The Licensing (Scotland) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 28 February this year, and Stage 1 of the Parliamentary process has been completed. It now enters the detailed Stage 2 consideration phase.

The Bill will reform the licensing laws in Scotland, which are now more than 25 years old, in particular addressing the social issues of underage drinking and binge drinking.  Its principal objectives are to prevent crime and disorder and public nuisance, secure public safety, protect and improve public health, and safeguard children from harm.

Among the Bill's reforms are:

  • provision of a national framework to include standard national licence conditions;
  • overhaul of the system of licences, replacing the current seven with two new types of licence – personal licences and premises licences;
  • 24 hour licences are to be granted only in exceptional circumstances;
  • an emphasis on compulsory training;
  • new Licensing Standards Officers and a wider range of penalties;
  • provisions designed to combat under-age drinking and binge drinking;
  • provisions intended to protect communities.

Such a radical overhaul of the licensing regime will require a carefully planned transition from the old to the new.  The Executive established a Transition Team, consisting of five Licensing Board Clerks, to help to work out arrangements for the administrative transition.

A proposed timetable for the changeover has now been announced, based on proposals from the Transition Team and consultation with licensed trade associations. The move to the new regime will culminate in a "big bang", where all licences under the new system and the majority of the provisions of the new Licensing Act will take effect on a single appointed day, following a transition period. "Big Bang" is currently programmed for around August 2009.

In the lead up to the appointed day, certain target dates have been identified for key events in the conversion process:

By October 2006 All accompanying regulations and draft statutory guidance are to be published for a three month period of formal consultation.
By February 2007 Finalised regulations and guidance are to be laid before the Scottish Parliament for approval.
May 2007 Appointment of new Boards following Local Government Elections.
From June 2007 to November 2007 A six-month period during which the new Boards will prepare licensing policy statements and carry out overprovision assessments. Final versions of licensing policy statements then to be published and made widely available two months prior to the start of transition. Appointment of Licensing Standards Officers and local Forums by Local Authorities would also take place in this period.
From February 2008 The acceptable transition period would be approximately 18 months from this date.

Although all licensees in Scotland will operate under the new system from the appointed day, there will be some limited dispensations allowed, permitting certain licence holders to continue to operate under their existing hours and licence conditions, known as "grandfather rights" (i.e. rights which, because they were held under the previous regime, can be carried on into the new regime), but his will not apply universally and there will be no grandfather rights for currently licensed hours or extensions to those hours. 

The Scottish Executive has advised that grandfather rights will be available in the following cases:

  • exemption from the consequences of the overprovision assessment and the overprovision ground for refusal of a licence, where there is no change to the size, capacity or type of operation taking place on the premises;
  • exemption from the need to provide building standards, planning and food hygiene certificates, where transfer is on a like-for-like basis;
  • where transfer is on a like-for-like basis but the Board are of the view that they would nevertheless be likely to refuse the licence on the grounds of the "location, character or condition of the premises", but that suitable modifications can be made to address this particular issue, then the licence must be granted and the licensee given a period of 12 months to make the necessary modifications. The licence would be revoked however if the modifications are not made in this period.

All other aspects of the new legislation including National Licence conditions and any additional local licence conditions will be applied.

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