Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 15 MAY 2002
120. You can obviously observe yourself that
there are twenty people or whatever, and as a press corps you
have a catering committee presumably, and there are people expressing
their views on the quality of food, but do you survey the press,
as well as gathering anecdotal evidence? How do you judge?
(Mr Morris) There is a Press Gallery committee which
formed a catering sub-committee because of the anecdotal things
that were said to people all the time. We have not tested opinion
in a scientific waymore informallyalthough there
have been notices up and people have been asked to contact us
with their views. But in a way you do not need the scientific
survey because the evidence is there before you every day, Monday
121. If and when the food is improved, and obviously
we must make sure it is, would you be against the cafeteria being
opened up to more people? At the moment you say it is Hansard
reporters as well as the press but would you object to other people
using the cafeteria?
(Mr Steele) No, is the answer to that. We would not
object. If the quality of the food is improved, as you say, I
think people would be pleased.
(Mr Morris) The other point is that the Press Gallery
members of the Palace of Westminster like being able to use facilities
throughout the House, and the converse obviously would be that
we would be quite happy for our canteen to be open to other people.
(Mr Steele) It is of advantage to us; we are news
gatherers and we like to talk to people from a whole rangeparticularly
Members but also research assistants, secretaries and everybody
so we, I think, would be pleased.
122. I would have thought, given the kind of
lives you lead, that if you had a good canteen with good quality
food you would welcome it. I get the feeling from what you say
that refurbishing the kitchens is not just the answer and that
this is to do with the quality of food. I get the impression and
I feel very strongly that we have a similar problem in the Terrace
Cafeteria. The food is of poor quality and I think there is a
sloppy atmosphere to the place. Is it the same with you because,
if it is, it is not just a question of refurbishing the kitchens,
(Mr Steele) I think the issue is why the Portcullis
House food is so much better. If you are looking at that I think
you should look at the quality of Portcullis House food. That
is what is certainly attracting a lot of our colleagues over there.
123. I do not understand why there is such a
(Mr Morris) Without wanting to blur the issue I would
add that the standards in the Terrace Cafeteria are far higher
than in our cafeteria as well.
124. They must be bad!
(Mr Steele) Most of the time. Sometimes the food is
OK. Yesterday it was not too bad.
(Mr Morris) I think the point about the kitchens may
be part of the answer. Certainly the food downstairs in the Terrace
Cafeteria is fresher than it is in our canteen and a significant
number of people go to the Terrace Cafeteria rather than our canteen.
They do not all go to Portcullis House.
125. As far as recesses are concerned, we have
heard from the House of Lords and from various other groups that,
generally speaking, it is getting busier and busier during recess
periods. Hopefully the food will improve and the kitchen facilities
and so on but do you think it is important that the cafeteria
is kept open during these recesses? Is there enough demand during
(Mr Morris) Certainly over half of the Press Gallery
continue working during the recesses. As you probably know, our
work is less and less related to what goes on in the Chamber and
whether we are in recess or not, so there certainly would be a
healthy demand during recess for access to catering.
(Mr Steele) Even if it is not the Press Gallery canteen
itself, I think there should be something other than just the
Terrace Cafeteria open. One finds that going to the Terrace Cafeteria
it can be very crowded and you might go down there once and then
have to leave and come back again in half an hour's time, so either
the Press Gallery canteen or one other place in this building
would be very helpful during recesses, but probably better the
Press GalleryMonday to Thursday at least.
126. In an earlier statement you placed great
value on the dining room in the Press Gallery. We have been given
to believe that it is not being used so very fulsomely of late.
Have you got any views about why that is, and what could be done
to improve the usage of it?
(Mr Steele) Certainly I would have gone there today
with three friends except that it is being used for the Press
Gallery lunch with Alastair Darling. The Press Gallery lunch is
a very important event, so I am having to eat outside with these
friends. I think it is still a very important asset, and perhaps
we should do a survey.
127. Apart from the Press Gallery lunch, the
evidence is that it is not being very well used.
(Mr Morris) Numbers using the restaurant seem to fluctuate
rather wildly. The quality of the food in there is very good which
makes me wonder whether refurbishment of the kitchens, when the
food served in the restaurant is the same as that served in the
canteen, is the entire answer. I think it is a valuable facility
but it might be an idea to consider widening access around the
Palace to the Press Gallery restaurant because, when people see
the quality and the value for money, the demand and use of it
(Mr Steele) I strongly support that, especially if
that was what was going to save it, we would definitely not want
the dining room closed.
Chairman: That is very helpful and positive
and we welcome that.
