Embassies may charge for helping stag groups that carry on abroad

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For our man in Prague, Barcelona, Dublin or a number of other picturesque European cities, the traditional stag night has become the stuff of nightmares. While once the revelry was confined to a few beers with the lads, the boom in low-cost air travel has turned the ritual into aheadache for British diplomats.

Yesterday MPs called for drunken stag and hen parties who get into trouble abroad to be forced to pay for the help they receive from British embassy officials. Members of the Commons Public Accounts Committee called on diplomats to name and shame the hapless revellers who turn up at embassy doorsteps "drunk, incoherent and lost".

The Foreign Office estimates that 70 per cent of stag and hen parties are now held abroad. But one in four ran into trouble. This ranged from revellers losing their money or travel documents to being arrested. Only 31 per cent of partygoers took a photocopy of their passport and nearly half had no travel insurance.

An official at the embassy in Prague said: "It has been known for the guards to phone 40 hotels before they eventually succeed in finding the stag's hotel and sending them on their way or arranging for accompanying stags to come and collect their wayward friend."

Consular officials already have the power to charge £84.50 for helping Britons abroad. But MPs said the Foreign Office only charged citizens in 323 out of 84,000 cases.

Now the Foreign Office is piloting the use of hand-held credit card readers so officials can charge people on the spot if they are called out to rescue partygoers in the middle of the night.

Officials stressed that they would always help Britons in trouble abroad, and insisted they would not charge people facing difficulties through no fault of their own. A spokesman said: "We would not want to go down the route of charging victims of crime, but if people are irresponsible we would welcome the encouragement to make greater use of the call-out fees."

Edward Leigh, Conservative chairman of the committee, said: "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 stag and hen parties.

"Where our nationals have landed themselves in trouble as a result of their own irresponsibility, the Foreign Office should not hesitate to charge them for its services."

One report from Prague told how diplomats were called to deal with a drunken Briton picked up by the Czech police wandering around an airport hangar. The embassy said: "When we ask the distressed British national about what happened he said that he was separated from his party and ended up in a taxi drunk. He then fell asleep, the taxi driver drove him to the airport, stole all his money and kicked him out. Because he was so drunk he thought that he was going home and tried to get on any plane leaving the airport. Nobody knows how he got into the hangar."

The Foreign Office offers revellers the following advice: Don't rely on one person to make the arrangements; read up on your destination so that you have an idea of the geography; and know the local laws and customs, for example acceptable behaviour and alcohol laws.

Hot spots

* BARCELONA

Catalan authorities are alarmed by British, German and Dutch tourists who party all night, provoking complaints about vomiting and promiscuity. Last year, the Barcelona town hall and Catalan regional government banned drinking in public squares. People behaving in an anti-social manner can now be fined up to ¤1,500 (£850).

* DUBLIN

Dublin invested ¤50,000 in targeting the hordes of English on the stag and hen-fuelled rampage. The Play Nice campaign urges bar staff not to serve people who appear drunk.

* KILKENNY

An average of five stag or hen parties descend on the medieval city each weekend. While businesses appreciate the millions spent on alcohol each year by the groups, councillors and locals would like to put a stop to the parties.

* PRAGUE

Stag and hen parties in Prague account for 15 per cent of lost passports, the Foreign Office have said.

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