Memoranda submitted by Members' staff
and House of Commons staff
Yasmin Ataullah, Asad Rehman, Lara Sami,
Office of George Galloway MP
1. We write on behalf of many Muslim members
of staff within the Palace of Westminster with a request for you
to consider using halal meat in the Refreshment Department. There
are a number of Muslims working within the parliamentary estate,
both as House of Commons staff, and as MP's staff.
2. We would very much like to be able to
choose from the entire menu, rather than always having to opt
for the vegetarian meals on the menu. I am sure that the four
Muslim Members of the House of Commons would appreciate this as
well as the many Muslims working within the parliamentary estate.
3. I would be grateful if you would seriously
consider catering for the needs of all parliamentary staff
by introducing the use of halal meat.
4. I am aware that the Refreshment Department
already has arrangements for the supply of halal meat when catering
for functions sponsored by MPs. As such, I believe that the introduction
of halal meat for our canteens would not be too troublesome.
Will Conway, Bar Attendant, Refreshment
Department (and GMB Branch Secretary)
1. At present the access regulations for
Annie's Bar seem outdated. Members understandably resent not being
allowed to bring any guests into the bar; efforts to enforce the
rule may be met with resentment and hostility. This is also undoing
the good work done over time to increase use of the facilities,
as some Members are not using the bar at all in protest.
2. While appreciating the historical reasons
for the limited access, based largely on confidentiality, many
have been overtaken by history. There has not been a small majority
for some time now, obviating the old need for horse trading between
the Whips' offices. Parliament has opened up to the public far
more, so Members have more need to entertain guests informally,
or to socialise with colleagues. This has added to pressure on
areas such as the Strangers' bar.
3. The aim should be to make better use
of the facility, while preserving the intimacy and rules on confidentiality
that exist traditionally, this should be perfectly feasible with
minor tweaking to the access rules. To this end, I would suggest
that the rules are relaxed to allow escorted ex-members and personal
secretaries (pass 9A only) access. This would mean that the clientele
would be broadly familiar with each other so that they would not
have to be as guarded as when surrounded by complete strangers
in the Strangers' Bar.
4. In my union role, I am also aware of
the pressures on the Department to reduce costs year on year.
The cutbacks so far in place have led to an increase in temporary
staff. This was coupled with reductions in the directly employed
staff and major changes in working patterns. I would ask that
the committee bears in mind the advantages of the directly employed
workforce over agency staff:
(a) The ability and willingness to react
immediately to the exceptional demands of Parliament cannot be
replaced by a transient workforce.
(b) The security implications of poorly checked
references giving wide access to the Estate, including sensitive
(c) The sheer commitment to good service
of the permanently employed workforce, coupled with their experience
and knowledge of the sensitivities of Parliament and Parliamentarians
cannot be readily replaced.
George Crozier, Liberal Democrats Whips'
1. In the interests of improving services
to those who work on the parliamentary estate I would like to
request that you consider changing the current position on refreshments
in meeting rooms, such as the Macmillan and Boothroyd rooms in
Portcullis House. At present, I understand there is a single rate
and set of rules for all users of the rooms. Among other things
this requires the user to use the in-House caterer to supply alcoholic
refreshment. This is at a rate of £12 per bottle of wine
(for the cheapest) stretching upwards. This is a high mark-up
for wine that presumably cost the house authorities no more than
£3-£4 per bottle.
2. What this means is that a purely social
event, such as a quiz for often poorly-paid MPs' staff and interns
to get to know each other, is actually treated as a profit-making
venture by the House authorities, effectively pricing such an
event out of being able to supply any alcoholic refreshment. Surely
it would make sense to simply charge cost price for refreshments
at events of this kind, or to allow the relevant departments some
discretion in this matter, or to allow organisers to provide refreshments
purchased from outside, so that social events of this kind, which
bring people who work on the parliamentary estate together, can
Portia Dadley, Department of the Official
1. I am a vegetarian, and I regularly use
the Debate in Portcullis House and the Terrace Cafeteria. However,
the vegetarian options are often unsatisfactorythe portions
are too small, and protein is not always included. Vegetarian
meals rarely cost more than £2.00, but I would be happy to
pay more for a more satisfying meal. There is also a limited range
of vegetarian sandwiches.
