HC Deb 12 December 1944 vol 406 cc1176-97

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [30th November], 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.

Question again proposed.

5.58 p.m.

Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

I rise to resume a discussion on a matter in which I hope to receive the co-operation of hon. Members in all parts of the House. I hope that the exodus of Members at the present time is no evidence of the lack of interest in this domestic matter. There are two attitudes which the Members of the Kitchen Committee, who are to be nominated again for another Session's office, can take on this matter. They can take our raising this as an act of hostility to them, or they can take it as an effort on our part to co-operate with them in getting additional influence over the powers that be. I hope they will not take the first position. If they do, I think they will find themselves, at the end of this Session, in a relationship with the House of Commons which will be extremely awkward.

I ventured to say to the House a few days ago, that at the outbreak of the war we, the Members of Parliament, allowed ourselves to be deprived of many facilities necessary for the full discharge of our duties. It seems to me a most undignified position that the Members of this House should always consider their functions so unimportant that whenever an emergency arises they retire shyly into the background, and that while the powers and facilities of the Members of the Executive are enlarged, theirs are diminished. That is exactly what happened with regard to the facilities available for feeding and other things. I think that the members of the Kitchen Committee take too limited a view of their functions. Secondly, I consider that they have, in the last year or so, been insufficiently energetic in protecting the interests of the ordinary Members of this House. I have concrete evidence of that. I am not accusing all the members of the Kitchen Committee: there are some members who have been extremely active; but there are a large number of sleeping partners on that Committee. Hon. Members may not know this, but it was entirely due to the efforts, of a small number of us, not members of the Kitchen Committee, along with one or two who are members of the Committee, that we gained that enlargement of the facilities which we now enjoy. For example, for a number of years we could not bring any guests into the dining room of the House of Commons. We had no facilities of any sort. We could merely take them to have a sandwich in a squalid room at the back, infested by all kinds of people who seemed to me to take advantage of the facilities provided for us. We had no privacy. Not only have we no Committee Rooms upstairs, or very few, because they have been taken by all kinds of organisations—and Members here voluntarily abandon their facilities for any ad hoc body that comes along—but we take so undignified a view of our own job that anyone can take away whatever physical amenities are at our disposal. For a very long time it was quite impossible for us to entertain anybody. I know that we are open to grave mis- understanding in this matter. It is not good demagogy for a Member of Parliament to talk about his facilities: it is always good demagogy for him to surrender his facilities. But there is an obligation upon us, and there has been for a long time, with so many people from other countries coming to London, to have, not less, but far more than the normal facilities for entertaining them and making them aware of what is happening here. But we have, as against normal times, very considerable restrictions. Even in normal times things were not very good.

I do not want to say anything which is too controversial, but the whole of the-physical apparatus of the House of Commons has been built up, over the last 200 years, on the assumption that most Members of Parliament are fairly well to do, that they have houses near by, where they can entertain their friends, and that they are members of clubs, where they can entertain them, or are rich enough to take them to restaurants. There has been no recognition of the fact that during the last 20 to 40 years there has occurred an infiltration of comparatively poor people. I hope that the high rate of Income Tax has recruited more sympathy for us, and that, therefore, I am speaking to a more sympathetic audience than I should have had before the war. It is not fair that we should have placed upon us not only the additional burden arising from much longer Sessions and from the much more variegated and complicated questions that we have to consider but, in addition, the physical disabilities imposed upon us in this antiquated building. I am not against preserving traditional continuities from the past: in fact, I rather like it. At the same time, those traditional reverences should be supplemented and reinforced by modern conveniences. I hope that the members of the Kitchen Committee, in their approaches to the Treasury and to any other Government authority that they may need to approach in this matter, will feel that they have behind them the unanimous support of this House in demanding for us greater physical facilities than we have at present.

Although we have made certain changes, even now if you want to have more than two guests in the dining room you must have another Member of Parliament with you. Hon Members who have travelled in other parts of the world, know that the facilities afforded there are far superior to ours. The Kitchen Committee should look at this again, and look at it imaginatively. I hope that the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee will regard himself as being not so much the custodian of the balance sheet as the custodian of our interests. He represents us. We are appointing him: he is not being appointed by the Government. I know what happens through the usual channels, but, nevertheless, he is appointed to this eminent, if somewhat exposed, situation by our will. Therefore, I hope he is going to discharge his duty as the custodian of our interests, and not as the custodian of the interests of the Treasury. In the past it has always been suggested that we ought not to be subsidised, but the physical organisation of this place does not satisfy any modern restaurant demands. The relationship of the kitchen to the dining room, the hours that we have to sit, the uncertainty of the numbers here, the uncertainty of the sittings, make it impossible to conform our arrangements with the balance sheet.

