Clause 25

– in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 10th February 2009.

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Regulation of lap dancing and other sex encounter venues etc

Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho Labour, Stourbridge

I beg to move amendment 78, in clause 25, page 20, line 1, leave out paragraph (b).

May I say that your voice, Sir Nicholas, has taken on a completely different quality this afternoon, which I find quite interesting and stimulating? As I am sure  most members of the Committee are aware, since the Licensing Act 2003 came into force lap-dancing clubs have been licensed in the same way as cafÃ(c)s, which has led to a proliferation of new clubs across the country. I first became aware of the issue not long after becoming an MP in 2005 when several residents complained to me that they had been unable to register their objections to a club setting up in Stourbridge only yards from their homes, which struck me as wrong. As a keen new MP, I obviously tried to intervene. I found that not only were the residents correct that they could not register their objections, but that the local authority felt that the club was following the law quite properly, even though it felt in its heart that the residents ought to be able to object. I spoke to many other MPs and found that the same issue was popping up all over the country.

There was a second application very soon after for another lap-dancing club in Stourbridge. It is a market town whose centre is enclosed by a ring road, and it still retains the feel of a market town, so to have yet another lap-dancing club, this time asking for permission to build 50 private booths, seemed rather overwhelming, and there was some debate as to what 50 private booths would bring for Stourbridge. I joined with the Fawcett Society and Object to bring the issue to the fore and we began to campaign. We got cross-party support because it is ridiculous that one can object to one’s neighbour building a porch or a conservatory but not to a cafÃ(c) or bar next door becoming a lap-dancing club, and that was the basis on which the campaign started.

A 10,000-name petition was sent to Downing street, which gained the campaign much publicity, and many more people came on board. I am pleased that we have got to the point where the Government have listened to the people and decided to introduce clause 25, and I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has taken a keen interest in the case. I believe that it is because of her interest that the issue has been highlighted even more. Local authorities will now be allowed to license lap-dancing clubs in the same way they license sex shops and cinemas, and they will be called sex encounter venues. That is really important, because local authorities such as Dudley can now take into account important factors such as the gender equality requirement, the character of a locality and whether the proposed club will be appropriate to the area, which is vital.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Lady and do not disagree with what she says. However, I would be interested to hear how she envisages the gender equality provision being used. Is she saying that, by having a regard to the duty to promote gender equality, it will enable local authorities to deny an application for a lap-dancing club? If that is the case, would that not apply to all lap-dancing clubs in all local authorities? How would that be club-specific? Although it is an important duty on local authorities, it is a rather general duty.

Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho Labour, Stourbridge

If we look at Stourbridge, for example, one of the clubs is directly opposite a sixth-form college. Young women walk backwards and forwards from the bus stop and the bus and train stations. At one of my surgeries, young women complained of being cat-called and harassed when they were leaving the college after evening events. That is a situation in which I envisage the duty being implemented.

It is at this point that I regrettably depart from the Government line, not because of the clause, but because it needs to be sharpened and tightened. We are in danger of creating another unintentional loophole that will allow lap dancing to continue without residents having the right to object. The provision has two clear flaws. First, licensing reforms should have universal application. Adoption of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 is currently optional. Therefore, clause 25 will not guarantee all local communities a greater say in the licensing of lap-dancing clubs because the outcome will depend on whether the local authority chooses to adopt the legislation. We know that there is widespread demand for a greater say, so we have a big difficulty in this area. The voluntary nature of the 1982 Act and the sexual encounter venue category will create an uneven licensing landscape that is vulnerable to exploitation by the lap-dancing industry, which, from my experience, will jump straight through the loophole.

The greater flaw is in the provision that exempts premises that provide lap-dancing events less frequently than once a month. It excludes a large number of premises that hold lap-dancing nights. There is a very large and growing business for lap-dancing agencies that arrange nights and bookings in a range of pubs, bars, hotels and so on. During such difficult times, it is quite likely that this licensed business will see lap-dancing nights as a revenue raiser.

