Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

To be published as HC 560-ii

House of Commons

Oral Evidence

Taken Before the

Administration Committee

Catering Services in the House of Commons

Monday 22 November 2010



Evidence heard in Public Questions 45-99



This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.


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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Administration Committee

on Monday 22 November 2010

Members present:

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Chair)

Geoffrey CliftonBrown

Rosie Cooper

Thomas Docherty

Mr Kevan Jones

Dr Philip Lee

Nigel Mills

Tessa Munt

Sarah Newton

Bob Russell

Angela Smith

Mr Shailesh Vara

Mike Weatherley


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: George Parker, Chairman, and Tomos Livingstone, Parliamentary Press Gallery, gave evidence.

Q45 Chair: I apologise that we’ve kept you waiting. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for the paper that you’ve submitted. Would you care to say a few introductory words before we ask questions?

George Parker: Indeed. I’m George Parker, political editor of the FT. This is Tomos Livingstone, political editor of the Western Mail. We’re members of the Press Gallery Committee.

The subject of our submission to the Administration Committee goes, I hope, with the grain of work that has been done. We know there’s a tough financial settlement ahead for the House authorities. We were making the point that the Press Gallery facilities, particularly the Moncrieff’s Café Bar and Restaurant, have been opened up to all pass holders. It’s been a great success from our point of view: it’s increased throughput through the area and has obviously increased revenues, and it’s actually added to the life of the facilities up there. We are basically arguing that, given the need to widen access and, I hope, generate more revenue, we are proposing that other facilities around the House, including the Terrace Cafeteria, the Strangers’ Bar, the Churchill Room and the Adjournment, should be opened up for wider use in the hope of generating more revenue. Of course, there is a self-serving argument there that we would very much like to use some of the facilities as well.

Q46 Chair : Thank you very much. I put it to you that there may be some nervousness about giving more access to some of the dining rooms or cafeterias for members of the gallery and the lobby because of the extent to which it seems quite innocent activities by Members of Parliament are reported, particularly as we live in the land of tweeting and blogging and so on. What assurance can you give the Committee that by opening up, so that with tables a short distance from one another, there would not be conversations that were picked up and put into a wider arena? That is understandably something that Members would be extremely anxious about.

George Parker: I can understand that concern and I know there were incidences back in the 1990s during the John Major administration where conversations that were overheard on the Terrace during the summer were put in pages of some of the papers. We would appreciate that it’s very much a privilege if we’re granted access to these facilities and we would do our utmost as a Committee to ensure that people respected the confidences that were being granted. Obviously, journalists are journalists, but really it’s a question of confidence building. That’s what we have been endeavouring to do over the last few years, particularly with the help of the new Speaker, in the sense that we’ve been granted access to the Terrace Bar increasingly during nonsitting days. That seems to have worked very well and certainly there have been no breaches of confidence there. We do operate under a system where off-the-record conversations are treated as off the record and we would try to live up to that.

Tomos Livingstone: Just to add to that, George mentioned the changes to our access to the Terrace, which has recently come in. Part of that was an undertaking from ourselves that we would obviously not report any overheard conversations or anything like that. To my knowledge, there has been no breach of that.

Q47 Chair : Could I just ask you on a factual basis-I genuinely do not know the answer-do you have access to any part of the House of Lords facilities?

George Parker: We have access to the Lords cafeteria at the end, but that is it, I think.

Tomos Livingstone: Yes.

Chair: That’s the limit of it?

George Parker: Yes.

Q48 Thomas Docherty: Mr Livingstone, on that last point, you mentioned access to the Terrace. Could you clarify for me what your understanding is of what the Press Gallery’s access is now to the Terrace?

Tomos Livingstone: My understanding is we have access on nonsitting Fridays and in recess. That’s a relatively recent development.

Q49 Bob Russell : Can I suggest to the two gentlemen from the press that a journalist wouldn’t be doing his job properly if he was deaf to something that he heard? I’ve never known a journalist to be off duty.

George Parker: There are rules which govern the ways we operate in the House, not just in the catering facilities but also for example in the Members Lobby, where conversations that you have with us are treated as off the record. The same would apply were we granted increased access to the catering facilities. The fact is that although, obviously, we don’t have an unalloyed, unblemished reputation, there is a certain amount of discipline within the Press Gallery. We do operate under a certain code of conduct.

Tomos Livingstone: And it’s not in our interest to breach those confidences anyway, if the result is that we’re then barred from using the facilities.