The only time that the Kitchen Committee has been able to balance its accounts is when we have had a majority here of poor people, who have been unable to go out to eat. In 1931 the Kitchen Committee balanced its accounts, because we on this side had a majority, and, therefore, we subsidised the Treasury. As soon as there is a majority on that side the Kitchen Committee's accounts are unbalanced. Why? Because they are too sensible. They escape the enormities that we have to suffer. They go elsewhere. I am not blaming them for it; I envy them. I would escape it if I could. Therefore, I hope that the members of the Kitchen Committee will not regard this as being an attack on them, but as being an earnest attempt on our partm——

Mr. Bracewell Smith (Dulwich)

Did I understand the hon. Member to say that when his party controlled the Kitchen Committee, it showed a balance in favour?

Mr. Bevan

In 1931 we wiped out the deficit.

Mr. Smith

I cannot accept that.

Mr. Bevan

The Chairman of the Kitchen Committee must not imagine that I am making a party speech. I am not attacking him. I am trying for a moment to be a defender of the interests of the House of Commons in this matter. All I said was that when we were in the majority we had to dine here. Therefore, the staff were better off. The small tips that were given the staff at meals were far better than were being obtained by the staff from hon. Members opposite who did not dine here as frequently as we had to do. This is on record, and therefore I hope the hon. Member will not regard this in a hostile spirit at all. I do not want to make too much fuss about it, but I do sincerely implore members of the Kitchen Committee, in approaching this task in the new Session, to remember that there are a number of things we want. We want good food. There is no reason why we should have bad food. We want food that is reasonable in price, and, at the same time, we want good conditions for the staff, because the staff conditions here have been deplorable for years. Next, we want to be able, when people come from other Parliaments in other parts of the world, to entertain them here and make them familiar with our point of view, in seemly surroundings and at a decent table.

6.12 p.m.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I support the Motion, but first I want to say a few things in support of what my hon. Friend behind me has said. I would make an appeal to the hon. Member. I hope he will not persist in opposing the Motion. I think he has done excellent service by what he has said, not in criticism of the Kitchen Commitee, because I do not agree with him as far as he criticised them, but on the general principle. First, regarding the purely physical matter of the food supplied, and the conditions of service, personally I I think the food supplied is good and well-cooked, but I think the conditions of service are extremely bad, and I am going to say that they are made worse, though not by any fault of the Kitchen Committee. Regarding another point made by my hon. Friend, which I think is of immense importance, and which commend to the attention of the Leader of the House—whom I am glad to see in his place—I think it is most important that it should go out from this House that we are not in the least ashamed of the fact that we are anxious to make this House a place where visitors from Allied countries, the Dominions and all over the world can be properly entertained, and treated in a reasonable and civilised manner. It is most important that that should go out, and that we should repudiate the sort of foolish penny-a-liner criticism that may come from some quarters to the effect that all that Members of Parliament are concerned with is their own comfort. It is a foolish, penny-a-liner criticism that will inevitably come.

Having said that, I must, within the bounds of Order—and I have to be very careful not to exceed them—point out what has always been the real difficulty about providing amenities through the Kitchen Committee or any other body in this House, and that is the extraordinary system of control of this building. I doubt if the public are aware of it. There are five separate authorities—the line of demarcation of their duties has never been constitutionally defined—who are responsible for this House.

They are in the first place, Mr. Speaker, you yourself and your predecessors, and it is not an act of effusion on my part to say that your control has always taken the form of accepting any recommendations suggested to you by any body of hon. Members, and there has never been any difficulty in presenting them. Secondly, there is the Ministry of Works, which is a Government Department responsible to this House. Next, there are the Metropolitan Police. Perhaps it would not be in Order to do more than mention them, but they have very considerable powers. Fourthly and fifthly come the two bodies who affect this Motion—the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Serjeant at Arms. The Lord Great Chamberlain is an irremovable and hereditary official responsible to nobody, in some respects not even to the Crown. The Serjeant at Arms is not appointed on a recommendation of this House, but directly on a recommendation of the Crown. To put the matter in a nutshell, the situation is the same in this House as it was in Buckingham Palace before the late Prince Consort had the whole matter cleaned up. It was said at that time that the late Prince Consort discovered that one authority was responsible for cleaning the windows in Buckingham Palace, another authority for repairing them and a third authority was responsible for say- ing whether they should be opened or shut, and not even her late Majesty Queen Victoria could amalgamate all these authorities and say that one person should be responsible.

