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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 00:39 GMT 01:39 UK
Stags should pay for embassy help
A crowded Spanish beach
Spain is a popular destination for hen and stag parties
Britons on stag and hen parties abroad should be charged more often when they call on UK diplomats to bail them out of trouble, say MPs.

People have been charged for help in only 323 out of 84,000 cases by consulates using existing powers, says the Commons public accounts committee.

Foreign Office research suggests 24% of people on stag and hen parties face problems abroad.

Officials say it is difficult to charge people who may be drunk without cash.

Drunken behaviour

The British Embassy in Prague told MPs it was "very rare to encounter a hen in trouble" but recounted examples of where stags had to be helped.

If someone gets in trouble due to drunkenness they should be charged
Katrina R, UK

One stag became separated from his friends and took five hours to find the embassy.

When staff contacted his friends they were having too good a time in the pub to come to collect him but suggested meeting him on Charles Bridge, which has about 3,000 people on it in the summer.

Another Briton was found drunkenly wandering around aircraft hangars at Prague airport.

The Foreign Office welcomed the report. Consular staff already have powers to charge 84.50 a hour for helping Britons.

Officials want to ensure that those who get into trouble through no fault of their own - perhaps because they have been robbed - do not have to pay.

'Appalling' incidents

The Foreign Office last year issued new travel advice to people going on overseas stag and hen parties, urging them to drink less and think more.

It is also holding trials of handheld machines to charge people using credit cards and relatives in the UK are being phoned to recover costs.

In its report on consular services to Britons abroad, the committee said Foreign Office staff were increasingly having to deal with the "appalling results" of British tourists drinking too much.

New challenges

Committee chairman Edward Leigh said the department should consider how effective its publicity was on the issue of behaviour of groups such as stag and hen 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 MPs praised consular staff for doing a difficult job on tight resources.

Mr Leigh said they should concentrate on providing a better services for today's challenges.

"It is unclear why 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."

Consular staff last year also had to deal with nine major overseas emergencies, including the Asian tsunami and New Orleans floods.

Mr Leigh praised staff for their dedication and noted the Foreign Office was trying to improve its emergency plans - its handling system was overwhelmed following the tsunami.

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