Crackdown on drinking in the Commons put on the agenda by Speaker
A CRACKDOWN on drinking within the House of Commons is being considered as part of a government review into alcohol abuse, it has emerged.
The move could signal an end to politicians’ easy access to the cheap alcohol which is served at up to 20 bars in the Commons.
It follows an incident in Strangers bar in which Eric Joyce, the MP for Falkirk, admitted headbutting two Conservative rivals and assaulting a Labour colleague when he was “hammered” on red wine.
Other examples of drunken debauchery involving Britain’s elected representatives include falling down drunk during a debate and running up a £50,000 tab for food and drink.
The focus on drinking within the confines of parliament was reportedly ordered by the Speaker of the House, John Bercow.
George Jones, a professor emeritus of government at the London School of Economics, said the review appeared to be in response to Joyce’s bar-room brawl.
“It damages the reputation of the House of Commons, and one way of dealing with it is to show that the House of Commons takes it all very seriously, that it cares,” he said. “There is a culture of drinking and it’s encouraged by the access of these MPs to cheap drink at any time. It has long been so.”
Politicians’ appreciation of alcohol is not new. It has included Winston Churchill’s legendary love of champagne, Margaret Thatcher’s appreciation of Scotch, and Prime Minister David Cameron’s past membership in the Bullingdon Club, a collegiate society known for its drinking binges.
But as Britain explores ways of tackling excessive drinking – including a minimum price on alcohol in Scotland and England – public drunkenness by public servants has come to the fore.
In 2010, the Conservative MP Mark Reckless, admitted to the BBC he was too drunk to vote on the Budget and “doesn’t remember” falling over.
In January, Labour MP Chris Bryant said the scene at one of the largest bars in Parliament, Strangers, felt like London’s Rupert Street – a Soho stretch known for its watering holes. Alcohol sold in the Commons’ bars is typically priced below normal bars and pubs, thanks to a broad subsidy that covers all food and refreshment costs in the House of Commons.
When it is finished later this month, the House of Commons Commission’s review could enforce changes in opening and closing hours or raising prices.
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