Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
60. First of all, what total does that bring
Members and staff up to in Norman Shaw North and South? Also,
is it too late to identify space in either of those buildings
for more catering facilities?
(Mr Cummins) Chairman, I have not got the exact figures
for Norman Shaw North and South combined, but I can certainly
say that Norman Shaw South will hold some 150 Members and staff;
Norman Shaw North has, I think, slightly over that number, maybe
about 200 in all, so that we are looking at 350 or 400 people
there on a day-to-day basis, both Members and staff combined.
I am sorry, what was the second part of your question?
61. Is it too late to identify space?
(Mr Cummins) I am afraid Norman Shaw South is a real,
purpose-built, Edwardian office block of its type. The rooms are
all relatively small there, and the configuration is such that
I do not think there will be any space or capacity for making
any form of Refreshment Department outlet in that building, quite
honestly. It is very much purpose-built as office block accommodation,
and that is the way it has been planned for the modifications
going on now.
62. We are going to have to rely on vending
machines to a great extent, if we are going to make any provision
in there, apart from a suggestion that was made by a group earlier
today that we may consider: there is, apparently, a small area
that they identified as a café-type area where we may be
able to put microwaves to help the situation somewhat. That is
evidence that we have taken this morning.
(Mr Cummins) I see. Yes, certainly vending machines
would be popular in those buildings. It is quite a long way down
from the top floor to get a sandwich or a drink.
63. As long as we make sure that they are kept
(Mr Cummins) Indeed.
64. I presume there are small kitchens over
(Mr Cummins) Yes, indeed. Tea points are planned into
65. So microwaves should not be a problem because
we have microwaves in Portcullis House kitchens.
(Mr Cummins) Yes, I think microwaves will be available
(Mr Walker) Chairman, it is perhaps worth,
in passing, making a general point. Mr Makepeace will no doubt
give you chapter and verse, but if at any point, anywhere on the
estate, we are thinking of putting new kitchens in and professional
catering facilities, these days, of course, it is much more of
a challenge than it used to be because of all the rules and regulations.
We found this as we were building Portcullis House; the rules
and regulations that came along while we were building it meant
that, for example, we had to put in extra lifts there just to
separate the different kinds of food and so on. I am no expert
on that, all I know is that every time we think about it we realise,
often, the cost is greater than we would have originally thought
66. Of course, that has serious implications
for what is in the financial budget for catering, in any event,
in the next three to five years.
(Mr Walker) It is just one point to bear in mind.
67. It is a very important point. On the question
of access, which obviously is very, very germane to the issues
that we are discussing and the resolution of some of these issues,
you made some point about contractors and the way in which various
groups of contractors are treated in terms of, perhaps, their
eligibility. In order to be fair and to treat the different groups
in a more fair way, there is a suggestion that we ought to treat
some contractors in a different way, giving them more fairness
but, obviously, increasing thereby their accessibility to facilities.
Have you any comment on that and on access generally? I know you
have done a very, very helpful exercise for us on all of the pass-holders
and the various grades and categories that they fall into.
(Mr Cummins) First of all, on contractors, Mr Chairman,
there are two separate, definitive groups of contractors. There
are the long-term contractors who are on a permanent basis here
who administer many of our buildings. For example, they are electrical
specialists or engineering specialists and they are hired in by
the House to literally run those buildings. That applies across
the Parliamentary estate. So I think it would be equitable and
reasonable to regard them, really, as having the same access rights
as the normal staff of the House. They are here, they are very
close colleagues with, certainly, my Parliamentary Works force,
for example, and I think it would be unfair, to say the least,
to try and stop them having reasonable access to refreshment facilities.
They do work a normal working day, some of them arrive, for example,
very early in the morning or work a shift pattern late at night.
The other group of contractors are the ones who are hired in on
short-term, usually building-type, contracts and they come in,
obviously largely in the summer recess but not entirelywe
try to spread the load a bit throughout the year now. I see no
particular reason why that group should actually be given access
to our House of Commons Refreshment Department facilities. When
they do come they certainly take full advantage of those facilities
because what is offered to them in the way of quality of food
and, indeed, of price is very attractive to them. However, in
their contract they are certainly allowed to bring in what they
call their own "chuck wagons", their own refreshment
facilities and, of course, throughout the building programme (I
have made inquiries) many of them bring in sandwiches or flasks
anyway, and that is the normal pattern of their operation here.
They very much see the Refreshment Department outlet as an absolute
bonus to their normal method of working. So it is certainly feasible
that we could actually stop those contractors making any use of
Refreshment Department facilities, certainly in the busy times,
when the House is sitting.