During my work on this issue, I have met many lap dancers—current and former—and also club owners. One local club owner in the Midlands has bragged to me that his business might not even be affected by clause 25 should this loophole remain open, and that it might even improve. Within the ring road of Stourbridge, close to the town centre, there are 11 pubs and bars and five licensed restaurants and places in which the agencies could apply for these special events. With my rough maths, there is the possibility, even if we can regulate or assist my residents in objecting to new clubs, of between 160 and 192 nights of lap dancing within the ring road. Each venue could apply for 10 to 12 temporary events a year. Should that be the case, the club owner states that he could move his “stable of girls”—I notice hon. Members making faces, but that was the phrase that he used—around the town over a period of time, thus effectively creating a mobile lap-dancing club with all the same issues that apply to current clubs and premises without my local residents—or anybody else’s local residents—being able to object. Local authorities cannot deny permission, which can be denied only if the police suspect severe public disorder should the event go ahead. That is the very big problem. We will still be denying our residents the right to object. Evidence from local authority officers suggest that many venues already exploit the loophole to hold monthly events. Once again, residents are denied the chance to object. Indeed, under the Bill they will have even less ground for an objection than under the Licensing Act 2003.

The exemption allowing venues to apply for temporary events notices, rather than as sex encounter venues, renders the clause almost worthless. It undermines the work of all those, including MPs, who have worked on and supported the campaign. Our work has been rendered useless. Residents are still to be denied their right to be heard. Thousands of men and women object, including councillors and those in the Fawcett Society, residents  associations and, in one case, the National Organisation of Residents Associations, which represents more than 500,000 people. They are all aware of this loophole and are asking for it to be closed. The contradiction in the Bill must be resolved by removing paragraph (b), as proposed in my amendment. It would empower communities, such as that in Stourbridge town centre, as they deserve to be, and as I think this clause intended.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

I, too, wish to speak to amendment 78. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge, I welcome clause 25, but I shall not open the champagne just yet, because considerable work remains to be done to improve it. As she said, we are seeking to delete the paragraph permitting lap dancing once a month in a club, pub or restaurant without going through what will be the new licensing procedure. That is really important. However, we need to go beyond removing the paragraph by inserting a proposed new section ensuring that temporary events notices cannot be applied to lap dancing.

I had already started to worry about the relationship between lap dancing and temporary events notices before I read clause 25. As the Minister will know, in Durham, the local authority approved a lap-dancing club—this is why I got involved in the issue—and residents had to go to enormous lengths to get it overturned in the magistrates court. We now risk judicial review in the High Court. Everybody wants local authorities to have the ability, under this legislation, to take into account residents’ opinions in a way that they do not under the 2003 Act. I and my residents were pretty hopeful that the legislation would help, so I was surprised to be contacted by some residents shortly after Christmas to say that the area, including the student union, had been leafleted with flyers saying that a lap-dancing night was taking place in the very pub that had lost its appeal for a lap-dancing licence. We could not understand why this had happened. When I contacted the police, they said, “They have applied for a temporary events notice, and the only way we could turn it down was if there were substantial public order issues. We do not think that substantial public order issues will arise until the temporary events notice will have been granted.”

The residents and I could not believe that, and so I looked into temporary events notices in more detail. I ask the Minister to talk to his colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, because this is a pernicious policy instrument when used to allow lap dancing to go ahead. It allows no objection from local people at all.

I did a similar calculation to my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge. People may say, “This would only be once a month—so what?” But residents do not want lap dancing in their area, and that was the basis on which we asked for a change of legislation. It was to give residents more say. They should not have to put up with such events once a month.

In the immediate vicinity of the club that lost the appeal for a lap-dancing licence, there are about seven clubs that could apply for a temporary events notice. We could, therefore, have one or two lap-dancing events each week, and that does not seem to be the intention of  the change in legislation. I know it will be a hollow victory if we end up with the clause continuing as it is. We already know that, because a Durham councillor has told me that the clubs are quite keen on the legislation the way it is currently framed. If one or two events happen once or twice a month, they are more likely to maximise the audience up to the 500 people allowed. They will therefore make more money than if they occur on a regular basis.

