By Gillian McKenzie
THE introduction of a new Alcohol Bill has drawn fire from operators and licensing lawyers, who say the volume and fragmented nature of licensing law is “a disgrace”.
The Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced by Labour MSP Richard Simpson on April 1, has also been criticised by the trade for “failing to tackle the real issues affecting the on-trade”.
The latest Bill outlines a number of measures, including a ban on caffeinated alcoholic products, new restrictions on alcohol advertising in off-trade premises and removing the power for boards to increase the alcohol purchase age to 21 for certain off-sales. It also proposes closing a ‘loophole’ through which multiple multi-packs could be sold at a discounted price; introducing drinking banning orders; and increasing the neighbour notification ‘zone’ for new licence and major variation applications from four metres to 50m as well as doubling the length of time a site notice must be displayed to 42 days – a measure lawyers say will add further delays to the processing of applications.
If passed, the new Bill will be the sixth piece of legislation affecting licensing to be rubber stamped in the six years since the 2005 Licensing Act came into force, taking in the Air Weapons and Licensing Bill, which is currently making its way though the Scottish Parliament, and the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Act 2012, which is the subject of a legal challenge.
Lawyers say the volume and fragmented nature of licensing legislation, coupled with more than 30 sets of regulations and at least 32 licensing board policy statements, is causing problems.
“Finding the current law in one place has become almost impossible, and that’s simply a disgrace,” said Jack Cummins, licensing director at Hill Brown.
Stephen McGowan of TLT Solicitors said the sheer volume of legislation and proposed legislation “beggars belief”.
“The Bill, if passed, would become the sixth primary piece of legislation to impact on licensing law in Scotland since 2009,” he said. “Surely this is beyond parody? How can a licence holder or member of the public possibly be expected to grasp the law, scattered as it is across so many sources?”
Operators and trade groups have also criticised the prospect of more legislation – and say the new Bill does little to tackle issues facing the on-trade.
“Alcohol is again being used as a political football; it’s a disgrace,” said Glasgow nightclub owner Donald MacLeod.
“We don’t need this party political posturing over alcohol and we don’t need more legislation that doesn’t deal with the real issues, like overprovision, supermarkets, and huge differences in policy statements between licensing boards.”
SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson said: “This is the Labour party trying to get a foothold here and introduce even more legislation. It’s difficult enough to get to grips with all the [existing] legislation.
“There’s nothing to attempt to redress the balance of where people are drinking. They should have come out and said something about issues like overprovision and minimum pricing.”