Catering Services in the House of Commons

Written evidence submitted by Frank Bullen, Branch Secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)

The Public and Commercial Services Union [PCS] would appreciate you bringing to the attention of your Committee, my branch’s concerns on aspects of access to facilities within the House.

Recently one of our members, with 30 years’ service, was at a function in the Terrace bar. When he went to the bar he was refused because of the anachronistic restriction placed on staff below B2 grade, not being allowed to be served.

You will appreciate this was of great annoyance not only to him, but to other members within his group, many of whom were officer status, [B2 is not of that status]. It is a situation which has been ongoing for years against aggrieved staff.

The incident was raised with the current Speaker, who suggested it be put as evidence to your inquiry.

What the situation highlights is the totally inappropriate access rules to staff from D2 to C bands, who are barred from both access on an individual basis, as well as being unable to purchase drinks in restricted outlets, even if within a party.

It is quite amusing to hear the reasons why such rules apply, more so off the record. Classics such as they can’t behave or hold their drink, don’t wear the appropriate attire, swearing would be in abundance, the insulting ‘can’t use a knife and fork’. Management’s ultimate piece de resistance would be that these restricted groups would attract unmanageable numbers in the bar if they were allowed unfettered access.

If only the Sports and Social Club had that problem, profits might then clear the country’s structural debt!

Now that Bellamy’s Bar has closed it exacerbates the dire shortage of licensed facilities in the House.

I jest, but we do have a serious problem in such rules. How can the House claim to be a fully equal employer, as well as having accreditation through Investors in People. If the truth be told, the origins of the ruling was based on class and elitism and reinforced by contemporary social class divisions within the House.

Would someone be barred on race, gender or religion? No. Not surprisingly the restricted grades have a higher racial mix than those permitted access. Does not look good to those outside the House, does it?

The House needs a resolution to this unjust rule.

The PCS requests that all catering outlets that allow B1/2 and Officers of the House admittance and full use of facilities, be open to all House of Commons permanent employees.

It is unlikely that there would be a stampede should such restrictions be lifted. It would be nice for staff to be able to bring a family member or guest to the House.

There may be a case for a minimum qualifying period, although this would have to overcome any prejudicial grounds that could be seen to be acting against certain groups, perceived or otherwise.

I trust the Committee will take our concerns seriously and subsequently rectify a current blatant discriminatory ruling.

October 2010