Select Committee on Catering Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Good morning. It is a great pleasure to have you here and for us to be conducting this inquiry. This morning can I welcome Della Herd, Ron Cox and Laurie Kaye, a very long established member of the House of Commons. All three of you are very knowledgeable and experienced members of the House of Commons. Not Members of Parliament but certainly all play a very distinctive role in the House of Commons so we do welcome you coming this morning and welcome the memorandum that you submitted from the Refreshment Department User Group. This morning we want to listen to what you have to tell us. As you know, we are seeking your views and advice on how we can start to tackle some of the major problems that we identify, and you have helped us to identify, within the Refreshment Department, and on a positive note to see how, with your advice, we may be able to bring about improvements in the facilities that will be beneficial to your members and to the staff in general. Can I ask you the first question and that is can we meet demand without investing in new facilities and where, if anywhere, is there spare capacity? Who would like to start? First of all if you want to give us general comments, something you may have been thinking about whilst coming this morning, start as you feel you would want to advise the Committee.

  (Mr Cox) Probably accommodation is tight but there are some suggestions in there. For instance, the Clubroom in Bellamy's, they are places that perhaps could be used for other things, and open up the Members' Dining Room and is it called the Churchill Room these days. Use the facilities that we have got more, lift the restrictions. I appreciate accommodation is tight, for instance where could you put another sandwich bar near Bellamy's, it is a problem, that kind of thing.

  2. Do you think that would be something that you feel the Committee should look at seriously as a priority?
  (Mr Cox) Let us look at the things that are under-used perhaps.

  3. Yes, that is a start. Laurie, would you like to make any comment?
  (Mr Kaye) I agree with Ron, I do not think you have to have new establishments opening, you can use the existing establishments. I think we are quite rich in the locations where eat like the main building here, the Press Cafeteria and we have also got 7 Millbank and Portcullis House. I think we are spoilt for choice at times. I think other areas should be opened. I feel long serving people, say with 15 years' service, like the car passes for the underground car park, perhaps they should have access to other places they are not allowed to go at the moment where you might have to be officer status. Perhaps they are under-used and people with long service could use these facilities if possible. It may work, say, for a trial period and if it does not work then it can always be stopped.

  4. Della, would you like to comment?
  (Ms Herd) Certainly, as Laurie was saying, there is some spare capacity within 1 Parliament Street, Bellamy's Clubroom and the cafeteria and some spare capacity down at 7 Millbank. The Terrace Cafeteria and the Debate restaurant in Portcullis House are both quite heavily utilised currently.

Mrs Dean

  5. Obviously the Norman Shaw buildings are currently being refurbished and there will be more Members in that area, and staff of course, fairly soon. What effect do you think that will have? There will be even more Members and staff at the northern end of the Estate rather than the southern end as was traditional.
  (Mr Cox) I suspect Bellamy's will get used more and maybe the pressure will come off the Terrace. It will get easier this side but I think the problem is just going to go north of Bridge Street. Bellamy's may get used a bit more but other than that I do not know.

  6. Do you think there is a need for anything else in the northern area?
  (Mr Cox) Possibly.
  (Ms Herd) Certainly the facilities in Portcullis House will be used to a greater extent than they are now with the reoccupation of Norman Shaw South and certainly Bellamy's could well be affected by that as well.
  (Mr Kaye) I go along with what Della and Ron say, I think that is absolutely spot on.

  7. Tied up with that, obviously where staff are concerned sometimes they do not just use the cafeterias as cafeterias but as meeting places because there is nowhere else. Is there an argument to have areas where staff can meet so that they can perhaps stay for a shorter time in the cafeterias and move on to a meeting place?
  (Ms Herd) That would certainly be useful, it would take some of the pressure off the seating areas.

  8. Have you got any suggestions as to where those could be?
  (Ms Herd) There are the coffee lounges in Portcullis House close to the vending areas which are sometimes used for informal meetings, perhaps they could be utilised more and made more widely known that they are there. In terms of elsewhere, I do not know whether I can think of anywhere. Laurie?
  (Mr Kaye) No. As I said before, I think the existing facilities are fine but the trouble is you get this surge of people, especially in the main building because some of us cannot wander too far if we are on division duty, so you are attached to the main building, therefore we rely on the Terrace Cafeteria. Occasionally if the House is going to sit earlier there will be further demand on the Terrace Cafeteria. Sometimes I make the excursion down to 7 Millbank, which is a super place to eat, but other places are out if I am on division duty because I cannot wander too far if the House is sitting, and that is the problem.

Tony Cunningham

  9. A couple of points. Just to comment on how we break down some of the barriers. As a new Member it seems to me that there are all sorts of archaic rules and regulations about who can go where, who can eat where, who can drink where and so on and so forth. It does not seem to be particularly logical to have one particular place absolutely jam-packed solid and people queueing out of the door and somewhere else which is half empty because some of those people are not allowed in because they are not of a certain level or a certain rank or certain number of years' service or whatever. What are your views on how we deal with that issue?
  (Mr Kaye) I think if passes that people wear had a logo on the pass defining long service which would allow them to use other places besides the Terrace Cafeteria, it could be anywhere in the main building because we are not very well served in the main building with eating places. We lost the Westminster Hall canteen, which to my mind was a quite shame, now it is a visitors' cafeteria. I loved eating down there. As I have already said, if the House is sitting then you are confined to stay within the precincts of the main building. I think there are other places that people could get access to if that was allowed, it is as simple as that, the Terrace Pavilion and places like that. I have got a colleague who is about ten years younger than me and he cannot even put foot on the House of Commons' Terrace in the summer because he is not of the right grade and he has been here 35 years. It is a shame.

