to everyone here that every council in Great
Britain has that power. They still have the power to put on all
their applications from now onplease write this downas
of tomorrow morning, they have to have a policy and in their policy
they say that all applications, whatever it is, like Westminster,
carries a no nudity or partial nudity. That is the end of this
problem. They do have this power. What they have done wrong is
that a small minority of councils do not know their power. The
2003 law came in and it was put in in 2005. The problem wasand
even Westminster missed it out for the first yearthat the
no nudity had been dropped and therefore now it is put back in.
Westminster has not got more than it should have in lap dancing.
By the way, this is not a terminology that I like, it is a derogatory
term that is used by people who dislike it; my terminology is
adult entertainment (and that covers everything) or in my case
Q283 Paul Farrelly: It is used by
the Lap Dancing Association.
Mr Stringfellow: As I said, I
am speaking for myself. However, it is a terminology that is now
in the Great British vocabulary and so be it. I do not like it,
but so be it. So let us talk about lap dancing. All they have
to do now when they go to court is to say "You know where
you've said no nudity, I want to do nudity" and now they
have to explain why. Up come the residents, up come the police,
up come everybody else and then they go into the procedures that
I have known since I have been in my clubs since 1962 when it
took me ten years to get an alcohol licence for a disco at the
same time. I am not going into history lessons here but it goes
back many years, all objections regarding alcohol, dancing or
whatever form of entertainment it was. They can do this. I have
people behind me who have gone into this very carefully because
I do not want to be quoted by the press and be made a fool of
later on. The councils have this right if they wish tomorrow to
say on every application, no nudity. If I wish to go into your
area and your area says "no nudity" and I would like
to open one, then I cannot.
Q284 Paul Farrelly: What happens
Mr Stringfellow: I will then go
for an appeal and this now goes before magistrates. Then the due
law takes over. It is the law. Even an appeal for a sex encounter
would go to the same people. If I said "I've got to have
a sex encounter and I'm turned down" I would appeal and go
to the same peoplewhich would be the magistratesthat
I would have to go to now if I was turned down for a normal waiver
of this no nudity. I agree, not everywhere should have a lap dancing
club, there are places that should not have a disco, there are
places that should not have music and dancing until two o'clock
at their local clubI agree with all thatbut I think
the legislation was a correct piece of legislation in 2003. It
has one or two little glitches which I think this meeting could
help greatly. I would suggest that the government sends out, if
anything, to the councils and I am going to give you a few little
facts here. A letter was recently sent from the Home Office ministry,
to every chief executive in each local licensing authority in
the country asking for feedback on the control of lap dancing
establishments, specifically whether licensing authorities felt
they had sufficient power to control the growth in the number
of such establishments.
Q285 Chairman: We are aware of that.
Mr Stringfellow: May I add, only
30% of the authorities responded and of that 30% only 25 said
that they were content with powers. If you play with percentages,
that means that 22% of all the councils were a little bit confused
about their powers. Their powers are here; they can do it; it
exists. We do not really need any more legislation; no more red
Q286 Paul Farrelly: Just to be quite
clear, what you are saying is that if those authorities firstly
got their policies in place that they are allowed to do and, secondly,
understood their powers and the Act correctly, then it is not
right and proper for them simply to cry wolf and blame the government.
Mr Stringfellow: I agree with
that entirely, that is what I am saying. This is not a government
problem. There is a minoritya significant minority at 22.5%of
councils who do not understand their powers. If, as from tomorrow,
they look at their powers for every application whether it be
for a café, a hotdog stall (as I have been told today),
just put "Yes, you can have hotdogs but no nudity and no
semi-nudity". This problem is then solved and you people
can go on to look at the other problems of so-called binge drinking
(by the way, I have the answer to that if you are interested).
