October 9, 2019 4:14:13 PM
There is a problem with both drink and drugs inside Parliament, the deputy speaker of the House of Commons has admitted.
Addressing journalists at a hustings event for MPs running to replace Speaker John Bercow in the chair, Sir Lindsay Hoyle said “there is a drugs problem”.
Asked whether there is an alcohol problem in Parliament, Sir Lindsay said: “I do think there is a drink problem and I think it needs to be addressed and the support needs to be given, that’s why health and wellbeing has got to be extended.”
He then added: “It’s not just drink we’ve got to catch out, there is a drug problem, and I genuinely believe that counselling and real support should be available for all staff and members.”
When pushed to confirm whether he had just disclosed there is a drug problem within Parliament, Sir Lindsay said: “I think, I believe there will be a drug problem – there is a drug problem right across this country.
“I don’t believe that somebody who walks in here may not be tempted into drugs, and what I’m saying is that we should have health and wellbeing in place for drink and drug counselling and real support for anybody.”
Sir Lindsay is one of nine candidates looking to replace Mr Bercow as Speaker when he steps down at the end of the month following a decade in the chair.
Mr Bercow, who will also step down as an MP, will take the chair for a final time on October 31 and the election of the next Speaker will take place on November 4.
The other candidates to replace him are fellow deputy speakers Dame Eleanor Laing and Dame Rosie Winterton, Mother of the House Harriet Harman, Labour MPs Chris Bryant and Meg Hillier, and Conservative MPs Sir Henry Bellingham, Shailesh Vara and Sir Edward Leigh.
When questioned on the same issue, Sir Edward said: “There is a drink problem, though much less so than in the past.”
Sir Henry disagreed, saying: “I don’t believe there is a drink problem as such. People just need to show judgment, they need to be mature, and honestly some of my colleagues just need to grow up.”
Dame Rosie added: “Does Parliament have a greater drink problem than the world outside? I’m not sure.”
A Parliamentary spokesman said: “Parliament takes the issue of substance misuse very seriously and offers a range of welfare and health support services for those who need them.
“Parliament is a public place and we welcome over a million visitors a year who have access to the facilities. Should drug use be identified in Parliament, appropriate action would be taken.
“Both the House of Commons Commission and the House of Lords Commission have agreed a number of actions to promote responsible alcohol consumption among all customers on the estate.
“These include increasing the range of non-alcoholic drinks and lower strength beers available, reducing opening hours for some bars, training and supporting staff to refuse to serve customers when necessary, expanding and encouraging alcohol-free areas, in-house management of the former Sports and Social Club Bar, discouraging Members and staff from drinking in offices after bars are shut, and not running promotional advertisements.”
Ms Harman reminded her opposition that they face a “Speaker election like no other” at a “critical and challenging time for Parliament”.
She added: “There needs to be a strong Speaker in the chair to address all the challenges there are at the moment.
“And I’ve been amazed that actually in the street people are talking about the Speaker election coming up.”
She said in particular many women recognise that Parliament is “no longer an old boys’ club”, adding: “That would be fully represented by having a woman in the chair.”
Sir Lindsay said his constituents are telling him “it’s time we have a northerner in that seat”.
Mr Vara said he would like to be the first non-white Speaker.
He told journalists: “Of 157 Speakers we’ve had so far, there have been none that have been non-white.
“I’d like to think that if I were to become Speaker, that I would send a powerful message to every single child in this country, black, white, brown, boy, girl.
“The message would be very simple, they could say if that bloke Vara can make it, then so can I.”