Lords consider lap dancing and sex encounter venues

July 7, 2009 at 1:03 pm Leave a comment

The House of Lords has discussed provisions in the Policing and Crime Bill that would regulate “lap dancing and other sex encounter venues.”

Peers were considering the bill in a committee of the whole House yesterday.

Viscount Bridgeman moved a probing amendment on changing the wording from “sex encounter venue” to “adult entertainment 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,” he said.

“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?”

Viscount Bridgeman, a Conservative Home Affairs spokesman, said 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,” he said.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, a Liberal Democrat, backed the amendment.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Baroness Howe of Idlicote also backed the amendment.

“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,” she said.

“Everybody knows what adult means and I should have thought that it would be very much better to stick to that.”

For the government, Lord Brett said:

“The point has been made that the word “encounter” could give the impression that lap dancing clubs and similar venues offer sex for sale and by implication stigmatise those who work at such venues.

“We take this concern seriously.

“We are aware of our responsibility to those who are employed in the industry not to represent unfairly them and the work that they do.

“However, we believe that the term “sex encounter” accurately reflects the nature of the entertainment that is provided.

“We do not accept that the impression is given, or that it will be reasonably assumed, that sex is for sale, particularly as we do not require the term “sex encounter” to be used publicly by the establishment that is so licensed.”

Tory peer Earl Ferrers said the Minister’s answer was “pretty miserable.”

“It repeated all the reasons that civil servants give for keeping this kind of wording,” he said.

“As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has said, the words “adult entertainment” are known, but the words “sex encounter” are not.

“If you are told that you are going to a sex encounter place, it is pretty obvious that you expect to encounter sex and have some kind of relationship if you so want it.

“It is a most disagreeable title, and very misleading. I think the Minister said that if you go to a sex encounter place you could be sexually stimulated, but you can be sexually stimulated without ever having a sexual encounter.

“The term is most misleading and I hope that he will think about it again.”

Viscount Bridgeman said he was not happy with the government’s stance but would withdraw his amendment.

“The Lap Dancing Association is very concerned about the reputation of its dancers,” he said.

“Unfortunately, if the legislation remains as it stands, a large number of dancers will be stigmatised career-long for truthfully putting this on their CV. This will affect their future employment throughout their careers.”

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer then raised the issue of difficulty of definition, referring to a recent West End show.

“It was called “La Clique” and showed on Shaftesbury Avenue,” she said.

“It was, in effect, a series of circus acts. One scene involved a lady taking off all her clothes. It was mostly singing and circus acts, and it should fall nowhere near the definition of the Bill.

“Everyone who went to see it certainly went along to be entertained, but I would be incredibly doubtful as to whether anyone went along with the idea of being sexually stimulated.

“Nevertheless, there was stripping and nudity. I do not think that you could call it pole dancing; it was more like rope dancing because it involved trapeze acts and so on.

“It would be appalling if that sort of show, which was very well known and understood, fell anywhere near the sort of definition that is described here.

“The Government always get into a bit of a problem here. The noble Lord, Lord West, did well to stay out of our debates in a previous Committee when we had to discuss sexual stimulation and pornography.

“I wish that I could stay out of it at the moment.

“The Government never do well when they get into the question of what is sexually stimulating.”

Lord Brett said a theatrical performance, “such as a play, or a show which is not centrally designed to provide a kind of sex encounter experience as such, but has nudity, dancing and so forth within it, is not meant to be covered, nor is it covered, by the provisions we are discussing today.”

He added: “The purpose of this would be to demonstrate, for example, that the Shaftesbury Avenue show that the noble Baroness referred to was not designed and put on specifically for the purpose of sexual stimulation.

“The nudity, or whatever, was part of a more general theatrical endeavour which was not for the purpose of sexual stimulation and therefore would fall outwith these provisions.”

The Policing and Crime Bill has passed all its Commons stages.

It draws together a number of disparate policy issues on policing and crime:

* Introduces new provisions to improve police accountability and effectiveness

* Creates a new offence of paying for sex with someone who is controlled for gain and introduces new powers to close brothels

* Modifies the law on soliciting

* Tightens up the regulation of lap-dancing clubs by reclassifying them as ‘sex establishments’ rather than ‘entertainment’ venues

* Amends police powers to deal with young people drinking in public

* Introduces a new mandatory code of practice for alcohol sales

* Amends the criminal asset recovery scheme established under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002

* Changes the arrangements for airport security and policing.

photo: Jim Linwood@flickr.com


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