|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
(a) low-level nuisance affecting a few people living locally,
(b) the reduction in living and working amenity and environment of interested parties in the vicinity,
"(8) A licensing authority may publish a special policy for an area creating a rebuttable presumption that applications for new licenses that are likely to add to the existing cumulative impact will normally be refused unless the applicant can demonstrate in their operating schedule that there will be no negative cumulative impact on one or more of the licensing objectives."
"(7A) When considering whether to make a representation, any responsible authority included in paragraph 13(4)(f) must assess what moral, psychological and physical harm the grant of the premises licence will have on children."
(a) conditions of employment for performers,
(b) codes of conduct for customers and performers,
(c) the outward appearance of the premises.
(a) any representations made by an interested party,
(b) the character of the relevant locality,
(c) the use to which any premises in the vicinity are put,
(d) the layout, character or condition of the premises in respect of which the application is made.""
Baroness Hanham: With some relief we move on to a slightly different aspect. Before we start on Clause 26, I would like to proffer an alternative to what is being proposed in this legislation. I tabled Amendment 82A to probe exactly what the Government are seeking to do through Clause 26 and to explore whether their concerns with the current legislation cannot be met through the Licensing Act 2003.
As I understand it, the motivation for Clause 26 and the associated schedule is to address the understandable concern that local authorities and licensing authorities do not have the means available to refuse licence applications or modifications that allow adult entertainment. Quite rightly, the Government are seeking to give local residents a powerful voice in raising concerns about the establishment of lap-dancing clubs on their doorstep, and we continue to support that. We believe that residents have a strong role in this. There are many reasons to be concerned about lap-dancing clubs, and I have great sympathy with the organisations which have worked so hard to highlight examples of exploitation within that industry and sought to protect the women working in it. It is also clear that many people have understandable moral qualms about the sort of behaviour that such clubs are reputed to encourage and are worried about behaviour spilling out beyond their four walls.
As my amendment indicates, I do not believe that we need to use a 25 year-old piece of legislation to achieve a reduction in this. By my reading, the Licensing Act's objectives are more than adequate to deal with the concerns. If they are not, there is already the precedent of the mandatory conditions for certain licences within it to fill the gaps. My proposed new subsection (4) quotes liberally from guidance to the Licensing Act issued by the Government. It makes clear that the licensing objectives of preventing public nuisance or protecting children from harm are directly relevant to the concerns that have been raised. If there is evidence that having a lap-dancing club near a school or college leads to harassment of the pupils or students, why is that not already taken into account under the protection of children from physical, moral and psychological harm? If a new lap-dancing club would cause an unwelcome change in the tone of a residential area, why is the licensing authority not taking account of the reduction in the living amenity of interested parties in the vicinity?
Local residents may find themselves unable to raise their concerns about a licence application. This appears to be the case from the debates in another place. I strongly encourage the Minister to bring forward amendments to the Licensing Act to address this. Nothing in that Act was intended to exclude residents' or local organisations' voices, so it is clear there is a wider problem. I would be very glad to work with the Minister to improve this part of the Bill, although there might be some concerns about scope and departmental responsibility because this would straddle out of our area.
Another useful part of the Government's guidance was the detailed chapter on cumulative impact, which I have incorporated into my proposed new subsection (3). Licensing authorities are already allowed to establish a special policy around an area where they feel the number of licences being applied for is giving rise to an unwelcome cumulative impact. This is obviously relevant in areas where there is a growth of clubs or bars. There is no reason why it should not be applicable to lap-dancing clubs, too. The development of an area into a quasi red-light district, if that is what is being expected, is obviously one the licensing authority should have the power to control. This is a problem the Government are trying to address through the use of quotas for the licensing of lap dancing. We will come to the quotas in more detail later. In the mean time, does the Minister not accept that the cumulative impact guidance already given to licensing authorities gives them the power to refuse applications when they contribute to a negative cumulative impact?
We turn to the code of conduct. So far the parts of my proposed new clause that I have discussed are merely explanations and clarifications of the existing law. Licensing authorities are already actively encouraged by the Government to interpret the provisions this way. Proposed new subsection (5) in my amendment describes the one area where I feel that the Licensing Act may be deficient in protecting against inappropriate adult entertainment-or adult entertainment in general, because it may not be inappropriate. In speaking to outside groups on the matter, it became clear that although some premises licences specifically cover adult entertainment and include a number of safeguards and restrictions, others did not mention it at all, and it became permissible almost by accident. That is clearly not desirable, so I have inserted a new mandatory condition following the precedent of the licences that permit alcohol to be sold or films to be shown. A mandatory condition would ensure that adult entertainment is properly regulated with a binding code of conduct. In that way, the valid concerns about the exploitation of workers and the behaviour of customers and performers can be met through those representations.
Much of subsection (3) of my proposed new section, for example, is taken directly from the Local Government Act 1982. The criteria seem entirely appropriate in that regard and would be a useful addition to the Licensing Act. It allows for local premises such as schools or charities to be taken into account, as well as controlling the outward appearance of the club, thus adding to existing legislation on indecency and obscenity.
