Scottish Government rejects Richard Simpson's alcohol bill
In a week when a new academic report praised Scotland’s use of evidence when it comes to alcohol, the Scottish Government shut down a raft of proposals from Labour MSP Richard Simpson, and faced criticism for rejecting some evidence-based ideas.
Speaking to the Health and Sport Committee as they scrutinised Simpson’s Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill, Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said the government would not be supporting its progression to Stage 2.
We welcome and support the bill’s overarching aim of tackling alcohol misuse, but there are difficulties that relate to the individual measures,” she said.
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The Government, which is developing the next phase of its alcohol framework, clearly believes it has the matter in hand.
Labour’s Malcolm Chisholm asked why the government couldn’t accept some of the proposals in an amended bill, pointing to the fact the police were supportive of drinking banning orders as an example. “I do not want to be unkind, but from your memorandum it almost seems as if you have decided to oppose the bill and that you are looking for lots of reasons to justify that position,” he said.
Watt denied this, saying there may be aspects which appear in the new framework.
She was also accused of ignoring evidence. Bottle marking, the minister heard, has been successful down south, particularly in Newcastle in a trail which was visited by committee members. It also had the support of Police Scotland.
Convener Duncan McNeil spoke of the Newcastle trip. “We spoke to police, health officials and the local authority enforcement officers. They claimed that a targeted approach to bottle marking gave the police a lot of intelligence that enabled them to eliminate off-licences that were not selling to younger people or to people who were selling on.”
Government official Peter Reid said no evidence on bottle marking had been presented to him over three years. “I note also that the Scottish Parliament information centre struggled to find any reports on any bottle-marking initiatives in Scotland although it noted that such initiatives had been undertaken,” he said.
“I speak to stakeholders in relation to alcohol licensing all the time. Bottle marking is certainly something that I have discussed informally with licensing standards officers, trade representatives and others from time to time. My general impression in relation to bottle marking is that there have been, at times, specific initiatives that have worked quite well. However, those have been short, time-limited voluntary initiatives. That contrasts with this proposed bottle-marking measure, which would potentially cost £3.3 million according to one stakeholder.”
Dr Richard Simpson said couldn’t understand “why a proportionate, focused, short-term measure, which has been costed at just over £200 for a three-month action period, is being refused.”
He was “shocked” the Government rejected his Bill.
“The argument is not about whether the measure is good or bad, or whether the principle is good or bad. You would just like it to be part of a different set-up,” he said.