Catering Services in the House of Commons

Written evidence submitted by Jo Swinson MP

Apologies for the late reply, but I hope my views can still be considered as part of the review into catering services.

· As a regular user of the House catering services who has a nut allergy, I can say from experience that the service for customers with allergies has greatly improved in most outlets over the last couple of years. Information is much more readily available on ingredients of the various dishes and most staff have a greater awareness. In fact in the Adjournment one member of staff has even remembered my allergy and went out of his way to make sure I was given bread which did not have nuts in it, without me even having to ask!

· In one place it is a bit patchier - the Members’ and Strangers’ Dining Room - where staff perhaps have not had the same allergy awareness training. It is often much more difficult to explain about my allergy, and at times it has even been suggested that there is nothing I can eat, as everything may contain nuts (not helpful when three line whips require me to remain on the Parliamentary estate until after 11pm, as I have little option but to eat on site!)

· The good progress on menu information and labelling, staff awareness and training should definitely continue, as working within the Parliamentary estate there are dozens if not hundreds of people who have a food allergy.

· Finally, while my main reason for responding to this review is regarding allergy, I would make an additional comment about the recent change to Members’ Dining Room, now charging a flat rate of £15. This seems strange, as it encourages MPs to have a full three-course meal when dining there or receive poor value for money. Time-wise and health-wise, regularly incentivising a three-course meal doesn’t seem sensible, plus it ignores the reality of how many MPs use the dining room – for a bite to eat with colleagues close to the chamber in between meetings or votes. It would be much better to return to a system of charging for what is consumed, allowing MPs to have and pay for three courses if they so wish, but also catering for MPs wishing a simple main course supper.

October 2010