There are a great many advantages to using the Licensing Act, rather than proceeding to introduce a lot more cumbersome legislation. The following groups of amendments that we have proposed go into much more detail about our concern with the provisions as drafted, so this is an alternative to the rest. My amendment is an attempt to find a consistent, clear and easily understandable way forward to address valid concerns. I declare my interest as a member of a local authority, although I am not on the licensing committee so I would not be involved. I will be interested to hear from the Minister why this approach was not considered or preferred before the Bill was proposed. I beg to move.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, offers a far more appropriate solution to what is undoubtedly a problem that the Government are right to address.
I like several things about the amendment. The local authority is absolutely the right place to have such debate and discussion. Licensing committee members are trained and updated regularly on everything that they need to consider. They are well able to weigh the sort of balances that they will have to in such cases. It is undoubtedly difficult to do so for a community where the spectrum of what are called lap-dancing clubs is so wide, from reputable premises that are very well run and causing no aggravation to neighbours-and probably contributing to the life of the community and employment opportunities-to the most seedy, exploitative establishment that it is possible to imagine, including everything in between. It is impossible to legislate for that entire spectrum, but we can empower local authorities to make those decisions.
I know that there has been criticism of that approach from some quarters, saying that we would end up with a postcode lottery, instead of taking a more centralised approach. All parties have talked about localism and empowering local communities, and that is exactly what we should aim to do here. What might go down okay in-it is hard to pick a town without causing offence, so I will take the town about which the leader of my party in this House speaks a lot, so I will rightly get into trouble if I get it wrong-Blackpool might not go down well in a small rural town in Suffolk, for example. The licensing authority should be the place to have those debates, so that it can lay down the conditions it considers appropriate. There may be one or two small drafting differences between us, but, on the whole, I support the amendment.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I support the amendment. It draws attention to this whole area. We must not forget that lap dancing is a relatively new development that has become increasingly popular. Without wanting to spoil the fun of people who enjoy that sort of thing, there are obviously sides of it that are less than desirable. One has seen examples of that in the press. I will certainly be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the proposal. Normally, this would fall under local licensing authorities, so I await with interest what I shall hear from him.
Lord Brett: I thank the noble Baroness for her clear exposition of what she seeks to achieve in the amendment. She asked an appropriate question about why the Government are using the 1982 Act, a 27 year-old Act-although she did use part of it in her amendment, but I shall ignore that. The answer is that we considered using the Licensing Act 2003, but local authorities told us that they wanted the 1982 Act to be used. I shall seek to explain why and answer the points that the noble Baroness raised.
Although the noble Baroness's amendment is aimed at dealing with issues specifically arising from the provision of adult entertainment, I fear that it would have a wider impact on all applications considered under the Licensing Act 2003. First, the amendment attempts to state in the Bill how three of the four licensing objectives should be interpreted, using definitions from the statutory guidance issued to licensing authorities under Section 182 of the 2003 Act. As the definitions used in the amendment are already contained in the statutory guidance, the Government do not believe that their inclusion in the Act would add substantially to the powers available to local authorities or change how the licensing objectives are currently interpreted. It has been the experience of numerous local authorities that the powers available under the 2003 Act have not been sufficient to control lap-dancing clubs opening against the interests of local communities. Therefore, more extensive amendments are required.
Secondly, the amendment would provide local authorities with power to publish a special policy creating a rebuttal presumption and applications would be refused if they were likely to add to the cumulative impact on one or more of the licensing objections in a certain area and the applicant could not demonstrate in his operating schedule that there had been no such impact. Although I understand the intention behind the provision, again, I do not believe that it would add to the existing powers available to local authorities. One of the difficulties with the current regime is that local people and responsible authorities may have concerns about lap-dancing clubs that are not covered by the four licensing objectives.
Thirdly, the amendment introduces a requirement for any premises authorising adult entertainment to contain a condition requiring the premises to have a code of conduct approved by the licensing authority. Again, the Government have some sympathy with the concept of a code of conduct for lap-dancing clubs, but we need to be sure that such a code can be enforced. Under the 1982 Act, the local authority can impose standard conditions on sex-encounter venue licences. The standard conditions should cover those measures that are expected to be included in the code of conduct. It would be a criminal offence to contravene those conditions without reasonable excuse.
On the other hand, it is unclear what the sanctions could be for a breach of the code of conduct as proposed by the noble Baroness. The licensing authority would not be able to review the licence on the basis of the code of conduct having been breached, unless the conditions in the code were relevant to one or more of the licensing objectives. The code proposed under the amendment would also fail to deal with the issue of whether the premises should be granted a licence
6 July 2009 : Column 500
The impetus behind the reforms proposed in the Bill is a recognition that the existing regulatory framework provided by the 2003 Act has been unable to address the particular concerns that the presence of lap-dancing clubs raises for many local communities. Under the 2003 Act, objections made by local people on which local authorities can act must be based on the four licensing objections. Those, as we know, are the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. The experience of many local communities in recent years has been that widespread objections based on the impact that a lap-dancing club might have on an area's character or the inappropriateness of such clubs being located in certain largely residential areas have been disregarded, not because the concerns are invalid but because the 2003 Act does not recognise objections on those grounds.