Q50 Mr Jones: I agree, because I was on the Committee last time when the Press Gallery was closed and I think you used the Churchill Room for a period of time, which I think was quite successful. But I presume if we allow this, we will then get headlines from you saying, "Journalists eat subsidised meals at taxpayers’ expense", like you do with us. If I still remember rightly, it certainly was on the last Committee when I was on it, the most expensive subsidised meal to eat in this building is actually in the Press Gallery.

George Parker: The fact is we all eat subsidised meals wherever we eat in the Houses of Parliament.

Q51 Mr Jones: You wouldn’t think that if you read the press.

George Parker: I can understand your concern on that point. The thing about the Churchill Room is that, when our own facilities were closed down, we were unusually granted access to the Churchill Room and there were no breaches of confidences that I’m aware of. Just to make a point that we’ve made in our memorandum here, some of our colleagues who were using the Churchill Room, particularly on a Monday and a Tuesday night, found themselves often to be the only people dining in there. That has been withdrawn from us now, but there was a view that if you are looking to increase the throughput in some of these premises, that seemed to be a fairly good precedent.

Q52 Thomas Docherty: Gentlemen, if I understand this correctly-I am trying to get my head around where everyone can and cannot get to-at the moment, you have access to everywhere except Churchill Room, Members Dining Room, Adjournment, Strangers’ and therefore the Terrace. Have I missed anywhere?

George Parker: The Members’ Tea Room is another obvious one but I think those-

Q53 Rosie Cooper: You’re having a laugh. You really are having a laugh.

George Parker: I’m not suggesting we have access to the Members’ Tea Room. I was just listing the places we’re not allowed to go.

Q54 Thomas Docherty : So Members’ Dining Room, Members’ Tea Room, Adjournment, the Strangers’ Bar and therefore the Terrace-those are the only places?

George Parker: And the Churchill Room.

Q55 Thomas Docherty : Therefore you are asking for access to Churchill?

George Parker: The Churchill Room.

Thomas Docherty : And the Adjournment.

George Parker: And the Adjournment.

Thomas Docherty : Okay. Do you-

George Parker: We’re not coming here demanding access to these places. The only point we are making is that, if there is a review going on of facilities and the need to increase revenue and throughput through the Commons facilities, our experience in the Press Gallery is that when we opened up our facilities, takings through the tills went up, the general buzz around the place increased and we found it an entirely productive and positive experience. We’re certainly not demanding access. We would love to have access but we were just making a general point really.

Q56 Thomas Docherty: So if I’m correct, the two places that you’re asking for is the Adjournment and Churchill, is that correct?

George Parker: The Adjournment, the Churchill Room, the Strangers’ Bar and therefore the Terrace. We are allowed to visit the Strangers’ Bar in the company of a Member.

Q57 Thomas Docherty: As guests?

George Parker: As guests, yes.

Q58 Thomas Docherty: Well my next point is: do you have access at the moment to both the Adjournment and Churchill as guests?

George Parker: Yes, as guests. In fact, to all of those places, just as any other member of the public would have access.

Q59 Thomas Docherty : I never go to Adjournment because it’s in the other building, so apologies, but what’s the reason you think you don’t get access to Adjournment and what’s the reason that you want access to Churchill and Strangers’, given that you can get access if you’re accompanied by a Member?

George Parker: The rules simply say that we’re not allowed to go to the Adjournment apart from in the company of a Member. I think, just as you would enjoy taking guests visiting the House of Commons to a nice dining place, it would be great for us to be able take visitors to the Churchill Room or to the Adjournment. It’s simply that they are nice places to eat and people love coming to the House of Commons. At the moment our options for visitors are fairly limited. We have our own premises in the Press Gallery, which closes about seven or eight o’clock, so in the evening, we don’t really have any particular places where we can take visitors or dine ourselves.

Q60 Angela Smith: You talk about potentially bringing visitors to the Churchill Room and Strangers’ and so on. When I think about visitors, I think mainly about constituents-or primarily constituents, and occasionally officers from local authorities down for a purpose, such as a ministerial visit. What do you mean by visitors?

George Parker: Well we don’t hold public office, so I’m not going to pretend that we have a long list of worthies that we could bring in, but they would tend to be journalistic colleagues from your own newspaper for example or friends.

Tomos Livingstone: Editors as well, I suppose.

Q61 Angela Smith: Right. You call it a productive and positive experience. What does that mean? Productive in media can mean something very definite.

George Parker: In terms of our facilities-I don’t know whether you would like to come on to this-maybe just for the benefit of the Committee, I could explain the facilities we have at the moment in the Press Gallery. We have a café bar area, which was refitted and refurbished in 2006-07. I should say this was not at our request, but at the instigation of the House authorities.

