Following its consultation earlier this year, the Scottish Government has now introduced its flagship Alcohol Bill, which will introduce key changes to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 regime.

The main proposed changes are:

Minimum Pricing

As expected, minimum pricing is to be introduced, with a formula for calculating the minimum price of alcohol as follows:

MPU x S x V x 100

where MPU is the minimum price per unit, S is the strength of the alcohol, and V is the volume of alcohol in litres.

The minimum price per unit is to be set by the Scottish Ministers, and there is not yet any indication of what it will be, although the figure that has often been used for illustrative purposes is 40 pence per unit.

Where two or more alcoholic products are packaged together, the package price must be equal to or greater than the price of the alcoholic products if they are sold separately at the premises.

Promotions

Given the recent controversy over off-sales promotions, it is no surprise that these are covered in the new Bill. The provision in the 2005 Act which states that a drinks promotion is irresponsible if it involves the supply of an alcoholic drink free of charge, or at a reduced price on the purchase of one or more drinks (whether or not alcoholic drinks), has been extended to off-sales. This is intended to catch all BOGOF, 3 for 2 or 3 for £10 type promotions.

Promotional activities are also to be confined to the licensed alcohol display areas, or any rooms used for tasting. Further, promotions may not take place in the area surrounding or adjacent to the premises.

Age verification policies

All premises must now have a policy of verifying the age of persons who appear to be under the age of 21 (or older, if a different age is stated in the policy). Of course, many premises already have policies of this type in place.

Changes to mandatory conditions

The Scottish Ministers are to be given powers to delete or amend mandatory conditions that apply to licences, rather than simply adding to these as under the current legislation.

Licensing Board powers

Licensing Boards are to be given power to review overprovision statements at any time. Licensing Boards are to be under a duty to include a "detrimental impact statement" concerning the extent to which the Board considers that off-sales to persons under the age of 21 in its area, or in any locality within its area, are having a detrimental impact in that area or locality. The aim here is to allow Boards to apply conditions to licences that would limit off-sales to those over age 21. Concerns have been raised about the problems this will cause when neighbouring Boards take different approaches.

Variation of licence conditions

Licensing Boards are to have new powers to vary the conditions of Premises Licences in respect of all premises in their area, or in respect of particular licences or a category or group of licences, where it is satisfied that the variation is necessary or expedient for the purposes of any of the licensing objectives.

This is certainly an area that may be of concern to licence holders, as it does not appear that they will be given an opportunity to respond to these conditions before they are imposed.

Social Responsibility Levy

The Scottish Ministers are to be given power to make provision for the imposition of a levy on Premises Licence holders to meet or contribute to the licensing objectives or to remedy or mitigate any adverse impact attributable to the operation of those businesses. This follows the Government's "polluter pays" attitude in the recent consultation.

Further consultation

The Health and Sport Committee of the Scottish Parliament has asked for views on minimum pricing, off-sales promotions and raising the age of alcohol sales to 21 to be submitted to them by 20 January 2010 to allow them to consider the Bill in detail.

Further details are available on the Scottish Parliamant website and we will be reporting further developments as they occur.