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Time is called on last orders.

Byline: RON MOORE

SCOTLAND is set for round-the-clock boozing as part of a massive shake-up of outdated alcohol laws.

Sweeping reforms will include the axeing of limiting pub opening hours and ending restrictions when drink can be sold in supermarkets and off-licenses.

But the reforms will also include a crackdown on happy hours to end the culture of binge drinking in Scotland.

Proof of age cards to crack down on teeny tipplers are also in the pipeline.

While more children will be allowed in pubs as long they are accompanied by an adult.

And special liquor licensing standards officers will impose tough legal penalties on those who flog drink to minors.

The man spearheading the moves, Sheriff Principal Gordon Nicholson, said the radical shake-up would not trigger a "free for all" of late night drinking across Scotland.

He said many pubs and clubs were already granted later licenses, with some already opening as late as 4am and 5am.

However, he proposed stricter controls on pub "happy hours" and drinks promotions.

Scottish ministers, MSPs, police bosses and industry leaders also backed the reforms which they said will break the link between alcohol and violence.

The latest figures show drink played a significant part in half the murders committed in Scotland last year.

It is also estimated that drink-related problems cost the country around pounds 1billion a year, including pounds 96million to the NHS.

Colin Wilkinson, secretary of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said the country's binge drinking culture had a problem with irresponsible drinks promotions and happy hours.

He said: "Some of them are ridiculous. We are very pleased that action is going to be taken to stop such issues."

He added that training would become mandatory for licensees and that bar staff would receive instruction in good practice.

Jack Law from pressure group Alcohol Focus Scotland also said the recommendations would tackle irresponsible drinking.

He said that happy hours were "neither happy nor indeed an hour".

He added: "They encourage people to drink an awful lot in a very short time and it usually ends up in public drunkenness."

Tory local government spokesman Brian Monteith also praised the report's proposals.

He said: "The liberalisation of opening hours - with the possibility of 24-hour licensing should demand be there from customers - is a very positive step.

"The reported move to allow more children into pubs, accompanied by an adult, would also be welcome."

The Nicholson Committee first met in August 2001 to review all aspects of liquor licensing law and how it affected health and public order.

In total, a staggering 90 recommendations aimed at bringing Scotland's outdated alcohol legislation up to date have been made. One popular aspect is an end to restrictions on children's access to licensed premises.

And it even suggests under-18s could be allowed into cafe bars on their own, and without having to be there to eat.

The existing seven types of licence would be slashed to only two, a premises licence and personal licence. While all licence holders will have to undergo training in aspects of law, health and safety, and management.

Sheriff Principal Nicholson said: "We are not recommending some kind of free-for-all where licensees can simply decide for themselves when they open and close.

"The report recognises the real and legitimate concerns which exist in our homes and streets about the impact of alcohol misuse on our national health and public safety.

"It also recognises that the social consumption of alcohol in cafes, bars, pubs and clubs is an attractive and fundamental part of the lives and well-being of many residents of, and visitors to, our country."

Scottish justice minister Cathy Jamieson said the proposals were a welcome blueprint for modernising the system.

She said: "I think we have to give serious consideration to how we can ensure that where families want to socialise together they are able to do so in a way that encourages responsible habits in young people.

"The report presents a genuine opportunity to modernise Scotland's liquor licensing laws for the better.

"Too many young people are indulging in binge drinking and too many of them are drinking from far too early an age.

"Pub licence holders and off-licence sales staff must be fully aware that turning a blind eye to it is a serious offence and not a commercial opportunity."

Scots Police chiefs' body ACPOS said that although it welcomed the report, Scotland was still vulnerable to drink- related crime.

Assistant Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police Malcolm Dickson said: "There is no doubt that there is a strong and direct link between the consumption of alcohol and the incidence of crime and disorder.

"The problem is most obvious in the context of this country's predisposition to binge drinking.

"Alcohol causes more damage than drugs and it seems that Scotland has always been particularly vulnerable to it.

"ACPOS supports licensing reform that is designed to benefit the public - both as consumers and as victims of crime or illness."

Opposition politicians also praised the proposals.

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Shadow Minister for Justice, said: "Existing law neither reflects contemporary attitudes to alcohol, nor does it effectively discourage irresponsible and criminal behaviour linked to alcohol misuse.

"It is high time that licensing law was brought into the 21st century to encourage mature and responsible consumption of alcohol and to change attitudes as to what is acceptable in terms of drinking culture and its outcomes."

The proposals will be put out for consultation over the next four months before going before MSPs next year.

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PAGE 6 DAILY MIRROR, Wednesday, August 20, 2003
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 20, 2003
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