Q287 Paul Farrelly: That is very
Mr Stringfellow: May I bring this
up because you mentioned it? This sex encounter, I am not a sex
encounter club; I am a gentleman's club, both of my clubs are
multi-million pounds. I employ 140 full-time employees. Of the
ladies who were talking, one was an ex-dancer; with all respect,
that must have been a long time ago. My view is that I have 400
in a pool of dancers, that is now, not 20 or 10 years ago. They
are ladies who dance now. Not one of them is here to say, "Excuse
me, this is a terrible game we're playing here". Sex encounter
I am not. Sex encounter licences in the West End are £30,000
per licence. For what are you going to stick that on me? For what
and why? I do not deserve to be treated that way. My licences
are correct and proper. I have applied for them correctly and
properly. The colleague sitting behind me from "For Your
Eyes Only", nine up and down Great Britain; he has had many
refused and walked away from them. He has nine and I have two
in the centre of London which are correct and proper. They are
controlled by the police and the inspectors from Westminster.
I say, no, absolutely no; I am not a sex encounter club and I
do not want anybody coming into my club thinking they are going
to get a sexual encounter.
Ms Nicholls: We are very grateful
to you for inviting us here today. We welcome the opportunity
to talk to you and provide you with an insight into our industry
and to try to correct some of the myths and misrepresentations
about it which have been perpetuated. We did not bring any dancers
here today give evidence to you but we do have some of our dancers
in the audience. They are extremely concerned about some of the
issues that have been raised in the media and the way they have
been portrayed in the media. If you want us to arrange a meeting
with them we would be happy for you to talk to some of our existing
dancers. The reason we were particularly keen to give evidence
to this Committee today is that we do believe that the Licensing
Act is the most appropriate means of regulating a multi-faceted
business. Paul Farrelly was talking earlier today about the dual
licensing regime. It is a fundamental principle of the Licensing
Act that you license the activities under one premises licence.
The whole point is that you have multiple activities carried out
on one premises. It is by no means a perfect act and we do believe
it ought to be strengthened, but it is essentially fit for purpose.
We do need some very clear evidence that the Licensing Act is
not working before we move to introduce a more expensive, new
regime and I have not heard any of that evidence so far to suggest
that it is not working in the way that it should.
Mr Warr: Since the 2003 Act was
introduced I have personally had over a hundred visits from statutory
authorities reviewing the integrity and the operation of my businesses.
They will confirm in their own documentation that they have never
had concerns regarding the conduct of dancersthis is the
truthfor all my well-run premises. We have to ask ourselves,
in terms of the licensing objectives who are the experts when
it comes to crime and disorder? Fawcett? Object? Channel 4? Or
the police? Clearly it is the police. We know what the police
say; they were here two weeks ago, and I quote from Adrian Studd
of the Metropolitan Police, "It is true to say there is no
evidence that they cause any crime and disorder, or very rarely,
because they tend to be fairly well run and they tend to have
a fairly high staff ratio to customers. The people who tend to
go there tend to be a bit older."
Q288 Chairman: We were here; we heard
Mr Warr: I think you get the picture,
sir. I know from experience too that courts and local authorities
have accepted that in some cases the presence of a club has helped
reduced levels of crime and disorder in the immediate vicinity.
The 2003 Act was also designed to reduce the number of conditions
on licences because all premises are subject to statute law.
Q289 Chairman: Do you not accept
this, that another legitimate group who are entitled to express
a view and, if they feel strongly, object to an application should
be the local community?
Mr Warr: We believe in community
empowerment and we have something to say about that.
Ms Nicholls: Yes, local residents
absolutely should have the right and we want to make sure that
any time anybody wants to open a lap dancing club for the first
time or provide adult entertainment for the first time, that that
application is scrutinised and the local residents have a right
to object and they do. The Licensing Act 2003 introduced that
for the first time. We are not talking about a system that has
been introduced in 2003 that has somehow made things worse; it
has made things immeasurably better. 15% of all reviews of premises
licences were introduced by residents. Residents can and do regularly
object to normal applications. There is something that the government
could do. A lot of local authorities have produced guides for
their local residents to help them to object to licensing applications,
to help them frame their concerns about operations according to
the licensing objectives and the government could do that as well,
it could provide that help and advice to empower local residents
to make their representations.
