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There were 29 licences suspended in 2007, a figure that was up considerably from 2005. There were 60 and 116 convictions for selling alcohol to underage persons in 2007-08 and 2008-09 respectively. The average fine in those years was £305 and £244. Data collection has been suspended to avoid unnecessary burden on local authorities because new legislation is being implemented, as the member well knows.
The Parliament recognises the urgent need to rebalance Scotland's relationship with alcohol. The framework for alcohol contains more than 40 measures, many of which focus on our children and young people.
In relation to Dr Simpson's specific point about effective enforcement, that is indeed part of the solution. Six months into the new legislation, we are beginning to see the police and licensing boards taking the tough action that is required against rogue retailers.
"It's time to get tough on the irresponsible sale of alcohol ... The sale of alcohol to underage Scots will result in the loss of a premises' license".
That was an SNP manifesto promise in 2007, yet from answers to me just now and answers from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, we know that of the 561 recorded offences in which a licensed person sold alcohol to a person under 18 in 2008-09, only 202 were proceeded against. As the First Minister just indicated, there has been no collection of any data from the courts on the suspended licences, which I cannot understand. Is that yet another broken promise by the SNP?
Does the First Minister have any comment on the situation in Perthshire, in my constituency, where no such offences were recorded and where there were no prosecutions in 2008-09? Are there really no underage drinkers in Perthshire?
The reason for the interruption in the data is that the Parliament introduced the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, which put in place a range of measures, including test purchasing, that has prompted a tightening up of sales to underage young people. As that act is implemented, as is happening at present, the data will come forward, as the member very well knows.
I cannot help but encounter the unworthy suspicion that the reason for Richard Simpson's pursuing that aspect of alcohol policy, which is hugely important as the whole chamber agreed, is the embarrassment, shared by many of his colleagues, that they have been unable or unwilling to find the courage to confront minimum pricing and recognise that as long as supermarkets and other establishments in Scotland are awash with alcohol that is cheaper than water, we will have a problem that will be prevalent among many sections of Scottish society. When Richard Simpson finds the courage to back the Government and others who want to confront that problem, he will be listened to with even more respect when he raises other aspects of the anti-alcohol agenda.