Select Committee on Catering Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by "Prospect" Union (Commons Library branch)

  "Prospect" (Commons Library branch) welcomes the inquiry into the increasing problem of overcrowding in certain House of Commons Refreshment facilities. It understands that the Catering Committee has a difficult task in balancing the needs of different sets of users and hopes that its suggestions will prove useful.


  The problem is the high level of demand for cafeteria facilities open to all pass-holders, in particular in "Bellamy's", the "Debate" (Portcullis House) and the Terrace Cafeteria. These facilities are regularly over-crowded at lunchtimes.

  The difficulty arises not in the overall capacity of House of Commons Refreshment facilities but in the highly restrictive access policy. This means that a large proportion of staff is restricted to a small number of catering facilities. As these areas are also popular with "officers" who have the right of access to a large number of other facilities, there is not enough room to seat all of them at lunchtime (particularly from 1 pm-2 pm). Essentially the current policy is trying to force a quart into a pint pot.

  Clearly, the central solution to this problem is the reform of these access rights.


  Prospect is opposed in principle to caste divisions between "officers" and other staff concerning access to catering facilities and regards them as archaic, divisive and unnecessary. While it understands that Members need their own refreshment facilities, it would like to see the abolition of all these restrictions between staff. In the short-term however, it would like to make the following suggestions:

1 Derby Gate

  1.  Abolish pass restrictions between staff in the "Club Room" in 1 Derby Gate. This room is clearly under-used. Opening it up to all users could do much to relieve the problem of overcrowding in Bellamy's.

  2.  Since the Bellamy's gift kiosk now appears to have closed, could it be turned into a takeaway sandwiches/snacks outlet similar to the "Despatch Box" in Portcullis House? This could help to reduce queuing times in Bellamy's.

Portcullis House

  Abolish pass restrictions between staff in the "Adjournment" in Portcullis House. Again, this facility is under-used. It is particularly frustrating for staff queuing/trying to find spaces in the often over-crowded "Debate" cafeteria to see so many empty tables in the "Adjournment".

  The "Adjournment" could either remain a brasserie-style restaurant, but accessible to all photopass holders, or become a self-service cafeteria.

The Palace

  The Terrace cafeteria is often overcrowded at lunchtime. This problem has become particularly acute since the closure of the large Westminster Hall cafeteria. For many members of staff, this is the only Commons refreshment facility they have access to in the Palace. Prospect suggests that the reserved seating area for Members could be reduced or abolished. This area is rarely full. It seems reasonable to have at least one facility in the building open to all pass-holders.

  If it is really felt necessary to maintain these divisions between staff at all, they should only apply in the Palace where there are already many other facilities open only to Officers and Members. It seems appropriate for these 19th Century divisions to be consigned to a 19th Century building.


  1.  By ensuring that all cafeteria tills are staffed throughout the busy periods, queues could be significantly reduced.

  2.  Regular statistics on usage of refreshment facilities would be very useful in highlighting those areas which are under-used or overcrowded. This might allow remedial action to be taken as soon as possible.

  3.  The Catering Committee's press notice on 8.2.2002 referred to "pricing mechanisms" as a possible area for reform. "Prospect" understands that prices are usually higher in areas restricted to Officers and Members and this may partially explain why some of these facilities may be under-used. It hopes that prices will not be raised in cafeteria facilities open to all pass-holders in an attempt to limit demand in these areas.

25 February 2002

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