2. On a more general note, hot meals are
Ingrid Davidson, Assistant to Lynne Jones
1. The lack of recycling facilities is very
disappointing. Several outlets sell large glass bottles of water,
yet there is no where obvious to return them for re-use/recycling.
2. Can the Committee consider making charges,
say 15p for polystyrene takeaway boxes and 10p for plastic cutlery
(marketed as an environmental levy) and use the proceeds to contribute
towards the cost of recycling points?
Libby Dewdney-Herbert, Parliamentary Assistant
to Tobias Ellwood MP
1. When, occasionally, I entertain somebody
for lunch at the House I would appreciate the option of taking
them to a dining room with waiter service. When, for example,
I am entertaining a local dignitary from the constituency (eg
the Mayor) or looking after somebody on Mr Ellwood's behalf, or
an elderly or disabled person, I do not think it acceptable that
that person should be expected to wait in a queue, particularly
at the present time when all the cafeterias are working to capacity.
As an example a few weeks ago Mr Ellwood had two guests for lunch
who had travelled all the way from Northern Ireland to meet him.
He was delayed in a Committee and asked me to take them to the
Strangers Restaurant and have a drink with them until he arrived.
I did so but was told on arrival that I would not be allowed to
sit with them at a table without him, indeed the guests would
have to wait outside the restaurant until Mr Ellwood arrived.
This caused me some embarrassment and did not appear very professional.
2. I know that it is possible to use the
Adjournment restaurant during the recess, on Thursday evenings
and Friday lunchtimes. Would it be possible to extend this facility
or offer an alternative at those times when the restaurant is
for the use of Members only?
Peter Harborne, Adviser, European Scrutiny
A suggestion: earlier opening by the adjournment,
with limited two and three course, "prix fixe" menus,
from 17.30 to 19.00, to catch those working in the House who want
a quick, reasonably priced meal in nice surroundings before going
out for the evening.
Brian Harrison, Senior Administrator,
Department of the Official Report
1. You may already have received some from
staff of the Department of the Official Report (Hansard), but
as their representative on the Refreshment Department Users Group,
I offered to collate some comments and forward them to you.
2. Most comments and suggestions were of
a trivial nature and would be best dealt with through the User
Group or the Refreshment Department's online feedback or suggestion
books. However, it was universally felt that there was a problem
with the supply of service at night (after 6pm) and especially
in the 7 Millbank building.
3. It was suggested that even if the provision
of vending machines were increased with superior products to that
supplied at present, it would help alleviate the problem for our
staff who work well after House hours.
4. Also, if Portcullis Cafeteria could have
it's hours extended, this would enable staff to have a hot meal
in the evening.
Mrs Christine Heald, Secretary to Mr Oliver
1. Generally. I feel the services we receive
2. I have a particular comment in relation
to the Debate cafeteria in Portcullis House. The lunchtime Access
Regulations have been widely ignored since the Debate was opened.
Every day Pass-Holders entertain Visitors and Members take more
than two visitors through between noon and 2 pm, contrary to Regulations.
The serving staff do a wonderful job in keeping the long queues
moving and the extra revenue must be welcome, but the table capacity
is not sufficient to accommodate the numbers and it makes lunchtime
a scrum. Furthermore, the large tables outside the Adjournment
are supposed to be reserved for Members and Officers, but this
has never been respected. When I raised these points once with
a Manager, I was told that he had several times tried to enforce
the Access Regulations and had been subjected to verbal abuse,
which cannot be acceptable.
3. Clearly the Committee will need to decide
whether to enforce the access restrictions (which would be heavy
on staff time as it would need to be done regularly) or to scrap
them altogether. If they are scrapped, more tables will be needed.
