Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
CBE, MR EDWARD
100. Could you talk us through what you think
the difference is between what facilities are available when the
House of Lords is sitting and during the recess? What exactly
is open as far as the House of Lords is concerned?
(Lord Colwyn) Historically we have always been completely
closed during August. The facilities stay open until Parliament
finishes at the end of July and then we tend to re-open the staff
restaurant at the beginning of September to cope with the people
who are having to work. We have a problem getting in the 30 days'
holiday entitlement that staff need and this is something we are
aware of. In fact, from this year we are going to open Millbank
Cafeteria in August to ensure we have one outlet open right through
the summer recess. I would agree: I think we should look after
our staff and that some of our areas should be open and this is
something I would like to do. In the past we have always relied
on the House of Commons facilities: you have a lot more staff
down there and we do rely on sharing your facilities. On the other
hand, we have now made this decision to open Millbank. Did we
open the staff restaurant last year?
(Mr Ollard) Not during August, no.
(Lord Colwyn) We opened the staff restaurant last
year in September and this year we are going to open Millbank
and see. It is trial and error.
101. Last summer from our information there
were major problems for us with you not having any facilities
open. Whether the extent of the pressure on our Refreshment Department
was particularly unusual Mrs Harrison would possibly tell us,
but last summer we did have major problems as a result of the
(Lord Colwyn) My estimation was that it would only
be a maximum of about 70 of our staff who would be here in August
who would have to be catered for but I may have that wrong.
(Mrs Harrison) I do know that last summer was particularly
problematic, and the pressure was on the Terrace Cafeteria. I
suspect it was a culmination of factors in that demand was increasing
from our side, but likewise my evidence was that there were quite
a number of Members and staff in the House of Lords making use
of the Terrace Cafeteria and that exacerbated our problem. Also,
perhaps unusually, your facilities did not reopen at the beginning
of September but later in September, and that may have caused
more of a problem.
(Lord Colwyn) It is usually the second week in September
we go back for all the staff but you are rightthat first
couple of weeks there may have been a problem.
Chairman: Anything that you do in addition to
what you currently do would obviously be of benefit to our position.
102. Liaison between the two might help the
situation, if we knew what was available and roughly how many
and when it was going to open and so on and so forth. House of
Commons catering might be able to deal with it better if they
knew exactly what was going on as far as the House of Lords was
(Lord Colwyn) My impression is that the liaison is
getting better. You and I get on well; we are talking much more,
I think, than perhaps we used to and I see this progressing.
Chairman: Absolutely. It is an essential progress
that we need to make.
103. What is the big complaint with the cafeteria,
if there is one at all? I am sure there will be. Is it the food
or the accommodation?
(Lord Colwyn) About my cafeterias?
(Lord Colwyn) I am not aware of any.
105. I asked a good question then!
(Lord Colwyn) There is no doubt that I get a lot of
Members and staff asking me why the soup in Portcullis House is
45p and it is more expensive with us. My only complaint is trying
to get 400 staff into two restaurants that seat 70 people. A lot
of Peers maintain it is cheaper down your end but, in fact, I
think our pricing is very similar and our dining room standard
is quite high now and very reasonable. There is no doubt that
the ex-MPs like to go down and see their friends; they have been
there for many years and they like to think they can still go
down there. I would much rather they ate with me!
106. We have been asking about your use of our
facilities, but what use do you see House of Commons' staff and
Members making of your facilities? Do you see that at all? What
facilities are available particularly for staff from the House
(Lord Colwyn) As I say, we absolutely relied on staff
facilities in the House of Commons in the past and I will have
to continue to do that unless I can find a whole new area to open
107. But do you find staff in the House of Commons
come in to use your facilities?
(Lord Colwyn) Indeed. Our two areas, the Lords Bar
and the staff restaurant, are widely used by staff from the House
of Commons. In fact, they are open to anybody who has a photographic
pass of any kind, even a temporary pass.
108. And you see quite a reasonable heavy use?
I know my staff drink in the Lords Bar.
(Lord Colwyn) It is used to the maximum, without any
109. And the cafeteria is well used by members
of the House of Commons staff.
(Lord Colwyn) Yes, but I think, going back to your
former question, if I was to produce a little list of areas, very
few Peers know about the other Millbank restaurant you haveI
suspect a lot of them have never been thereso there is
an ignorance of what is available which I would like eventually
to put right.
