Shame Mr Kennedy is no longer around to debate

Gary Rycroft.
Gary Rycroft.

The death of former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy this week is a matter of profound sadness for his family and friends; a talented man who has died too young aged 55 years.

His opposition to the Iraq War and later to his party forming a collation with the Conservatives have been heralded as examples of his sound judgment.

He also appeared to be a thoroughly decent man; at ease with the public and a witty raconteur.

The other side of Mr Kennedy’s humanity which has been commented upon in recent days is his relationship with alcohol. If indeed alcohol made Mr Kennedy unhappy and contributed to his death then the demon drink will have claimed another victim.

Mr Kennedy spent over 30 years as a Member of Parliament and for a considerable number of years more than that Parliament has wrestled with alcohol and how to regulate it.

The Sale of Spirits Act 1750 (known as the Gin Act) was enacted to cut down on the sale of spirits which many at the time thought had for out of hand in the so called “Gin Craze” fuelled by cheap alcohol.

The Act was sponsored by one of the country’s leading lawyers of the time, Master of the Rolls Lord Jekyll, who ended up having to have a guard at his house because of the public disquiet about the restrictions on the sale of alcohol that it imposed.

The effect of alcohol on the masses was also a concern of Parliament at the beginning of the First World War. Until then it was not unusual for pubs to open at 5am and stay open until midnight. Shortly after war broke out in August 1914 Parliament passed the Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restrictions) Act which curtailed such long opening hours and turned out to be a not so temporary lasting until the licensing laws were liberalised again earlier this century.

Cynics may argue that it is the taxation aspect of alcohol production, sale and consumption that Parliament is keen to control, rather than the personal and social issues brought about by misuse.

It’s a shame Mr Kennedy’s fine mind is no longer around to debate that one.