Page last updated at 10:06 GMT, Monday, 31 August 2009 11:06 UK

Fears over 'confusing' drink laws

Press Association
The new legislation bans drinks promotions such as pub happy hours

Thousands of premises selling alcohol could be operating illegally as an overhaul of the licensing system comes into force, it has been claimed.

The 2005 Licensing Scotland Act, which comes into effect on Tuesday, requires that businesses and some staff have special licences to sell alcohol.

But the Scottish Retail Consortium and Federation of Small Businesses said the implementation process was "confusing".

Ministers said the changes would stop strong drinks being sold cheaply.

Under the legislation, which is the first major overhaul of Scotland's licensing law in three decades, drinks promotions such as happy hours will end and consumers will only be able to buy alcohol from off-sales between 10am and 10pm.

Stores will only be allowed to display alcohol in a specific area which has been set aside for drink.

Licensees are unaware of - or confused about - just what obligations they'll have under the new system
Andy Willox
FSB policy convenor

The act also requires places selling alcohol to have a licence for the premises and a designated staff member who has received a personal licence to sell drink after completing training on the new legislation.

The Scottish Government has extended the deadline for licensing boards to process applications until 1 November, but businesses must have made their applications and completed their training by the end of August.

The SRC's spokesman, Richard Dodd, said the way the act was being implemented was confusing.

"We've ended up with a recipe for confusion coming from the fact that a lot of premises and individuals, despite having applied in plenty of time, have not got the licences that they need," he said.

"We've also got an issue with different licensing boards suggesting that they'll interpret the act in different ways.

"I think there's every likelihood we'll end up with a patchwork of different rules in different parts of Scotland, on top of the fact that it's clear an awful lot of customers are absolutely unaware of the changes that are coming in from tomorrow."

'Improving health'

The FSB also criticised the changes.

Policy convener Andy Willox said: "Licensees are unaware of - or confused about - just what obligations they'll have under the new system, leading to fears that they may be unwittingly leaving themselves open to action.

"And there are vast areas of the new laws which are open to interpretation by licensing boards, leading to fears that operating plans in individual areas will be gold-plated by local officials - with no proper impact assessment, or real debate."

Paul Chase, chairman of CPL Training, said his firm had seen a last-minute rush for places.

"A lot of people have left it far too late - premises licence applications are late and personal licence applications are piling up," he said.

But Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said the changes would "play a part in rebalancing Scotland's relationship with alcohol".

He said: "The 2005 Act clearly sets out the licensing objectives of preventing crime and disorder, securing public safety, preventing public nuisance, protecting and improving public health and protecting children from harm."

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