Funfairs reform desperately needed as showpeople’s way of life under threat, warns Holyrood Committee


MSPs have warned that urgent action is needed to help protect showpeople’s livelihoods, despite proposals for a bespoke licensing system for travelling funfairs failing to gain the support of the Local Government and Communities Committee.

The Licensing of Funfairs (Scotland) Bill, a Member’s Bill proposed by Richard Lyle MSP, seeks to protect the way of life of Scotland’s showpeople by simplifying the licensing system and reducing the cost of applying for a license. 

In a report published today, MSPs have warned that showpeople face ‘significant barriers’ to putting on travelling funfairs. The Committee is concerned by evidence received suggesting that licensing authorities use their powers to stop funfairs from taking place. The Committee is also unconvinced that councils are setting fees exceeding hundreds of pounds for temporary licences simply to recover costs.

The report highlights three broad options for reform: reforming the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 which sets out the system for the licensing of travelling funfairs, the creation of a separate licensing system for funfairs or removing travelling funfairs from the licensing system altogether. 

However, the Committee has been unable to gather sufficient information to determine which option would best achieve the legislation’s intended goal, and as such could not support the general principles of the Bill. The report instead urges the Scottish Government to work with the sector early in the next session to bring forward its own proposals to support travelling funfairs. The Committee also acknowledges wider issues with the 1982 Act and supports reforms dealing with other licensable activities.

Speaking as the report was published, Committee Convener James Dornan MSP said:

“Travelling funfairs are a living, breathing part of Scotland’s cultural heritage but there is no doubt this way of life is under threat. 

“The Committee wants to see funfairs continue to be enjoyed by Scottish families for generations to come and for showpeople to be able to make a living from their trade. 

“While the evidence we have heard is compelling, the Committee is not convinced that the current licensing system is the only major cause of the decline of funfairs. We are confident, however, that the system is a significant factor. Showpeople view the licensing process as more complex and expensive than it should be and one that too often gives undue influence to a vocal minority of objectors.

“Despite being unable to give this Bill our backing, we do believe the status quo is unsustainable and there is a desperate need for reform. Serious issues with the 1982 Act are evident and the Committee urges the Scottish Government to take immediate action, working with showpeople and other stakeholders, to find a way forward so that travelling funfairs can thrive.”

He added:

“The Committee thanks Richard Lyle for bringing forward this Bill. While we have been unable to determine whether the measures contained within it are the right way forward, we are grateful to him for shining a light on an important but often-neglected issue.”


The Travelling Funfairs (Licensing) (Scotland) Bill was introduced into the Parliament on 29 April 2020. It is a Member's Bill and the Member in Charge is Richard Lyle MSP. The Local Government and Communities Committee was appointed lead committee to report to Parliament on the general principles of the Bill at Stage 1.

The Committee launched a call for views on the Bill over the summer, posing seven key questions. It received 115 responses that were accepted as evidence. The vast majority were from members of the public, many of whom identified in their evidence as showpeople. 

Three panels of oral evidence were held over two meetings in January and February 2021. Two of these were with stakeholders comprising representatives of two council licensing departments, SOLAR, the Scottish Showmen's Guild, Fair Scotland and experienced showman Andrew Masterton. The third and final session was with Mr Lyle and supporting officials.

Travelling funfairs in Scotland require a licence under the public entertainment licensing system. The aim of the Bill is to create a new bespoke licensing system for them that Mr Lyle considers will be more equitable, more consistent, less costly and less complex than the current one.

For more information on the work of the Local Government and Communities committee, visit the Scottish Parliament website.

You can read read the full report here.

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