HC Deb 15 July 1863 vol 172 cc823-30

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [2nd July], That, in the opinion of this House, the enlargement of the Dining Rooms proposed by the Committee on the Kitchen and Refreshment Rooms (House of Commons) should be carried into execution."—(Colonel French.)

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, as the hon. and gallant Member for Roscommon (Colonel French) was unavoidably absent on assize business in Ireland, he wished to known whether it was competent for him (Sir De Lacy Evans), concurring as he did in the Motion of his hon. Friend, to move that the debate be resumed.


said, it was competent for any hon. Member to proceed with the adjourned debate.


said, he had but a few remarks to make on the subject. He quite agreed with the observations which had fallen from the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich (Sir J. Pakington) on a former evening. A great number of Members on both sides of the House, in attending to their Parliamentary duties, were in the habit of dining once or twice a week in a room which was obviously too small. He trusted, therefore, that the enlargement of the dining-rooms, as recommended by the Select Committee, would be carried into effect.


said, he was sorry he was unable to concur in the opinion of the hon. and gallant Officer. The alteration proposed was not expedient, inasmuch as it would greatly contract the court for the passage of carriages, and would tend materially to deprive the division lobby of light. It would not, he thought, be justifiable to vote public money for the purpose. The drift of all the assertions made on the subject and of the Report of the Committee was this:—There was a desire on the part of some hon. Members to assimilate the coffee-room of the House of Commons to the coffee-rooms of the clubs to which they belonged—not recollecting that to all the clubs they paid an annual subscription for their maintenance. Hon. Members also expected to be able to get anything and ever thing they wanted at the shortest possible notice, and they did not make sufficient allowance for the occasional crowding of the dining-room, although they must be aware that there was no club which was not at times inconveniently crowded. He was not aware whether any arrangement had been proposed for the purpose of devoting to the use of Members of the House of Commons the first coffee-room into which they entered, and in which persons who were not Members of that House frequently dined. If that were done, the pressure and inconvenience to which Members were now subjected might probably be removed. Considering the uncertainty as to diners, he believed it was morally impossible for any man to provide for that large influx of Members who occasionally dined in the coffee-room, for the manager never knew until the last moment whether the number would be large or small. That fact might be exemplified by what took place the other evening. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) had left it in doubt whether he would move that the adjourned debate on the Recognition of the Southern States be proceeded with. If he had proceeded with that Motion, no doubt a very large number of Members would have dined in the coffee-room; but the hon. and learned Gentleman withdrew his Motion, and the consequence was that scores of hon. Members found it convenient to dine elsewhere. Such a thing as that was of constant occurrence. In fact, the longer any one sat in that House the more convinced he would become of the impossibility of making any arrangements in reference to a question coming on or not. He thought, then, they ought to be contented with getting such refreshments as the present coffee-room provided. They should bear and forbear. Before the passing of the Reform Bill, at a time when the House was said to be filled with aristocrats, the coffee-room furnished only three articles, but better than those articles could not be found in any part of London. But at present Members entertained expectations he considered it impossible to fulfil. It was now proposed, in order to assist the manager of the coffee-room, that £200 or £300 a year should be allowed him; but he (Lord Hotham) entirely objected not only to that, but to the allowance which he had already. Whatever hon. Members had in that House, for that they ought to pay. If what was now proposed were done, it would be the first step towards the payment of Members. Let not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, then, be asked to contribute for such a purpose.


supported the Motion, thinking that the Members of the House were entitled to the accommodation recommended by the Committee. When hon. Members were obliged to be in the House, they ought to have an opportunity of dining there in the same way as at a club. Every Member who dined in the coffee-room admitted that it was necessary to have increased accommodation. ["No, no!"] The expense was very small, and the House would not grudge it. A steak, chop, cold meat, or such plain dinner as could be obtained under the Bellamy administration, was all that was required. If £200 a year were added to his allowance, Mr. Steers would be able to carry out his arrangements.


said, they were sinking very low indeed, if they consented to ask Parliament to vote a sum of money for such a purpose. Why should not hon. Members buy a bun or a biscuit when their duty called them to remain in the House. It was really preposterous that hon. Members should not be content with a plain dinner. Did they want to have their washing also done at the public expense? This proposal would be a step towards giving wages to Members. He hoped hon. Members would not allow the dignity of the House of Commons to be compromised in this matter. One thing was certain, this could never be called a Spartan Parliament.


said, the same objection applied to any allowance whatever as to an increased allowance. It must be obvious that it would be a great convenience, and a means of advancing business in the House, if hon. Members had an opportunity of dining in decency and comfort. There was no truth more commonly acknowledged in that House. What became of hon. Members at half past seven? A House could not be kept between half past seven and half past nine, and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. B. Osborne) who cheered the hon. Baronet so lustily would no more think of addressing the empty benches between those two hours than he would of addressing the Moon. The House sank at that time in the evening into the hands of third and fourth rates. If there was to be a public allowance for the kitchen, it should be a sufficient allowance; and if the present sum was not sufficient, and the House was not willing to grant a further sum, let it be taken away altogether, and let hon. Members go back to mutton chops. He, for one, should not feel at all degraded by having an allowance voted for the convenience of Members of that House.