68. That leads us very conveniently on to this
question of overall access, because that is a major concern, and
certainly a major concern of the groups that have been to see
us earlier today. The major problem that is created for us is
if people are using the facilities when they have no agreed permission
so to use. It is a matter of the policing, really, of the access
regulations that continue to trouble us. There has been a suggestion
this morning in the context of how can we better improve the use
of our facilities by regulating those that have a legitimate right
to use them by either the Refreshment Department staff or a member
of the security staff being in position to help us to achieve
that objective? It was mentioned earlier that prior to the new
Terrace Cafeteria coming into being six or seven years ago, under
the old system the staff part of the old Strangers Cafeteria was,
in fact, serviced by security and there was a man on duty to make
sure that people that had got the appropriate pass to go into
the Strangers Cafeteriathe staff sectionwere legitimately
entitled to do so. When we moved to our new Terrace Cafeteria,
that personnel disappeared. Have you given any thought to how
the Board of Management may be able to help us in terms of the
policing of this particular policy?
(Mr Cummins) First of all, Chairman, the Board does
recognise that Mrs Harrison and her staff do have a problem with
regulating and controlling access. It is very difficult, once
someone is inside the door, as to whether you actually serve him
or her with some food and need to check a pass, and this sort
of thing. It is a difficult area, I appreciate that entirely.
Could I just make a differentiation here with my security hat
on, that there is a difference between control of security and
control of access. Basically, our security staff are here for
the security of the Palace and all who work here and visit here.
Having said that, I do however recognise that the presence of
a security officer may be a tremendous help on some access points,
particularly as you say in the Terrace Cafeteria, from the point
of view of controlling that access. I am also constrained, may
I say, by the cost of security; there is a cost and we watch it
very carefully. From that point of view, if we were able to redeploy
security staff on to this dutywhich I recognise at busy
times is a great helpthen, I am afraid, there would have
to be a bill raised with regard to that policing element. I do
not think, in terms of House of Commons or Palace of Westminster
security, we could necessarily bear that cost on our security
69. Mr Walker, would you like to comment on
(Mr Walker) Mr Chairman, only that clearly there is
a cost issue but there could be benefits as well, and that would
need to be weighed up. In terms of access control, I would suggest
two things: one is that the simpler the access rules are the easier
they are to police. One of the things the Board says in its own
submission is that complicated rules to distinguish between a
number of different pass categories could be difficult to administer.
So we press the Committee to think in terms of the simplest possible
approach. That is the first point. The second is that it may be,
in due course, that electronic devices may provide a solution.
There would be a cost to that, of course, but it may be possible
(as the Serjeant uses electronic devices already to regulate access
to certain parts of the buildingand now even Members have
to carry them to get into and out of parts of Portcullis House,
for exampleand you can distinguish electronically on the
passes between different categories of pass-holder) to think in
terms of that for the longer term, but I doubt that there is a
very short-term answer.
70. Two or three things. Mr Cummins, you said
you would touch on, later on, some of the thoughts that are going
on as far as restructuring of various parts of the estate is concerned,
and I would be interested to hear your comments on that, and whether
or not you feel there may be some spare capacity as a result of
that exercise. Two other questions: one, you mentioned the House
of Lords and it is fairly obvious to us that the Lords do use
our facilities, particularly, cafeterias. Have you any thoughts
on sharing, or what we can do to, perhaps, use some of the House
of Lords' facilities which I am told are under-utilised? I know
the House of Lords are coming to see us next week, but have you
any thoughts on how there could be some quid pro quo as
far as the two Houses are concerned? Thirdly, it seems to be that
the House's refreshment facilities are becoming busier during
recess periods. Is it that more works projects are carried out
during the recess nowadays? If it is getting busier, are there
the same pinch points which exist in the recesses as they do when
the House is sitting?
(Mr Cummins) Chairman, if I may start by talking about
restructuring a little? The basic plank of our accommodation restructuring
has been that the Accommodation and Works Committee wish to see
Members concentrated both in the Palace and to the north of Bridge
Street. This underlies, of course, the move of Members from 7
Millbank up to the Bridge Street area. Having said that, a word
about 7 Millbank, and that is that I know the staff there, including
Mr Walker's department
71. Including myself!
(Mr Cummins)very much value the Refreshment
Department's services within 7 Millbank. It is a bit of a walk
and it is not much fun in the winter, that is certain, to get
from one building to the other, and it takes valuable lunch time
to make that journey and back. Therefore, I know, from my own
department's presence in 7 Millbank, that the facilities are very
much valued, both during the day-time and by those staff who work
into the evening and late at night. Can I just say that the late-night
working will increase once Hansard becomes part of that building,
which takes place later this year. So they, given their transcribing
role, for example, certainly work up until the rising of the House
and very long after as well. So some form of refreshment facility,
even if it is only a vending machine, would be very welcome to
them. Having said that, I am at the moment heading a consultancy
which looks at the whole of our accommodation within the House
of Commons with regard to making sure it is used to the best ability.
