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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 281 - 300)



  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 Farrelly?

  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 while—after many consultations and many meetings—to 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 on—please write this down—as 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 was—and even Westminster missed it out for the first year—that 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 gentlemen's clubs.

  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 then?

  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 people—which would be the magistrates—that 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 club—I agree with all that—but 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 tape.

  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 minority—a 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 helpful.

  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 dancers—this is the truth—for 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 that evidence.

  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 police.

  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 broad—and they are very broad—licensing 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 statement.

  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-employed—not employed by you—who 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 hiding place.

  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 shoppers—that reminds me of Tesco—we 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 used—let me give this as a freedom thing—for 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 more—I have been in discothe"ques since 1962—rigorously 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 move on.

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