It really is important that, if the policy objective is to give local communities more say over what happens in their area and a greater ability to turn down lap-dancing clubs, the provision of sex encounter venues is not rendered redundant by the ability to get lap dancing via temporary events notices. I ask the Minister to take another look to see whether there is any way in which not only can the proposed new subsection (3)(b) be reduced, but that the terms cannot be used to allow for lap dancing or similar activities.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 6:15 pm, 10th February 2009

The amendments raise interesting issues about the intent, the application and what the actual focus behind the proposals is. I am sure that the Minister has listened carefully, as we have, to the way that the hon. Member for Stourbridge moved her amendment. I made a face because I was shocked at the comment made by the person who was running that particular establishment. To refer to women in such a derogatory and possessive fashion is unacceptable and outrageous, and that is why I appeared aghast at the comment that had been made.

That approach highlights the pernicious and appalling nature of some of the activities that go on. That is why neighbourhoods and communities need some means of redress to deal with the problems that people are having to put up with. That is recognised and understood.

I certainly listened carefully to the practical issues that were raised, which need careful consideration. The amendment may not precisely hit the nail on the head, and we may need to consider the issue further, but the hon. Lady raised the important issue of the regulation of sex encounter venues and the way in which that has been introduced. As she indicated, the issue has cross-party support and affects communities across the country, so we need a practical way of dealing with it. I will not repeat the phrase the hon. Lady used to describe the way in which somebody ran their business, but her point was well made and I will listen carefully to the Minister’s response.

Dr. Harrisrose—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

The hon. Gentleman has prompted the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I was not prompted by the hon. Gentleman. I hate to correct you, Sir Nicholas, because it is a risky thing to do, but it was good to hear what he had to say first for a change.

I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Stourbridge and for City of Durham, for running a concerted and effective campaign through early-day motions, appropriate lobbying and Westminster Hall debates to change the minds of many hon. Members, political parties and, indeed, the Government who, in March 2008, were not  minded to support the campaign, but then realised that there was a case. It is therefore a tribute to those two members of the Committee, their colleagues and Object, the organisation that started the campaign and was later joined by the Fawcett Society.

I support amendment 78 in so far as it goes, because it allows for consistency. Our view is that the type of decision under discussion could and should be made locally and there should not be a loophole that prevents local authorities from exercising the clause’s decision-making powers. Although it is not subject to the amendment, there is also a loophole in the case of temporary licences that was referred to by the hon. Member for City of Durham.

If a place is unsuitable for the reason given by the hon. Member for Stourbridge, namely that it is opposite a sixth-form college and it is essentially oppressive for young women to have catcalls from, for example, boys at the school—[Interruption.]I will explain to the hon. Member for West Chelmsford who, understandably, did not understand the point that I was making. Part of the problem with lap dancing is that the objectification of women creates particular difficulties for young women growing up. If they see images of women in lower-shelf magazines, such as Zoo and Nuts,that portray them purely as sexual objects, it can be embarrassing and humiliating for schoolgirls when such magazines are brought into school. That is why they should be on the top shelf and classified as adult material, which is another of Object’s campaigns.

Similarly, lap-dancing clubs are a form of adult entertainment and need to be separated from young people, because they can be an oppressive way of objectifying women that can give schoolgirls a particularly hard time. I have seen that happen, and it is inappropriate. The amendment therefore improves the clause.

I did not quite understand what the hon. Member for Hornchurch meant by the pernicious—I do not know what the other adjective he used was, but it was a strong one—activities that take place in lap-dancing clubs. If there are unacceptable activities, I hope that the Government have other ways of policing them. In a liberal society, however, we have to accept that, where there are good health and safety regulations and where sex encounter venues are kept apart—in the way that the clause envisages local authorities having the ability to do so—from areas of society that do not want them, adults will want to attend such venues, so we must allow their activities to take place. It is dangerous for any political party to argue against that, because some of their senior members sometimes go to such venues, or are dragged there, always against their will.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the emphasis I gave related to the perhaps quite extreme and shocking example given by the hon. Member for Stourbridge in relation to activity that she has had to deal with. I recognise that there are regulated activities—indeed the clause envisages regulated activities for certain establishments. I was responding to that specific point.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I am glad that I have given the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to make his point even more clear. If the hon. Member for Stourbridge presses the amendment to a vote, my colleague and I plan to support it for the reasons I have given.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Hornchurch about the inappropriateness of the comments to which the hon. Member for Stourbridge referred. I thank him for his cross-party support. As was said on Second Reading, all parties have aligned on this issue and are heading in the right direction. However, over and above the cross-party support, I place on the record the excellent work of my hon. Friends the Members for Stourbridge and for City of Durham. They have campaigned tirelessly on this matter and have made a difference. If they do not already know, I assure them that their constituents and constituents across the country will appreciate this measure if and when it becomes legislation. They are tireless fighters on this matter and for their constituencies.