110. On this question of close liaison, as you
say, we meet quite regularly now and have discussions on common
problems and challenges but, in terms of the staff side, Mrs Harrison,
do we have regular meetings with your opposite number in the House
of Lords? Is it formal or semi-formal?
(Mrs Harrison) It tends to be informal. We have regular
dialogue certainly when we are planning our services during the
recess, and we base them on the assumption that the House of Lords
will be closed because that has been the previous pattern.
(Lord Colwyn) I am delighted to try and help with
that and I think it is important that we discuss it. If we can
open a staff area in August then we will.
111. In terms of the future, and this is obviously
what this inquiry is all about, have you got any specific ideas
that might bring about improvements in the House of Lords?
(Lord Colwyn) As I said earlier, space is the problem.
When I first became Chairman and the Labour Party were the new
Government, I was summoned into the Leader's office in the House
of Lords in 1997 and Margaret Jay said to me, "Your job is
to find us somewhere like the Commons where we can have a Strangers'
Cafeteria so Peers can take in researchers, secretaries, guests,
somewhere that is open all day". We have nowhere at all similar
to that so, if a Peer was entertaining a couple of researchers
or having a meeting with outside people, there was nowhere. They
can go to the Dining Room and have lunch or the Guest Room and
have coffee, but there is nowhere to get a sandwich. That was
my remit and that has been followed up, so I am very much trying
to find an area which I can keep open all the day. Of course,
the kitchen facilities need refurbishing; the staff facilities
are not good; but I have one dining room doing the banqueting
and the main dining room upstairs and I have problems. I am concerned
about food being prepared in the same area for different parts
so I have to put those kitchens right, and I think my planwhich
has been approved by various committees but not yet by the Treasurywill
improve the kitchen facilities and the staff facilities and will
give us this new idea with a bit more space for Members and staff
to try and recreate an area like your Strangers' Cafeteria, which
is most important. The primary aspect is the staff facilities
because, if I leave them as they are, I will have to cut back
on what I am doing and the various function rooms are busy, working
to maximum capacity.
Chairman: From our point of view, one of the
major issues that is coming through in evidence is the pressure
on our Terrace Cafeteria and what possible changes we may need
to make in that area and the implications then for other parts
of our estate as a result of that which mean that it might, in
a sense, lend itself in the future to more of a joint operation,
but it is early days. I am just indicating that we have a lot
of thinking to do following this inquiry about how we are going
to try and get rid of the bottlenecks that we have that are growing
and becoming more and more acute.
112. Is the pressure on your cafeterias and
facilities at the same time as the pressure on ours? Lunchtime
is the worst, is it?
(Lord Colwyn) Absolutely, yes. The Millbank Cafeteria
closes at 5.00 after tea, but I do get complaints about the queuing
from the staff. In the summer it gets easier because you can go
out on to the parts of the terrace, but it is a problem. But we
are talking about this, Chairman, and I would like to feel that
relationships are improving and, if we can act together on trying
to improve this, I see it going in the right direction.
113. So do I. Is there anything else you would
like to add or ask us?
(Lord Colwyn) I do not think so, no. I am delighted
to help with the summer recess and, if we can open and take some
of the strain off your facilities, that is fine.
114. Thank you very much indeed. We will continue
the dialogue, and you will obviously receive the final outcome
of our deliberations on this inquiry and then we will meet again.
(Lord Colwyn) And if there is anything else that comes
up where you need my help or Mr Ollard, we would be delighted
115. Are there occasions where you have, even
in that busy House of Lords, any gaps in your trading that would
enable members of the House of Commons occasionally to pop into
the Barry Room or any other facilities in the evening to partake
of a meal? Do you find that all of your evening facilities are
(Lord Colwyn) The Home Room, of course, is only open
to Members. The Barry Room is pretty well booked up, yes. I cannot
even get a table on some evenings and I think we are full to capacity.
The idea of sharing areas is attractive to me. Again, give me
some more space and we will do it, but we are limited.
Chairman: So if any Members want to book a table
for four in the Barry Room we can tell them that at the moment
there is a lot of goodwill but no seating capacity. Thank you
very much for coming.