As MPs voted through 24-hour licensing for England and Wales this week, Scottish retailers were dealt a blow by MSPs as they voted to curtail off-licence trading hours.
The Licensing Act (Scotland) is not due to come into force until August 2009, but the shock amendments to the Bill on Wednesday will mean that while a retail chain can sell alcohol 24 hours a day south of the border, its Scottish stores will only be able to sell from 10am to 10pm, a reduction of two hours a day.
Pubs and clubs in Scotland can still apply for a 24-hour licence and the Scottish Retail Consortium is furious. “Last-minute party political wrangling has distorted a Bill based on extensive consultation,” said SRC director Fiona Moriarty.
“Restricting hours for only the off-trade wrongly implies that retailers are directly responsible for alcohol-related problems.”
Meanwhile, the Home Office has launched its biggest-ever crackdown on alcohol sales. Between now and the new year, more than 5,000 test purchases will be carried out across England and Wales to combat underage drinking.
The new licensing act comes into force on Thursday (November 24) despite a failed attempt by the Conservatives to block it, and the police are determined to use their new powers to clamp down on rogue licensees. The Home Office is supporting the crackdown on licensed premises with a poster campaign aimed at consumers.
One poster depicts a man urinating and leaving a stream of £1 coins and the other a pile of vomit in the shape of £80 to warn drinkers that is the penalty if caught drunk and disorderly.
Fiona McLelland
>>p40 Time gentlemen