Q62 Mr Jones: Yes it was. I’m sorry.

George Parker: We asked for the House of Commons Press Gallery bar to be-?

Mr Jones: You actually asked for the improvements to the Press Gallery, including the new offices, which I think came to £7.5 million, which I noted was never reported anywhere.

George Parker: Mr Jones’ recollection may be different to ours, but I don’t think-I wasn’t here at the time-that we requested the refurbishment of the Press Gallery canteen and bar. Sorry to digress, but we were very attached to our old bar, which was rebuilt, but that’s by the by.

We have a terrace, we have a café bar and we also have a cafeteria, which doubles up as a restaurant during lunch times as well. We are very disappointed and regret the fact that we only discovered last week that the House of Commons Management Board has proposed closing our facilities, which I’m sure the Committee may be aware of. It is one of the proposals, which may put the evidence we are giving now in a slightly different light. We weren’t consulted. We’re not part of the intranet system by which this information was disseminated. We only found out about this from a policeman who told us he heard our facilities were going to be closed. I gather we have about two weeks to put in submissions.

I don’t know if I can talk about that, but to answer the question, the reason why we found it positive is that we value our facilities. Apart from being a social hub in the Press Gallery as you can imagine, we use them for formal lunches-for example, the Prime Minister is coming to give a Press Gallery lunch on Wednesday, and the Chancellor is coming next month. We’ve had receptions for MPs, for press officers and for the Speaker up there, so it’s the centre of the way the Press Gallery operates. We’re very concerned about the need to maintain our facilities and we want to encourage use of the facilities. What I mean by it being a positive experience is that, when it was reopened and opened up to all pass holders, it brought fresh blood in. As well as having capacity for us, there are days when the place is so busy that we can’t find seats up there. Generally, having people coming through and using the bar makes it a more lively place.

Q63 Angela Smith: Can I just finish Sir Alan? My experience of Strangers’ generally is that it’s always very busy and always buzzing anyway and that there are plenty of journalists around most of the time. I’m also experiencing increasing reporting of Members’ activities. I’ve never been the focus of this, but Eye Spy MP is tracking some MPs repeatedly. The places where there’s never a comment made about an MP are the Churchill Room, the Members’ Dining Room, the Strangers’ Dining Room and the Members’ Tea Room-these are the four places where MPs are relatively safe from some of the rather unpleasant comments that have been made on Twitter about MPs’ movements. Strangers’ Bar is a classic source of stories on Eye Spy MP. Can you understand why some Members may feel very reluctant to have the places where they can feel safe disappear in front of their very eyes?

Tomos Livingstone: Of course we can understand that. If your concern is Eye Spy MP, I don’t think anyone in the Press Gallery is involved in that at all and I think you are barking up the wrong tree, frankly.

Q64 Angela Smith: I’m just asking whether you can understand why, because this would represent further restrictions and a further loss of the places in Westminster where MPs can feel relatively safe?

George Parker: We perfectly well understand that and we know that you have had experiences in the past. I mentioned the period back in the 1990s when we were excluded from the Terrace as a result of some of the reporting. People in the Press Gallery are fully aware that they immediately risk losing the privileges that they have been granted if they break the rules.

Q65 Angela Smith: What about the cameras on Westminster Bridge?

George Parker: I don’t know whether that was-

Angela Smith: They have been there this summer. They have been there frequently; that’s newspapers.

Chair : That is slightly outwith the scope of this inquiry, but the point is on the record.

Q66 Nigel Mills: Changing subject a little, your submission referred to wanting more grab-and-go coffee places. Do you have an idea what sort of thing you would like to see introduced and how well used they would be?

George Parker: The reference to grab-and-go coffee was more in relation to our own facilities. The general point is that, although, strangely enough, we don’t drink quite as much as we used to in the Press Gallery, we still consume quite large amounts of caffeine during the day, so that’s a very important part of it. That’s one of the reasons why we’re very keen to preserve our current facilities in the Press Gallery, to be honest. But you have the same experience as us, I know, in Portcullis House, which is our main alternative outlet, where there are often very big queues. So provision of good-quality hot drinks, which to be honest is currently met mainly by our own facilities, is quite important.

Q67 Nigel Mills: Do you find your colleagues have been sneaking out to Tesco to buy their lunch, or have you been loyally staying here with the increased prices?

