MEMBERS of the public will be given a greater say on whether lap-dancing clubs are given licences under new plans unveiled by the Scottish Government.

Ministers will consult on proposals to establish a new licensing regime for sexual entertainment venues.

The Government said the consultation "also seeks specific views on whether licensing authorities should be able to set the number of licences for such venues in their areas at zero".

Ministers say the consultation will be aimed at ensuring the safety of customers and staff, while protecting the interests of the areas in which they operate.

The move comes on the back of controversy last month when the first lap dancing club opened in the Highlands.

An alcohol application from nightclub Hush in Inverness was granted despite concerns about sexual exploitation of women and increased crime.

The owners said they would only run lap-dancing events if they received a licence to sell alcohol.

It also follows the courts ruling last year which called into question the ability of licensing boards to set conditions beyond a tight focus on the sale of alcohol.

Glasgow's licensing chiefs had attempted to prevent a venue securing a licence amid allegations dancers were performing naked. However, the firm won its court battle, in which it was ruled the board could only rule on the sale of alcohol.

In the last decade there were also court challenges when Glasgow City Council took its own licensing board to court for granting permission to such clubs.

The Government is launching the consultation after plans to put in place a new regime as part of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 were rejected in the last Parliament.

The move has won the support of MSPs and women's groups.

The Women's Support Project in Glasgow said it supported "moves to relicense adult entertainment venues as sexual encounter/entertainment venues".

A spokeswoman added: "This move recognises that what is for sale on premises is sexual arousal and such premises should have their own specific license and no longer fall in the same category as leisure or entertainment venues.

"This move also provides better consistency with the overall approach in Scotland which sees lap dancing as a form of exploitation and helps support a culture in which women are viewed in narrow and objectifying ways."

Sandra White MSP, who has campaigned for a more robust licensing framework for lap dancing bars, has been working with a number of women's groups and councils for more power to regulate such venues.

She said: "This is definitely an issue that needs to be tackled.

"While I appreciate there may be different views on these proposals, I am sure we can all agree there needs to be proper regulation of these types of venue and as we've seen from recent court judgement the current licensing regime is unclear at best."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "This consultation seeks views on proposals that will give licensing authorities the powers to reflect local views and control the presence and operation of such venues in their areas.

"These venues undoubtedly divide opinion.

"However, the proposed licensing regime is about ensuring the safety and protection of customers and workers while making sure the interests of local communities are protected."

Chief Inspector Morag Stewart of Police Scotland's licensing and violence reduction division said: "We welcome the consultation.

"It is an opportunity to further regulate these activities, prevent the exploitation of vulnerable individuals, predominately females, in this environment and to more effectively tackle any involvement of serious and organised criminality."