Select Committee on Catering Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 116 - 119)




  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 issue—that 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 attractive—the hot food in particular.

  117. So it is improvement to your cafeteria section?
  (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.

Mr Thomas

  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, really.

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