Situations have therefore arisen where lap-dancing clubs have been opened in the face of widespread local opposition. Clause 26 seeks to address that situation, whereas Amendment 82A would, indeed, retain the status quo. Given that the Licensing Act 2003 aimed to create an integrated framework for the licensing of entertainment venues, I can understand the appeal of attempting to address the issue of lap-dancing clubs within the scope of the legislation. However the Government believe that, as with licensed gambling, certain venues require additional controls specific to the form of entertainment that they provide.
For lap-dancing clubs and similar venues, we firmly believe that the necessary controls are best provided by Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, and local authorities are certainly supportive of that approach. While I therefore certainly understand the intention behind the amendment, I hope that I have explained why the Government are not able to accept it and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it.
Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for his reply. I am not entirely surprised by his rejection of the amendment, because I suspect that some thought has probably been given to that. As we go through the other amendments, however, we may very well come back to the fact that this legislation would have been, and is, perfectly adequate if amended to include lap dancing. One real advantage in this, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is that it makes it very local; it means that something which affects local people, as the licensing of any premises does, can be dealt with against a local background. That is very important, while the number of premises-which we shall, again, be coming to-should also be in the hands of the local authority.
We would quite readily accept that a number-and probably the great majority-of these premises are extremely well run. They do not cause a problem, and there are actually few complaints about them from anywhere. The people who know about that are, again,
6 July 2009 : Column 501
Viscount Bridgeman: Amendment 83 is a probing amendment on the name that the Government have decided to impose on lap-dancing clubs. The amendments in this group proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, would appear to be based on exactly the same concerns. I would much prefer to see "adult entertainment venue" in place of "sex encounter venue".
My concerns about "sex encounter venue" are precisely those that the Minister claimed were behind Clause 15 -the stigma that a name can give. The Minister has, quite rightly, argued that the phrase "common prostitute" bears with it a stigma that is often inaccurate and unfair. It will almost always lead to prejudice in future life; for example, in job interviews. That is, of course, true, so it is astonishing to see that the Government are happy to label a large number of dancers who have never participated in prostitution as "sex encounter workers". How does the Minister expect a lap dancer ever to break into a more socially respectable line of dancing with that on her CV?
Not only is the Government's choice of title prejudicial to the women involved, it could be downright dangerous. The Government appear to be instilling an expectation among the customers that they are, in fact, entering a lap-dancing club to engage in a sex encounter. Since many of those clubs have a strict no-touching rule, the Government appear to be raising the most perverse expectations among lap-dancing clientele, which could result in considerable disaffection.
I am sure that the Minister would not deliberately suggest that lap dancers should be stigmatised as sex workers or, even worse, should be expected to participate in sex acts or encounters. I therefore recommend to him the alternatives proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, as a far more appropriate title for these sorts of venues. So many of the provisions in the Bill have the laudable intention of enhancing the dignity of women, but I suggest that Clause 26(2) could well achieve precisely the opposite effect. I beg to move.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall): I should tell the Committee that in the event that this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 84 by reason of pre-emption.
6 July 2009 : Column 502
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: We have a number of amendments grouped with the amendment so ably moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. He made his points very well. We received strong representations, for example, from Equity, which feels that its members working in that field are being completely misrepresented if they are portrayed as working in the sex industry; they actually work in the entertainment industry. In any case, we are probably starting from the wrong place with the first name of lap dancing which is, I think, an American term implying something to do with sitting on laps. In the world of entertainment in this country there is a strict "no touching" rule anyway, so we might have to step back even further and address the whole way that we talk about this business, because we need to draw clear lines of definition.
Nor does this provision do any service to our overseas visitors who come over here and might be interested in going to an adult entertainment venue, quite possibly with their wives or girlfriends, but would absolutely not dream of going to a sex encounter venue. When they are told that something is classified as that, how on earth are they supposed to know that it is a perfectly respectable burlesque venue? On the other hand, if they are looking for a sex encounter and turn up at the perfectly respectable burlesque venue, they will be mightily disappointed. Calling it such an inappropriate name does no service to those who work in it; neither does it to the customers who have every right to expect it to be accurately labelled for what it is. That should start in the legislation, so I hope that the Government will think about renaming those venues.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Having listened to what has been said, I support these amendments. While I accept that it would cause an awful lot of rewriting concerning the Bill, since "sex encounter" seems to have taken root in quite a number of its pages, adult entertainment is a well accepted term. Everybody knows what adult means and I should have thought that it would be very much better to stick to that and to encourage the side of things that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, pointed out, is part of how we have interpreted the whole of that scene, given the no-touching requirements that are part of the lap dancing culture. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to this change and meet everybody's good wishes.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|