  10. Secondly, a question on the use of the facilities when the House is not sitting. Nine times out of ten I am here until Thursday, I leave Thursday afternoon, Thursday evening, and on the very odd occasion I stay on a Friday, and yet Thursday night the Churchill Room is empty, the Members' Dining Room is probably empty. There are facilities there which are just not being used at all.
  (Mr Cox) We put that in our suggestions.

  11. Can you see where there are areas on particular evenings where you think "hang on, we could actually utilise that particular bar, restaurant or whatever if only we were able to get access to it on a particular evening or a particular day or whatever"?
  (Mr Kaye) On Thursday nights we normally work right through. We will have a lunch break and then we work through to 7.30 because the House rises, that is why places are empty, so to speak.
  (Mr Cox) Strangers Dining Room, the Churchill Room, places like that.


  12. Two of your proposals deal with the Terrace Bar and this question of the amount of staff, the numbers that wish to use the Terrace Bar. As everybody has identified that is one of the most serious weaknesses that we have in the whole of the estate really with regard to the numbers of people that need and wish to use the Terrace Cafeteria. Obviously at peak times, let us say lunchtime, you have put forward the view, and I would concur with it, that very often staff, even though they may get their food served, find it difficult to find a seat at which to take their meal. You have put forward proposals really with regard to making more facilities available in that cafeteria for the staff and you have put proposals forward that might meet the needs of members. Is there anything you would like to say to amplify that? Equally, the question of some café/coffee bar adjacent to the Terrace Cafeteria that also might be created in order to take some of that pressure from the numbers of staff who want to use the Terrace Cafeteria. Is there anything that you would like to tell us about that and how you see that being developed?
  (Mr Kaye) I have not got any comment on that. This is the Terrace Cafeteria where the partition is?

  13. Yes.
  (Mr Kaye) In the memorandum it says that you could move the partition backward perhaps but I think that would be a short-term fix, I think the problem is ongoing because if the sittings of the House become more day sittings than evening sittings this will attract far more people into the House, civil servants, media, whatever.
  (Mr Cox) Thursday lunchtime is busier than any other lunchtime of the week because people are here earlier.
  (Mr Kaye) Besides that you need people to entertain in the Terrace Cafeteria as well. Originally that was two separate rooms before the modernisation of the kitchens, Members had their own area and the staff had their own area, but it has now been integrated. If they move the partition my view is that it would only be a short-term solution but I think this problem is ongoing.

  14. It seems that what you are saying is that there is a need for more staff accommodation in the Terrace Cafeteria.
  (Mr Cox) I am against the barrier to be honest, I would say get rid of it. Are Members aware of the Jubilee Cafeteria where visitors can go? If you have a group of visitors and you want to take them for a cup of tea and a sandwich are you aware that is now open to take them away from the Terrace?

  15. It is, as you know, early days but we are obviously making Members aware of the facility that is there and when it is officially opened next week by the Speaker we expect that more and more Members will become acquainted with it. I do think that already Members are using it and taking visitors there instead of to the Terrace Cafeteria. Obviously that will help to ease some of the pressures and we want to encourage that.
  (Mr Cox) That was the idea of it really.

  16. Yes, it is for Members to take their guests, constituents, who are visiting the House to be able to have a facility where they can have a cup of tea and a sandwich which has never really been available to organised parties before, which is why it was a very important priority for the Catering Committee. What about a café/coffee bar, where do you think that facility might be housed? This is a new one that we are talking about, something additional in your memorandum.
  (Mr Cox) That is a tricky one, it is accommodation again.

  17. Yes, it is. There was some suggestion about the Terrace Pavilion, was there not?
  (Mr Cox) Yes.

  18. Is there any view you want to amplify on that?
  (Ms Herd) Without doubt a takeaway coffee, sandwich bar in the main building would certainly take the pressure off the Terrace Cafeteria, I believe, and it would be a welcome addition to the catering services offered within the Palace. Maybe it is a case of looking at the facilities that are in the Palace and seeing which ones are under-utilised and possibly looking at conversion.

Tony Cunningham

  19. Again, being new it is relatively easy for me to ask these questions but I am sure other Members will cringe. It is fairly obvious to me that Members of the House of Lords and their staff, even judges and people, tend to use the House of Commons' facilities. What access is there to their facilities as far as you are concerned?
  (Mr Cox) The only one I know of is the Lords' Cafeteria opposite the Lords' Bar. That is the only one I know of and I have used it the whole 16 years I have been here. Where the rest of the House of Lords' staff eat I do not know. Have they got an equivalent to Strangers up there? I have no idea.
  (Mr Kaye) As Mr Cunningham said, they come and use the Terrace Cafeteria quite often.

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