The minister highlighted the success of byelaws which ban
drinking in public places and the recent legislation allowing police to confiscate alcohol from under-age drinkers, and said they were a good example of what inter-agency co-operation could achieve. In particular he highlighted the fact that:
-- 12 councils now have byelaws prohibiting public drinking in 160 towns and villages
Mr McLeish also said that while our present licensing laws appeared to be operating well, this was exactly the subject which could benefit from the oversight of a Scottish parliament.
Mr McLeish said:
'Present licensing laws have been operating for over 20 years
and many think that they are in need of overhaul. I am not hostile to
this view. Laws should be kept under review and modernised as
necessary. In the case of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 we would
be doing the current arrangements serious injustice if we did not review them carefully to establish what, if any, adjustments are needed before moving to amend the law. I cannot today give news about any immediate government plans for such a review, but I welcome the
views of those in the field as to how the law might be developed.
'Liquor licensing is a subject for which we proposed full
devolution. While I would not wish to imply that Scotland's interests
have not been taken into account in developing liquor licensing law, it seems to me to be precisely the sort of subject which will benefit from the oversight of a parliament based in Scotland and able to deal
directly with Scotland's needs. I would not wish to rule out any kind of reform, but it may be that the question of any fundamental review
would be appropriately a matter for the new parliament.
'Whatever happens, certain concerns are bound to be of continuing importance, including issues of children being led into dangerous drinking habits, the health effects of alcohol misuse and the
public disorder problems which can arise from drink related behaviour.
A multi-agency approach is clearly required if we are to tackle these
issues successfully without unreasonably restricting the general
public's access to and use of alcohol as a social pastime.
'Our manifesto stressed we would encourage the use of byelaws to prohibit drinking in public, and earlier this year I wrote to
every council and chief constable seeking their views on the principle
of the byelaws prohibiting drinking in public places. I also asked for
feedback on how those that were in place were working. I can say now
that most of the replies received so far have one thing in common;
overwhelming support for these byelaws.
'Cutting out drinking in public, especially by youngsters, can
have a positive effect on crime prevention. It reduces the possibilities for drink related violence, vandalism and the like. And perhaps more importantly is the fact that people feel safer walking the streets when there are fewer groups of intimidating drinkers on street corners. Since taking office we have confirmed five more sets of byelaws, which now means that 12 Councils have byelaws in place covering a total of over 160 towns and villages. In the byelaw designated areas there is a marked decrease in the level of alcohol being consumed in public by both adults and under 18s; and public parks are no longer no go areas.
'Outwith byelaw areas, concern had been expressed that the
police were powerless to deal with underage drinking in public where
no associated crime was being committed. This included scenarios
where groups of young drinkers congregated on street corners or in
public parks, and whose behaviour was intimidating, but not criminal.
We tackled this head on when we brought into force section 61 of the
Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997 on 1 August this year,
which applies across the country.
'This new power allows the police to confiscate alcohol from
anyone under 18 years old in a public place, and also from those aged
18 or over if there is reasonable suspicion that they have, or will,
supply the alcohol to younger people. These powers have been
welcomed by Scottish Police Forces, who have been using them in a
positive manner. Across the country in excess of 500 recorded
confiscations took place in the first month of operation. Since a
criminal offence is not being committed there is no requirement to
record these confiscations, but I think we can safely assume that more
have taken place.
'Take a look behind the numbers and you will find over 500
cases where the risk to a young person's health has been alleviated;
over 500 cases where the nuisance associated with this activity is
reduced; over 500 cases where the possibility of alcohol induced
violence or accidents has been reduced; and perhaps most important of
all, over 500 cases where the intimidation factor felt by passers by
going about their business is taken away simply because groups of
intoxicated youngsters are not hanging about street corners or public
'I can't stress enough the need for mutual co-operation in
licensing and related matters. It is important that licensing boards
liaise fully with the police and the trade, not merely in execution of
their statutory duties, but also to ensure a full appreciation and
understanding of the issues which affect each agencies work. Such co-
operation and collective responsibility is essential if we are to construct an effective overall alcohol strategy.'