Lap-dancing clubs face tougher laws after outcry

Tough new controls on lap-dancing clubs are planned by the Government following the outcry over their rapid proliferation across the country.

The Independent disclosed yesterday that 50 Labour MPs were demanding that ministers closed a planning loophole that forced councils to treat the clubs in the same way as cafes. There are now 300 pole-dancing venues in England and they are opening at a rate of almost one a week.

Gerry Sutcliffe, the Culture minister, signalled a clamp-down on the clubs as he admitted that the Government was worried by their rapid increase.

Ministers are preparing to amend licensing legislation so that lap-dancing clubs are classed as "sex encounter establishments" alongside sex cinemas and peep shows. Mr Sutcliffe wrote to all England councils last night seeking their views on the issue. Whitehall sources made clear the move was the first step to new planning rules being imposed on the clubs.

Roberta Blackman-Woods, the Labour MP for Durham who has led demands for tougher rules, praised the Government's move as "a very positive step". She added: "I have received tremendous support from MPs, pressure groups, and members of the public from my own constituency and beyond." She won cross-party support in the Commons yesterday for the first reading of a Bill designed to bring in the new laws. But it is unlikely to become law due to a lack of parliamentary time.

Kate Nicholls, of the Lap Dancing Association, said such a move would be "disproportionate" as the venues were merely part of the hospitality industry.

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