George Parker: I haven’t seen any Tesco bags around the Press Gallery. There’s been the usual grumbling about the rise in the price of teas and coffees, but if that is the price we have to pay to maintain facilities, I think we’re all grown up enough to accept that.

Q68 Mr Jones: I was on the last Committee. I think we spent £7.5 million on the Press Gallery, including your new offices, which you don’t pay any rent for. The Press Gallery was refurbished with the agreement of your previous chairman, because when I proposed getting rid of it altogether, it sent him into hyperspace.

George P arker: I think there’s a difference between us accepting something happening to our facilities, which of course we would do. Were the taxpayer prepared to improve your facilities, you would probably say yes. I don’t think the impetus for improving the bar, café or offices came from the Press Gallery.

Q69 Mr Jones: No you didn’t object to it and you were supporting it.

I’m quite relaxed about opening up the Churchill Room, because I think it was a good success last time, but if we were to do that, would you consider having differential pricing? As most of your newspaper editors are completely against subsidies for MPs, do you think we could open it up and have differential pricing for members of the press to pay the full unsubsidised prices in those restaurants?

George Parker: Sounds like a splendid idea and you would continue to enjoy subsidised prices as tribunes of the people.

Q70 Mr Jones: Well, no. The fact is that you always seem to complain about what we get subsidised here. I have never yet seen in a newspaper-ever-the fact that you eat on this estate and enjoy subsidy. I know in the previous Committee, the most subsidised place in the Palace was the Press Gallery. The reason why it was opened to more people was to try and get that throughput through. All I’m saying to you is if we are going to have a grown-up debate about this, shouldn’t we also have the fact that the same people who are writing or commenting on television about our wonderfully subsidised facilities are also at the receiving end of it as well?

George Parker: I’m not sure whether a two-tier pricing system works very well. I know they do it in Cuba, but I’m not sure whether you necessarily want to introduce it into the Palace of Westminster.

Mr Jones: I’m suggesting it; I’m just putting it to you.

Q71 Chair : One at a time. Mr Parker, if you wish to come back?

George Parker: I don’t think that would be workable unless you-but it would probably not hugely welcomed by members of the Press Gallery, were I to be absolutely honest, Chairman.

Q72 Geoffrey Clifton Brown: George, I am old enough to remember the old Press Bar and the old Press Dining Room, so I have seen a change in your facilities. I would certainly be opposed to closing Moncrieff’s, but this is a different issue. What it seems to me to boil down to here is actual use of these facilities. If we’re not careful, we give you access, we give Peers access, we give Members of the European Parliament access, we give Scottish Members of Parliament access, we give Northern Irish Members of Parliament access, we give Welsh Members of Parliament access-all sorts of very worthy groups-and we end up with Members of Parliament not being able to get into any of these facilities. Why should we consider that you should be one very privileged group, perhaps ahead of some of those other groups?

George Parker: I don’t think that’s what we are requesting, to be honest. We’re not in a position obviously to demand anything. If there are facilities that Members of Parliament use that you are worried you won’t be able to make use of in future because of overcrowding issues, then I think obviously you would be well within your rights to draw the line. The issue that we are raising is that we are all operating in a straitened financial situation. The authorities are trying to cut the budget by about 17%. It seems to me that there are some facilities in the House which are basically underused and which, if people don’t use them, will be closed down-the Churchill Room being a classic example of that. If you don’t increase the access to people like us-and actually we would like to use the facilities-then nobody will be using them in the future, as far as I can see.

Q73 Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: So you wouldn’t object to only being allowed to use certain facilities on certain days of the week and at certain times of the day when they weren’t busy elsewhere?

George Parker: We wouldn’t object to any extension of facilities for members of the press. What we are saying is that if we can contribute and be part of the solution to the financial problems that the House faces, we would very much like to do so.

Tomos Livingstone: It is worth making the point that, when we did have access to the Churchill Room, it wasn’t throughout the week. It was on certain days of the week, on Mondays and Tuesdays, I think.

Q74 Mike Weatherley: I think my question is fairly similar to one we just had, but phrased a different way. The central plank of your argument at the beginning was that it could increase revenue for the House, which is a very emotive way of putting that you would like access. I’m a new Member here and it’s always impossible for me to get a booking in the Churchill Room or Strangers’ at the moment, so we do have full capacity on days that we are sitting. You also have the luxury of being able to go outside the House for a number of facilities right across London, whereas we don’t because we have to stay within the eightminute rule. I just wondered, first, how would you feel if Members or other people who don’t have access elsewhere have priority on bookings, and maybe not only restricting to off-peak times but perhaps restricting to short-notice booking times? The second point is: why does the press feel that they have priority over, say, my researchers, who would also dearly love to be able to go into Strangers’ Bar in the same way and which has always been crowded every single time I’ve been in there?