I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge and her reasons for tabling the amendment, which would remove the provision that allows premises to provide relevant entertainment such as lap dancing less frequently than once a month without having to apply for a sex encounter venue licence. I wish to return to the other question raised briefly in her remarks on the voluntary nature of the 1982 Act because we will debate that more fully. She raised concerns about these provisions on Second Reading and suggested that they will allow establishments to run monthly lap-dancing events.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham voiced similar fears and suggested that the apparent loopholes would cause agencies catering for monthly lap-dancing events to expand their businesses. I also acknowledge her concerns on temporary event notices. We discussed whether those notices can be applied to this sort of event when debating community empowerment. I share some of her concerns over temporary event notices and give her an undertaking that I will raise them with colleagues in the DCMS to see whether anything needs to be done.

In response to my hon. Friends the Members for Stourbridge and for City of Durham, I want to put on the record where we are on this issue. We do not envisage that the consequences they have anticipated will arise. However, I acknowledge their concerns and fears and those of other Committee members.

Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho Labour, Stourbridge

The issue is not with foreseeing whether our concerns will arise. Such things are happening now. They are certainly happening to a greater extent in Durham. We know from experience that if people get away with something in one area, it will proliferate before we know it. There is quite a tight and connected community and dancers are shared.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction) 6:30 pm, 10th February 2009

I prefaced my remarks because I want to go back and address those issues. That is why I said that I was giving our current thinking on these proposals. I will return to the points that my hon. Friend is making.

I will set out not only where we are on this issue, but how we arrived at this position. That will give an understanding of the proposals before us. The focus of clause 25 is on businesses where lap dancing is a core part of the business, such as those referred to by my hon. Friends on Second Reading. Those include  establishments that run lap-dancing events relatively frequently, such as once a month. We believe that those are the establishments that local people are most concerned about when they open in their locality. We have not left a loophole for these businesses and people to take advantage of. I shall return to that moment in a moment. The new licensing regime would apply to an establishment that runs monthly lap-dancing nights. Proposed new paragraph (b) means that only establishments that stage such events less frequently would not be required to obtain a sex encounter venue licence. If my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge is about to rise and say, “Well it would not take a genius to work out how you could get around the monthly rule”, I shall bear that in mind. I can assure her that I am not dismissing that point.

We believe that, as it stands, this is an appropriate place to draw the line and distinguish between those establishments which provide lap dancing as part of their core business, and those which may occasionally provide relevant entertainment, while operating primarily as another type of venue. An example might be a pub that hosts a stag night or a hen night, where a stripper is booked to perform. I understand, particularly in the light of the comments made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, that this entertainment can still be regarded as problematic. I know from experiences in my own constituency how it can inflame public opinion and that residents are alarmed, but we are trying to draw a distinction between the kind of formalised establishments for lap dancing that the legislation is primarily set out to do something about, and the sorts of examples that I am giving. However, I do not think it is legitimate to classify a pub hosting such entertainment on a sporadic basis as a sex encounter venue. That would not be a fair description. We accept that communities should have the right to voice their concerns about establishments that conduct lap dancing on a regular basis—that is the aim of the policy—but at the same time we recognise the need to ensure that these provisions are not over-burdensome for businesses.

