Government says no to new drinks objective

Matheson rejects call for licensing law change to reduce consumption

THE Scottish Government has given a knock-back to a plan by MSPs to have the country’s licensing laws include the reduction of consumption as a guiding objective.

MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee had suggested adding consumption reduction to the existing five objectives in its Stage 1 Report on the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill.

Michael Matheson cab sec justice April 15 fl
Cabinet secretary for justice Michael Matheson

But in a late intervention, just before the Scottish Parliament was due to debate Stage 1 of the Bill, cabinet secretary for justice Michael Matheson wrote to the committee to say he wasn’t convinced that an additional objective  was required. He said: “The current objectives: ‘preventing crime and disorder’; ‘securing public safety’; ‘preventing public nuisance’; ‘protecting and improving public health’; and ‘protecting children from harm’ are already broadly framed. It is my opinion that the current licensing objectives already sufficiently cover issues connected to the harm and links to disorder from overconsumption.

“I consider that such an objective would sit uneasily within an Act whose purpose is for regulating the sale of alcohol and it is difficult to see how it could operate in practice for licensing boards, the trade or the public.

“I therefore believe that boards and Police Scotland should continue to use the powers available to them within the Act to address issues such as public nuisance and to improve public health.”

John Lee
SGF head of policy and public affairs John Lee

A number of observers had criticised the proposal. The Scottish Grocers Federation and the Association of Convenience Stores had combined to produce  a briefing paper for MSPs, ahead of the stage 1 debate.

SGF head of policy and public affairs John Lee said the organisations welcomed the intervention by the Scottish Government.

“The Cabinet Secretary’s  letter highlights exactly the same problems with this proposal as we did in our briefing to MSPs,” he said.

“The only way this could have worked is to somehow impose an arbitrary cap on the amount of alcohol a store could sell in a year.”