A SINGLE policy on the regulation of sexual entertainment venues should be imposed throughout Scotland to prevent liberal councils licensing brothels, MSPs have been told.

A row has broken out over whether a one-size-fits-all approach to licensing of sexual entertainment venues such as strip clubs should be adopted, or whether councils should be left to make their own policies.

The Scottish Parliament's licensing committee, which met yesterday to hear evidence on the proposed Air Weapons and Licensing Bill, heard conflicting arguments around the issue. It is currently proposed that local communities should be "able to exercise appropriate control and regulate sexual entertainment venues that operate within their areas".

There were also fears expressed that artistic performances which included nudity or depicted scenes in strip clubs could be hit by the new law.

Kent University sex work expert Professor Phil Hubbard said that a "farcical" situation in England had developed, in which councils faced expensive court challenges if a neighbouring authority adopted a more liberal approach.

"What we have in England and Wales is a situation that I would like to see avoided in Scotland, where we have a licensing regime for these establishments in one local authority but not in a neighbouring one," he said. "Fees for these establishments range from £300 to £26,000.

"We have a situation where some local authorities will ban nudity and others will not. The whole situation has led to a whole range of appeal cases and litigation in which legal unreasonableness and inconsistency have been raised as valid concerns, and some of these appeals have been upheld.

"It has created a great deal of anxiety, expenditure and time for local authorities who have been left to evolve policies of their own."

Legislation should also "not allow for massage parlour owners to effectively license their premises as brothels", he added.

The call for a single policy was backed by violence against women campaign Zero Tolerance, which attacked sexual advertising near schools in some areas such as parts of Edinburgh.

Authorities including Scotland's largest, Glasgow City Council, have welcomed the proposed power to set a limit on the number of sexual entertainment venues in its patch. It has said it should be able to set a limit of zero, effectively banning them, if it wishes.

The strip clubs' trade association warned against central government imposing a "draconian regime" on councils.

Janet Hood, licensing specialist at the Association of Licensed Adult Entertainment Venues Scotland, said: "It would be very unwise to try to fetter the decision making of licensing boards, licensing committee or planning committees.

"We have to allow for local decision making whether it is for sexual entertainment venues, alcohol licensing or any other form of licensing."