Select Committee on Catering Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 138)



  120. You can obviously observe yourself that there are twenty people or whatever, and as a press corps you have a catering committee presumably, and there are people expressing their views on the quality of food, but do you survey the press, as well as gathering anecdotal evidence? How do you judge?
  (Mr Morris) There is a Press Gallery committee which formed a catering sub-committee because of the anecdotal things that were said to people all the time. We have not tested opinion in a scientific way—more informally—although there have been notices up and people have been asked to contact us with their views. But in a way you do not need the scientific survey because the evidence is there before you every day, Monday to Friday.

Mrs Dean

  121. If and when the food is improved, and obviously we must make sure it is, would you be against the cafeteria being opened up to more people? At the moment you say it is Hansard reporters as well as the press but would you object to other people using the cafeteria?
  (Mr Steele) No, is the answer to that. We would not object. If the quality of the food is improved, as you say, I think people would be pleased.
  (Mr Morris) The other point is that the Press Gallery members of the Palace of Westminster like being able to use facilities throughout the House, and the converse obviously would be that we would be quite happy for our canteen to be open to other people.
  (Mr Steele) It is of advantage to us; we are news gatherers and we like to talk to people from a whole range—particularly Members but also research assistants, secretaries and everybody so we, I think, would be pleased.

Janet Anderson

  122. I would have thought, given the kind of lives you lead, that if you had a good canteen with good quality food you would welcome it. I get the feeling from what you say that refurbishing the kitchens is not just the answer and that this is to do with the quality of food. I get the impression and I feel very strongly that we have a similar problem in the Terrace Cafeteria. The food is of poor quality and I think there is a sloppy atmosphere to the place. Is it the same with you because, if it is, it is not just a question of refurbishing the kitchens, is it?
  (Mr Steele) I think the issue is why the Portcullis House food is so much better. If you are looking at that I think you should look at the quality of Portcullis House food. That is what is certainly attracting a lot of our colleagues over there.

  123. I do not understand why there is such a big difference.
  (Mr Morris) Without wanting to blur the issue I would add that the standards in the Terrace Cafeteria are far higher than in our cafeteria as well.

  124. They must be bad!
  (Mr Steele) Most of the time. Sometimes the food is OK. Yesterday it was not too bad.
  (Mr Morris) I think the point about the kitchens may be part of the answer. Certainly the food downstairs in the Terrace Cafeteria is fresher than it is in our canteen and a significant number of people go to the Terrace Cafeteria rather than our canteen. They do not all go to Portcullis House.

Tony Cunningham

  125. As far as recesses are concerned, we have heard from the House of Lords and from various other groups that, generally speaking, it is getting busier and busier during recess periods. Hopefully the food will improve and the kitchen facilities and so on but do you think it is important that the cafeteria is kept open during these recesses? Is there enough demand during recesses?
  (Mr Morris) Certainly over half of the Press Gallery continue working during the recesses. As you probably know, our work is less and less related to what goes on in the Chamber and whether we are in recess or not, so there certainly would be a healthy demand during recess for access to catering.
  (Mr Steele) Even if it is not the Press Gallery canteen itself, I think there should be something other than just the Terrace Cafeteria open. One finds that going to the Terrace Cafeteria it can be very crowded and you might go down there once and then have to leave and come back again in half an hour's time, so either the Press Gallery canteen or one other place in this building would be very helpful during recesses, but probably better the Press Gallery—Monday to Thursday at least.


  126. In an earlier statement you placed great value on the dining room in the Press Gallery. We have been given to believe that it is not being used so very fulsomely of late. Have you got any views about why that is, and what could be done to improve the usage of it?
  (Mr Steele) Certainly I would have gone there today with three friends except that it is being used for the Press Gallery lunch with Alastair Darling. The Press Gallery lunch is a very important event, so I am having to eat outside with these friends. I think it is still a very important asset, and perhaps we should do a survey.

  127. Apart from the Press Gallery lunch, the evidence is that it is not being very well used.
  (Mr Morris) Numbers using the restaurant seem to fluctuate rather wildly. The quality of the food in there is very good which makes me wonder whether refurbishment of the kitchens, when the food served in the restaurant is the same as that served in the canteen, is the entire answer. I think it is a valuable facility but it might be an idea to consider widening access around the Palace to the Press Gallery restaurant because, when people see the quality and the value for money, the demand and use of it could increase.
  (Mr Steele) I strongly support that, especially if that was what was going to save it, we would definitely not want the dining room closed.

  Chairman: That is very helpful and positive and we welcome that.