This does not, I may say, include the Refreshment Department but
it certainly includes Members' accommodation, staff accommodation
and all that goes with it in the form of CPA, IPU and all the
rest of the users of accommodation here. Before we look, for example,
at even the possibility of acquiring extra accommodation here,
I need to assure both the Board of Management and the House of
Commons Commission that we are using our accommodation here to
the very, very best effect. That study has just started and it
is going along quite well. I do not know what it will produce
in terms of availability of accommodation. It is just possible
it may throw up some areas which I, for example, do not yet know
about, which may be able to be put to use in the future for additional
facilities, for example. One example of that is we are looking
very carefully at the press area, which is a relatively unknown
area from the point of view of an independent study. I know Mr
Makepeace is doing a feasibility study on the cafeteria areas
of the press, but we want to look at the press area as a whole
and, again, make some recommendations on that. So there is quite
a lot of restructuring and potential restructuring going on, but
the whole nub of it, really, as far as Members and staff are concerned,
is that Members will be concentrated in the Palace and north of
Bridge Street and staff will be centred in the Palace and in 7
Millbank, as a general statement.
72. That study report will obviously be very
important to the Refreshment Department.
(Mr Cummins) Indeed, yes. It will certainly be made
known to the Board of Management and to Mrs Harrison in that area.
Might I say a word about the House of Lords?
73. Yes, please.
(Mr Cummins) I know the House of Lords have an entirely
different staffing level from us; their level of operation is
by no means as concentrated, and I think they feel that their
operation, certainly for example in summer recesses, is by no
means as full as the House of Commons is during the recess period.
I think Andrew is going to say a word about that in a second.
There is certainly a feeling among the staff, and the Board recognises
this too, that there is a great temptation for the Lords to use
our very good facilities. For example, they are much taken with
Portcullis House. They agree with us, it is a very popular and
well-used facility. Who can blame them, really? Having said that,
there is the possibility of a quid pro quo if they put
their minds to it. I think we should at least encourage, if I
may say so, the House of Lords to consider opening at least a
facility of some description during, for example, the summer recess
to allow their staff access to refreshment within the House of
Lords as opposed to coming down and using whatever facilities
may be open in the House of Commons. Of course, I am very much
aware that not all the facilities are open the whole time during
the summer recessobviously, staff need leave and Mrs Harrison
needs to close for all sorts of purposes. So facilities are not
as plentiful here in the recess as they would be during the normal
74. That is very helpful.
(Mr Cummins) I think Andrew would like to say a word
about recess working in general.
(Mr Walker) I was very interested in the question
about recesses, and paragraph 2 of the Board's submissionI
know it is only a brief commentacknowledges this. Perhaps,
one of the most significant changes in management terms of the
past five years is that we have seen staff of the Houseincreasingly
Members' staffand, to some extent, Members themselves,
present during recesses, whilst at the same timefor example,
during the long recess in the summerwe have the summer
works programme usually going on which means there are often a
lot of contractors on site; and as the Serjeant has just remarked,
we also have some of the House of Lords staff around who may be
looking to use our facilities because their own are not available
to the same extent in the recesses. We do think this presents
quite challenge and there is probably not a simple, straightforward
answer. It may mean asking the Lords whether they would be prepared
to open some of their outlets a little bit more during the long
recess, for example. In terms of the reasons for what is going
on and the trends, the reason for what is going on is the nature
of work in general and so the trend, we believe, will continue
towards more and more activity on the Parliamentary estate during
the recesses. Departments such as the Serjeant's Department, my
own Department and any of those departments not linked to the
work of the Chamber and Committees, are getting busier; but even
those linked to the work of, for example, Committees are finding
that staff are coming inmore and more of the Clerks Department,
for exampleduring recesses. Depending on what the House
decides to do on the modernisation frontand we await with
interest developments thereit looks as though we are going
to see more but shorter recesses. We believe that is likely to
mean the pattern of absence from the Parliamentary estate will
be disrupted, which will mean there will be less difference again,
and I think we are going to have to now think about starting to
treat recesses much more like term-time to ease pressure, not
just on catering operations but all House services, and they may
have to be increasingly available. So the Leader of the House's
proposals, if they are accepted, may accelerate this trend. The
Board is monitoring that very closely and the departments of the
House which provide services will obviously respond to the need,
and I think that has to include catering.
