Select Committee on Catering Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Inter-Parliamentary Union British Group

  The British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (BGIPU) is a frequent user of the House's refreshment facilities. The Group invites a great number of overseas parliamentarians to visit Westminster and hosts approximately 40 official functions each year. These range in size from large Speaker's dinners all the way down to 14 covers in dining room "D". We are also frequent users of the Churchill room and the Terrace Pavilion for smaller groups of invitees. Our bookings are always made in the name of the Member who is hosting the function.

  In general, because of our long lead-in times, we do not experience too much difficulty in booking a suitable function room but it is virtually impossible to find a room at short notice in the event of a late change of date. In our opinion the dining facilities, with the exception of the Speaker's Apartments, tend to be cramped and uncomfortable. The waiters are invariably courteous but the food is served at such a pace that one often feels quite rushed. Overall the facilities do little to enhance the reputation of the Westminster parliament. Visiting dignitaries, who generally have great respect for their cuisine, seldom comment on the fare.

  In addition to the above we also host a number of luncheon or evening functions in the IPU room off Westminster Hall. The Refreshment Department catered all these events in the past. However, in recent years we have moved to outside caterers primarily because the quality of the finger food from the Refreshment Department simply wasn't good enough. The quality of the food on offer now has improved to the extent that our guests from within the House often ask us to recommend our caterers. Also the House's refreshment facilities hire charges are more expensive than competitors from without.


  IPU members of staff appreciate the use of the Adjournment restaurant on Thursday evening and Friday lunchtime as well as use of the Millbank brasserie.

  As regards the other facilities on offer their preference is for the Debate cafeteria not only for the ambience of the Atrium which is indeed a very attractive place to dine but mainly for its innovative menus. The Terrace cafeteria is their alternative choice. However, the fact that both venues are extremely crowded often deters them from using the facilities at all, especially as the type of food on offer in the other two cafeterias, 1 Parliament Street and Millbank, is unattractive to them. The pressure on the two venues of choice is undoubtedly exacerbated by the extremely limited facilities provided in the House of Lord's and the recent closure of the Westminster Hall cafeteria.


  Your press notice does not ask for comments on the quality of food on offer in the dining rooms or cafeterias but I think you will gather from the foregoing that, in our opinion, it does have some bearing on the matter. Good quality food, accompanied by good service, will always win out over location. If standards were to be raised and more evenly applied throughout the estate then we believe it would have a consequential effect on distribution of demand.

  We use the facilities a lot, and we would be reluctant to see any change to the current code for access rights. Similarly, we believe pricing mechanisms would send out the wrong message and there is an obligation on the House to provide cafeteria type food at a reasonable price especially for junior members of staff.

  A representative of the IPU would be happy to appear before the Committee to give oral evidence.

Kenneth Courtenay

12 March 2002

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