Thank you for the opportunity to present evidence to the committee today. I will deal with alcohol licensing first. As the committee is aware, the purpose of licensing and regulation is to maintain standards and control activities that have the potential to be harmful. An effective licensing regime provides safeguards, promotes public safety and reduces the risk of criminality. It also reduces the risk of those who are linked with serious and organised crime being able to exploit legitimate enterprises. That is an important aspect of licensing.
The cost to society from poorly managed licensed activity, ranging from the sale and supply of alcohol through to the theft of metal as we have been discussing, should not be underestimated. It can place undue burdens on both the public and private sectors.
Recent case law, such as Brightcrew Ltd v City of Glasgow Licensing Board, which I am sure that we will cover, has frustrated the ability of both the police and local authorities to tackle issues that are not directly linked to the sale and supply of alcohol in licensed premises. The regulation and management of licensing is a key priority for Police Scotland. It is pivotal to our prevention and intervention strategy. We welcome the proposals in the bill that seek to enhance the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, which will enable us to tackle the impact of licensing within our communities and to keep people safe.
There are key elements in relation to part 2 of the bill, which seeks to improve regulation pertaining to the sale and supply of alcohol, but I will skip over those just now.
It is estimated that the excessive consumption of alcohol costs the Scottish economy about £3.6 billion per annum. That figure includes costs incurred by the police, the Scottish Ambulance Service, the national health service and social work services, to name just a few. In times of budgetary constraints, it is of real concern that the public purse and the Scottish economy suffer such detriment as a result of the misuse of alcohol. Many factors, such as availability, accessibility and cultural attitudes, underpin our poor relationship with alcohol. I am sure that we will discuss those.
The bill outlines proposals to assist licensing boards in identifying areas of overprovision. It includes a provision to include a whole board area as a single locality and for terminal hours to be considered as part of a board’s determination. However, one of the main aspects for Police Scotland is the irresponsible sale and supply of alcohol being a contributory factor to other crime. Daily, my officers encounter incidents of violence, disorder, antisocial behaviour and domestic abuse that are often linked to the overconsumption and sale of alcohol. From a national perspective, 23.2 per cent of young people who engaged in rowdy and disorderly conduct had consumed alcohol. I have some stark additional figures on that, which we could discuss later if members wish.
There is a particular problem regarding children and young people. As the committee is aware, alcohol is an age-restricted product. It is often supplied to children and young people through agent or proxy purchase by unscrupulous adults. Drinking dens and alcohol-related youth disorder remain a big concern for local communities. Alcohol consumption by children and young people has an exponential impact on their health, educational attainment and future employability. It is imperative that we have the ability to address youth drinking and its results.
Under current provisions, the licensing objectives refer only to keeping children safe. We welcome the extension to include young persons. That will provide clarity to licensing boards and enforcement agencies around the sale of alcohol to young persons in relation to reporting and the preparation of reviews.
As members are aware, there is a new offence of supply of alcohol to children and young persons. Currently, it is not illegal to supply alcohol to a child or young person. The new offence will allow us to take more robust measures to tackle the supply of alcohol to underage drinkers and will create a new offence of supplying alcohol to a young person or a child in a public place.
I move on to the fit-and-proper-person criteria and spent convictions. Briefly, provisions relating to those areas were removed from the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. The bill proposes to reintroduce a fit-and-proper-person test in respect of licensing applications, transfers, renewals, reviews and revocation of licences. It also outlines a proposal to repeal section 129 of the 2005 act on spent convictions and foreign offences. That is a positive move, which will allow the police to supply details of spent convictions and foreign offences, thus providing greater information regarding individual conduct for consideration by licensing boards. We welcome those proposals, but it remains to be seen how they will operate in practice and how the proposed fit-and-proper-person test will correlate to the licensing objectives.
On part 2 of the bill, section 40A of the 2005 act provides that
“a person is an interested party in relation to licensed premises if the person is not the holder of the premises licence nor the premises manager in respect of the premises but—
(a) has an interest in the premises as an owner or tenant, or
(b) has management and control over the premises or the business carried on on the premises.”
Although section 40A has never been commenced and the bill sets out measures for its repeal, our position, having considered the matter, is that it would be advantageous to maintain and enact the legislation, which would afford greater opportunities for the police to identify and disrupt serious and organised crime’s involvement in the licensed trade.