‘Fit and proper’ set to return?

By Dave Hunter

LICENSING boards will have the ability to consider an individual’s ‘suitability’ to sell alcohol and run licensed premises, under new proposals from the Scottish Government.

The plans form part of a new Licensing Bill announced by the government after returning from its summer recess.
Part of a raft of new legislation, the Bill is designed to give local councils more power over the licensing of several areas of business, including taxis and scrap metal dealers, as well as alcohol and sexual entertainment venues.
The new Bill, which is yet to be published, follows a number of separate consultations on the licensing of these areas.
Giving boards the ability to judge whether a person is ‘suitable’ to sell alcohol has led to speculation that the government could reintroduce the ‘fit and proper person’ test from the 1976 Licensing Act.
However, the government has stated that the new powers will not be a straight reproduction of the earlier test.
“The responses to our consultation on Further Options for Alcohol Licensing were strongly in favour of widening the issues that a board can consider in determining whether a person is suitable to sell alcohol, or to run their own licensed premises and we are currently considering how best to achieve this,” said a Scottish Government spokeswoman.
“However, we are clear that whatever the final form and detail of these provisions, they will build on the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 rather than simply being a reintroduction of relevant provisions in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976.”
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association has warned that the government will have to make the definition of ‘suitable’ clear to boards, however.
“You start giving this fit and proper test to local licensing boards and it’ll be different everywhere you go and it’ll be open to challenge,” said chief executive Paul Waterson.
“This is one thing that the ultimate decision is granted by boards, but that everybody knows exactly what you’ve got to do.
“I’d like to have discussions with police and everybody else to say ‘what do we actually mean by this?’”
Waterson added that the SLTA approves of the ‘suitability’ test in principle.
However, he added that any such test should factor in an applicant’s experience in the trade in addition to the personal licence qualification.
“It’s wrong that someone can get a personal licence and then become a manager of a premises (straight away),” he said.
“To get the premises licence there should be an experience requirement.
“It could be a year working in the trade and a year’s managerial experience. That wouldn’t do any harm.”
The new Licensing Bill will be the third piece of licensing reform since the 2005 Licensing Act came into force on September 1, 2009.