George Parker: Well, on the last point, I would just like to stress that isn’t what we are suggesting. We aren’t proposing any additional privileges over other pass holders. It seems to me that you have ultimate control over these facilities. We would dearly love to have access because we like working here. We like being part of the life of the House. We actually like mixing with Members of Parliament.

Tomos Livingstone: Believe it or not.

George Parker: Believe it or not. That’s the truth of our daily life here, so we would like the access, but we’re not coming here demanding special privileges. We’re just saying that, as part of a general review, opening up access more widely would be a good thing.

Tomos Livingstone: I don’t think we’re suggesting that we should have priority over Members for booking or anything like that.

Q75 Angela Smith: There is an informal arrangement in the Members Dining Room at the moment whereby, generally, Opposition Members of the House dine on one side and Government Members dine on the other. It’s informal and fluid, but it works because it does allow people to relax and converse in relative privacy. Would you object to a similar arrangement operating in the Churchill Room, if you were to be allowed access?

George Parker: Of course not, if you felt that would offer you more protection from irresponsible journalists.

Angela Smith: And there are a few.

George Parker: I think you have less to fear than you think because the truth is, as you know and we know, that as soon as a rule is broken, we would lose our privileges. Speaker Martin proved that most dramatically back in the 1990s when he kicked us off the Terrace. I think that’s an experience that is seared in the collective memory of the Press Gallery.

Geoffrey Clifton Brown: You gave him a lot of stick because of it.

Q76 Chair : Thank you. Can I just say about all the proposals, which included the possible closure of Moncrieff’s, that these all came out together and no one was consulted, so we have time to respond certainly within the context of this inquiry and we are looking at all sorts of different possibilities. If we could accommodate the monthly Press Gallery luncheon in another part of the Palace, would that necessarily cause a difficulty?

George Parker: It is obviously far from ideal. The truth is, if we lose our facilities, you take away the central point of the Press Gallery. It is where we entertain Members of Parliament, the Speaker and so forth. There is plainly a social aspect of working in the Press Gallery that we would lose. That probably doesn’t move Members of the House of Commons Management Board particularly. The other thing is that if we lose those facilities, it just means that 300-odd people who work in the Press Gallery will be looking elsewhere to eat, to work, to drink.

Q77 Chair : I wasn’t necessarily thinking that that meant closure. I was merely entertaining another possibility because it might be that there are other ways one could do these things. Am I right in thinking you don’t really have any lingering interest in the evening in the use of that major room?

George Parker: That is correct. It has to do with the changing working practices in journalism and in the House. The days when journalists would hang around drinking in the bar until ten or eleven at night and there would always be a team of journalists working the late shift, I’m afraid, have all gone with the age of Blackberries and laptops. Really, the facilities close off in our area at about eight o’clock.

Chair : Thank you very much indeed for coming to us and helping us with our inquiry.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Louise Haigh, Secretary, Lauren Edwards, Political Officer, and Shelley Phelps, Interns Officer, Unite Parliamentary Staff Branch, gave evidence.

Q78 Chair : Good afternoon. I’m sorry we kept you waiting. We’re running a little late. Thank you for coming to see us and thank you for paper that you submitted. I gather that James Mills has had to go to hospital and that it’s Lauren who is replacing him. Welcome. Is there anything you’d like to say by way of introduction before we ask you some questions?

Louise Haigh: In terms of our oral submission or introducing the branch?

Chair : I’m sorry?

Louise Haigh: Sorry, would you like us to introduce the branch or introduce our oral submission because we’ve prepared an oral submission as well?

Chair : I’m still not quite hearing you properly.

Louise Haigh: Sorry. Do you mean would you like us to introduce our oral submission?

Q79 Chair : You can enlarge on it, if you’d like to highlight any particular points that you need to draw to the attention of the Committee. I hope we’ve all read it, but nevertheless you might want to give emphasis to something.

Louise Haigh: Yes, we do have a couple of other things that we would like to add to the written submission, if that is okay.

First, we were quite disappointed as a branch not to have been consulted before the price rises were announced. We do have a memo of understanding with the House authorities. We do appreciate that it was a quick strategic decision, but we would have liked to see some consultation with the branch. Also, we were quite disappointed not to have been invited to consult and to submit to the Commission. It was a request from myself that led to us making the submission, whereas the Trade Union Side and MAPSA were both invited.

