Stag revellers to pick up the bill

Drunken revellers enjoying stag and hen parties abroad could be faced with a bill to cover costs of help from British officials if they get into difficulties, under plans put forward by a committee of MPs.

According to the public accounts committee, those who overindulge should be named and shamed to warn others of the consequences.

Consular staff have the power to charge 84.50 an hour for assisting Britons abroad, but the committee revealed that the penalty was rarely imposed. According to the committee's report the levy was only applied on 323 occasions out of 84,000 assistance cases.

According to an Egg online bank survey, Britons spent 430m, the equivalent of 551 each, last year on stag and hen parties abroad. During the celebrations 25% lose their passports, 20% lose valuables, 10% have items stolen, 17% need medical attention, and 4% are likely to be arrested. More often than not, revellers will travel without any insurance.

Edward Leigh, the chairman of the public accounts committee, applauded the work of foreign office officials, and condemned the revellers who put pressure on their resources. He said: "FCO consular staff increasingly have to deal with the appalling results of British tourists carousing abroad.

"The department should get a clearer idea of the effectiveness of its publicity aimed at improving the behaviour of the groups who most often end up needing help, such as hen and stag parties. Where our nationals have landed themselves in trouble as a result of their own irresponsibility, the FCO should not hesitate to charge them for its services."

The top choices for pre-marital celebrations are Barcelona in Spain, Prague in the Czech Republic, Dublin, and Tallinn in Estonia. Amsterdam, Paris and the Greek islands are other European favourites.

Sean Tipton, of the Association of British Travel Agents, said budget airlines, with the attraction of cheap alcohol, have sent the number of foreign stag and hen weekends through the roof. He said: "If you can get a ticket for 30 to a place where a litre of lager can cost 60p or 70p, many people will go, and it can be a bit of a lethal combination.

"If you live in London it is easier for you to fly out to an eastern European country than to travel to Brighton."

Already stag and hen groups lose so many passports, particularly when they are drunk, that the FCO has issued specific travel advice warning them to take photocopies of documents before travelling.

The committee paid tribute to the great dedication shown by consular staff in responding to no less than nine major incidents and natural disasters last year but it called for better training and planning for dealing with large-scale emergencies and more consistent practices around the world. It also questioned the inconsistent level of service throughout the world.

Mr Leigh said: "It is unclear why the FCO posts differ from one another in the level of service they provide. If you go to hospital in Bratislava, you'll almost certainly find at your bedside a member of the consular staff; in Budapest, nobody. The department should set minimum standards of service and, more broadly, address its lack of reliable management information systems."

by CATHERINE MacLEOD, UK Political Editor

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