Mr Warr: In other words, quite
simply residents can object to current licences which are in force
on current premises. There have been a thousand reviews from April
2007 to March 2008. 15% of those reviews were brought about by
resident action; 50% of those reviews were brought about by the
Q290 Chairman: The problem is that
if they object they have to do so under one of the four criteria
of the Licensing Act. The fact that they may just not like the
idea that they are living next door to a lap dancing club is not
a legitimate objection.
Ms Nicholls: Those are legitimate
objections. It is misdirected as to where those objections should
be put. The issues that are raised about the character of a local
area, amenity, residential concerns about the character and quality
of life, those are all material planning considerations. The Licensing
Act was set up to deal with the four broadand they are
very broadlicensing objectives. If you cannot frame an
objection to an outlet according to one of those licensing objectives
then you are actually accepting that you just have a fundamental
objection to the premises. That should not have a part to play
in an objective policy and decision making process.
Q291 Chairman: The planning regime
does not allow you to object if there is a change of usage within
an existing planning licence.
Ms Nicholls: It can do depending
on what the change of use is. We do believe that the planning
regime could be strengthened in that respect to make sure that
adult entertainment is a separate category.
Mr Stringfellow: I do not agree
with that. The idea of planning should be kept of this; this is
a council licensing matter. Leave planning alone. It is a minefield
and it is already chaotic. I have been involved in planning on
two occasions and we are talking about years, not a matter of
months, waiting for an appeal to come forward. It takes years.
The minister of planning gets involved in it. It is not a matter
of sitting in front of a committee of licensing people; planning
is much more complex and we should not be involved with that problem.
It is enough already.
Q292 Philip Davies: Can I get to
what I consider to be the nub of this particular issue which is
about whether or not you are sexual encounter establishments.
You claim that you are not and that you do not want to be characterised
in that sense. We have seen a whole range of things. We have seen
articles in the Daily Mail; I think Amanda Platell wrote
an article where she had been to visit a lap dancing club and
spoken to the girls there. Her experience was different from the
one that you say. We saw the Dispatches programme which
highlighted the fact that there was sexual contact and sexual
encounter taking place in some clubs. It may well be that Peter
Stringfellow runs a very well run club and nobody will be making
any comment on his particular club, but would you accept that
there are some clubs out there that do not run to the high standards
that he might insist upon in his club?
Mr Knight: We are not saying that
there are no bad operators out there. There are bad drivers out
there but you do not change the whole way that the driving licence
is given; you deal with the bad drivers. Under the 2003 Act the
police and the local authorities have the power to deal with any
clubs that are breaking any of the four licensing objectives.
The instance you are speaking of, if any of that was taking place
within the premises then they would be breaking one of the four
licensing objectives and the police could do something about it.
Mr Sanders: Unless you have something
like Dispatches how do you know about it?
Q293 Philip Davies: If these dances
are taking place in a back room with just the customer and the
girl that is doing the dancing, it is very difficult to regulate
what is going on because by definition there are only two people
in the room.
Mr Warr: Therein lies perhaps
one of the biggest problems, the fact that not enough people understand
the business blueprint and the operation of a club. Most people
understand how a pub works or how a corner shop works. Actually
in our premises they are not sexually stimulating; it would be
contrary to our own business plan if they were.
Q294 Philip Davies: So you are saying
that the purpose of a lap dancing club is not to be in any way
sexually stimulating. Most people would find that a rather incredible
Mr Warr: Then you need to go to
a club because the purpose of a club is to provide entertainment;
it is to provide alcohol; it is a place of leisure. All right,
the entertainment is in the form of nude and semi-nude performers,
but it is not sexually stimulating.
Q295 Philip Davies: So if I were
to do a poll of 100 customers coming out of a lap dancing club
and said, "Did you find that in any way sexually stimulating?"
you would say that I would find a big, resounding, fat zero. On
that basis you will probably have a lot of dissatisfied customers.
