HC Deb 25 November 1943 vol 395 cc166-72
Major Sir James Edmondson (Treasurer of the Household)

I beg to move, That a Select Committee be appointed to control the arrangements for the Kitchen and Refreshment Rooms in the department of the Serjeant at Arms attending this House.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)

I think that before we pass this Motion it is as well it should be said that many people think that the Refreshment Committee has not done its job as well as it might have done in recent times. We quite agree that catering is not easy just now, but other people cater, and cater better than we are catered for in this House. It is no good the impossiblist attitude being taken up and saying that it is difficult and that you cannot improve anything. We have all got to do our jobs here, and sometimes the problems of meals is a difficult one, because one may be feeding when there is business going on in the Chamber. It is important, therefore, that the service should be as expeditious as possible, while realising fully the difficulties of staffing in wartime. In many directions, however, I am satisfied that the matter could be better dealt with than it is at the moment. The right occasion to draw attention to it is when we have before us this Motion. I would ask hon. Members to read the terms of the Motion. I am the last person in the world to criticise the Serjeant at Arms, who is not a debateable person, but it would seem that this House is not even master of itself in this respect. It does not own the property of the Kitchen Committee. The cups and saucers do not even belong to the Kitchen Committee. Here is a Committee which is, in fact, subordinate to an officer of the House in many respects and the constitutional position of the Committee is quite wrong. In making this protest, the only thing I would say about those who serve on the Committee is that a substantial number of them never seem to have a meal in the building, which is some expression of what they think of their own work.

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Committee do consist of Seventeen Members."—[Sir J. Edmondson.]

Mr. Ralph Etherton (Stretford)

I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out "Seventeen," and to insert instead thereof "Seven."

I move this because the Committee, of which the individual Members are no doubt persons of extreme efficiency, have not as a composite Committee given complete satisfaction to the House. I believe that that has been due to the unwieldy nature of the Committee. Many of these hon. Members obviously have not had sufficient time to devote to the work which is necessary for the efficient functioning of the Committee. What has been the business of all has had the attention of none. I believe they have appeared to think that because there are so many no individual need give any great attention to the work of the Committee. I should be interested to know what has been the attendance of the 17 Members at the various meetings and how many times the Committee has met during the past Session. I suggest that if the number is reduced to seven one would get a more vigorous and more efficient Committee which would give greater satisfaction to the House. Some of the things which have been said—I do not know with how much accuracy, but one cannot but observe what has been said on this matter in various parts of the House from time to time—have been that the Kitchen Committee have been behind some of the objections in regard to the hours of the House and the meetings of the House and that there have been difficulties made in regard to, the making of arrangements for staff and meals. I do not believe that the 17 members have been able collec- tively to appreciate the position and I hold that a Committee of seven would more effectively be able to deal with that aspect of the matter.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

I beg to second the Amendment.

It is common ground among hon. Members that the catering arrangements of this House could be improved. One way to do that is to reduce the number of Members on the Committee and thus enable the Committee to do its work more expeditiously and efficiently. We ought to review the names of the present 17 Members and appoint some of them to serve on a much smaller body.

Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)

I have thought over this matter as much as I can, and I am very much in agreement with the idea that the feeding arrangements generally in this House are deplorable, but I do not believe they will be improved by reducing the number of Members on the Committee from 17 to 7. I have looked through the list of names, and I see that all are hon. Members who from time to time have to put up with the food we get here. I realise what are the difficulties which have been touched upon by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), but unless we were able to appoint a Kitchen Committee of real experts—and I see at least one if not two amongst the 17 who are familiar with running hotels—I really cannot see that we can do any better than appoint a large Committee and have a quorum of three, as suggested in the Motion. I see no reason for reducing the number.

Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)

I am immensely interested in this topic, because I observe that it is sponsored by the members of the Tory Reform Committee. I do not know whether the re-organising of the catering arrangements of the House is the principal plank in their programme, or only one of the planks. Some time ago the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) laid particular emphasis on the need for providing pyjamas for those in the Royal Air Force, and a suspicion was engendered in the minds of many hon. Members on this side and in other quarters of the House that it was one of the items in their so-called progressive policy. Nevertheless, I think that hon. Members, taking them by and large, will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) and other hon. Members for having raised this matter. It can hardly be regarded as one of fundamental importance, can hardly be included in the category of Government reconstruction, but, nevertheless, it is a matter that concerns us, because every day we are compelled, on account of the exigencies of Parliamentary time, to find internal comfort and solace in the refreshment rooms of the House. It may interest some of the newer Members to know that some years ago I ventured to propose that we should be provided in the refreshment room with a high tea.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but the only Question before the House is the number of Members of the Committee.