We believe that the exemption we have made is sufficiently restrictive to prevent lap-dancing nights being run by an establishment not licensed as a sex encounter venue, with any regularity. It would certainly ensure that the monthly lap-dancing nights, which my hon. Friends are concerned about, would be covered by the new licensing regime.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

Nevertheless, the Minister is saying that, if there were 10 days in a year in a specific club, perhaps 10 a year in the club next door, and 10 in the club across the road, that would be okay and that residents would not be particularly worried. If that is the case, that is not my experience: once residents have decided that they do not want a lap-dancing club in the area, they do not want lap dancing every other week in some venue in close proximity to the area that they are talking about either.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I can reassure my hon. Friend that I am certainly not saying that. The scenario that she paints is attempting to use the very loophole that we do not intend to create in the legislation. That is not its  purpose; the legislation is there to deal with a lap-dancing club that people would recognise as such—a core business which is set up for those purposes and where activities are carried out on a regular basis. Whatever my hon. Friends’ views of establishments that might have the occasional exotic dancer or stripogram, we are trying to draw a distinction between pubs and clubs that we believe should not fall under this particular legislation. Whether we need to strengthen the legislation, either by this particular measure or by temporary event notices, is an interesting question.

Having set out the Government’s position, I am particularly concerned with the agency approach that my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge has raised. I remain to be convinced that sufficient pubs in an area would be drawn into such an arrangement, however she has furnished important evidence of what is either happening or is threatened to happen in her particular area and it means that we have to pay attention to that. I accept the premise she is putting forward and I undertake to go away and look at that. The purpose of the Bill is to empower communities, and if there was a loophole that prevented communities from having their say and being empowered, not only should we seek to close the loophole, but we should not create it in the first place. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge takes my remarks in the spirit in which they are offered. I will go away and look at the issue, and come back—no doubt—after further conversation with her and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham. On that basis, I hope that she will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho Labour, Stourbridge

First of all, I thank the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats for their support—we have received cross-party support throughout, stuttering now and again, but generally it has been great. I am grateful for the clarification of the position on facial expressions. However, that indicates that hon. Members and Ministers sometimes do not appreciate what it is like on the streets or in the clubs. People who are involved in the industry are out to make a fast buck. They make money out of the women who dance—we know the following arguments—the women have to pay for their pitch, do not take all the money that they collect and pay for their costumes. Generally, the women whom I have met in clubs that I have visited have not worked for employers who were particularly interested in the welfare of their dancers. When the employers perceive a loophole, they will jump straight through it. In fact, the club owner whom I spoke to—I would have called him a gentleman, but perhaps that is not the right description—saw it as an opportunity to expand his business, because if the lap-dancing club became too expensive, he would move to the agency, his girls would move over and he would be able to function as well, if not better, because he would have fewer overheads—that is the reality on the streets.

Notwithstanding that, I accept what the Minister is saying. He looked almost alarmed when my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham and I were ready to jump up. I think that he is aware, after having been virtually chased around Westminster since he was appointed—in the nicest possible way, in a professional capacity—that he needed to get the Bill right. It has been a long, hard road, and it will be so sad and empty if we do not close the loophole, because people will jump through it, please believe me.

However, I am willing to put my faith in the Minister, and I hope that he will come back to us with something that is much tighter than what we have at the moment. I would also like to push the issue of temporary licences with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and I hope that he is able to do that. I reserve the right to come back at some future opportunity, but at the moment, I am prepared to put my faith in him, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

I beg to move amendment 62, in clause 25, page 22, line 4, at end insert—

‘(8A) In section 2 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, for subsections (1) to (4) substitute—

“(1) Schedule 3 to this Act shall have effect with respect to the licensing of sex establishments.”’.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 63, in schedule 3, page 122, line 3, leave out paragraphs 1 and 2.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

I shall be brief because we have already touched on the nature of the amendments. They deal with the second loophole and how community empowerment is overlooked under the clause. As drafted, it is enabling legislation, as a result of which local authorities may not necessarily take it up so the community served by such local authorities might not have a greater say in whether there is a lap-dancing club in their area. Will the Minister consider whether the Bill should be universal and require local authorities to enact the provisions locally? If that does not happen, there will be an uneven licensing landscape and those local authorities that do not take up the clause might find that many lap-dancing clubs set themselves up in their area, which could be detrimental to their local communities.

