Select Committee on Catering Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 93 - 99)




  Can I, first of all, welcome you warmly to our proceedings. I know that you are aware of the background to this inquiry and the great importance we place on your evidence. We have already had a written statement from you and we felt that in this evidence session we may be able to develop some thoughts and ideas as to how we may be able to develop further the links between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. We wanted also to identify particular problems that we have got and we are taking evidence from many groups in order to try and help us make progress on our facilities. Of course, the House of Lords is very important as part of that equation and I wonder if you could firstly for the Committee describe briefly your existing facilities, and tell us whether at the moment there are any plans really in your Committee to develop capacity?

Mr Thomas

  93. Or to cut it, Chairman!

  (Lord Colwyn) Would it be helpful if I list the facilities? We have the Dining Room which has a guest area and Members' area where I can accommodate about 60 Members at any time, and there is enough for about 90 guests. We have the Barry Room which is our rather smart restaurant down in the basement area which can accommodate on the long table about 15 Peers at any one time and that can take also 50 guests; the Home Room which is our brasserie area, which can accommodate 40, and that is Members only. Those are the main eating areas. Then we have the Lords Bar, of which you are aware; the Bishops Bar which is just an area for drinking and sandwiches; the Guest Room which again is the only place where Peers can entertain guests; and then the two staff areas, the staff restaurant down opposite the Lords Bar which can seat about 40 members of staff at any time, and then just recently opened last year the Millbank Cafeteria on the other side of the road which can accommodate up to about 36 members. Those two staff areas are available to anybody with a pass, of course.


  94. And what about increasing capacity? Is there any plan currently?
  (Lord Colwyn) We have three main problems in the House of Lords—space, space and space. We have very limited facilities. Obviously there are plans, and in the last couple of years I have been very much aware that the kitchen facilities downstairs are very limited and the facilities I am able to offer to the staff are really not adequate. We felt that health and safety officers would probably not approve—in fact, we know they are barely adequate—so we initiated a feasibility study and we now have that. We have not got Treasury approval yet but we do have plans to change that whole area of the Lords Bar and try and provide an additional staff dining area which would increase the covers from about 40 to 60 but that, at the moment, is all we are really planning. This is primarily to redevelop the kitchen areas and improve staff facilities. Apart from that, we really are very limited on space. If I had more space I would create more facilities, but it is very difficult.

Mrs Dean

  95. In your view, whatever happens to the House of Lords reform, are you likely to see an increase or decrease in usage, do you think?
  (Lord Colwyn) This is much talked about and with the different plans we do not really know the answer. My feeling is that, if we are going to have a lot more elected Members of the House of Lords, there will be more staff and more secretaries. You will have Peers who are going to be full-time Members, unlike me. I can do my job during the day and then come in—I try and be here for two lunch times a week—but I think we will need more facilities. On the other hand, if the House is cut down to a more reasonable number, say 300 or so, it may lessen the requirement but I suspect that the numbers required for even that size of House will be very similar to now. I do not think there is going to be any change on the numbers.[1]

Janet Anderson

  96. In your written evidence you say you think there is fairly widespread ignorance amongst Members of the Lords about the facilities available to them in the Commons. Do you mean that they think they can use everything, or they do not know what they can use so they do not come to the Commons?
  (Lord Colwyn) There are two real main groups of Peers. There are the ex-MPs who are allowed to use any of the facilities whenever they want, I think they probably do understand where they are allowed to go—in fact, they are allowed to go everywhere—and the other group of Peers like myself who are very ignorant about what is available. A lot of them had never been to Portcullis House, for instance, and although I do have in my possession a scheme which shows where Peers who are not formerly Members of Parliament can go, it is not something we circulate because I would like them to eat in my Department. I think really there is a lot of ignorance about your facilities. I do not think, apart from the ex-MPs, that many other Peers use the facilities down there.

  97. So if we made them more aware of what they could use, it would mean that the pressure on the facilities here would be even greater than it is now?
  (Lord Colwyn) The facilities in the House of Commons?

  98. Yes.
  (Lord Colwyn) I think it probably would. I get a letter or two a week from Members—the Bishop of Oxford was the last who wrote to me saying that he had booked into somewhere in Portcullis House and was turned away. It is from ignorance—they do not understand what they can and cannot do. I am under pressure to produce a little booklet to show Peers where they can and cannot go and, if I was to circulate that, if they were allowed to use other areas in Portcullis House, it might become more popular. But there is a widespread ignorance; they do not really know what they can use.


  99. In the case of the Bishop of Oxford, he had previously enjoyed the hospitality of the Members Strangers' Dining Room when he booked it, and because of the pressure on our side on the Strangers' Dining Room we had tightened up and he had gone to make a booking after previously being able to book and found that he was told he was ineligible.
  (Lord Colwyn) I am aware there are Peers not eligible to use your facilities who do use them, and I think the staff have a problem dealing with it, of course.

  Chairman: I have told you about the Law Lords: we have managed to move them at least into the staff cafeterias.

1   Note by witness: My implication was that there would probably not be any significant decrease in numbers. Back

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