Examination of Witnesses (Questions 82
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
82. I would like to extend a very warm welcome
to the Catering Committee deliberations on how we can improve
our Refreshment Department. Andrew and Kenneth, we welcome you
both to our session. As you know, the purpose is really to try
and identify where the difficulties lie and then to move forward
positively to try to resolve them. We are grateful that the organisations
you represent have both made submissions, organisations which
are very important to the life and existence of our Parliament.
We do respect both organisations and want you to tell us how best
we can respond, on behalf of your organisations, in the task we
have set ourselves. Would you, Andrew and Ken, like to give us
a couple of opening comments, and then there may be questions
Members would like to ask you?
(Mr Pearson) I am very grateful, Chairman,
for your kindness in asking usand I am sure the same goes
for the IPUto take part in this investigation. Where I
start from is that the CPA is not part of the House of Commons
or the Parliamentary establishment, and therefore all our being
and all our work here depends on goodwill. It depends on getting
co-operation from Members, officers and the myriad of organisations
that make this place work. I may say that in the 14 years that
I have been privileged to work for the CPA it has been a constant
delight the atmosphere of co-operation that one gets from people
here. So that is the sort of mood in my head when I talk about
the work of the CPA here. We do a great deal of business with
the House of Commons and, to a lesser extent, the House of Lords
in catering for our official inward delegations here. Of course,
we also depend on catering arrangements for our own staff. We
are only small, there are only seven of us, and therefore I am
very conscious that any comment I make is very small beer in the
context of the huge numbers of staff that work in this place.
Our general view, I think, of the catering arrangements here is
that we are very pleased, satisfied and privileged to be allowed
to participate. It may well be that in questions, Chairman, and
from other colleagues, you may get more detail out of me, if you
wish to have it. That is perhaps enough for the moment.
83. Thank you very much, Andrew. That is really,
the CPA's opening submission. Kenneth, on behalf of the IPU, we
welcome you because you are the new Secretary General of the IPU,
and coming in, as it were, fresh and looking at the facilities
that we have to offer. We very much welcome your early observations
on what you see and what you find.
(Mr Courtenay) Thank you, Chairman. As you say, being
a rather fresh person here I have been wondering whether I am
going to leave here having been baked, slightly poached or grilled,
I suppose. I would just like to echo Andrew's comments about being
honoured and grateful to be here to be able to put our views over,
and also to say that in my first year here the one thing that
has characterised coming to work here in Parliament from another
life, as it were, has been how friendly, open and co-operative
everyone has been. So I really do want to endorse that. I think
my experience so far is that we, in our business of international
Parliamentary diplomacy (which is what we get up to here, as far
as our interface with Parliament is concerned), rely a great deal
on the catering facilities that are provided. It is a very, very
important part of our business and of our handling of delegations.
We will deal with, over a year, often up to about 40 different
groups or individuals from Parliaments around the world; we hold
up to about 16 events in the dining rooms a year for welcoming
meals of one sort or the other, and we would use, perhaps, something
like the Terrace Pavilion for a less formal meeting of external
visitors, perhaps 20 times a year. We will also do some catering
events in our own room, and this is an issue which you might want
to talk abouthow we handle those sorts of things. That,
on our business level, I hope, gives some idea of the importance
that we attach to facilities here. I think the other important
point to make is that as often as not these sorts of events are
one of the first meetings that we have with our visitors at the
beginning of a week's programme. In other words, one will invite
them for a welcoming lunch or a welcoming dinner. Therefore, the
ambience and the first sort of impression that they get is often
the one they will carry through the week, and that is why it is
very important that we get that right. The other level, as it
were, is what we as individuals would like to use in the facilities,
and rather like Andrew my organisation is quite a small one but
we span the white-hair-on-top to the youngsters, and of course
the wishes and the preferences do tend to change. We all use House
facilities, we all appreciate the ability to use House facilities
and we all value the ability to have quick refreshment when we
need it or something slightly more formal when we want to do something
in that regard. There is only one other point that I perhaps would
like to make, and that is that for me personally I sometimes find
that it is slightly awkward having access to some of these places
because I am never entirely sure where I am welcome and where
I am not. I have never been thrown out of anywhere, I have to
say, but there are occasions when I have to sort of convince somebody
at the door that I really am entitled to be hereor I believe
that I am anyway. That would be something which would be very
useful to me to get resolved at some stage.
84. Thank you both. You mentioned the importance
of the relationship with the Refreshment Department. Of course,
I should emphasise how important we believe the relationship is
with the IPU and the CPA. You are very important clients of our
department and it is incumbent on us to seek to give you the best
service that we can. I am mindful of the points you make, apart
from the sort of corporate provision that we make for both organisations,
about your personal requirements. We had a letter from Andrew,
if you remember, Andrew, writing a letter to the Committee regarding
the use of the Adjournment in Portcullis House, and I did reply
to you saying that we would be prepared to consider that request
at the inquiry that we are now holding. So we shall obviously
take that, and I think that is true for the IPU and yourself,
Kenneth, and your senior staff.
(Mr Courtenay) Yes. If I can just give one example,
Mr Chairman. Two weeks ago I had a very short request from a senior
member of a foreign Parliament who happened to be over here for
the Royal funeral: could I please look after this person for half
a day or a day, which I did. I was very delighted to do so, I
regard that as part of my business, so that was no problem at
all, but there was a slight difficulty getting into lunch. It
is that sort of thing which, I think, is unhelpful.
Chairman: There was a mention that from the
information passed on from your predecessor, Andrew, the position
that you both hold really was an entitlement to use the Members'
Dining Room with the Officers of the House. As you said in that
letter, you had not taken on that facility but you were hoping
that the Committee would look favourably on the use of the Adjournment
in Portcullis House. Members, would you like to ask any questions?
