Scottish churches oppose alcohol liberalisation
Scottish church leaders have formed a cross-faith campaign group to oppose the planned liberalisation of drinking laws reports the Sunday Times.
Senior figures from all 12 Scottish denominations will argue that liberalisation will lead to a rise in crime and alcohol-related violence.
Next month the group will lobby Sheriff Principal Gordon Nicholson, whose two-year inquiry into reforming Scotlandís drinking laws recommended a radical overhaul.
His report, published in August, called for longer opening hours for off-licences and the drinks sections of supermarkets, as well as the scrapping of set trading hours for pubs and clubs.
The campaign by Scotlandís churches will intensify pressure on the Scottish executive, which has already ruled out 24-hour drinking following widespread criticism of the proposals by health campaigners. The World Health Organisation has already warned that the plans contradict internationally recognised advice and would lead to higher levels of public drunkenness, violence, accidents and injuries.
Reverend Graham Blount, parliamentary officer for the Scottish Churches Committee ó which includes the Catholic Church, Church of Scotland and Scottish Episcopal Church ó accused the executive of ignoring the impact of longer opening hours.
ìThe (Nicholson) committee may not have paid enough attention to its own research into longer hours, which shows there may be a link with more violence and crime,î he said.
ìIt seems to me the report advocates longer hours yet the research suggests thatís going to produce more problems. How does all of this relate to antisocial behaviour, which in many cases is alcohol-related and something the executive has made great play of? ìThis would seem to conflict with their own message and itís difficult to see how licensing boards will be able to stop an increase in opening hours.î
A report by the executiveís central research unit last year concluded: ìEvidence from international studies concerning the effects of altering the hours during which the sale of alcohol is permitted demonstrates a significant relationship between hours and problems, with longer hours leading to more problems.î
Critics have suggested the executive has succumbed to ìpowerfulî lobbying from the drinks industry in recent years to update Scotlandís drinking laws, which have remained largely unchanged since the 1976 Liquor Act.
All of Scotlandís police forces are also understood to be ìcloselyî assessing the Nicholson report, concerned that easier access to drink will lead to a rise in crime. One police source said: ìWe are looking at the problems of increased criminality.î
Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said he shared the churchesí concern.
ìBecause there is a liberalisation within the consultation the controls need to be strong, otherwise weíll see far too many licensees chasing customers with promotions like happy hours which cause alcohol abuse."
ìI think this is what church leaders are worried about, but so are we, and we have sympathy with what the churches are saying.î
Alan Dixon, a spokesman for the Salvation Army, added: ìOur fears are that increased drinking hours create more problems."
ìIt stops binge drinking but does not deal with people who drink too much and the long-term implications for those who come to us and have to use our detoxification units.î
Last night Sheriff Nicholson defended his recommendations and denied that his report recommended longer opening hours.
Commenting on next monthís meeting with church leaders, he said: ìThis meeting was not my idea, I was invited to meet with them. I am going to hear what matters concern them and hopefully set their minds at rest.
ìMy report does not recommend longer opening hours, it reflects the possibility that hours could be extended but this will remain under the control of licensing boards.
ìThe only significant change in opening hours might be in off-sales because people find it strange and unsatisfactory that they cannot buy a bottle of wine on a Sunday in a supermarket before midday or after 10pm.î