I do not need to labour the point. The Fawcett Society and others, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge, who support the Bill, really want the clause to be strengthened. We want more control and regulation of lap-dancing clubs and a greater role for the community so that all communities have an opportunity to make their voices heard.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I am grateful to you, Sir Nicholas, for calling me before the Conservative party spokesman—perforce, I think.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I was not suggesting that you recognised where the real opposition lay, Sir Nicholas.

Moving swiftly on, I want to express my support for the amendment for the reasons that applied previously. If it is appropriate for local communities through their elected representatives to have the decision-making power in such matters, all local authorities should have it.

My only question relates to the basis on which local authorities would make the decision under the clause. It is a stand part-type question, but I do not think that we will necessarily need a clause stand part debate. Is it the Minister’s intention that councils can make moral judgments about the provision of lap-dancing establishments? If  that is the case, I have a particular worry. Lap dancing is sex encounter entertainment and it is for adults, and local authorities should have greater power than they have under current arrangements to decide how many such establishments—if at all—they want in their area, based on the usual requirements that they have to take into account.

According to the Library notes, there is a question about whether the authority can directly evoke moral reasons for not permitting the operation of a lawful business that is offering a lawful activity, even though it is one that has some sexist implications, if there is no valid reason other than its moral objection. It concerns whether the clause will allow an authority to do that. I quote from the comments of a textbook cited in the Library briefing:

“while the authority is not itself to make moral judgments, it may react to local sensibilities, which in truth may well be based precisely on moral condemnation of the activity in question”.

Clearly, a line has to be drawn between what is a genuine public concern and what is the moral position of individual councillors.

Part of the problem is set out in the note from Object. A number of other organisations have an a priori objection to any lap dancing, on the basis that it is demeaning to women and, therefore, should be prevented from occurring. As I said earlier, I have a great deal of concern about how the lap-dancing industry and the lads mags portray women, but my personal disapproval is not a basis upon which to ban the so-called responsible approach to this activity taking place, with appropriate health and safety, and in appropriate places. Does the Minister envisage a council being able to say, for moral reasons, “We shall not allow any lap-dancing clubs in our area under the powers that we have been given under this provision”? Or is it the Minister’s view that councils would need to have specified reasons, such as where establishments are sited—around educational establishments, leisure facilities frequented by children or families, near shops used by families, in or near a residential area—rather than simply an a priori moral objection?

With that caveat, we support the Government’s decision to change the law in this area, but I would be grateful for clarification on that point.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction) 6:45 pm, 10th February 2009

Amendments 62 and 63 seek to make the licensing arrangements established by schedule 3 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 and our amendments to that regime mandatory for all local authorities, whereas we are seeking to maintain the current position, whereby the adoption of the licensing regime provided by the Act is optional. I hope to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham that the Government’s approach is appropriate, by suggesting some of the difficulties of going down the mandatory route.

First, when the proposals were brought forward—not least in response to the excellent efforts of my hon. Friends—they were not without strong support from local authorities and communities. The idea that there would be a struggle in local authority areas to have the provisions adopted will not prove to be the case. The communities that have felt that they lacked this power  in the past will find that, under the legislation, they are empowered, and so too will other communities, which may not have a lap-dancing establishment but where there may be plans for a lap-dancing establishment. So, there is strong support, and I do not think that that would lead to a situation in which one could imagine any difficulty in the provisions being taken up.

Not for the first time, I was a little perplexed by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon who said, on the one hand, that local authorities should be able to decide—he and I share a lot of common ground, as does the hon. Member for Hornchurch, about localism, local empowerment and the role of local authorities—but went on to say that the way we ensure that the localism takes place is that, somehow, we force them to take on the powers with a mandatory regime, irrespective of whether there are clubs or plans in their areas. I do not think that that argument necessarily stacks up.

