This is the second of two blogs on the Stage 1 report to the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill. In it I will discuss two further recommendations, one relating to occasional licences, the second regarding a proposed sixth licensing objective.
The recommendation at paragraph 276 is that a licence to sell alcohol should not automatically cover the provision of public entertainment. If no public entertainment licence exists one must be sought, if required, as part of the occasional licence application. The definition of public entertainment under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 is very wide indeed. At present a public entertainment licence is not required for entertainment being provided within licensed premises during the permitted hours.
The committee’s concern may be fairly summarised by the contents of paragraph 225.
The exemption from the requirement to obtain a Public Entertainment Licence if an alcohol licence is in place should be removed as occasional liquor licences are increasing (sic) being used to licence events which would otherwise be licensed under the 1982 Act. For example large music events. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that Boards cannot enforce any conditions upon an occasional licence that are not connected to the sale of alcohol.
While I have some sympathy with the issue raised I am highly suspicious that the local authorities which raised it had an eye to the larger fees which they may extract for public entertainment licences, but perhaps that is to be over cynical. I have no sympathy whatever with the daft notion that Boards cannot enforce any conditions upon an occasional licence that are not connected to the sale of alcohol. That seems to stem from a ludicrous interpretation of the Brightcrew case. It ignores the fact that conditions may be attached to a licence on any matter relevant to the existing five licensing objectives. Licensing conditions are of course enforceable, and are monitored by police, LSOs and Environmental Health departments.
What is of greater concern is the potential for one event to be covered by two different licences issued by two separate licensing authorities under two separate pieces of legislation. The possibilities for confusion (to say nothing of local authorities finding new ways to make themselves look very foolish) are legion. The one piece of good news, for those worried how it will impact on their daughter’s wedding, is to remind everyone that a public entertainment licence is required only where members of the public are admitted on payment of money or money’s worth.
By far the most eye catching and controversial recommendation, at paragraph 269, is that given the overwhelming evidence we received of harm and links to disorder from overconsumption, an additional objective be added to include the reduction of consumption. Not only did this take everyone by surprise, it did not seem to come from any particular submission or evidence given. One has to read the whole report carefully to find any mention of it at all. That comes in the final paragraph in the overprovision section which reads-
Section 41 of the Bill amends one of the licensing objectives to add “young persons” to the existing Board objective “to protect children from harm”. This change was welcomed by all who commented on it. We also heard the licensing objectives do not require the policy of boards to include the reduction of consumption. It was also suggested each of the five objectives could be viewed as contributing to wellbeing with a specific objective of “protecting and improving public health”.
I am not aware of the trade being given any warning this was in contemplation, or being asked to comment. It is, in my view, highly significant that this was inserted in the overprovision section. The health lobby maintains the view that consumption is causally linked to availability. Most are yet to be convinced by the empirical evidence for this.
An summary of the argument would seem to go like this: some people in Scotland drink too much, therefore those who can legally sell alcohol, including those who sell sensibly and responsibly, must be made to sell less.
Let’s now look at a few facts. Those who sell for consumption off the premises have no control over when, and by whom, what they sell is consumed. How is this to be policed? If the health lobby decide to instigate a licence review, will the retailer have to show that his turnover decreased year on year? That his current business plan projects a decrease in profits?
What about those in the on-trade? If the concern is the dangers of over consumption, that sector is already regulated by the rules against selling to those under the influence. Difficult to police and enforce, granted, but the fact is that these laws are there, albeit seldom enforced. With the health lobby actively spreading its propaganda that more premises means more consumption (in the face of statistics which clearly show that Scotland’s alcohol consumption, thankfully, has been on the decrease for some years now) getting any type of new licence may prove impossible. If a board can cite overprovision to justify refusing Marks & Spencer a couple of extra metres of shelving, it will be possible to use that ill considered objective to refuse any new application for any variation which involves an extension to premises.
We have heard from the Scottish Government that this is not their policy. The same Government, of course, which “continues to consider the concerns raised” about the transfer issues.