The Local Government and Regeneration Committee has published its Stage 1 Report on the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill. The full report can be accessed at http://bit.ly/1bTv0Mr. The liquor licensing recommendations are in sections 261 – 283. It is a shoddy, slapdash piece of work. I would be mortified if, in any paperwork leaving my organisation, the word licence appeared as license even once. In the three pages of recommendations the word is misspelled eight times, appearing in its correct version only four. For a Government department, this is inexcusable. I suppose they will tell us that something has went wrong, or that someone done bad.
Getting into the substance of the recommendations, my previous blog bemoaned the fact that the opportunity will almost certainly be missed (again) to rectify some of the serious practical problems which exist. Reading the distilled reasons in the recommendations makes it clear how little the issues are understood. The recommendations do comment on surrenders and site only applications, but transfers do not even merit a mention.
Many of the recommendations are unsurprising, endorsing the content of the original Bill. No-one could object to young persons being added to licensing objective 4(1)(e). No surprise about licensing boards being allowed to designate their whole area as overprovided. My view is that they could do that anyway. The fit and proper test will return, although we do not yet know if this will be defined. Paradise for lawyers if it is.
Some recommendations will affect only licensing boards. The committee was much taken with the views of those who said that boards should be more accountable. It is recommended that reports should be issued within six months of the year end containing information on how the board “has delivered” in relation to licensing objectives. Expect too a toughening up on clubs, in particular a requirement to comply with their constitution. Unclear, however, how this will work in practice. Will it apply only to new licences, or will clubs be required to vary their licences in some way, perhaps by the terms of the constitution becoming conditions of the licence? The committee’s main concern reflected the evidence from the Scottish Licensed Trade Association that many clubs flout their own rules and operate as mainstream licensed premises. No one has considered that it would be very easy to change club constitutions. Many of these so called “safeguards against abuse” arose because club constitutions had to comply with Part VII of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, now, of course repealed. Health boards are to be encouraged to be more proactive: as they already have significant rights at present, that is no great change.
It is depressing to see that spent convictions are to be admissible. The whole purpose of the Rehabilitation of Offenders legislation was to allow people to move on, having tholed their assize and lived blameless lives for a number of years. Why are people in the licensed trade somehow different?
But a closer analysis of the recommendations discloses either an ignorance of the current law, or a couldn’t care less attitude on the part of the committee and its advisers. Under the heading Occasional Licenses (sic), recommendation 274 reads, “we expect to see section 57 of the Bill commenced without delay.” Well, firstly, it can’t be implemented until the Bill becomes an Act. Is the committee unaware of this? Secondly, section 57 of the Bill is the section designed to give some relief to those whose personal licences have been revoked due to their failure to provide evidence that they have completed refresher training. Nothing whatever to do with occasional licences. And how ironic that this was published a week before the need for renewal of personal licences was abolished in England.
The recommendations relating to site only licences and surrenders beggar belief. Developers will be helped by “greater clarity within overprovision statements.” Well, no one applies for any new licence unless they have a fighting chance of being successful, but why have to spend tens of thousands on plans at the outset? Anyway, the committee continues, a decision might be made not to proceed. “They could hold these types of licenses (sic) for a considerable period before trading commences.” But no one suggested that a site only provisional should last for longer than a standard provisional. Flawed reasoning. But not as flawed as the comments on surrenders. “We have heard no evidence to convince us that businesses should be able to avoid current regulations designed for safety or other reasons through this method.” No, but you heard lots of evidence on the impact on landlords whose tenants surrender a licence through spite, and you have completely ignored this. My next blog will cover the issues of occasional licences, public entertainment and the implications of a sixth licensing objective, but one final comment on the shoddy nature of this report.
It is recommended that “club licenses and occasional licenses” (again, their horrible spelling, not mine) require to be considered by boards in their overprovision statements. There is no such beast as a club licence – clubs, like everyone else, hold premises licences. Licensed premises are defined in section 147 of the 2005 Act as premises in respect of which a premises licence or occasional licence has effect. What change is proposed? Is there to be a cap on the number of occasional licences. If so, you can predict the anomalies. Will the Royal Highland Show be affected? Or Braemar Highland Games. Or is the overprovision policy simply to be based on the number of occasionals in force at the time of its publication?
Whether or not you agree with any or all of the proposed reforms, Scotland is entitled to much better quality than this.