Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Thirteenth Report



Memorandum by the Scottish Office Home Department

  1.    The Committee is seeking confirmation that the problem of drinking methylated spirits in Scotland has disappeared and in particular that there is no longer a problem in urban areas such as the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh.

Paragraph 9 of the Explanatory Memorandum advises that the Scottish Office has no record of any person proceeded against over the past 20 years where the main offence was a breach of the regulations under the Methylated Spirits (Sale by Retail) (Scotland) Act 1937. In addition, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland confirms that it is not aware of any problems associated with the drinking of crude spirits of this type in any part of Scotland. This view is supported by Lothian and Borders Police who also confirm that there is no longer a problem with the drinking of crude spirits in that force area. The general view is that easy access to comparatively cheaper forms of alcohol has removed this particular form of abuse.

  2.    The Committee also asked whether any of the minority of respondents who opposed any change to the Methylated Spirits (Sale by Retail) (Scotland) Act 1937 considered that this form of substance abuse was still a problem in Scotland.

Out of 43 respondents to the last consultation exercise in 1996, only 7 respondents opposed any change. A summary of their responses (provided as Annex C to the Explanatory Memorandum) is attached as an Annex to this Supplementary Memorandum. The minority of respondents who opposed any change to the 1937 Act did not appear to consider that drinking of methylated spirits was still a problem in Scotland and although most felt that lifting the restrictions might encourage a return to this sort of substance abuse, no evidence in support of that theory was produced.

It is clear that drinking crude spirits was a social problem peculiar to Scotland in the 1930s. We have been unable to find any indication, particularly in view of the significant social changes since the 1930s, that removing the present restrictions would result in an increase in the abuse of this type of crude spirit.  

16 February 1998   


Dundee City Council

The council contended that the provisions of the 1937 Act did not incur costs or inconvenience to the retailer. They also strongly supported the retention of the restriction on selling methylated/surgical spirits to under 14 year olds (this provision is to be retained).

Inverclyde Council

The council argued that compliance with the provisions of the 1937 Act did not place an onerous burden on business. They also did not support the lifting of the prohibition on sales to children under

the age of 14 - and would like to see similar restrictions being placed on the sale of other substances, such as solvents.

The Law Society of Scotland

The Society supported the retention of the legislation arguing that its value was demonstrated by the decline in methylated spirits drinking. They suggested that to repeal the legislation could result in a return to crude spirit drinking.

North Ayrshire Licensing Board

The Board was strongly opposed to any change to the 1937 Act fearing that this would result in a resurgence of crude spirit drinking. The Board also argued for the retention of the restriction on the sale of methylated/surgical spirits to children.

North Ayrshire Council

The Council suggested that the legislation served a purpose in that it had been successful in preventing people from misusing methylated/surgical spirits and that to repeal it could lead to people experimenting with methylated spirits, particularly by diluting them with other intoxicating substances. The Council did not consider that the requirements imposed on retailers by the 1937 Act were unduly onerous.

Tayside Alcohol Mis-Use Co-ordinating Committee

The Committee did not consider the provisions in the 1937 Act to impose a heavy burden on sellers. They also suggested that the publicity associated with lifting the present restrictions imposed by the Act could lead to an a return to crude spirit drinking.

West Lothian Council

The Council strongly opposed proposals to repeal the 1937 Act as they considered it has provided an effective control on the misuse of methylated/surgical spirit abuse.



Letter from the Engineering Officers' Technical Association

  Re-authorising Check-off Deductions

  We see no problem with a continuing authorisation. Bank standing orders do not require to be-re-authorised, so why should written check-off authorisations. The employee can cancel at any time and has the recourse to an Industrial Tribunal should there be any problems with the deductions.

  We think it is entirely proper that the onus should rest with the individual. Our Union is not recognised by the Employer and is therefore denied the check-off facility. We have managed for 20 years using bank standing orders but this has been an administrative burden, which the-check-off facility would have eased considerably. As a small independent unrecognised union we feel we are penalised to a great extent by this fact alone.

  We feel that the burden on the employer is overstated, the majority of employers have computerised pay records, which make the administration of check-off an easy task.

  Necessary Protection

  We have no difficulty with this aspect of the proposals and concur with the information in paragraph 14.

  We agree entirely with the proposal in paragraph 15.

  Notification of Increase in Deductions

  We disagree that the notification of increase in deductions should be discontinued. All variations to existing deductions should be notified to the employee. Again, computerisation makes this an easy task.

  Necessary Protection

  The reason quoted in paragraph 20 of the consultation document, in our view, also prohibits the removal of the advance notification clause.

  There would be no financial consequences to our union from either of the Government proposals.

  Alan Bishop
  General Secretary

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