Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the statutory regulation of sex establishments; to amend the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982; to require local authorities to adhere to the existing voluntary licensing framework for sex establishments; and for connected purposes.
Many right hon. and hon. Members’ constituents will have raised concerns about the changing shape and make-up of their local high streets and town centres, with the proliferation of payday lenders, of gambling dens with fixed odds betting terminals and of lap-dancing clubs. Those clubs have increasingly become a feature of the high streets in many towns and cities over the past 20 years. Many communities often feel that this is happening all around them and that they have little say in the matter. My Bill is about empowering all local communities to have their views heard, in particular their views about lap-dancing clubs. It is also about giving local people the ability to feel that they can start to reclaim their high streets.
Lap-dancing clubs are a fairly new phenomenon in the UK—they first appeared outside London in about 1995—but their growth has been rapid, and that has caused real concern. Some people will ask why that concern exists. Chris Knight is the vice-chair—an apt title, given the nature of the lap-dancing industry—of the Lap Dancing Association. He said on Radio Humberside this morning that the clubs were
“legitimate businesses and any attack on any business is ridiculous”.
According to Mr Knight, elected MPs should keep their noses out of that business. Let us be clear: this man also opposed the previous reform of the law in this area. I believe that if members of the public are concerned about this, MPs should be concerned too.
As well as the specific concerns about the links between the sex entertainment industry and coercion and human trafficking, there is a widespread view that lap-dancing clubs can contribute in a negative way to the general character of an area and detract from the residents’ quality of life, especially if the clubs are located in residential areas or near schools. One such local resident, Tara, has said:
“For a time I lived next door to a pub that hosted table dancing. I was a support worker to adults with learning disabilities and worked shifts, often ending at 11 pm...On those days I was afraid to go home because of the time it took to unlock the door...I was frightened of the men who came out of that pub, especially the men in groups leering at women walking past...I was frightened of being followed into my flat because those men seemed to think that they had a right to do anything they liked. They would stare at me, make comments to each other about my legs, tell me they would give me one...I moved as soon as I could, because of that.”
Another resident, Elaine, has said:
“On several occasions I have experienced sexual harassment: men often make sexually suggestive comments or gestures to me as I walk past the lap-dancing club. I believe that, as a female resident, I should have the right to live without fear of violence and threat, and to walk around my local neighbourhood as freely as any male resident. At present, I do not believe I have that right.”
Another resident, Meredith, has said:
“When I take my daughter swimming on the weekends, she asks me to make sure that we leave before nightfall. Our route from the swimming pool to the train takes us past lap-dancing clubs, and although my daughter has no idea of what is going on, she finds the atmosphere frightening. I often wonder why my city council doesn’t think about my right to an enjoyable night out as much as it seems to think about the money being spent by men in lap-dancing clubs.”
I personally dislike the industry but I am not seeking to ban the clubs. I just want to create greater recognition of what their presence can do to a local neighbourhood or town centre, and to give all communities a greater say in whether they want them or not. In particular, I want all communities and elected councils to have a say over the operation of these venues in general across their local area.
What is the current position and why does the law need amending? The Licensing Act 2003 aimed to consolidate the licensing procedure for different types of venue. That was a noble aim, but it had the unintended consequence of making it much easier to open lap-dancing clubs, and they started to mushroom in number as a result. Many people felt uncomfortable at this rapid increase and felt that the licensing regime was not adequately reflecting the concerns of local communities.
A number of hon. Members have highlighted the problems associated with the spread of such clubs and campaigned for a change in the law. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) and Lynda Waltho, the former MP for Stourbridge, campaigned in Parliament for the changes, and were backed up by excellent work from both Object and the Fawcett Society. The previous Labour Government listened to them and responded by introducing a special licensing category for sexual entertainment venues, which allowed councils to implement specific licensing conditions on lap-dancing clubs. They were adopted powers, which means that there was no requirement on local authorities to use them. However, if councils did choose to use them, they had a range of measures open to them, including governing the areas in which such clubs could open, taking into account their proximity to residential areas, schools or places of worship; the hours in which they could open; what type of advertising they could conduct; and what they could show on the outside of the premises. The change in the law also gave councils the ability to cap the overall number of venues if they so wished.
My Bill is not particularly radical. It seeks to build on the law as it currently stands and would require all local authorities to adopt the full range of powers available to them and consult their local communities for their views on such premises. I am proud to have as co-sponsors my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham and the former Minister with responsibility for licensing, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe). The former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), who introduced the change in the law, also supports that proposal becoming a mandatory requirement.
Where the powers have been adopted, we see communities again having their say in what goes on in their local area. For example, the Labour council in Haringey was a pioneer in adopting these powers and setting a borough-wide limit of zero clubs. I pay particular tribute to councillor Nilgun Canver for trailblazing the use of such powers. Other cities have also begun to adopt them. Swansea, for example, adopted a zero limit after a wide consultation, and Liverpool has restricted such clubs to a particular area of the city.
My aim is for all areas to make better use of the powers. I want to spread good practice and stop the postcode lottery. This is about including local communities at an early stage of the licensing process and giving locals a voice about whether or not they want these types of establishments on their high street. That is a question that should be asked of all communities and that everyone should feel able to contribute to.
The amendment to the law would assist local licensing committees. I want to contrast licensing authorities that give communities a strong voice over these establishments and have a clear policy with licensing decisions that are taken on an individual basis, which is still a proper and legal way of doing things. Let us take, for example, a local authority that has chosen to adopt the sexual entertainment venue powers, but has not issued a specific licensing statement. When that local authority then receives an application, it considers it on an individual basis. If communities want to assert themselves, individuals have to make specific objections. They have to show how that club will impact on their lives, and they need to relate it to vague licensing statements.
It is often difficult for a community collectively to argue about what such a venue means for their area or community. Indeed, considering such general concerns may render the authorities’ decision open to legal challenge, which can be expensive and off-putting. Adopting a clear licensing statement and a cap on the number of such venues negates the risk of a court challenge and both simplifies the process and ensures that the wider community is able to be clear and supported in what it wants its town or city to look like.
I am not seeking to impose some draconian new ban from Whitehall on any activity that is freely and legally participated in, or to restrict legitimate entertainment businesses. I merely want local people and councillors to have more power to resist the spread of sleaze in their neighbourhoods and for current best practice in local government to become universal.
Question put and agreed to.
That Diana Johnson, Mr Gerry Sutcliffe, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Mrs Sharon Hodgson, Mrs Louise Ellman, Andrew Gwynne, Wayne David, Nia Griffith, Ian Austin, Andrew Percy and Stephen Gilbert present the Bill.
Diana Johnson accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February, and to be printed (Bill 164).