Enlarging on our written submission, the main point that we want make is that the catering price rises will impact disproportionately on MPs’ staff. We have an average salary of around £20,000 per annum, which is far below the market rate for the vast majority of the jobs and qualifications of most MPs’ staff, and at the same time, we’re also facing higher costs on the estate. I know this is not part of your remit as the Administration Committee, but just to give you some context, IPSA is driving down salaries through cuts to MPs’ staffing budgets and MPs have also been banned from giving their staff bonuses, so many MPs’ staff feel they are unfairly bearing the brunt of the cuts at work.

In addition, we also have a response to the cuts specifically proposed in the Houses’ saving programme.

Lauren Edwards: Yes, we have just been having a look at the House savings programme and our major concern really is that the cuts programme recognises the long hours a lot of MPs’ staff work. We know that one of the proposals is to close down some of the facilities and replace them with vending machines. I know that’s the context of 7 Millbank, and we don’t believe that any of our members work in that building, but just in terms of that setting a precedent, we would like evening meals and that kind of thing to still be available for our members, given that some of us work as long as the MPs are here.

Shelley Phelps: Finally, as Interns Officer, I would like to bring just a few points to your attention. Our members have expressed concerns about access arrangements for short-term staff, such as interns. We feel that they should be able to access the Terrace at the same times as green pass holders can; also, things like access to the Debate. Obviously we recognise that this is a problem when it is extremely busy, but this rule applies regardless of quieter times, with the exception of recess. So that’s just something that we wanted to have addressed, really.

Chair : Thank you. I think I should just say that no one was consulted. We are all in it together, to coin a phrase, in the sense that these decisions were taken in the void period between the ending of the Committees under the old Parliament and the setting up of the Committees in the new. The Commission, as it is entitled, nevertheless took decisions that we are now catching up on. As to the future, there is only one item in the list that is affecting the next financial year so far as the catering side is concerned, and that happens to be the Members’ Dining Room. On any other proposal on that very widely drawn list, we are going to have the opportunity of input. In fact it has been stated that the inquiry being conducted by this Committee will help to inform and, I hope, influence what might happen in the future.

Q80 Bob Russell: I think there is a general acceptance that the curse of IPSA falls on staff, possibly more so than it does on elected Members. I’m grateful to you for pointing that out in the "Loyalty Scheme" section-number two. I wonder if perhaps you could spell it out a bit more? Are you suggesting that perhaps low-paid staff, shortly or already to be on IPSA-reduced salaries, would be entitled to a lower purchase price of commodities? Is that what is being suggested?

Lauren Edwards: Yes. We are asking, basically to take into account our below market rate salaries, whether that would be one of the options that you could consider. Some people have been talking about perhaps a staff canteen, but we just think with the pure numbers of staff that we have on the estate, it would just get incredibly busy. That could be an option, just in recognition that MPs’ staff are being hit quite hard with the decline in salaries and the rise in catering prices at the same time.

Q81 Bob Russell: If I could ask a second question? On the loyalty scheme at paragraph c), you’ve highlighted one commodity, which is a bottle of Coke, with quite a substantial mark-up within the estate as off the estate. Are there other examples? I’m just wondering whether perhaps an entrepreneurial member of staff could bulk buy and make a killing.

Shelley Phelps: Even if you bought pasta in the Debate now, which is about I think £3.25, you could buy a pot of pasta for £1.20 in Tesco nearby.

Louise Haigh: There is also confectionary I believe.

Lauren Edwards: Yes. A lot of our members have been in touch to say that prices of standard chocolate bars is now higher on the estate than it is in Tesco, which is just around the corner but leaving the estate can often be quite difficult. Usually, when you’re on the estate for the day, you are basically here all day.

Louise Haigh: It’s just not clear what the benchmark has been for setting the price. It’s not clear whether it’s just about removing the subsidy rather than profit-raising.

Q82 Thomas Docherty: First of all, can I ask you to clarify what you understand, or what your members understand, are the access arrangements to things like Strangers’ Bar, the Terrace and the Terrace cafeteria?

Louise Haigh: Sorry, which bar was that? Strangers’ Bar?

Thomas Docherty: Strangers’ Bar, the Terrace as a whole and the Terrace cafeteria.

Louise Haigh: My understanding and, I believe, the understanding of the members is that Strangers’ bar access is only as MPs’ guests. To the Terrace, I believe we have access on Fridays and during recess periods. What was the other one?