85. A question for Mr Courtenay, in the first
instance. You welcome the innovative menus of the Debate Cafeteria,
as I understand it, and say that they are attractive to your staff,
whereas you do not seem to value those served at Parliament Street
and Millbank, from your letter. Are there elements of the innovative
menus that you think could be replicated in and around the House?
(Mr Courtenay) I think the attraction is to menus,
certainly, but it is also the ambience and atmosphere. I think
it is going to be very difficult to replicate the ambience and
atmosphere of Portcullis House elsewhere, for obvious reasons
of the architecture of the place. I have discussed this with my
staff since the letter I wrote, and the staff do use Millbank
on a fairly regular basis, both the cafeteria downstairs and the
restaurant as well. The cafeteria is really a facility for no-frills,
quick food and as often as not they use the take-away service.
I personally have not used 1 Parliament Street, not because I
do not want to go there but I have never in my year got round
to going there, but I have two members of my staff who do use
1 Parliament Street and they enjoy it. I would not want to suggest
we have anything against either of those places. Just going back
to the cafeteria in 7 Millbank, which has come up quite a lot
in conversation, it is the nearest we have to a sandwich facility
really and that is the thing which often as not staff are looking
for, because if they do not go there it will be the Italian sandwich
shop down the road or something like Pret a Manger. So if we are
looking for a gap or an opportunity, I would think that is probably
something which could be looked at.
86. Do your staff use the new Despatch Box?
You are talking about a sandwich facility, and obviously the new
Despatch Box in Portcullis House is one of those.
(Mr Courtenay) Only if they are going that way. A
sandwich facility is somewhere you want to go fairly quicklygo
from your desk, get a sandwich, get back againand it is
quite a long walk from where we are in Great College Street, so
that is why they tend to look to Millbank.
87. Have you got access to the Clubroom over
at 1 Parliament Street? If you have that facility at lunch time
and if you have one or two visitors, I think it is an excellent
facility if you want a fairly quick meal. The ambience is good,
you are looking out over Westminster Abbey, Whitehall and so on,
and I wonder whether that would be of use to you or whether or
not you use it?
(Mr Courtenay) Yet again, I have not in my limited
time had much chance to use it, but thank you for raising that
because we are going to take some members of a visiting delegation
there for a meal, so we do have that in our sights. Certainly
it has been mentioned to me as a place I can go. Yet again, if
one is taking a visiting member of a foreign parliament, let us
say, for a morning to look at the buildings, to walk around, to
see some people in our room which is off Westminster Hall, it
is much better, if one could, to then go a short distance to a
facility that is nearby to have a quick lunch than to have a long
walk somewhere. I do not mean it is that long but, often as not,
we are having to juggle timetables and the distance between one
place and another is something one has to take into account, but
I do accept what you say about the Clubroom.
88. You say in your submission that you book
things well in advance, are there ever any problems with a relatively
short notice visiting group or delegation and trying to book a
dining room or wherever?
(Mr Courtenay) Yes, we have had difficulties with
certainly booking dining rooms. When we want to have, let us say,
24 covers, as often as not that is difficult. We usually have
enough time for our delegation planningsomething has seriously
gone wrong if we are really cut shortalthough we do have
one case in point at the moment where our visitors were simply
incapable of getting their decision-making processes in line,
so we were left hanging on at the last minute. That obviously
not only applies to eating but other things as well. It is that
sort of thing where we find we are caught out, and of course the
alternative is that we have to go out to a commercial restaurant
somewhere, which is not the same thing.
89. Can you give us an indication of the size
of your inward delegations, the groups that you need to entertain
in the House or elsewhere? Just in average terms.
(Mr Pearson) I am glad you asked that question, Chairman,
because I was hoping to get an opportunity to touch on the annual
CPA Seminar which starts next week. We are a substantial customer
of the Refreshment Department for that because we have about eight
set lunches for 50. That is biggish business, I think, by any
standards. We have found in all the time I have been here the
utmost co-operation in getting space for that, because getting
a room which will seat 50 is never easy. To give you an absolutely
up-to-date example, due to a date error in a letter between us
and the Refreshment Department we found ourselves a couple of
days ago without a room to give lunch for 50 people, but I am
delighted to report that a way has been found and alternative
arrangements have been made for usthe Churchill Room actuallyand
that is an example of the very real feeling which I have always
encountered for our needs.
90. That is good. You are obviously happy with
the support and service you receive?
(Mr Pearson) Yes. These are regular events. I can
give the date of these things a year ahead, which helps of course,
but nevertheless without the co-operation of the Refreshment people
it would be impossible essentially to do our job.
91. That is good to hear.
(Mr Courtenay) You asked about size, Chairman. Our
delegations normally are about eight, but then we have accompanying
staff and also our host members here, so we are usually talking
of dinners or lunches for about 22 or so people. We will want
to do that often about 16 or so times a year. We also have other
events outside the parliamentary estate as well but that is what
we would normally be doing.
92. Is there anything else you would like to
say to us at this juncture? If not, I would like to thank you
both very much for coming. The whole purpose of our inquiry and
the exercise we are engaged in is to bring about improvements
to our Refreshment Department and that is very important to us
where the CPA and IPU are concerned. We hope we can give you assistance
in giving a better quality service to your delegations and very
important parliamentarians who visit us in the UK from all the
countries in the world. They judge us as the mother of parliaments
and it is right we should have high standards. Thank you very
much, Andrew and Kenneth. You will obviously see the outcome of
the inquiry and we have taken account of the points you have made
(Mr Courtenay) Thank you very much.
(Mr Pearson) Thank you, Chairman.