Thursday, 14 January 2016

Speaker conceals MPs' excessive drinking

Lunchtime in the Strangers Bar
I have written several times, most recently in 2013, about the subsidy that we provide on alcohol sold in the Palace of Westminster to MPs and Lords. Tandleman once suggested, perhaps with some reason, that I had a bee on my bonnet on this issue. Alcohol Concern has asked Parliament to scrap the subsidy, currently more than £4 million in the 12 bars in the building, thus for once saying something that I actually agree with.

The issue has surfaced again in a slightly different form: the Press Association requested information about MPs' drinking habits after incidents such as Eric Joyce's conviction for assault in 2012, or Mark Reckless admitting he missed a vote in 2010 because he was drunk. The speaker, John Bercow, has refused the request and under Freedom of Information legislation, he doesn't have to explain why.

I can't see any good reason why such information cannot be released, anonymised of course to protect individual privacy, so the conclusion I draw is it is too embarrassing, a view which I feel is supported by Tory MP Sarah Wollaston's statement in 2011 that some MPs were drinking "really quite heavily".

It's long overdue for Parliament to join the 21st century: few, if any, other employers would tolerate excessive drinking - or in many cases, any drinking - while on duty. A couple of decades ago, many workplaces had their own bars, including in my personal experience some larger civil service buildings and police stations. I remember drinking in a police station bar when our quiz team was playing away to a police team. Such staff bars are all gone now. Time for Parliament to catch up.

5 comments:

  1. I can't help thinking you're being a bit dog-in-the-manger here.

    And being an MP is not the kind of job that you clock on and off from. It's like being a priest - whatever you're doing, you are always an MP.

    Plus whatever Doctor Sarah says about alcohol I would pretty much always line up on the other side.

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  2. I'm not sure what your point is. Do priests routinely drink on the job?

    As for Sarah Wollaston, I wasn't lining up behind her opinions; I was merely quoting an observation by her which tends to confirm what we all strongly suspect anyway: that some MPs drink excessively while on duty.

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  3. I've known priests drink on the job! But more to the point, I don't think this is the burning issue of the day, you will find illicit drinkers in most work places, along with people who may not do their job properly for other unacceptable reasons, obviously these have to be dealt with appropriately and within the rules of current employment law.....I don't believe that involving the press has any real merit.

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  4. Nev, I'm sure most priests drink to some extent, but my point is that they are never off duty, like MPs. I'm sure you're not saying that an MP shouldn't have a tot of whisky when staying up late doing some constituency casework.

    I'm not condoning them being drunk in the Commons chamber, but I honestly don't think that's a major problem, and this manufactured outrage comes across as just a way of getting at them.

    It also needs to be remembered that our two greatest wartime Prime Ministers - Pitt the Younger and Churchill - were both famously fond of a drink. Would teetotallers have done a better job?

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  5. Loads of determinedly missing the point here.

    I'll spell it out:

    1. I'm not commenting on drinking; I am commenting on drinking, often to excess, while ON DUTY.
    2. I also don't see why politicians should have their alcohol and, by the way, their meals, subsidised by us taxpayers.

    Priests, Pitt and Churchill are really quite irrelevant to my point. If you don't see that, you are still missing the point, which is odd as it's not that profound.

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