Scottish Government consultation on new licensing laws comes to close
By Dave Hunter
PUB trade groups have railed against plans to introduce legislation that would allow police to close pubs in certain areas around football matches.
The proposals, included in the government’s Further Options for Alcohol Licensing document, which was out for consultation until late last month, would see police and licensing boards granted additional powers, including the ability to close licensed premises in a certain geographic area for a period of up to 24 hours to coincide with football games and other major events.
But the SLTA criticised the proposals in its response to the consultation, questioning the practicality of the measures and how the authorities could stop fans from drinking outwith the designated area before travelling to a match.
The trade group argued fans could buy alcohol from supermarkets in the days before a game, thereby negating the effect of shutting premises on match days; it also questioned whether pre-booked functions like weddings should be exempt from blanket closures.
“What is to stop a group of supporters pre-booking a ‘private function’ in a licensed premises covered by the restriction order?” it said in its response.
SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson branded the proposals “unreasonable” and said they “lack common sense”.
“There’s plenty of power at the discretion of licensing boards to close errant premises and they’ve got that tool there,” he said.
“To simply give power to close whole areas I think is wrong. Common sense tells you it won’t work.
“People will just drink outside that area and then move towards the area.”
The SBPA also questioned the proposed new powers for police and licensing boards in its response, saying the move would “not be in the public interest nor in the interests of licensed operators”.
“Boards have long-term experience of regulating the operation of licensed premises around major events, in some cases over decades,” said the trade body.
“We believe that boards already have the expertise to effectively address these issues with their existing powers.”
However, both the SBPA and SLTA were more supportive of other measures outlined in the document, such as proposals for tougher rules governing the licensing of private members’ clubs.
The Further Options for Alcohol Licensing document asked whether a breach of a club’s constitution should be considered a breach of its licence and trigger a review.
Waterson said: “We have no problem with well run clubs. What we have a problem with is clubs that operate as pubs, open to the public.”
The SBPA also backed the introduction of tougher rules for members’ clubs.
“Whilst members’ clubs have a long-standing special status in the community, it is clear that they increasingly operate on a basis virtually indistinguishable from other types of licensed outlet as regards the sale of alcohol,” it said in its response.
As well as the pub closure and private members’ club proposals, the Further Options for Alcohol Licensing document also asked if a ‘fit and proper person’ test should be re-introduced for people applying for licences, and whether licensing policy statements should remain in force for five years, instead of the current three years.
The Scottish Government said it received more than 100 responses to the consultation.
A spokesman said it is reviewing the responses and will publish a full analysis of the main points raised in the summer.
Image – Pubs close to football grounds could be closed on match days.