I shall deal with the point about morality now. In effect, local authorities that adopt the provisions will have to decide how many establishments in their area may be appropriate and will have to take into account the views of local residents. That is the whole point of the legislation, to empower local communities by giving them a power to object that they do not have now. They may take into account all relevant considerations. I would imagine, from my experience—not with lap-dancing clubs, but with clubs that have applied for temporary event notices, involving strippers and the like—that people would bring various reasons for objecting to establishments if they are proposed. Some of them will undoubtedly be on the basis of their moral objection to what is happening. That would not be universal, but it would be a strand of many residents’ objections. They do not want these establishments in their areas, but others will object on all sorts of other grounds, such as the kinds of people that might be attracted to the establishments, car parking problems and the other issues that are particular to licensed premises, but also common to planning matters in general. There will have to be a good reason why a local authority takes the objections into consideration, but, on the evidence of existing cases and other planning and licensing matters, I do not think that that will prove too difficult.

I want to address some of the other issues that going down the mandatory route might raise. It would mean that local authorities that do not have sex establishments in their areas would have to implement this licensing regime with no means of recovering the associated administrative costs, which we would normally expect to be recovered through licence fees, but if there are no or a limited number of lap-dancing clubs, a council’s ability to impose fees and thereby reclaim the cost of the new licensing arrangements will be minimal.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

What does the Minister mean by costs? I thought that we were talking about a resolution being passed at a council meeting to take the legislation on board, and there may be a minor cost in paper, but it would not be substantial.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

Having never served on a local authority this may be a million miles from the truth but my understanding is that it could, of course, be a matter of  the council adopting a motion, but then a licensing regime is in place. Someone would have to issue the licences, presumably the licences would have to be checked up on, the establishments would have to come back year on year to review their licences and that would all cost time and, therefore, money. Those costs would be recouped through a licensing arrangement, so the establishments would have to be charged. I am not saying that that is an insurmountable reason for not going down the route that my hon. Friend is suggesting, but it is something that should be borne in mind.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

If clubs come forward wanting a licence and the authority has not adopted the new legislation, the clubs will have to do so under the Licensing Act 2003. The local authority still has to have a licensing regime, so there will still be associated costs. I cannot see how there would be substantial additional costs from adopting the amendments.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

Of course, there are costs with the licensing regime as it stands, and those costs are similarly recouped. However, we are talking not about going down the licensing route using the Licensing Act 2003, but about using a local government provision, which is a different licensing mechanism. If she will bear with me, I will explain why the costs are not simply associated with lap-dancing clubs.

We do not want to impose unnecessary burdens on local authorities. It would be contrary to what we are trying to achieve in changing the licensing arrangements, which is to empower communities and give them a greater influence over the number and location of lap-dancing clubs in their areas. By keeping the adoption of these arrangements optional, local authorities will be able to respond quickly and appropriately to the concerns of their local communities.

The concern has been raised that where one authority takes on the provisions and lap-dancing establishments feel the heat, they may go to a local authority that has not taken on the provisions, but the second local authority can do so very quickly, and within a very short time the lap-dancing establishment will be subject to the same licensing arrangements that would have pertained had it stayed in the first authority. Therefore, where it is appropriate to apply the measure is important. As I said before, we received strong messages from many local authorities on the pressing need for the powers, but others may not feel the need for them. They may believe that the powers are not necessary to deal with the regulation of sex establishments in their areas. If the position changes, and a community hitherto untroubled by lap dancing clubs becomes concerned about the problem, the council will be able to respond by resolving to adopt the 1982 licensing regime.

Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho Labour, Stourbridge

I believe that a consultation was held during the summer, and that contact was made with local authorities. What was the result? I understand that the overwhelming result was that local authorities wanted that ability. Are there statistics to say otherwise?

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

My recollection is that there was a strong response, and that there was overwhelming support for what we are doing. That supports my hon. Friend’s  case. However, the response was not universal, because the problem is not perceived to be universal. If we were to make the provisions mandatory, they would affect all local authorities; that is precisely what we would be saying.

Although my hon. Friend prays in aid the strong support of local authorities for this measure—it proves the case that I am trying to make—it will not be difficult for them to adopt the measure; nor will it be difficult to convince them of the need to adopt it. They are keen to have the legislation, but we are debating whether to make the remaining authorities subject to the provisions. For reasons that I have given and hope to give, we believe that it is a proportionate response to give those powers to local authorities when they want to use them. There is no shortage of demand for them, but it is not universal.