That is, roughly, the position in the Palace of Westminster, and, while we cannot discuss remedies for it now, it is only fair to say that the Kitchen Committee is greatly hampered by these facts. It will give me great pleasure to expound that matter when it will be in Order to do so, on the occasion of a discussion on the Report of the Select Committee over which I presided. I am seriously considering putting down a humble Petition that these powers of the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Serjeant at Arms should be abated, but I leave that to a future occasion, when it will be in Order to do so.

Let us take the position of the Kitchen Committee in relation to these matters. Assuming that the Kitchen Committee decided, as they might well decide, for reasons mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), that, in view of the fact that this is no longer a House composed of people of wealth, but a House composed very largely of people with small incomes, it would be advisable to keep the refreshment rooms open throughout the year. Could they do it? Not on your life. They would have to get the permission of the Lord Great Chamberlain—and it is most doubtful if it would be given—and of the Serjeant at Arms. That is a derogatory position for the first Legislature of the world to be in, and, therefore, we cannot, in this Debate, discuss the real reason why it is so difficult for the Kitchen Committee, or any other body that wishes to increase the amenities of this House, to carry on.

I hope we shall have an opportunity at some future date, but I think the Kitchen Committee are to be commended—and here I differ from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale—for the efforts they have made, in the face of these difficulties, to provide the best amenities possible. I do not think the food is bad; I think, in view of all the difficulties, it is reasonably good. I would like to pay a high tribute to the majority of the staff, who have worked under great difficulties, and I am sure that the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, who has such wide knowledge of this subject and is a most sympathetic employer, will do everything he can for them. I hope the House will pass this Motion, and I venture, with great respect, to say that I hope they will bear in mind the fight that some of us are determined to make in future against this absolutely medieval and, one might almost say, pre-Saxon, state of affairs.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)

The Kitchen Committee are very grateful to the House for affording them an opportunity of bringing before the House not only their privileges but also some of their difficulties. I want to say that the Kitchen Committee are not purveyors of sadism—cruelty to themselves or cruelty to hon. Members of the House and their friends. I would remind the House that, just before the war broke out, we had the co-operation of the late Sir Phillip Sassoon, and the House should be grateful to him for his imagination in the beautifying of the dining rooms, the tea rooms and what was then the news room for hon. Members. I would remind the newer Members that no longer can we invite so many guests or visitors to the dining room, because we have not the use of the Harcourt Room. The Kitchen Committee have not been asleep upon that matter and we should be doubly glad to be able to re-open the Harcourt Room. Two of the buffets had to be closed, one as the result of enemy action and the other because it was needed for other purposes. The strangers' smoking room, a very convenient room in which to see visitors, is no longer available because it has been requisitioned for other useful purposes during the war.

Mr. Bevan

Does my hon Friend regard the "other purposes" as more useful than the discharge of our functions in the House of Commons?

Mr. Muff

The Kitchen Committee think it more useful to allow the visitors' smoking room to be used for the servants of the House, and one of their first desires is the comfort of those who serve the House. In pre-war years we provided 6,600 meals a week and to-day we provide 4,500 meals a week under great difficulties, but with some imagination. Therefore we have surmounted some if not all our difficulties. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) previously accused us of not being gastronomes, or whatever the word was.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

If my hon. Friend went to one of the public schools he ought to have learnt that.

Mr. Muff

I accept very respectfully the rebuke of my hon. Friend. If hon. Members will look at the menu to-day they will see that there are imagination, initiative and inspiration. I would remind the hon. Member for Nuneaton that we are bound to use as many unrationed foods as possible, and that is why we serve a food which is most nutritious.