4. I think this raises a wider point, though,
about whether Members and Pass Holders should expect to be able
to entertain groups of Visitors to lunch within the House. A recent
Mass Lobby of Parliament saw several Members lunching in the Debate
with four or five constituents. Should Members be able to offer
this facility when they are told that constituents are travelling
to Westminster to see them? If the view is that they should, then
the services provided will have to be expanded to reflect this.
Otherwise, Members should respect the current restrictions on
numbers and not lead groups of more than two visitors to expect
5. Similarly, should Passholders view the
Debate as a staff canteen or as a café facility to which
friends can be invited? Again, there is a revenue point to be
considered, but I think it would be helpful if the Committee clarified
the purpose of providing the facility of the Debate at lunchtime
and set access limits accordingly. I suppose what really irks
me that I am one of life's rule-keepers and I have to put up each
day with other members of staffand MPsflouting the
Christine Hemming, Researcher to John
1. The catering staff work very hard, are
pleasant and accommodating.
2. The range of foods is British, which
it should be, and of high quality.
3. The prices are appropriate for the location,
the feeding of the less well-off researchers and keeping allowances
4. Terrace access is appropriate but in
summer was allocated inconsistently.
Rowena Macdonald, Secretary, Committee
Office, Clerks Department
1. I am a Grade C Secretary in the Clerk's
Department and I have been working here since January 2001.
2. I feel that staff of all grades should
be allowed to use the Pugin Room, the Strangers' Bar, the Strangers'
Dining Room and the Terrace outdoor seating. Currently, I am only
allowed to use these facilities if I am with an Officer of the
3. Today, a Thursday, I had three guests
with me and we dined in the Terrace Cafeteria after 2 pm. It was
a sunny day and the outdoor seating was empty as most Members
had either gone back to their constituencies or were in the Commons
chamber. I asked the guard if my guests and I would be allowed
to sit outside to enjoy the view but we were not allowed. As there
were plenty of free tables this seemed a great waste of resources
and an example of petty rules overriding common sense.
4. Similarly, I was not able to take my
guests to the Strangers' Dining Room or Pugin Room. This seems
unfair and I feel sure these refreshment facilities are losing
potential revenue from staff like me.
5. If the Refreshment Department wishes
to improve its services, the most effective way to do this would
be with extra revenue. More money could be made out of staff like
me and my guests if the access restrictions to these venues were
6. Having lunch with guests in the beautiful
environment of the House of Commons is one of the perks of my
job that makes up for my low salary. Relaxing the access restrictions
would boost morale for staff. It would also prove to me and my
guests that the House of Commons is a democratic institution.
At the moment it does not feel like that.
Rosemary Mead, Senior Office Clerk, Clerks
1. Pricing and portions are erratic. Menus
throughout, especially in the Terrace, have been the same for
years. Salads in the Terrace cafe could be considerably more imaginative
and healthy. Soups throughout the cafes are good and a fair price.
Jamie Oliver should be invited to come here and revamp the menus
with a view to more healthy, imaginative and cheaper food.
2. There should be fewer main dishes and
types of potato (ie the same three every day) and the same ones
should be available on the same day at each of the Commons cafeterias,
so that if you were working in Bellamy's you could have fish pie,
and you could in the Terrace cafe and Millbank too. There must
be a lot of wastage by having so many different dishes and this
costs money. Food in dishes such as shepherds pie, fish pies etc
seems to weather better on the hotplate than some things which
look very dry and to have fewer courses would ensure a fresher
3. On the whole the quality of the fish
and meat is good and the fish pies and similar are very good and
one couldn't do a better job oneself. The Terrace cafe cooked
breakfasts have often run out and are frequently dried and bacon
is like leather.
Ann Palmer, Secretary to David Wilshire
1. I hugely appreciate what is provided
by the "coffee bar" in Portcullis House. My only comment
is I would like slightly longer opening hours. I would like better
access to the Adjournment other than after hours on a Thursday
and on a Friday, the latter is a complete non starter. As everyone
has the ability to pick up a phone and book, why can't it be "first
come first booked". To restrict who can book at certain times
results in empty tables.