Mr Warr: That is a valid question,
how do you measure sexual stimulation and what is the definition
of sexual stimulation?
Mr Stringfellow: From my many
years of experience, of course it is sexually stimulating, so
is a disco, so is a young girl flashing away with her little knickers
showing. That is sexually stimulating. So is David Beckham laid
out advertising Calvin Klein, he is sexually stimulating. So are
the Chippendales, that is sexually stimulating. That is a great
show, by the way, I've been to see it. I was the only male there
out of 3,000 females. It was a wonderful show. Of course it does
have some form of sexual stimulation, but I think what my colleague
over here is trying to explain is that it is not 100% sexual,
"My god, it's driving me mad, I'm going to get divorced and
find a dancer to live with for the rest of my life". It does
not go on like that. In our environment, a dance lasts three minutes;
clothes are on and off before you have blinked; it has a lot more
to do with personality; it has a lot more to do with the ambience
of the club and the male environment.
Ms Nicholls: Can I just add here
that whether it is sexually stimulating or not seems to me to
be entirely beside the point. The point is, what is the appropriate
regime for regulating this industry, an industry which provides
entertainment, which opens late at night, which sells alcohol
and which also happens to have a sexy product? Only 30% of the
turnover is derived from the dancers; there are a lot of other
bits to the business than just the dancers that needs to be regulated.
Is it appropriate to put it all within the Licensing Act or do
you need another licence on top of it? I would answer no.
Q296 Philip Davies: Would you accept
what Nadine said in the first session, that there is an over-supply
of women in the clubs and therefore some do not get as much trade
as others and some of them find it very difficult to earn money.
That kind of regime encourages them to perhaps go a bit further
than even the club owner would want them to in order to secure
a fairer proportion of customers, and that over supply is intended
to get some of the girls to go further than you might yourselves
want them to.
Mr Warr: No, we would absolutely
dispute that. In fact, some of the comments made were to the point
of being vexatious. Quite simply, all performers are independent
contractors. They come and go as they please; they dance with
whom they want. Contrary to what you heard this morning, Peter,
Glen, myself as operators do not hold people against their will.
They are in our premises to earn a legitimate and a good living.
The fact of the matter is that it is the most purest form of supply
and demand. If there are not enough customers then the dancers
will simply go elsewhere.
Mr Stringfellow: That, may I point
out, is the absolute truth. The dancers go to be paid. If the
money is not there then they will move on. You did bring up something
about the ratio of customers to females. There is no discothe"que
that I know that is beyond the 50%. If you went to 60% or 70%
male as opposed to female in the discothe"que you are going
to have problems. You are going to have violent problems. I have
been there, I know. A ratio of 50-50 is reasonable because that
is what discothe"ques are. You do not find a discothe"que
full of males unless it is a gay one, and they are pretty good
too. If it is a mixture, they go to dance with women; they want
to see women dance. There is a sexuality in normal discos, there
always has been. You miss out the disco, you miss out the sex
side of it, you are going to fail. What we have here is somewhat
similar, but my club has never dealt with great numbers. We do
not deal with big numbers. I have a club in the centre of Soho
that has a capacity of 600. I cannot honestly tell you the last
time I saw 300. Maybe a promotion night, but on average my Soho,
Peter Stringfellow's Angels (Wardour Street, by the way) can be
as low as 75 males, 50 or 60, 30 or 40 girls. One on one sometimes.
So what? That does not mean that there is going to be sexual activity;
it is not a sexual encounter. We do not need any more laws.
Q297 Chairman: I think we have got
that now. Let me bring in Adrian Sanders.
Mr Stringfellow: I do not mind
being told; I ramble on sometimes.
