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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
Off-licences facing more controls
Drink cans
The executive has been examining drunken behaviour
Curbs on off-licences have been pledged by First Minister Jack McConnell as part of the Executive's drive against anti-social behaviour.

Shorter opening hours, and a ban on trading while a licensing appeal is being considered, are on the cards, he was set to warn.

The crackdown could also see a fall in the number of off-licences in some towns.

Mr McConnell, who visited Livingston, West Lothian, on Monday night to witness the problems posed by drunken behaviour, announced the setting up of an urgent review on the regulation of off-licences, building on the recommendations of the Nicholson report on licensing reform.

Shorter opening hours and a ban on trading while an appeal is being considered may be some of the ways we can tighten up on off-licences
Jack McConnell,
First Minister
As well as stopping off-licences becoming the focus of loutish behaviour, he wants the review to find ways of giving local people a greater say before licences are granted.

Public concerns about off-licences came to the fore during the May election campaign when Mr McConnell and Home Secretary David Blunkett visited Cardonald on the south side of Glasgow.

On a tour of the area he heard of youngsters urinating in the street near off-licences, too drunk to get to the nearest park.

Research has indicated that half of all 15-year-olds bought drink illegally in the last 12 months, with small licensed grocers and corner shops the most common source.

Violence concern

Mr McConnell said public concerns of violent behaviour around off-licences and under-age drinking had again been voiced to ministers over the summer recess.

"Too often these off-licenses are in the middle of neighbourhoods where is a large concentration of young families and pensioners," he said.

"Decent hard-working families and our elderly people must be allowed to live in peace and security, and their view must be heard before any decision is made on granting off-licences."

Pub customers
A review of drinking laws is under way
He said Sheriff Principal Gordon Nicholson's review of licensing laws provided a tougher framework for licensed premises like corner-shops and off-licences, but left it open to the executive to come up with detailed proposals for tougher enforcement.

"And that is what we will do," pledged the first minister.

"I do not wish to pre-empt the review, but shorter opening hours and a ban on trading while an appeal is being considered may be some of the ways we can tighten up on off-licences.

"I am also concerned about reports that there are too many off-licences being granted in some towns and communities."

But Mr McConnell's pledges were dismissed as "cheap, opportunistic soundbites", by Scottish Tory justice spokeswoman Annabel Goldie.

A daily cheap headline may please Mr McConnell but it doesn't impress those who have to live with the daily threat of young hooligans
Annabel Goldie,
Tory justice spokeswoman
Miss Goldie acknowledged the serious problems of alcohol being sold to underage youths, but claimed people were "sick and tired of the government's jaw, jaw, jaw".

"A daily cheap headline may please Mr McConnell but it doesn't impress those who have to live with the daily threat of young hooligans tearing apart their communities," she said.

Nationalists echoed Tory calls for the existing law to be better enforced, highlighting the fact that there have been just 346 convictions in Scotland for selling alcohol to someone underage since 1999.

SNP justice spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon said: "Jack McConnell is making all the right noises on underage drinking, but when we look at what he has actually been doing we see a different picture.

"It's time to prosecute the pushers of underage drinking and target those off-licenses that night after night fuel trouble on our streets."

A working group led by Peter Daniels, chief executive of East Renfrewshire council, will report to ministers in December.

BBC Scotland's Reevel Alderson
"Young people say there is nothing else for them to do"

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