Mr. Shinwell

With great respect, I am trying to show why the number of Members should be so reduced as to make the Committee more efficient. I was saying that some years ago a high tea in the refreshment room was advocated, and after considerable pressure it was provided; but apparently the management disliked it, and I understand that many hon. Members also disliked it; because it savoured too much of outside catering on what I might call the Lyons scale, and that was thought to be undignified in the House of Commons. I am bound to say that I thought it extremely good, particularly because it was cheap, and at that time hon. Members found it very useful on that ground if on no other. I am often mystified when I go into the dining-room—I mean after I have consumed what is offered to me, not before—and I will tell hon. Members why. Sometimes it is necessary to go to the dining-room before one o'clock. Sometimes one intends to offer a contribution to our Debates or one desires to listen to an hon. Member who has a contribution to make. It does not always happen that that is so, but occasionally hon. Members have a contribution to make that is worth listening to. On going to the dining-room before one o'clock one often discovers that on the menu the most delightful entrée of the day is not available until one o'clock.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This has really nothing to do with the number of Members to serve on the Committee.

Mr. Shinwell

With great respect, what occurred to me was that if the number of Members were reduced and less time were taken up in discussion, and there was more concentration upon promoting efficiency in the catering arrangements, then perhaps those delightful morsels that catch our eye when we enter the dining-room would be available before one o'clock. In addition, I want to say this, and it is no reflection on the staff. I want to make it quite clear—and I think I have hon. Members with me—that none of us seeks to make any reflection on the staff. We are not concerned with the staff. What I can never understand is why we cannot have better arrangements in what is known as the cafeteria. Sometimes it is most difficult for Members to obtain a cup of tea, because so many visitors are present. I have no doubt that hon. Members have to receive visitors, but why should the place be cluttered up with visitors all sitting on chairs, at tables, while an hon. Member and sometimes a right hon. Gentleman—and that is much worse—is compelled to stand in a corner consuming a cup of tea and a bun? It is most undignified and quite unworthy of the catering arrangements of the House.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) said that it would be useful if we had on the catering committee Members who were experts in catering. We have one expert, but unfortunately he is not present. In fact, no Members of the Catering Committee are present. I express deep concern at the absence of all the Members of the Kitchen Committee, but in particular the absence of the chairman is a cause of deep misgiving. The hon. Member who is chairman of the Kitchen Committee has a wide and varied experience of catering, we have been informed. I believe he has been associated with some of the best-known hotels in London and the country, and for the life of me I cannot see why the kind of catering that is available in the Savoy or Carlton Grill should not be available in the House of Commons, and at the same time I cannot understand why Members of the House should not be provided with reasonable meals at a reasonable cost. I am not at all sure that the price of meals at the present time is consistent with the kind of stuff that is served up.

The Deputy-Speaker

I cannot see how the price of meals can be affected by the number of Members on the Committee.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

I would like to remind the hon. Member that 17 has always been described as a very sweet number.

Mr. Shinwell

We speak of "sweet seventeen" but we also speak of "lucky seven," and I prefer the lucky seven to the sweet seventeen. At any rate, it does seem to me that a small, compact, efficient, well-equipped, well-informed and presumably intelligent Committee of seven would be more useful than an unwieldy, heterogeneous Committee of 17. My hon. Friend for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) queries whether we can secure an efficient, competent well-informed and intelligent committee of seven Members of the House. If I may say so to my hon. Friend, that is hardly worthy of him, because no one would dare say that in a House of this kind we cannot secure seven efficient, well-informed, competent and intelligent Members. We might even find them on this side of the House—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) asks me what I mean by "even." That is a highly controversial matter, and if I were to go into it you might think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I was discussing something more of a party character than a matter for the House of Commons itself. In all the circumstances, my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon deserves our gratitude for raising this matter, and—

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.

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