Q83 Thomas Docherty: And the terrace from Strangers’ Bar?

Louise Haigh: That is the same: only with an MP, I understand.

Q84 Thomas Docherty: On your submission, you said-and apologies for not getting this properly-on the Fridays, do you have the right to bring guests when you go on to the Terrace cafeteria?

Louise Haigh: No, that wasn’t my understanding that we were, but it seems to be administered haphazardly and sometimes MPs’ staff are allowed to take on interns or potentially staff that don’t have a full pass, and other times they are not. We would like clarification on that.

Q85 Thomas Docherty: When you said in your submission on the point about access to the Terrace for lunch on Fridays, you said, "On some days, staff with interns who’re still waiting for their pass will be allowed access and on other days they will not." I take you meant by "on some days" that it is random? It is not consistent to Fridays?

Louise Haigh: Yes. It depends entirely who is on the security on that day.

Q86 Thomas Docherty: If I understand correctly, what you are asking for is, for those days for which you have access, you would like the right effectively to bring guests on to the Terrace?

Louise Haigh: To bring guests that are staff-for example, interns who very rarely have full pass entitlement.

Q87 Thomas Docherty: Do you understand the reasons why interns, who I think you said yourself are on short term, won’t necessarily have passes, because they haven’t been security cleared? Does that make sense?

Louise Haigh: Yes, but they’ve been security cleared to get on to the estate and they’ve been employed presumably by the MP, so they have been cleared in that sense.

Q88 Thomas Docherty: But the staff would then effectively take responsibility for vouching for them? If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is MPs’ staff and MPs’ researchers would take responsibility for vouching for the interns on the Terrace, and that is the access you want on the nonsitting days and the Fridays?

Louise Haigh: Yes, absolutely.

Q89 Thomas Docherty: My final point, Sir Alan, is that there have been a number of incidents in recent months where MPs’ staff have been on the Terrace at night. Do you think that the union has a role to play in raising awareness that staff shouldn’t be on the Terrace, and particularly that their behaviour on the Terrace needs to be adjusted accordingly?

Louise Haigh: I think we can certainly play a role in raising awareness but if they are there as guests of MPs-

Thomas Docherty: They’re not.

Louise Haigh: Okay. It should be taken into account that a lot of the new intake are former researchers and will be in social circles with researchers now, so a lot do take them on in that respect. Certainly we can play a role in raising that, absolutely.

Q90 Geoffrey Clifton Brown: I wouldn’t want you to go away thinking this Committee wasn’t sympathetic with your members, because we have consistently asked questions about the impact of these price rises on your members and that is where I want to question you. I totally understand that, but since we’ve had the price increases, I haven’t noticed any huge decline in the number of staff using the Debate. Have you any evidence of that, and also have you any evidence that your staff have had to stop using it and instead have gone outside and bought lunch at Tesco or whatever?

Lauren Edwards: We have had members get in touch when we asked for their views on the written and the oral evidence that we are giving now who’ve said that is something they are increasingly doing. The problem is that there is not a lot of other places that you can go. You can go to the Tescos and the Neros, but because of the location of where we work, there is not a local coffee shop necessarily that you can pop out to, so it is the only place really. We have had evidence of people increasingly doing that, of people making their own lunch and bringing it in and that kind of thing. Ultimately, if that happens en masse and that increases, there will be a decline in revenue on the estate.

Q91 Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I don’t notice, and maybe I am wrong, the decline in the number of staff using the Debate. If anything, the queue is longer now than it was before.

Lauren Edwards: It may just take a while for the cost to hit. It takes a while for people to change their behaviour.

Shelley Phelps: A lot of people would probably still be queuing up to buy teas and coffees and they are still eating their lunch outside the Debate, but a lot of people are still bringing their own or going out to Tesco to buy things.

Q92 Tessa Munt: I just wanted to check something. I’m not entirely clear about why it is that people who are interns don’t always have passes, seeing as how one can get a pass for someone who is on work experience, as I understand it. I’m not entirely sure why your interns don’t have passes.

The second question I would like to ask you, which is sort of connected, is that I would envisage that, given the complexity of a pass like this, one can grade it so that you could get some sort of staff discount. That would, of course, require each of you to buy a meal and not to be buying each other’s meals. I just wondered if you saw that as being workable-if there was something that you flash across the EPOS system on the till, whether you could limit yourselves to buying a meal each as opposed to buying meals for others also, if you were to get a discount?

Louise Haigh: I presume it could be limited to use, say, once or twice a day for a lunch or evening meal. As for the pass for interns, often because it can be very short term or perhaps they have used their pass allocation on fulltime staff, on permanent staff, then a lot of the times, they don’t have enough.