Q298 Mr Sanders: It seems from the
evidence and what we have picked up that there are different types
of clubs. There is the gentlemen's club which Mr Stringfellow
has told us a great deal about this morning; there are your well-run
establishments (your claimed well-run establishments) and there
are the examples which are closer to brothels than to dancing
establishments. You say it is not in the business model to be
like that, but if you are trading at the margins and you have
young women who are self-employednot employed by youwho
need to make as much money as they can, there may well be an opportunity
for a contract to be negotiated with a customer that goes way
outside of what that premises was licensed for. I come back to
Phillip's point, how do you prevent that from happening? How do
you police that? Is it not impossible to police unless you have
a policeman in every club or you have CCTV cameras operating throughout
the club which can then periodically be viewed by some authority?
How would you police them?
Mr Warr: We do have CCTV in operation;
we have to keep the CCTV for a period of 28 days after each evening,
so for nearly a month on a rolling basis. We have a high ratio
of door supervisors to customers; that is simply to ensure the
safety and well-being of dancers and performers alike.
Q299 Mr Sanders: Are clients aware
that there is CCTV throughout?
Mr Warr: Yes.
Q300 Mr Sanders: And there is no
Mr Warr: There are notices throughout
the building saying that CCTV is in operation. To answer the question,
the way to stop bad practice and part of the reason the Lap Dancing
Association was set up is to create best practice and to create
best practice throughout the industry. In this industry every
local authority can apply their own conditions. Therein lies the
irony in that every authority has different conditions on lap
dancing. We, as an association, have a solution in terms of conduct
which is to offer a generic set of conditions for all clubs. Not
everyone may agree with that and I accept that, however, as a
benchmark and as a starting point borne out of best practice,
we believe that is a good way forward.
Ms Nicholls: Just picking up on
the policing, there are essentially two ways in which it is policed.
The first is self-policing and I do not think that ought to be
underestimated. Every licensed premises has a designated premises
supervisor whose job it is to make sure that that premises complies
with the laws, not just the licensing laws but with the law, and
his or her personal livelihood is at stake if they mess up and
if they do not do that. So there is a self-policing mechanism.
Secondly, there are the police and the licensing authorities and
because lap dancing clubs open usually late into the night they
are categorised as high risk premises therefore they will be subject
to a more rigorous inspection regime that would apply to most
licensed premises. Usually that would be at least every six months
by the police and six monthly by the licensing authorities. Those
will not be formal inspections, they could be ad hoc. So
there is a very strong, formal policing mechanism for making sure
that those kinds of bad practices do not happen.
Mr Warr: You also mentioned earlier
about mystery shoppers. In fact throughout my premises we have
mystery shoppers. We have mystery shoppers who go into the premises
once a fortnight. The purpose of the mystery shopper is to do
exactly what you are asking and that is to interrogate the integrity
of the business.
Mr Stringfellow: You are quite
right, there are bad clubs. There are bad restaurants, there are
bad films, there are bad discothe"ques, there are bad clubs
and there are bad lap dancing clubs. It is up to the local authorities
and the police to close them down if they are as bad as we are
suggesting here. That is their job and I am sure that they have
the laws to do that. We do not call them shoppersthat reminds
me of Tescowe have spotters every two weeks, we have incident
books every evening. No discothe"que has these; no pub has
incident books that we know about. Anything relating to a customer
and a dancer goes into these books and is there for inspection
by the inspectors from Westminster or the police at any time.
You would be amazed at how many cameras we have. CCTV is all over
both clubs and the high definition lighting, however dark the
area is, it looks like daylight. That is there for inspection,
only to be usedlet me give this as a freedom thingfor
incidents or checking of the dancers and their conduct; it is
not to be used to view have some fun with. To reiterate, we are
moreI have been in discothe"ques since 1962rigorously
controlled than any disco I have ever been involved in, and that
is the truth.
Ms Nicholls: I have one final
point, if I may. These are all valid concerns and we all share
the desire to root out irresponsible and bad practice. There is
nothing in a sexual encounter licence or an additional licensing
regime that would change any of that, not one thing. The answer
lies in tightening the Licensing Act and making sure that the
Licensing Act powers are enforced.
Chairman: Thank you very much, we must