Examination of Witnesses (Questions 116
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
116. Thank you for coming. We welcome you to
this inquiry. You will be aware that as the Catering Committee
we have got particular difficulties in the House of Commons now
in providing adequate catering facilities for all of the Members
and staff and visitors that come to the House and we are seeking,
through this inquiry and evidence-taking, to try to find a means
of receiving advice and, hopefully, making some positive policies
for the future and improving the facilities of our Refreshment
Department as we go. First of all, in the context of your facilities,
Mr Morris, is there anything you would like to say to us on behalf
of the Press Gallery and all your colleagues and staff in the
Press Gallery as to the facilities that you have? There are one
or two proposals that we are aware of that are planned to improve
and modernise the facilities, particularly the kitchen facilities
in your part, but is there anything you would like to say to us
about the facilities you have and how you would wish them to improve?
(Mr Morris) You have our submission but
I think the one point we would like to register quite forcibly,
if we may, is that there are probably between 300 and 400 members
of the Press Gallery, Hansard and other people who could use our
canteen as their first choice of eating place but a very small
proportion of them choose to. Sometimes between one and half past
one there are no more than twenty people in there. I am sorry
to say that is as a direct result of the standards of food, particularly
hot food, being so low in our canteen compared with other catering
outlets around the House. People are voting with their feet; very
large numbers are going to Portcullis House because it is so much
better; and others are also going to Strangers' Cafeteria or the
House of Lords staff canteen. Although we have a facility at the
end of our corridor, the vast majority of Members are voting with
their feet and going elsewhere.
(Mr Steele) For example, just after I saw Mr Campbell
this morning I met a colleague and at least twice out of the four
days she comes here in a week she goes to Portcullis House, and
this is the issuethat the quality of the food, especially
the hot meals, in our canteen, is so low. Geography is the only
reason why almost anybody goes there. It is the end of the corridor
so Nigel and I will go there quite often but certainly, when we
have been to Portcullis and I have met Mr Thomas there and we
have had lunch over there, it is so much sharper, much nicer,
more attractivethe hot food in particular.
117. So it is improvement to your cafeteria
(Mr Morris) Yes. We understand that there is work
going ahead over the summer recess to refurbish the kitchens which
one would hope would improve the situation we have described,
but for the moment the canteen is woefully underused.
118. You said the standard of food was poor
and that is why people were not going?
(Mr Steele) Particularly hot meals.
119. Presumably it is an open cafeteria so hot
meals are under these hot lights, but is there an element of members
of the press wanting to get out of just being with the press and
wanting to meet with Members or staff or friends or whatever?
How much in this day and age do you think a facility just for
the press is really what you want?
(Mr Steele) I think it is very important that we continue
to have our Dining Room. As we say in our letter, the Dining Room
is good and it is a place where one can take MPs and that is a
tremendously important asset. On the general issue of whether
one wants to go outside, we are busy and that is why some of us
still use the Press Gallery canteen as opposed to facilities elsewhere
on the Parliamentary Estate, but it is obviously pleasant to be
able to meet other people, particularly MPs, in Portcullis House.
We need both the facilities retained but, to get more of our Members
staying in the canteen, the food has to be better.
(Mr Morris) Also, 10 years ago, when there were not
any alternative and much better locations, the Press Gallery canteen
was much better used. People would have loved to eat in the canteen
at the end of the corridor but they are voting with their stomachs,