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Plans afoot to shut the House of Commons bars

With the General Election just over a week away, it has now been reported that Westminster heavyweight Sue Gray plans to shut the bars in Parliament if the Labour Party comes to power.

Gray, who first shot to prominence as a civil servant for her inquiry into the ‘Partygate’ scandal under then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has been the Opposition’s chief of staff since March 2023. If the polls are to be believed and Keir Starmer’s Labour is set for a large majority come voting on 4 July, Gray will become a crucial advisor to the Prime Minister on a number of matters, including discipline in Parliament.

According to the Mail Online, and since republished by a number of other outlets, Gray, the daughter of a barmaid, and a former publican in Northern Ireland herself, is intent on closing the bars in a bid to stop incidences of inappropriate behaviour, with particular concerns about intoxicated MPs sexually harassing colleagues.

A source quoted by the Mail Online said: “Sue’s approach to the dangers of alcohol and the Commons bars is simple. She says, ‘I’d shut all of them’.”

There are three bars that serve alcohol in the House of Commons: the Pugin Room, Smoking Room, and the Strangers’ Bar.

The prices at the latter, with a pint of Carlsberg for £4.05 and a bottle of LBV Port for £34.80, have been the subject of much debate, with some suggesting that it is unfair that MPs should pay such little for booze when the public is hit with pint price increase after pint price increase.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle did concede that the bar had a “bad reputation” for drunk and disorderly conduct, but said in 2022 that efforts were being made to improve things.

Among the critics of the proposed ban on bars is reportedly Jess Phillips, the Labour candidate for Birmingham Yardley, who apparently said that she did not believe that “banning was the answer”, and that Gray had “more chance of sprouting wings” than successfully implementing it.

Other arguments against a bar ban include the view that MPs drinking in bars outside of Parliament presents a security risk as, if under the influence, they may inadvertently share classified information with members of the public.

The UK would not be the first country to consider keeping its elected representatives sober while at work – similar plans were suggested for France’s National Assembly last year after an epidemic of bad behaviour among députés who had, allegedly, over-indulged.