Theatre with nudity exempt from sex license law

Risque shows will be exempt from new legislation cracking down on sexual entertainment in Scotland. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Risque shows will be exempt from new legislation cracking down on sexual entertainment in Scotland. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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THEATRE productions that contain nudity will be exempt from a shake-up to licensing laws covering sexual entertainment, the Justice Secretary has said.

Michael Matheson moved to reassure MSPs that the proposed new licensing regime will not impact on artistic freedom of expression on the stage.

Holyrood’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee has heard that measures in the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill could have an inadvertent impact on risque shows.

The Bill would allow local authorities to introduce a limit on the number of sexual entertainment venues in an area.

Jon Morgan, director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, told the committee last month that this could affect performances at the Edinburgh Festival which contain nudity or explore issues such as pornography.

His concerns were raised by independent MSP John Wilson, who asked Mr Matheson to give theatres an assurance that they would be exempt from the legislation.

He said: “We’ve heard in evidence as a committee from theatre group representatives who were concerned that they may be impacted upon in terms of their artistic expression by some vexatious complaints or other individuals using the legislation as proposed to shut down certain theatre productions.”

Mr Matheson said: “I think it’s a fair point to be raised and a reasonable concern for some establishments to actually have.

“That is why we’re going to take forward some guidance in order to give some specific direction around this area about the types of premises and circumstances that would be exempt in these circumstances, so that could be for example a theatre production that does involve some nudity in it for a particular performance or series of performances that they are operating.

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“We are going to address that through guidance in some of the secondary provisions that we’ll take forward to ensure that that type of issue doesn’t come about.”

Mr Wilson asked what would happen to current premises if a local authority such as Glasgow or Edinburgh decided to take a zero-tolerance approach and introduce a blanket ban on venues.

The Justice Secretary said authorities would have to demonstrate they had undertaken adequate consultation and engagement to come to a rational decision or risk leaving themselves open to a legal challenge.

He said: “It’s not an unfettered power that they have, they have to be able to set that out and to show it was a rational approach they took to come to that final determination.”

Labour MSP Cara Hilton questioned why the Scottish Government was not moving to ban strip clubs and other venues altogether instead of licensing them.

Mr Matheson responded: “If a local authority believes that the desirable number is zero, then there’s a process for them to go through in order to achieve that.

“Rather than government determining these matters, we’re allowing local authorities to determine these matters and I think that is the most appropriate way for something of this nature to be taken forward.”

Committee convener Kevin Stewart called on the Justice Secretary to support all aspects of sexual entertainment licensing and advertising being brought under the remit of one body.

Mr Matheson said: “I would be reluctant to go down the route of just having one single committee or board that was responsible for taking forward all of these licencing provisions.

“I’d be inclined to retain the approach that we have at a the present moment, that’s not to say there isn’t always scope for improving how they are operating.”

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