said, he had been looking about with some anxiety for those grave men, the Financial Reformers, who about two years ago signed an address to the noble Lord at the head of the Government requesting him to control in every way the expenses of the country. [Mr. BASS: I am not one of them.] He had thought that the hon. Gentleman signed the paper; but at any rate the hon. Gentleman represented Derby on financial reform principles, and yet down he came that morning to argue in favour of expensive dinners, and, not satisfied with mutton chops, desired to avail himself of the Consolidated Fund in order that he might dine better. [Mr. BASS: No!] He must say, that as far as he could recollect, the debates in that House were conducted with more order and with a much fuller attendance, between seven o'clock and half past nine o'clock, when simple mutton chops served for their dinner, than at present, when there was a bill of fare in which something like a French dinner was attempted, This ridiculous question, quite un worthy the consideration of Parliament, resolved itself into an attack—and a very deserved attack—on the whole building. After spending £3,000,000 on it, the plan of the architect, it seemed, must now be altered, in order to build another dining-room. Now, he (Mr. Osborne) said, if you do anything, do not improve your dining-rooms, but improve your House, and make it a place fit for the debates of a great nation to be conducted in. The Report of the Committee on the Kitchen and Refreshment Booms spoke about the inconvenience arising from the narrowness of the dining-room; but was not, he asked, the whole building narrow?—and if they were content to debate in a narrow room, they might be content to dine in a narrow room. This was an attempt to turn the dining-room into a luxurious club. Why could not hon. Members be satisfied with a plain dinner? The excellent plain fare which the kitchen afforded would not do for the hon. Member for Derby: unless he could get everything of the most expensive character and the best wines, he was dissatisfied. The Committee, first of all, complained of the arrangement under which the spirits and wine were provided, and wished to transfer the patronage of the House of Commons to certain wine dealers, whose names were certainly some of the best in the trade. But then it was proposed that three or four cellars should be provided, each to be placed at the disposal of a different wine merchant. Was ever such a proposition brought before a deliberative assembly? Under the present condition of things he had too often seen the Speaker left alone in that House; but if a great expense should be gone to in building fresh wine cellars, he was afraid that the hon. Member for Derby and other hon. Members would then be passing day and night in the refreshment room. The expense of the proposed alteration was put down at £5,000; but let them be warned by what had occurred with reference to the building of that House, and let them not be too sure that the expenditure would not reach £20,000. The Committee strongly recommended that advantage should be taken of the opportunity to raise the ceiling of the refreshment room; but if they were to have all these alterations, he proposed that they should pull everything to pieces at once, and have a thorough reform of the House of Commons, instead of merely making an attempt to improve the cooking department, which, while adding to the expense of the country, was calculated to bring Parliament into contempt.


said, that he believed that much of the inconvenience now complained of arose from the insufficient arrangements for cooking. He was told that the present sculleries were like a solid block of stone, surrounded with hot coppers, and quite unfit for any person to work in.


said, that the cellars referred to by the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Bernal Osborne) were in existence already, and had not to be built; and he did not see what objection there could be to giving the use of them to certain wine merchants. The only object was to get the best supply of wine, and the wine merchants would find it for their interest to supply them with good wine. If the House thought proper to go on with the present system, he, as one of the Members of the Committee, would be ready to submit to their decision; but he did not see the use of appointing the Committee, if their recommendations were not to be supported.


, as a Member of the Committee, repudiated on their part any wish to do more than improve the present state of things, which had been extensively complained of. The hon. Member for Liskeard was mistaken with regard to the cellars—not one shilling of expense would be incurred with regard to them. It was merely a different arrangement that was proposed. The cellars were there, and the proposed arrangement would give to hon. Members the stocks of three leading wine-merchants to choose from. The hon. Member for Derby was right in saying that this was a more important question than it appeared. Under present circumstances, it was in vain to hope for a fair attendance of hon. Members in that House between half past seven and nine o'clock, and it would be found advantageous in respect to the public business if hon. Members were able to obtain a tolerable good dinner, though it were of the plainest kind, in a comfortable room near at hand. What the Committee proposed was, that there should always be a plain dinner ready, as now; but that hon. Members should be able to have anything they chose at a reasonable notice.


was understood to say that he would vote against the Motion.


could not agree with those hon. Gentlemen who said that this was too unimportant a subject to occupy the attention of the House. A very important part of the debates was carried on at the time generally known as the "dinner hour." That, he believed, had arisen from strict adherence to ancient custom; for when it was first settled that the Commons should meet at four o'clock, the Members used to dine at two or three o'clock, and had finished dinner before the business of the House begun. Foreign legislative bodies, he believed, met the difficulty by adjourning during the dinner hour; but our custom was that the House should continue the sitting, and the obvious remedy was, that the Members should have the opportunity of dining within the walls of the House. A very simple dinner ought to suffice, but still such a one as would not sour their tempers, and send hon. Members grumbling back to the House. He thought that the House ought to be grateful to the Members of the Committee for the pains they had taken to make arrangements by which Members might dine, within hearing of the division bell, comfortably and simply. He felt that there were great difficulties in the way of the proposition of the Committee to incur an expense of about £5,000 for enlarging the dining-room, and he wished the Committee still to consider whether the desired object could not be attained without the expenditure of money, by a different arrangement of the tables, and by including for the use of Members that part of the dining-rooms which was now open to persons who were not Members of the House. As there seemed to be so much difference of opinion on this subject, and as it was so late in the Session, he would recommend the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De Lacy Evans) to withdraw the Motion, with the view of reconsidering the subject next Session, when, perhaps, some other proposal might meet with more unanimous concurrence than the present.


said, he entirely agreed with what had been said by the First Commissioner of Works, and was glad to hear that he did not propose to alter the architecture of the building, because if they once began to do so, there would be no knowing where they would stop, and probably they might end in spoiling the whole edifice. With regard to the dinners, what they wanted was not a better description of dinner but better food and of better quality. At present the meat was extremely bad, and what they asked was that it should be eatable. If it was, that was all, in his opinion, they had a right to expect.


concurred in the suggestion of the Chief Commissioner of Works, and consented to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.