Shelley Phelps: As Interns Officer and when we’ve had interns in the office, one thing I’ve come across is, for example, in half term, when we had two or three people coming in, and you contact the Pass Office to try and get them short-term passes, the Pass Office often just say it is easier, if they’re only in for the Monday to Wednesday or Thursday when the Members are going back to the constituency, for them to have the paper passes for those days and be accompanied by a staff member.

Q93 Mike Weatherley: I am hugely sympathetic to what you’ve got here and I congratulate you in making very reasonable proposals. To answer that last question, I have interns that don’t have the pass, and they have to be escorted elsewhere, so I see the problem that you come up with on a daily basis. I only have one very small question on the whole thing. What is the capacity of Annie’s Bar? How many people? How big is it? I’ve never been it-I’m new here.

Louise Haigh: Of Annie’s Bar? I’ve never been in it either. I know it is closed.

Q94 Mike Weatherley: I appreciate it is closed now, but if it were open, is it the size of Strangers’ Bar? Is it double the size? Is it this room? Does anyone in this room know?

Chair : If I could just contribute to that point, I was going to ask a question as well.

I know, simply because I made a point of going there, that it is unused at the moment. I was very conscious of the fact that we had lost Bellamy’s bar and I was asking the question as to whether or not there was sufficient footfall to justify reinstating Annie’s Bar as a bar for staff. There are doubts on management side as to whether it would work for that purpose-that particular premises-and whether in fact, as it’s an enclosed box, it would find much attraction with people, compared with what the Bellamy’s bar had, with the great view out on to Parliament Square and so on. I think if there was evidence provided that there was a demand by staff for a bar that was their territory, we might see whether or not it could be provided. I’m just not sure that the Annie’s Bar space is in least bit attractive for that purpose. That is the trouble. I take note of the points you’ve made in that and I think we just need to see harder evidence rather than mere speculation as to whether or not we would get the demand.

Q95 Mike Weatherley: Apart from the fact that I think there is a lot of demand for another facility on the estate, since people say it to me all the time, I just want to know how big it is. Is it a really small box room or is it a large room?

Chair : It has a capacity of about 50. I am just trying to imagine. It is less than half the size of this Committee room.

Q96 Mike Weatherley: So about the same as Strangers’ then?

Chair : Smaller than the Strangers’.

Q97 Nigel Mills: Speaking of someone who has a morning trip to Tesco to buy Coke, chocolate biscuits and fruit juice, I entirely agree that putting the price up on those easily substitutable items is not a clever way of trying to make money in this area. When we had a tour of the catering facilities last week, the one in Parliament Street is a lot less used than the ones in Portcullis House. Do you sense that staff look at menus and choose where they want to eat, or is it always the same place? Would different pricing encourage some people to move over to different buildings? If you knew that Parliament Street was empty Monday to Tuesday, if it was 20p or 50p cheaper, do you think that would even out the demand somewhat more?

Louise Haigh: I absolutely think that the staff look at menus and pricing. I think if you were looking to increase in footfall in one, lowering the prices would greatly increase revenue at Bellamy’s.

Q98 Thomas Docherty: I’m curious. Have you had any discussions with your counterparts in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly about their catering arrangements and how they provide for their staff? Having worked a very long time ago at the Scottish Parliament, I know they do provide staff discounts on some things but they don’t do it for canteen staffing, if that makes sense. You can get a discount on stuff at the gift shop and so on of 10%, but you don’t get a discount on eating there-the theory being the food is subsided as it is, so effectively you get a second subsidy. Have you talked to either the Welsh or the Scots about that?

Louise Haigh: We haven’t. As is part of our submission, it’s not unusual across the public or private sector to have a subsidised catering arrangement in a workplace. No we haven’t had any discussion is the answer to your question, but certainly in previous workplaces for me, there have often been staff canteens or subsidised food arrangements.

Q99 Nigel Mills: Do your members have suggestions for things that are missing from the estate? Do you ever think, "Why isn’t there a pizza place or a sandwich place?" Is there anything that you can’t get that you would really like to see here?

Louise Haigh: No. Everything that we have come across with our members has been included in the written submission.

Chair : That makes you more satisfied than Members, I think.

Thank you very much indeed for coming to see us and for the submission you’ve made. We have a little extra time over the next few weeks to complete our inquiry, as we are not under the pressure we thought we were, so we shall deliberate in due course. Thank you very much indeed.