128. You said a new kitchen might not improve
the quality of the food so is it the food itself, the chef or
(Mr Morris) I was doubting whether the kitchen was
the entire answer because very good food is served on the whole
to the restaurant which serves the canteen. There seems to be
in the canteen a simple problem and I do not know the cause, of
keeping the food fresh. It serves a substantially similar menu
to the Terrace Cafeteria but the quality is lower.
129. If it is lower, that must be the chef?
(Mr Morris) It may be the freshness. I do not know
but it may be something to do with the hot plates that it is kept
on. There is also a rather eccentric menu served sometimes which
puts people off.
130. For example?
(Mr Morris) Well, fish is served and you do not even
recognise the name of the fish, and there are peculiar vegetarian
options as well.
(Mr Steele) And pasta. This is the difference between
the dining room and the canteen. Pasta can often be left in trays.
I eat a fair bit of pasta and most of what I eat is vegetarian,
and sometimes it is almost uneatablecold and stodgy and
not of any particular variety. We do not get spaghetti but just
the thicker, heavier type of pasta and it gets more and more rubbery.
Janet Anderson: That is surely the chef. In
the Terrace Cafeteria they tried a tapas day on one occasion recently
and it was just embarrassingjust a few little bowls of
cornichons and capers and that was it, so that was clearly designed
by someone who knew nothing about Spanish food. It sounds as if
you have the same problem.
131. It is a bit of a vicious circle. For anyone
eating in the Terrace Cafeteria after say half past eight at night
the food is pretty bad, and that is because the number going through
is very low and the food is on the hot plates for long periods
of time. Certainly the case must be now in the Press Cafeteria,
because there is another attraction and people have started moving
to a fresher style of food, that in itself means food hanging
around even longer and putting people off. Coming back to the
central question, though, there is obviously an issue of quality
of food but there is an issue about where in the House people
are now wanting to go because of ambience and different styles,
and Portcullis House seems to be more modern than a general cafeteria.
I am not convinced that, if the quality of food was to improve,
you would have many more people in the cafeteria because you say
that numbers in the Dining Room also fluctuate so I wonder whether
it is down to opening up access as well as improving the quality
(Mr Morris) We are conducting this rather anecdotally
but I can tell you that if the quality of food was better in the
canteen I would use it more, and my colleagues who now tend to
go to Portcullis House would also do the same.
132. But you would not oppose changing the access
at the same time?
(Mr Morris) I think changing the access could help
break the vicious cycle you refer to
(Mr Steele) Yes. It is a good point.
(Mr Morris) It is not purely a matter of people being
admitted to places or banned from other places: it is just a matter
of standards from our point of view.
(Mr Steele) A lot of people are not prepared to come
in and see whether it is OK today; they just boycott it altogether
a lot of the time. I go most days because it is convenient and
some days the food is better than others, but a lot of people
do not go there at all because of the quality.
133. Is there anything else you would like to
say to us in this session? What you have given us is very helpful
and we are very grateful for you coming. We know that you are
both senior and respected members of the lobby and your words
and advice are very welcome.
(Mr Steele) We have not touched on the point about
real ale in the bar.
134. You are anxious that there is some real
ale there, are you?
(Mr Steele) Fed is the only interesting one; otherwise
there is nothing.
135. So you would like us to consider providing
some real ale?
(Mr Morris) Yes. There would be a demand for that.
(Mr Steele) It would be very popular.
136. Annie's Bar does not have hand pumps but
they do provide a barrel of Young's which you can just tap into,
so it is real ale. So without changing the bar and putting a hand
pump on which would be ideal, you can provide it.
(Mr Steele) I think that would be good.
137. It seems as though it is going quite well
at the moment. Whilst we are on Annie's Bar, it gives us an opportunity
to mention that, as you know, the Committee very gracefully reprieved
Annie's Bar at the beginning of the year with a condition that
the members of this Committee placed on me, because I appealed
for it to be reprieved, that we should monitor it this year on
the premise of "Use it or lose it". At the moment it
seems to be going quite wellalthough we are having a little
problem with some of the beersbut I did want to appeal
to you, whilst we have this opportunity, that it is still the
same principle that we do need you to take advantage of Annie's
Bar. If people do not want to go there they will not, but if you
can be good ambassadors for us on that it would be good, because
we do not want to lose it and we do need members of the Lobby
to use it.
(Mr Steele) Changing its location I think set its
use back a bit. It used to be so accessible and now is less so,
but we will certainly tell our colleagues what you have said.
138. I would welcome that because we do want
to build it up and develop it. Is there anything further?
(Mr Morris) I think that covers everything.
Chairman: Thank you.