2. The cold choice at the Terrace cafeteria
is ghastly, so I never eat there. The sandwiches everywhere are
tastelesstry a new supplier, such as Pret a Manger, their
sandwiches cost more but taste of something. I don't mind paying
the true price for something worth eating or drinking.
Keith Porteous Wood, Researcher for Lord
Avebury and Dr Evan Harris
1. I commend the in-house made soups, especially
in Portcullis House, as absolutely marvellous, and
2. Can I ask that soups be available throughout
the day even between lunch and dinner for those who may have had
to miss meals through no fault of their own.
Chairman of the Public & Commercial
Services Union (PCS),
House of Commons Branch No 060026
I apologise for the late submission in giving
evidence to the Administration Committee inquiry into the House
of Commons Refreshment Department Services. The trade union side
(TUS) recently gave written and oral evidence to the Committee.
On reflection, the PCS believes that certain aspects of the TUS
evidence, in particular the PCS input, warrants additional explanation.
The PCS would be grateful if you could bring the enclosed comments
to the attention of the Committee.
The PCS is by far the largest union within the
House of Commons. Its representation covers catering, support,
administration and management throughout the House's Departments.
The PCS is well-qualified to voice the concerns of staff across
the House in general.
As far as House staff and catering users are
concerned, there is a lack of information as to where a catering
subsidy ends and financial viability starts, when one tries to
access the pricing policy of the Refreshment Department (RD).
Some years ago, there was an understanding that
the House made a block grant to cover the RD's staff salaries.
This negated the Department having to cover costs in relation
to staff wages through a pricing mechanism. All other RD running
costs were to be met by income generated through sales of food,
alcohol, banqueting and the gift shops. The PCS would welcome
a response to this particular situation, through the Committee's
The current pricing policy is rather skewed
in favour of poor nutrition when compared to the aim of a well-balanced
diet of vegetables, fish etc.
If you visit the Terrace cafeteria, you will
see a classic example of menu pricing:
For £2.90 you can have seven items that
can form a cooked breakfast, ie fried bacon, fried sausages, fried
hash browns, fried eggs etc. All high in fat and cholesterol!
Should one prefer grapefruit, prunes or figs, these are classed
as "compote" and priced (highly) accordingly. Porridge
at 40p is the saviour!
When it comes to the lunchtime meal the RD take
a different stance. The Government health advice of eating five
portions of vegetables a day seems to have bypassed the RD management,
with a policy of charging 40p a portion for vegetables. You would
have to pay £2, even before you have chosen your main item!
It is not an exaggeration to say that you would end up paying
£5 plus for your lunch. This is far too expensive.
The RD has strong purchasing power, so items
like carrots, sprouts, beans etc would be purchased at far less
than £10 per 50kg, therefore the amount of profit on portions
at 40p each is enormous. Broccoli and cabbage are also attracting
huge mark ups. The RD menu available to staff could hardly be
classed as "haute cuisine", although to be fair it is
cooked to a good standard. There normally is a meal available
each day for under £2, but this is reflected in the contents.
In general, a reasonable lunchtime meal should cost no more than
£2.75. Vegetables should be priced in the region of 15p to
20p a portion. A good variety of vegetables would not go amiss
At the end of the day, it is up to the individual
to choose what they consume whether it is breakfast lunch or dinnerbut
there should be a degree of persuasive marketing in steering people
to the healthy alternativecontrary to what is practiced
The number of people working in the House together
with visitors has steadily increased, to a point that in peak
times (12.30-2.00 pm) overcrowding in the cafeterias has reached
crisis point Many staff just cannot stagger their lunch break
around peak times, so they just have to endure endless queues,
which, in real terms, shorten their lunch break somewhat.
A breakthrough in resolving the lunchtime accommodation
crisis could be made by a joint approach with the House of Lords,
in using one of their floors in No 1 Millbank. This building has
recently been purchased by the House of Lords at a sum reputed
to be £60,000,000; a huge sum for a large building. To many,
it is hard to fathom why such a building was purchased.
