New Bill doesn’t go far enough

Failure to tackle crucial issues is “disappointing”

THE Scottish Government’s most recent raft of alcohol legislation has come under fire, with accusations that it fails to tackle a number of issues important to the trade.

Unveiled this month by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill contains a number of new and amended rules for alcohol licensing.
These include the return of the ‘fit and proper person’ test last seen in the 1976 Act; a requirement for licensing boards to provide detailed reports on licence fee income and expenditure; and the ability for licensing boards to deem their entire area as overprovided, instead of specific localities.
The Bill also abolishes the five-year ban on re-applying for a personal licence for those who fail to complete refresher training or inform their licensing board by the allotted deadline.
But the third major piece of licensing legislation since the introduction of the Licensing (Scotland) Act has failed to address some key issues, say members of the trade.
Although he welcomed the removal of the five-year personal licence ban, SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson criticised the Bill for failing to effectively tackle the issue of overprovision.
Allowing boards to deem their entire area overprovided, said Waterson, would “make no difference”.
He argued licensing boards will still be “scared” to refuse licences on the grounds of overprovision in the case of larger operators with the resources to fight the decision in the courts.
And he called for a clearer definition of the term ‘fit and proper person’.
“It’s the same as overprovision,” he said.
“If it’s clearly defined what they mean by ‘fit and proper person’ it’s a good thing, if it’s not boards can’t enforce it.”
Elaine Brailsford, head of licensing at Tods Murray Solicitors, said there are concerns the test could give licensing boards “too much power to refuse applications and may also lead to the refusal of licences based on poor quality evidence that the applicant is not a ‘fit and proper person’”.
There was also dissatisfaction with the issue of transferring licences, which lawyers said was not addressed by the new Bill.
Stephen McGowan of TLT Solicitors said the government had ignored “exasperated pleas of licensing practitioners over licence transfers, provisional licences and variations”.
“These may be technical issues but they cause real problems for businesses day-to-day across Scotland,” he said.
And Jack Cummins of Hill Brown Licensing said it was “really disappointing that the Scottish Government has just ignored calls to sort parts of the Act that simply aren’t working or create unnecessary headaches for businesses”.
“For example, the Act’s transfer provisions are quite frankly a disgrace, bitterly criticised as near to unworkable not just by the trade’s lawyers, but also board clerks,” said Cummins.
“Why their complaints have fallen on deaf ears is just beyond me.”