Mr Campbell

  128. You said a new kitchen might not improve the quality of the food so is it the food itself, the chef or the kitchens?
  (Mr Morris) I was doubting whether the kitchen was the entire answer because very good food is served on the whole to the restaurant which serves the canteen. There seems to be in the canteen a simple problem and I do not know the cause, of keeping the food fresh. It serves a substantially similar menu to the Terrace Cafeteria but the quality is lower.

  129. If it is lower, that must be the chef?
  (Mr Morris) It may be the freshness. I do not know but it may be something to do with the hot plates that it is kept on. There is also a rather eccentric menu served sometimes which puts people off.

Janet Anderson

  130. For example?
  (Mr Morris) Well, fish is served and you do not even recognise the name of the fish, and there are peculiar vegetarian options as well.
  (Mr Steele) And pasta. This is the difference between the dining room and the canteen. Pasta can often be left in trays. I eat a fair bit of pasta and most of what I eat is vegetarian, and sometimes it is almost uneatable—cold and stodgy and not of any particular variety. We do not get spaghetti but just the thicker, heavier type of pasta and it gets more and more rubbery.

  Janet Anderson: That is surely the chef. In the Terrace Cafeteria they tried a tapas day on one occasion recently and it was just embarrassing—just a few little bowls of cornichons and capers and that was it, so that was clearly designed by someone who knew nothing about Spanish food. It sounds as if you have the same problem.

Mr Thomas

  131. It is a bit of a vicious circle. For anyone eating in the Terrace Cafeteria after say half past eight at night the food is pretty bad, and that is because the number going through is very low and the food is on the hot plates for long periods of time. Certainly the case must be now in the Press Cafeteria, because there is another attraction and people have started moving to a fresher style of food, that in itself means food hanging around even longer and putting people off. Coming back to the central question, though, there is obviously an issue of quality of food but there is an issue about where in the House people are now wanting to go because of ambience and different styles, and Portcullis House seems to be more modern than a general cafeteria. I am not convinced that, if the quality of food was to improve, you would have many more people in the cafeteria because you say that numbers in the Dining Room also fluctuate so I wonder whether it is down to opening up access as well as improving the quality of food.
  (Mr Morris) We are conducting this rather anecdotally but I can tell you that if the quality of food was better in the canteen I would use it more, and my colleagues who now tend to go to Portcullis House would also do the same.

  132. But you would not oppose changing the access at the same time?
  (Mr Morris) I think changing the access could help break the vicious cycle you refer to
  (Mr Steele) Yes. It is a good point.
  (Mr Morris) It is not purely a matter of people being admitted to places or banned from other places: it is just a matter of standards from our point of view.
  (Mr Steele) A lot of people are not prepared to come in and see whether it is OK today; they just boycott it altogether a lot of the time. I go most days because it is convenient and some days the food is better than others, but a lot of people do not go there at all because of the quality.


  133. Is there anything else you would like to say to us in this session? What you have given us is very helpful and we are very grateful for you coming. We know that you are both senior and respected members of the lobby and your words and advice are very welcome.
  (Mr Steele) We have not touched on the point about real ale in the bar.

  134. You are anxious that there is some real ale there, are you?
  (Mr Steele) Fed is the only interesting one; otherwise there is nothing.

  135. So you would like us to consider providing some real ale?
  (Mr Morris) Yes. There would be a demand for that.
  (Mr Steele) It would be very popular.

Tony Cunningham

  136. Annie's Bar does not have hand pumps but they do provide a barrel of Young's which you can just tap into, so it is real ale. So without changing the bar and putting a hand pump on which would be ideal, you can provide it.
  (Mr Steele) I think that would be good.


  137. It seems as though it is going quite well at the moment. Whilst we are on Annie's Bar, it gives us an opportunity to mention that, as you know, the Committee very gracefully reprieved Annie's Bar at the beginning of the year with a condition that the members of this Committee placed on me, because I appealed for it to be reprieved, that we should monitor it this year on the premise of "Use it or lose it". At the moment it seems to be going quite well—although we are having a little problem with some of the beers—but I did want to appeal to you, whilst we have this opportunity, that it is still the same principle that we do need you to take advantage of Annie's Bar. If people do not want to go there they will not, but if you can be good ambassadors for us on that it would be good, because we do not want to lose it and we do need members of the Lobby to use it.
  (Mr Steele) Changing its location I think set its use back a bit. It used to be so accessible and now is less so, but we will certainly tell our colleagues what you have said.

  138. I would welcome that because we do want to build it up and develop it. Is there anything further?
  (Mr Morris) I think that covers everything.

  Chairman: Thank you.

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