Edinburgh: The Sunday Drinking Dilemma

Edinburgh Licensing Board currently has a policy which prevents premises selling alcohol prior to 12.30pm on a Sunday. Is this really necessary?

Debate rages as to the moral and public health implications for allowing folk to have a drink prior to 12.30pm on a Sunday in certain licensing board areas and the biggest of these is Edinburgh. It may come as no surprise to readers that I consider the notion that there is some social obligation which should prevent consumption of alcohol prior to 12.30pm on a Sunday as anachronistic at best, and just daft at worse.

There are a number of people who would object very strongly to the suggestion that licensing boards should allow premises to sell prior to 12.30pm, and I respect those views. But I simply cannot see why it is considered acceptable to open for business on Monday to Saturday at 11am but not on a Sunday. We all know that the reason the 12.30pm rule was set is a result of religious implications of alcohol consumption on a Sunday. Sunday drinking has, through the mists of time, been banned entirely and banned for certain portions of the day. As it stands, the 12.30pm rule exists because of fears from certain political and moral forces that church goers might be molested on their way to 11am services, should the hordes be allowed access to a pint at that time of a Sunday morning.

When I ask myself the question, “have we not moved on from this?”, the answer is in fact “yes”. The vast majority of licensing boards are perfectly happy with opening prior to 12.30pm on a Sunday. Some allow 10am, some 11am, some 12noon.

There are now only two or three licensing boards left in Scotland who still insist on 12.30pm opening. One of the last bastions of this policy was my home town, Glasgow. But the Glasgow Licensing Board changed its policy on this just prior to council elections earlier this year, and 11am opening on a Sunday is now considered acceptable. Publicans, hoteliers and restaurateurs across Glasgow have been applying to vary their premises licences to secure the 11am start. It may be a few months yet before the first of those is heard. I expect some will be granted, some will be granted with conditions perhaps pertaining to certain football matches, and indeed some may be refused. Each application on its own merits, of course.

Edinburgh, on the other hand, has remained staunch in its 12.30pm policy. I recall appearing for a hotel client who had the bizarre experience of refusing service to an American couple who had asked for a glass of wine with their brunch at 11.30am one Sunday morning. At the table next to them, two businessmen were having beers. The businessmen were residents of the hotel and therefore the 12.30pm start did not apply to them (under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, licence holders may serve residents outside of the licensed hours if they wish). Try explaining that to the tourists. My client did their best to politely do so, and still received a complaint that they were made to feel like criminals because they were refused a glass of wine. This to me sums up the madness of the 12.30pm start.

There are also a number of premises in Edinburgh which are in fact allowed to sell prior to 12.30pm due to grandfather rights, and there have been some restaurant style operations allowed this to. So there is certainly no level playing field.

If the premises is responsible, and run in accordance with the licensing objectives, then what is the problem? The health lobby will argue that an increase in the drinking hours (i.e. that extra 1.5 hours on a Sunday) will automatically lead to increased death and destruction for Scottish society but I simply do not that buy into that. Some people will drink irresponsibly. Opening a hotel or a bar at 11am on a Sunday instead of 12.30pm is not going to change that. There really needs to be a significant shift in way we seek to control the difficulties with alcohol in this country. For too long the focus been on the way alcohol is sold, rather than the way it is consumed. There has been too much focus on red tape and legalese which is burying small businesses, and not anywhere near enough about individual responsibility. I was very depressed to see the Scottish Government say recently that they “welcomed” the fact that sales of alcohol had fallen nationally. As if that somehow translates to an equivalent drop in deaths, hospital admissions and so on. It does not.  It is well known that the number of premises have dropped significantly. The drop in Scotland has been from roughly 20,500 to 16,300 in the last 3 years. It is high time that there was more support for responsible and well run licensed premises which contribute positively to our economy, tourism and cater for our needs as social beings.

I digress. There is a new licensing board in Edinburgh and on behalf of the trade, I would urge the members to look at this issue again, and allow premises to open from 11am on a Sunday if they wish it. There may be particular premises which the Board would not wish to open on a Sunday at 12.30pm, and if so, then they can always refuse that application. And of course the public, health boards and police can object if they wish to.

At a time where the Scottish Government is making great hay about the food and drink industries in Scotland, and is under increasing pressure to meet its own tourism targets, surely this is something which can be revisited in our nation’s capital.

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About Stephen McGowan

Leading Scottish licensing solicitor at TLT. Chairman of BII Scotland.
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One Response to Edinburgh: The Sunday Drinking Dilemma

  1. Angus Jamieson says:

    I couldn’t agree with your article more. As new parents we rarely get out and when we do we tend to have an early Sunday lunch but we are denied the option to have a glass of wine with the meal because we choose to eat early to fit in with our new routine. We tend to cook at home now, and open a bottle of wine. Perversely this sees us drink 2-3 times more than the one small glass we would have had with our meal out!

    I also think it so frustrating when one of us goes shopping at night when our son is a sleep, or early on a Sunday to host family and friends that I can’t do the entire shop. Several times now I have had to return to buy wine for the Sunday meal, which sees me make two trips, waste time, fuel and energy. I now order wine by the case to help avoid this situation, again driving up my consumption because I don’t buy as I use.

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