Mr. Bowles


Mr. Muff

Yes, tripe, which the hon. Member can assimilate, and which he can produce on any public platform. If any reasonable Member of the House looks through the menu for to-day he must see that there is variety, and with regard to costs, the hon. Member for Nuneaton could not get most of those things for the same price at his own favourite restaurant in the West End. He would not only have to pay 5s. for the meal but 7s. 6d. besides for house charges. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I want the House to realise that we can only put on one rationed dish, and that is only in the Members dining room. We cannot put it on in the strangers' room. With regard to the charges mentioned by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) I agree that in pre-war days we supplied, for 1s. 6d., a portion of meat, with vegetables; to-day we supply a portion of meat for 1s. 6d., but we have to charge him 4d. for his potatoes, which is fairly reasonable.

Mr. Bevan

I do not know what my hon. Friend thinks he is doing, but he must really not say these things. I made no charges of that sort at all. It would be extremely unfortunate if these frivolous absurdities went out without any effort to defend the position.

Mr. Muff

The Kitchen Committee have had to contend with this underground movement for some months. The complaints books is there for any Member who wishes to enter his complaints. If there is a serious complaint, we try to remedy it. It is remarked that our staff is not treated as we would like it to be. I can only say that we have had some members of the staff in our employ for a long time. In fact the manager has been with us for 40 years. There are other members of the staff who have been with us for many years. As a Kitchen Committee we wish that they could become Government servants, so as to be eligible for pension when they come of pensionable age and not have to be dependent on other sources.

Mr. Bowles

Is it not true that every Member who takes a meal is charged a penny for the pension fund, and that the amount of pension is entirely in the discretion of the Kitchen Committee?

Mr. Muff

I was going to mention the fact that the Members of this House very gladly assisted in this by contributing a penny a meal taken in the dining room, and we have accumulated a fund of £3,290 in pennies. A Member of the House who died some 30 years ago left £1,000 in what is called the Jacoby Trust. We have tried to administer that Trust for the benefit of servants of this House by augmenting their pensions. But we can only do this in a very modest way. I assure the House that we take our duties seriously. We do not think that we are the last word in catering or anything like that. Our Chairman has had great experience in catering and we try to follow his lead whenever we possibly can. One Member objected because we have at the top of the menu words to the effect that we want to follow the law as laid down by the Minister of Food. The hon. Member said that this is the High Court of Parliament and that we can do what we like. We cannot do what we like. We have to set an example and we try to do it, and hon. Members, by their support, enable us to fulfil that task and to keep within the law. I want to say distinctly that we cannot and will not ask for any advantages, because we know we should be refused.

Mr. Bevan

Who is asking for privileges?

Mr. Muff

Whatever hon. Members may say to the contrary, I, as a member of the Kitchen Committee, even if I am sacked straight away, am not going to take all these criticisms lying down without making some kind of reply, because I know, having served on it now for a few years, that we have done a jolly good best. [An HON. MEMBER: "Too long."] We are not ashamed of our stewardship and, if we are re-elected, I can assure the House we shall continue to do our best within the circumscribed position we are in to-day, because supplies are restricted and we can do no other.

6.31 p.m.

Petty Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)

My hon. old and valued Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Muff) seems to have a fairly substantial chip on his shoulder—I do not know whether that expression is used in Yorkshire—but I can assure him that nobody here wishes to knock it off. I think the House ought to be grateful to hon. Members who have caused a delay in the reappointment of this Committee and so given us an opportunity of this Debate, because it is far too easily assumed by all of us that the appointment of a Kitchen Committee is the obvious and inevitable thing to which there is no alternative, and is therefore an automatic thing about which there ought to be no argument. But of course that is not so at all. There is an alternative. We might do as they do in another place, not appoint a Kitchen Committee but hand the whole thing over to a private contractor. I am not aware whether the private contractor in that place makes a profit out of that business; I assume he does, otherwise he probably would not carry on.

Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)

One of them went bankrupt.