In an ideal world, the House of Lords and House
of Commons, through a joint venture, would create new catering
facilities on the ground floor with room for 300 plus covers at
any one time. Open to all staff from both Houses, this would indeed
solve the problem in hand. At first glance, this may all seem
fanciful, but the PCS believe it is something that merits serious
This area is without a doubt under used, simply
because of the restriction as to who can and cannot use it. It
is an anachronism, well past its sell by date. It has been suggested
that this area be opened up to all staff of the House, although
it is a logical step in improving seating availabilityIn
the wider context of catering outlets, there is, we believe, a
better alternative for the facility.
The Press Gallery cafeteria should be fully
opened up to all by it becoming a designated sandwich bar together
with associated sundry items. The House has a demand for such
a facility, for "made to order" as well as stocked supply
sandwiches, rolls, cakes etc and perhaps soup sold in cartons.
The Terrace cafeteria sandwich area would then be replaced by
a better beverages/drinks bar, instead, as currently arranged,
people milling in the corner, jostling for either a tea or coffee
The running costs of the House are readily met
from the public purse, but for some reason, when it comes to meals
and food in general, any purported subsidy is met with hysteria
from certain parts of the media. Such comments are totally inaccurate
and as such, compound the public belief of those working for the
House being feather bedded, when in fact the opposite is true.
As a group, the vast majority of RD staff are the lowest paid
employees. There is no mention of this in the media!
The PCS and GMB unions are currently seeking
to redress the anomaly of this particular group being disadvantaged
in pay terms, compared to the rest of their colleagues across
the House, by being placed on the common pay bands A-D. It could
be said RD staff are themselves subsidising the Department through
We believe that all issues raised in this submission
together with suggestions as to how to resolve them, will be for
the benefit of all.
14 December 2005
Finnian Rook, Assistant to Adam Holloway
1. The Debate, Bellamy's and The Terrace
all serve healthy food. This is very much appreciated. If less
healthy alternatives were provided, I would be tempted by them.
I think the Administration Committee holds a responsibility to
continue to promote healthy options and therefore influence many
people's eating habits.
2. The Debate serves a jacket potato (or
pasta) option, which is generally the lowest priced hot-food item
on the menu. Even if prices have to rise, I think it would be
appropriate to keep one low-priced option available. Many people
working at the Houses of Parliament are on low wages, or are volunteers,
and it makes working in central London more viable if there continues
to be at least one low-priced healthy hot food option.
3. All of the catering staff seem professional.
I'm in no doubt that their friendly attitude and good quality
service encourages members and staff to use their facilities.
4. I hope that the atmosphere and friendly
approach of the staff would be taken into consideration as a factor,
if reducing the number of staff at peak periods was considered
by the Administration Committee.
Linda Rostron, Department of the Official
1. I work 4pm to midnight Monday to Thursdays
and 2 pm to 7pm on Fridays for the Written Answers Unit of Hansard.
2. I found that once Members of Parliament
left No 7 Millbank for other offices on the Parliamentary estate,
the catering facilities available to members of staff in the evening
decreased significantly. The Millbank Room restaurant, for example,
was soon closed leaving vending machine sandwiches if lucky. It
is not always practical or safe to walk on a dark evening to the
main building in order to get a hot meal. I think it a mistake
to split people up in this way as it leads to isolation and disunity.
It is better to mix people up and treat all equally.
3. I am pleased to say that from May 2005
(approximately) Portcullis cafeteria (7 Millbank) has been opened
in the evenings as an experiment. Long may this continue and may
the choice of food available increase.
Doug Sauvé, Researcher, Tony Lloyd's
I'm generally very satisfied with the Refreshment
Department, although I believe that "the Adjournment"
should be made open to all pass holders (not just grey pass holders)
on Thursdays and Fridays. I've noticed that it often appears empty
before one o'clock on most days and would benefit from being open
to a wider clientele.
Diana Thompson, Secretary to Andrew Robathan
I just wanted to express my concern about the
number of visitors permitted to lunch in Portcullis House each
day. There is absolutely no monitoring of this at present.