I wish to explain to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham another of the amendment’s effects. It would affect not only lap-dancing clubs but it would have implications for the regulation of sex shops and sex cinemas in those local authority areas where schedule 3 is not adopted under the regime of the 1982 Act. We could find ourselves telling local authorities that they had to adopt the provisions, but if there were no lap-dancing clubs in the area there could be associated costs for sex clubs and sex shops.

I do not know my hon. Friend’s opinion, as we have not discussed the matter, but she may say, “So what? That is exactly the sort of establishment that we would want to be caught.” However, she should not underestimate the cost of doing what she suggests. Should a local authority bring forward proposals to take up these provisions, I would be delighted. However, it can do so only on the basis that it will be responding to the needs of the local community, which it undoubtedly will be, and that it can recover the costs.

I also point out to my hon. Friend that there has been no consultation with local authorities or with the Local Government Association on whether the arrangements should apply on a mandatory basis to the licensing of other establishments such as sex cinemas, and what the impact on local authorities of such a change would be. Imposing the new arrangements without such a consultation would be contrary to our approach, which is to try to respond to the needs of local communities. I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s concerns, but I assure her that by maintaining the optional nature of the licensing arrangements we will not deny local people a say on the establishment of lap- dancing clubs—quite the opposite. It is entirely consistent with our aim of giving more influence to local people over these important decisions and empowering local communities that feel unempowered. However, that falls short of saying that it ought to be mandatory and that we should force local authorities to go down that route.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

The Minister is generous in allowing me to intervene. I seek clarification, as I understand that the provisions of the Licensing Act 2003 are mandatory and apply to all local authorities, as do the provisions of the 1982 Act that deal with local authorities that are faced with a licensing application from a sex shop or sex cinema. A mandatory licensing regime is already in place. All we are asking is that lap-dancing clubs are added to what are already mandatory provisions everywhere  else with regard to licensing. To apply them to lap-dancing clubs is very straightforward. There should not be substantial additional costs. I would be grateful if the Minister would give the Committee his opinion on that.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction) 7:00 pm, 10th February 2009

I will go away and look at this issue but I am advised that it is not mandatory to do so in the way that my hon. Friend says, and that local authorities can adopt these provisions or choose not to do so. We are talking about situations where they have not adopted them, but would do so on the basis of the power we are providing. We do not agree on this, so let me give a commitment to go away and look at this point because there is a clear difference of opinion. I will come back to my hon. Friend and other Members of the Committee.

I am not dismissing the validity of my hon. Friend’s arguments or her concern. This is an important piece of legislation and we have moved forward on a clearly understood basis. There are principles that apply to get that community empowerment. We want to empower local people, but we want local authorities to have that choice so that local people can hold them accountable for whether or not they adopt these measures. On that basis, I think that what we have introduced is appropriate, but I will look again at the points she makes to see if we can make the provision even more watertight. I have to say that at this point we are not convinced that this needs to be mandatory. On that basis, I hope that I have at least satisfied her and that she will withdraw the amendment even if she returns to the issue at a later date.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

I have heard what the Minister has to say. There are some matters that require clarification. At the moment I am not totally convinced by the arguments about localism, as the Minister appears to be arguing that localism can win out as long as it is the localism of the local authority rather than the localism of the local communities that might be served by the authority. That matter needs to be addressed.

Photo of Alan Campbell Alan Campbell Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I do not want anyone either to read the account, or listen to that explanation and believe that it was a fair representation of my position. On the contrary: I am not saying this is entirely a matter for local authorities. My sincere view over a long period of time is that local authorities need to be even more responsive to local communities than they are. I am certainly not in favour of a top-down approach in any shape or form. The purpose of the legislation is to empower communities from the bottom and that is what we intend to do.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

I thank the Minister for his helpful explanation. We need more clarification, and I hope the Minister will take this away and that his team will look at it closely and do everything it can to close down this second loophole. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.