Lib Dems keep barmy army alive

IT seems the rebellious spirit of the Young Liberals so evident in the 60s and 70s is alive and kicking in the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.While Young Conservatives were busily trying to find partners at whist drives and Young Socialists were promoting the joys of the Soviet Union at the same time as wanting to abolish our nuclear deterrent, the Young Liberals led a hedonistic lifestyle, advocating free love and pot legalisation while at the same time protesting at all types of authority.

IT seems the rebellious spirit of the Young Liberals so evident in the 60s and 70s is alive and kicking in the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

While Young Conservatives were busily trying to find partners at whist drives and Young Socialists were promoting the joys of the Soviet Union at the same time as wanting to abolish our nuclear deterrent, the Young Liberals led a hedonistic lifestyle, advocating free love and pot legalisation while at the same time protesting at all types of authority.

They were viewed as ever so slightly barmy.

So as the Government meets firm resistance from the public and police to its proposed 24 hour opening of pubs as the solution to the "British disease" of binge drinking, what's the Lib Dem policy towards the 18-30 holiday tendency seen on our streets?


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Unbelievably, it's to reduce the age limit from 18 to 16 for the purchase and consumption of alcohol.

As the centres of our towns and city become increasingly soaked in vomit and urine with rowdy behaviour from drunk and disorderly young adults – particularly women – if the Lib Dems get their way, the problem could well escalate.

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Don Foster, the Lib Dems' spokesman on home affairs, met a barrage of opposition in a Commons debate from Labour and Conservative backbenchers when he explained his party's position.

He told MPs during a debate on the Licensing Act 2003: "Our saying that 16 year-olds should be able to buy alcohol does not mean, however, that we are advocating they should become involved in binge drinking."

That's all right then.

Mr Foster destroyed his own argument when he said it was "worrying" that 33,000 children were admitted to hospital every year because of alcohol-related illnesses and that in the Grampian health authority area, two young people under 15 were treated every week with acute alcohol poisoning.

"I have no reason to accept any suggestion . . . that it would lead to an increase in binge drinking if we get the correct measures in place."

Speaking from the Tory front bench, John Whittingdale (MP for Maldon and Chelmsford East) said all MPs should recognise the seriousness of the problems faced – binge drinking, alcohol-related violence, the implications for the health service, and the damage to the quality of life of people.

"Too many of our towns and cities are already becoming no-go areas at night because of the activities of drunken yobs."

Mr Whittingdale said that on a Friday night tour of London's west end with Westminster council officers, he visited several "vertical drinking establishments" each packed with more than 1,000 people who appeared to have the sole purpose of drinking as much as possible in the time available.

On patrol with police in Chelmsford, Mr Whittingdale said that in the course of six hours almost every incident attended was related to excess drinking and the fights, vandalism and yobbish behaviour which followed.

Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, admitted there was a clear consensus that Britain had a severe problem with drink, drink-relatred crime and behaviour associated with people getting drunk.

The Government's liberalisation of the licensing laws included making it illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is drunk and to give local authorities more enforcement powers.

"The strategy includes the development of a code of conduct that addresses irresponsible sales promotions," said Ms Jowell. "Many young people drink too much too quickly as a result of promotions that encourage them to drink all they can for £9.99.

"These promotions are designed to do nothing but encourage drunkenness. We can make responsible conduct of premises, which involves not promoting drink in that irresponsible way, a licence condition."

MPs WILL have to give up their Tuesday seats at the Royal Opera House after voting to return to late-night Commons sittings in what is a major blow for the Blairite modernisers, who wanted to keep more "family friendly" hours.

By 292 to 225, they rejected a warning by Commons leader Peter Hain that a return to "Victorian" hours would mark a significant step backwards.

However, not one Suffolk MP voted for the change, while four from north Essex – two Tories, one Labour and one Liberal Democrat – backed the late nights for Tuesdays.

Parliamentary hours are based on the generations of part-time MPs who undertook work on the land, in the City or in the law courts before making their way to Westminster for some socialising and occasional voting.

Mr Hain insisted: "I don't think our constituents feel we should be making the laws of the land, absolutely knackered, in the middle of the night."

Under the so-called more "family friendly"' hours, narrowly agreed in 2002, the Commons currently sits from 2.30pm to 10.30pm on Mondays; 11.30am to 7.30pm Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 11.30am to 6.30pm on Thursdays and 9.30am to 3pm on Fridays.

However, in a free vote, MPs decided to return to late night sittings on Tuesdays, with a 2.30pm start and 10.30pm finish – possibly later if a number of votes are held or a major debate extended.

The change will be introduced after the election for the next Parliament when some of those voted for the change today will have retired or been replaced by a new intake.

Shadow leader of the House Oliver Heald accused ministers of "starving and rationing"' MPs of time to do their job properly in the chamber by regularly guillotining legislation.

Backing the call for later sittings on Tuesday, he said the increased pressure on time under the new hours was particularly bad then with a "bunching and clashing" of activities like select committee, constituency and lobby group meetings.

Voting for the change: Alan Hurst (Lab, Braintree), Bernard Jenkin (Con, Essex North), Bob Russell (Lib Dem, Colchester), John Whittingdale (Con, Maldon & Chelmsford North).

Against: Bob Blizzard (Lab, Waveney), Simon Burns (Con, Chelmsford West), Chris Mole (Lab, Ipswich), David Ruffley (Con, Bury St Edmunds), Richard Spring (Con, Suffolk West), Tim Yeo (Con, Suffolk South).

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