Select Committee on Liaison First Report



Report by Sir Colin Shepherd, Chairman of the Committee

  1. The Domestic Committee structure which resulted from the recommendations of the team lead by Sir Robin Ibbs[43] is relatively new and the 1992 Parliament is the first Parliament in which the Catering Committee and the other Domestic Committees have operated throughout.

  2. The Committee has the normal powers of Select Committees and some additional powers to exchange information and meet concurrently with other Committees and Committees of the House of Lords.[44] The Committee fulfils an advisory role on behalf of Members and considers policy questions concerning the Refreshment Department's services to Members and others working in, or visiting, the House.

Refreshment Department Modernisation

  3. The most important matter dealt with by the Committee in this Parliament was to progress the modernisation of the Refreshment Department.

  4. Our predecessor Committee and the Director of Catering Services determined that the situation in 1992 should not be allowed to continue. The Department's staff had poor working conditions and disgraceful changing accommodation. It was also decided that the House should seek to comply with relevant Health and Safety, fire and food hygiene legislation.

  5. On the instructions of our predecessor Committee, the Director commissioned two surveys during the Dissolution which preceded the 1992 General Election. Therefore this Committee was able to study these reports as soon as it was appointed.

  6. In preparation for its own Report, the Committee took both written and formal oral evidence from as wide a range of opinion as possible, including Members, their staff, House staff and the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

  7. On 12 July 1994 the House approved the First Report from the Catering Committee, Session 1993-94, "Refreshment Services for the House of Commons",[45] which recommended a major refurbishment programme for Refreshment Department premises and outlets.

  8. The work to be done has been split into six phases (A-F), spread over six years:

Phase A (1994) saw the modernisation of the Churchill Room kitchen.

  9. Phase B (1995) involved the modernisation of the kitchen in Speaker's House and preparation for the combination of the Members' and Strangers' Cafeterias into a single outlet. This latter work included the relocation of the Strangers' Bar and Annie's Bar.

  10. In Phase C (1996) the Members' and Strangers' Cafeterias were combined to form the Terrace Cafeteria. Servery counters in the Members' Tea Room were renewed. A new kitchen was built to service both the Tea Room and the Cafeteria.

  11. At the time of writing the modernisation programme is therefore half completed. Summarising the remaining Phases, D (1997-98) will see the staff changing accommodation modernised and E (also 1997-98) will involve moving management offices, so as finally to achieve the modernisation of the main kitchens (Phase F in 1999).

Private Dining

  12. Another matter kept under review throughout the Parliament has been the private dining facilities. On 25 January 1995, after long and careful consideration of the principle and operation of these facilities, the Committee made major revisions, the most important of which was that Members hosting such a function would have to declare a relevant registered interest. The decisions reached were announced to the House on 1 February.[46]

  13. In December 1995 the Committee agreed to a new procedure for booking the private dining facilities, in particular, the introduction of a ballot system for booking certain outlets during the months of peak demand. In January 1996 a letter was sent to all Members of the House, advising them of the new arrangements.

Members' and Strangers' Dining Rooms

  14. A highly successful experiment was the lunchtime exchange of the Members' and the Strangers' Dining Rooms. After a trial period of one year, all Members were invited to comment on the experiment, and there was an overwhelming response in favour. The Committee agreed that the lunchtime exchange would continue, to be reviewed annually as part of the Committee's consideration of the Refreshment Department's financial objectives.

Future developments

  15. In a Report issued in 1993,[47] which was approved by the House on 12 July 1994, the Committee recommended that the Westminster Hall Cafeteria be converted into a Visitor Centre offering light refreshments and toilet facilities, once it was certain that the present lunchtime users of that Cafeteria could be accommodated elsewhere.

  16. The necessary accommodation for users of the Westminster Hall Cafeteria should be provided by another major project - the provision of Refreshment Department facilities in the New Parliamentary Building, which is due to open in 2000.

Westminster Hall Souvenir Kiosk

  17. An interesting joint venture with the House of Lords was the opening in October 1995 of a temporary souvenir kiosk in Westminster Hall, an idea first proposed by the Committee in its Report "Refreshment provision for Line of Route Visitors".[48] Items from both Houses are on sale.

Relations with other Committees and the House of Lords

  18. The Committee held two concurrent meetings with the Administration Committee during the Parliament to discuss the matter of access to the Terrace and the Terrace Pavilion. The Committees agreed that members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and Lobby Correspondents should no longer be permitted access to the Terrace, except as a guest of a Member.

  19. Although the Committee has not held any concurrent meetings with the House of Lords Refreshment Sub-Committee, there have been informal meetings between the Chairmen and relevant officials to discuss matters of mutual interest, in particular the Westminster Hall Souvenir Kiosk.

Committee responsibilities

  20. The Committee does not seek to change any of its responsibilities. There have not been any significant problems of overlap between the Committee and other Domestic Committees.

  21. The Committee has not experienced any difficulties in obtaining a quorum for any of its meetings.

Committee Staff

  22. The Committee is supported by its Clerk and two (part-time) Personal Secretaries. All have other responsibilities. The Committee has not appointed Specialist Advisers. Despite the minimal level of support it is not proposed, given the continuation of the present workload, that staffing levels should be increased.

43  Report on House of Commons Services HC (1990-91) 38. Back

44  SO No 125. Back

45   HC (1993-94) 75-I. Back

46  Official Report, 1 February 1995, c 670-2. Back

47  First Report from the Catering Committee, Session 1992-93, "Refreshment Provision for Line of Route Visitors", HC (1992-93) 307. Back

48   ibid. Back

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Prepared 13 March 1997