Select Committee on Catering First Report

IV. Access Regulations

Reasons for having access regulations

  52. A number of issues relating to access provisions arose during the course of the inquiry. These are described below. We bear in mind that the ultimate decision on questions of access within the Commons rests with the Speaker.

53. Restrictions on access to refreshment facilities have been deemed necessary over the years because some facilities are simply not large enough to accommodate all those who might wish to use them. We were told that these regulations were sometimes infringed, with passholders occasionally entertaining large numbers of guests.[77] A member of the House staff working in the Pass Office told us that he had "yet to see anyone refused service (other than in facilities specifically for Members and Officers)" and that "customers are served who are not wearing a pass, are of a pass category who are not entitled to service, or are simply not passholders (particularly in Portcullis House)".[78] On one occasion this same member of House staff observed 14 non-passholders being taken at peak time into the Debate Cafeteria in Portcullis House by a single passholder, even though access regulations allow a maximum of two guests.[79]


  54. Enforcement of access regulations is left to Refreshment Department staff, many of whom clearly feel that they do not have the authority to challenge unauthorised use of facilities. The Refreshment Department Catering Operations Manager confirmed that "it would be very difficult for the Refreshment Department to police [access] on a consistent basis, especially during peak times".[80] We heard that, before the conversion and redevelopment of the Members' and Strangers' Cafeterias, a security officer used to stand by the door of the Strangers' Cafeteria to monitor access.[81] A similar level of 'policing' could be provided now for the Terrace Cafeteria and for the Debate Cafeteria in Portcullis House. However, we question whether the scale of abuse is so great as to warrant such a heavy-handed approach, which would incur costs probably to be borne by the Refreshment Department.[82] The impression created by rigorous checking of passes would, we believe, be very negative. We note that the level of abuse of access regulations appeared not to be significant when the Refreshment Department conducted its survey. We believe that the use of security officers to enforce access regulations is unnecessary at this stage and we do not support it. Policy in this area may need to be reconsidered if there is evidence of growing abuse of regulations.

Access for temporary passholders and contractors

  55. Temporary passholders, many of whom are civil servants or works contractors, have restricted access to the House's refreshment facilities. In general, they may use cafeterias but may not take guests; but they are unable to use the Terrace Cafeteria between 12 noon and 2.00 pm. We can see that there used to be a rationale for this restriction; but it appears divisive. We hope that the measures proposed in this Report would ultimately allow all temporary passholders to use the Terrace Cafeteria at lunch times. We note that some long-term contractors employed by the House, although working under the same conditions as permanent staff, have only the restricted access to refreshment facilities granted to temporary staff.[83] We invite Mr Speaker to consider allowing improved access to refreshment facilities for temporary staff of the House who work under the same conditions as permanent staff. The Board of Management could usefully advise on the types of staff who might be granted improved levels of access. We suggest that there need be no delay in making such changes. Further distinctions may need to be made in categories of pass held.

56. There is a case for reducing access for short-term contractors (such as those hired on building contracts). The Serjeant at Arms could see no particular reason why such staff need actually be given access to Commons refreshment facilities.[84] Temporary cabins selling burgers are already provided for works contractors. We received a number of adverse comments about the influx of contractors in the Terrace Cafeteria during the 2001 summer recess.[85] The possibility that the House might in future sit for a number of weeks in September, maybe while limited works are in progress, would compound these problems. We recommend that more temporary facilities and vending machines be provided for short-term contractors. The question of whether to permit access for this group may need to be reconsidered if there is continued evidence of overcrowding in refreshment facilities during recesses.

Access for other House staff

  57. It was put to us, in evidence from certain House staff and in the submission from the Commons Library branch of the Prospect Union, that the privileges accorded to Officers of the House were divisive and should be abolished.[86] We were told that such distinctions were hard to accept for long-serving staff at lower grades.[87] These points were often made in conjunction with a request for improved access rights to some of the more formal dining facilities, particularly when these appeared to be under-used.[88]

58. There are occasions when senior House staff need to entertain on the House's behalf consultants, advisers to select committees, or foreign dignitaries, in a more exclusive setting. A certain level of access therefore needs to be safeguarded for Officers. Other House staff and Members' staff already have access to the Churchill Room and to the Adjournment restaurant on Thursday evenings and to the Strangers' Dining Room, the Churchill Room and the Adjournment on Fridays. We propose that access rights for House staff and Members' staff should be extended to allow access to the Strangers' Dining Room on Thursday evenings. At other, busier times of the week, there may simply not be spare capacity in these outlets, particularly if the House's sitting patterns change. We recommend that the Director of Catering Services should monitor the spare capacity of table service restaurants in the House, with a view to improving access for all House staff and Members' staff where capacity allows.

59. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association also asked for access to be granted to the Adjournment Restaurant for occasions when guests needed to be entertained "more modestly than in the Churchill Room, but still nicely".[89] Both the CPA and the IPU play an important role in projecting the image of the Westminster Parliament abroad, and we are sympathetic to the request. We intend to consult further on this issue.

77   Annex; also Ev 12. Back

78   See Annex. Back

79   Between 12 noon and 2pm only Members, Members' spouses and Officers may take guests into the Debate Cafeteria. Back

80   Q 29. Back

81   QQ 26-28. Back

82   QQ 68-9. We were told that the cost of hiring a security officer for two hours would be £21.00 (Ev 12). Back

83   Ev 11 and 55. Back

84   Q 67. Back

85   Q 152; Ev 55. Back

86   Ev 31 and 53. Back

87   Q 155. Back

88   Q 153; Ev 2. Back

89   Ev 18. Back

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