Catering Services in the House of Commons

Written evidence submitted by George Parker, Chairman, Parliamentary Press Gallery

The Parliamentary Press Gallery welcomes the Administration Committee’s review of catering and retail services in the House of Commons.


Whilst recognising the need of Members for a degree of privacy when dining, we believe that more open access to the various catering areas within the House of Commons is desirable.

Our own experiences are a case in point.

Having historically been reserved for members of the Press Gallery and their guests only, our own catering facilities were opened to all pass holders after a major refurbishment in 2006/7. Whilst it is true to say that some of our colleagues had reservations initially, our experience has been positive. We have not noticed any detrimental impact on our need for quick, well cooked meals on a day-to-day basis; Moncrieff’s has become a popular venue but at the same time continues to be available to us to hold regular events such as our monthly lunches. In addition, we understand that it has had a wider impact in helping to ease the load on the Terrace Cafeteria and Portcullis House at busy times and when renovations necessitated the closure of other facilities (e.g. the Terrace Cafeteria in the summer of 2009). The increased access has also helped to de-mystify a hitherto rather unknown area of the Palace – which can only be a good thing.

The House is attempting to reduce the costs of catering in the current year and beyond and has recently introduced significant price increases in some areas. In the circumstances the economic argument for opening more facilities to more pass holders must be incontrovertible. It is surely incompatible with the objective of reducing costs and maximising income to restrict access to certain facilities for some or all of the time that the House is sitting – effectively turning away income and leaving facilities under-used and staff idle.

Our own experience with the Churchill Room illustrates the point. During the closure of our dining facilities during the refurbishment in 2007 we were temporarily granted limited access to the Churchill Room. Last year, having made the case that the lack of any evening dining facilities in the Press Gallery was having a detrimental effect on the use of Moncrieff’s bar, we were also granted access on Monday and Tuesday evenings, although this arrangement ended at the election. Colleagues using the Churchill Room at these times often found that it was seriously under-used and that on some occasions they were the only people dining.

The Churchill Room was very popular with members of the Press Gallery, who would readily use it again were it to be open to them.

We also welcome the recent extension of access to the Terrace on non-sitting Fridays and during Parliamentary recesses.

There seems little doubt that the change in the hours of the House has had the effect of changing the pattern of use of catering facilities across the Palace, and in particular of decreasing take-up in the evenings. Taken with the need to reduce costs and increase income, and the drive to make Parliament a more open and inclusive place, it seems logical to lift access restrictions such as those on the Churchill Room and Adjournment and open them up to a larger body of people.

We would therefore suggest to the Committee that it gives consideration to opening, for example, the Churchill Room and the Adjournment to all pass holders at all times and that the restrictions on certain seating areas within other facilities (e.g. the Atrium in Portcullis House) be removed.

We would also ask that the Committee publish a clear set of rules for access and that they be consistently applied.


The needs of the various groups using the Commons catering outlets will necessarily vary, but undoubtedly there is a need across the board for the quick and efficient service of well cooked food from early morning until well into the evening. In addition there is a need for ‘grab and go’ service and for places serving refreshments that can be used for informal meetings or for wi-fi access. The popularity of the Despatch Box and atrium areas in Portcullis House proves the point.

Relationship between Lords and Commons Catering Services

We have no strong views on the relationship between the House of Lords and the House of Commons catering services other than to suggest that there must at least be potential for closer collaboration to result in savings for both Houses.

October 2010