CLAIMS that lap-dancing clubs are opening because of a loophole in the law are wrong, a leading licensing lawyer says.

Women’s rights groups have been calling on the Government to classify lap-dancing clubs as sex encounter establishments.

Clubs are currently treated in the same way as a bar or restaurant and only need a premises licence to operate.

Campaigners said this is due to a loophole in the Licensing Act 2003, and that the number of clubs has doubled since 2004.

They have been joined by a number of councils and councillors, who are calling for the licensing rules to be changed, saying the classification would give much greater say over where, when and how the clubs function.

But Richard Arnot, head of licensing and gaming at law firm Mincoffs, in Jesmond, Newcastle, disputes the existence of such a loophole.

He said: “I read with increasing frequency campaigners complaining the lap-dancing venues take advantage of a loophole in the law and impose themselves on communities who simply do not want them. The reality, however, is that no such loophole exists in the Licensing Act 2003.

“Adult entertainment was exhaustively debated in Parliament before the Act became law, and it was sensibly concluded that they had no business in engaging in censorship.

“What one individual finds immoral is not necessarily what would concern another. Adults are free to make their own choices and if they consider lap-dancing an acceptable form of entertainment, they should be perfectly entitled to pay to enter a well-run venue. However, if adult entertainment can be proved to be detrimental to law and order, safety, nuisance or the obligation to protect children from harm then, quite rightly, applications should be refused. This is the crux of the matter.”

Mr Arnot, who is nationally renowned in his field, said the law firm has dealt with several such situations.

He said: “Mincoffs have successfully represented a number of operators who have sought to open venues of this sort, one even receiving over 1,000 objections.

“The simple truth is that, despite lap-dancing venues operating for over ten years in this country, there is very little evidence to suggest that they are in any way detrimental.

“In a nation where freedom of speech is so cherished, should it not also be the case that we should protect the freedom to enjoy whatever form of entertainment, so long as it is legal, that we choose.

“Interestingly, the arguments advanced in opposition to lap-dancing venues are almost identical to those used by objectors to a number of gay bars that we represent.

“We wonder how many campaigners would publicly attach themselves to those who find those sorts of venues immoral.

“But we had better watch out because as soon as morality becomes relevant, our secular society could become very different.”