Sex license plans put capital Fringe shows at risk

Sex licensing proposals could put Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows at risk, MSPs have heard. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Sex licensing proposals could put Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows at risk, MSPs have heard. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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PLANS for a new licensing regime for sexual entertainment could “inadvertently” lead to shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe not being performed, MSPS were told.

Jon Morgan, director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, warned that the Scottish Government’s plan to increase restrictions on the opening of lap dancing clubs could unintentionally affect artistic expression elsewhere.

Mr Morgan, speaking at Holyrood’s local government committee, said that the shake-up in licensing rules could see restrictions on burlesque artists or people performing shows that explore sex, prostitution or pornography.

He said that shows that “push at the boundaries of taste” could “fall foul” of the legislation that aims to increase the regulation for lap dancing bars and other forms of sexual entertainment.

Mr Morgan said that “out of fear” of breaking the law, theatre companies may opt not to put on shows.

He called for a specific “exemption” to be included in the legislation - the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill- to ensure that legitimate shows such as Fringe productions are not subject to the restrictions.

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The number of lap dancing bars in a city or town could be limited, with councils handed more powers to restrict new venues opening as part of the proposed law change.

However, Mr Morgan warned ministers that an unintended consequence of the legislation could be to limit theatrical and cultural events being put on in Scotland.

Mr Morgan cited controversial shows recently performed at last year’s Fringe, which he said were sexually explicit such as the show Sister - a feminist-themed production put on Edinburgh’s Summerhall venue that chronicles the life of a sex worker and contained full nudity.

He said: “Our main concern is over the definition of sexual entertainment and the impact on artistic expression.

“We have a concern that this part of the bill could inadvertently have an impact on the freedom of expression.

“People out of fear of falling foul of this may choose not to put on a particular performance like Burlesque artists for example.”

Ministers have said the plan is part of a package to “improve public safety”, with measures to license airguns, introduce a tighter registration regime for scrap metal dealers and have stricter rules on buying alcohol for children.

SNP MSP Sandra White said the bill government’s bill would simply “clarify” the law on sexual entertainment venues and would not affect artistic and cultural events.

Ms White - denying that the plan would restrict Scottish theatre - said: “We have said this bill would not have that affect.

“This (the bill) would clarify it (the law) better and make sure that there is no way to stop artistic expression in places like the Edinburgh festival, which offers fantastic entertainment,”

However, Mr Morgan, responded by calling for a specific protection for theatre in the bill - “We understand that’s not the intention, but we’d like an explicit statement of that in there.”

The strip clubs’ trade association warned against the Scottish Government imposing a “draconian regime” on councils, arguing that the ban on religious comedy Life Of Brian in Glasgow or the ban on cult French porn movie Emmanuelle in some rural cinemas demonstrates the diverse moral sensibilities in Scotland’s communities which should be respected.

Janet Hood, licensing specialist at the Association of Licensed Adult Entertainment Venues Scotland, said: “I don’t think it should be the purpose of the Scottish Government to try to impose a draconian regime that had to be followed by elected members who are considering the requirements of what should happen in their communities.

“I would cite for interest the fact that the Life Of Brian was banned in Glasgow for 20 years, Emmanuelle was barred in certain rural cinemas for years.”

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