75. You mentioned the study that your department
is conducting. When will the results of that be known?
(Mr Cummins) That will be known in late October.
76. I was just wondering how that would tie-in
with what we are looking at. Two questions about capacity: we
know that the most difficult times are probably from 12 o'clock
to 2 o'clock in the canteens, and that is where there is the greatest
problem. Could space be found for a canteen for security staff
in the rooms allocated to security officers?
(Mr Cummins) It is conceivable it could be, Chairman,
but I think it is worth putting the security staff into perspective;
we have about 430 security staff here and that is shared between
the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and there are three
separate shift patterns, so the number of security staff actually
around at any one time is not actually that great. Given that
they are spread throughout the Parliamentary estate and that they
very much like to try and eat where they are actually stationed,
from the point of view of getting the benefit of free time or
time between shifts, I personally doubt whether the establishment
of specialist cafeteria, for example, for police or security staff
would be a profitable or a workable possibility. I know that police
officers do value being able to go to the nearest cafeteria and
not being forced into any particular area.
77. In fact, you have answered part of my question,
because they work three shifts and, therefore, they are not the
biggest culprits for having fixed hours during which they have
to have their lunch.
(Mr Cummins) Indeed that is so.
78. That leads me on to the next question. Could
you clarify the reasons why some House staff have little or no
discretion about the lunch-hours that they take?
(Mr Walker) Perhaps I could pick that up, Chairman.
The Board of Management memorandum did mention that some House
staff do not have a lot of discretion. That will not be the majority
but it will be a not insignificant number. Just to take you through
who that might involve: for example, many of the staff on the
direct labour force for the works (but there are only 70 of those,
or something or that order, so you are not talking about very
large numbers there); those whose work is closely connected to
the Chamber or Committees which tend to break for lunch will themselves
be constrained to the same kinds of lunch periods that Members
themselves, who are working in those Committees or in the Chamber,
would take. So, for example, currently on a Thursday, those involved
most closely with the Chamber are clearly limited to the normal
lunchtime period. So that is what the Board had in mind. That
would not be anything like the majority of the staff of the House,
many of whom have significant discretion. However, like all organisations,
people tend to want to eat between the 12 and 2 o'clock periods
because that fits with normal working patterns, and it is very
difficult to regulate to try and achieve much of a greater spread.
There is one particular point, and that is that were we to use
a pricing mechanism to try and get a broader spread across a broader
period in order to reduce the peak, the Board of Management is
by no means opposed to that but would point out that there would
be concern among staff if those who did not have much choice about
when they took their lunch had to pay more than those who did
have some choice. That is the sort of caring-for-staff issue which,
as responsible employers, we ought to take account of. Can I mention
one other point about the police? We do not employ the police
but we do have a duty to feed and water them because they are
on site all day, or some of them are. The House is going for accreditation
as an Investor in People. Each of the departments of the House
has already achieved that, but we are now seeking to do that for
the House as a whole. One of the things they will look at is the
extent to which we integrate those of our agents and servantsin
this case the security staffwho may not be our own employees
but, nevertheless, are part of the whole ethos of Parliament.
Whilst there is not a rule that they should be able to eat with
the rest of us there is something to be said for encouraging a
common culture between such individuals and the staff of the House,
Members' staff and, indeed, Members themselves.
79. One thing that occurred to me, Chairman,
is the number of temporary contractors. The number of passes issued
during the summer recess was given as 2,000. If we do see the
modernisation of the House, if we see more work in the summer
recess and if we see us coming back in September, then there will
be a crisis, will there not, if we have current levels of access
to catering facilities and if we continue to allow, particularly,
building contractors to have that access? If Members and other
staff all come back in September there is going to be a real problem.
Would you agree with that?
(Mr Cummins) Yes, I would, Mr Chairman. We are looking
now at the possibility of the Modernisation Committee's recommendation
for September sittings of the House, and in contractual terms
that would mean that we would have to scale down the public-evident
work of contractors during, maybe, the September period, and then
start up again at the end of September, perhaps, during the Party
conferences. That would be a time whenMr Thomas is absolutely
rightif the present accessibility for contractors to Refreshment
Department areas were maintained then there would be an awful
overcrowding problem. I think this would be one reason why we
would have to look seriously at denying building contractors the
right to use our facilities certainly during that period.
1 Note by witness: The availability of microwave
ovens in the Norman Shaw Building has subsequently been confirmed. Back