Petty Officer Herbert

That may be so; but I am informed by hon. Gentlemen and Noble Lords who have had the privilege of eating in that place that things are better there. I do not know. But suppose for a moment that we do not pass this Motion and that we do hand these things over to some enterprising man, and I can think of no better firm than that which is so well led by my hon. Friend the ex-Chairman of the Kitchen Committee. What would he say? I think he would say, "Here is an enterprise on which I am on velvet—no rents to pay, no rates to pay, no house charge." Then I think he would say, "I must look up the queer litigation of which the Senior Burgess for Oxford University 10 years ago was the trembling but bold instigator." This is very relevant, Mr. Speaker, to the remarks of the Noble Lord and to other remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East. I do assure you, Sir, that I am not trying to get anything over. Ten and a half years ago I went trembling to Bow Street on a cold and frosty morning and laid a prosecution against the Kitchen Committee of the House of Commons. The magistrate, who, I think, was trembling even more than I was, rejected my plea and stated a case to the High Court and, 10 years ago almost to a day, 14th December, 1934, that case came before a very strong Divisional Court composed of the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Hewart), Mr. Justice Avory and Mr. Justice Rigby Smith—all of whom are now dead—and (the reference is 1934, the King's Bench Division, page 594) Lord Hewart said: I need do no more than quote the words of Lord Denman in the case of Stockdale v. Hansard. The words of Lord Denman were these: The Commons of England are not invested with more of power and dignity by their legislative character than by that which they bear as the grand inquest of the nation— That, apparently, is the crigin of that famous phrase. But this is the important point: All the privileges that can be required for the energetic discharge of the duties inherent in that high trust are conceded without a murmur or a doubt. The result of that particular case was that we were freed from licence duty and the licensing laws.

I am now going back to my private contractor. I say that any private contractor who came in those circumstances would say: "Here I am on velvet. Not only have I a highly distinguished and important duty but I can run this thing at a profit. I can give better food, cheaper than it can be got at any place in London; but, of course, there is one snag." That snag is the irregularity of hours and the irregularity of days and months. But I think he would say, "I can get over that." I agree with the Noble Lord that there has been some exaggeration about the quality of the food; I do not think it is very bad, but I am quite sure that a private contractor could make it better.

Secondly, there is the question of guests. I agree with the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that it is most important that more and more people should come in not merely to see our proceedings from the galleries but to go into the dining rooms and see how even there we continue to conduct our business. What happens? I make no complaint against the waiters, who do their best for us, but we invite people to come here, and they sit in the gallery through Questions and two or three speeches. Then, naturally, they want a little refreshment. We give them a glass of sherry and then we have to fling them out at half past one, which is far too late to get any food elsewhere when, if we could proceed to entertain them further, they might perhaps return to the gallery and get a little further instruction in our proceedings. The hon. Member mentioned the Harcourt Room. Why in the world is it not open? Why should we not be able to entertain all our guests there and in all those other private rooms? What is the difficulty? If it is lack of labour, then I go back to the judgment of Lord Hewart and suggest that the Committee go to the Minister of Labour and say that on the judgment of Lord Hewart in that case, we are entitled to ask that labour be directed to open those private rooms in order that Members of the House of Commons may entertain more guests.

Thirdly, there is the question of the staff. Here I may have to part company with my private contractor, but I am not at all sure. We have all heard of the famous phrase, "The House of Commons is the finest club in Europe." Now, one of the best points of a club is that there is no tipping. It is the most comforting thing about a club that you are not always putting your hand in your pocket, but we have to do it in this place. We do not mind, because we know that our servants are not properly paid; but we should like to stop tipping. And I should like to see the Minister of Labour here, for he proposed in the Catering Wages Act—a Measure for which I declined to vote because I thought it was not very adequate—and said that the degrading habit of tipping was to cease all over the country. I have not seen many results from that Act yet, except that the standard of tipping seems to be higher than ever.

However that may be, here in this House, led by the Kitchen Committee, we should set an example. I am perfectly sure that I shall not be making friends of the staff, for the fact is catering staffs do like tips really and nothing in the world is going to stop it. I do think, however, that our staff should be properly paid all the year round. I do not see why they should not have a guaranteed wage all the year round and, if they like to take other jobs during the Recess at higher wages, then some arrangement could be made. Year after year we talk about this thing and nothing happens. Even there, however, I think my private contractor having, as I say, this velvety job, would deal with that problem.

Those are the three points. I am sure nobody here and nobody outside will think we are merely talking about our carnal pleasures. We do not get much out of this business; let us have a few tiny material privileges of this kind. We are not asking for bands in the dining room, or cocktail parties or anything of that sort; all we are asking for is that hon. Members, and especially the poor Members, should be able to get a better meal much cheaper than anywhere else, so that never again will anyone be able to say at lunch time, "The Senior Burgess for Oxford University is speaking. Let us have lunch in town because the speech is bad and the food is bad too." Let the Kitchen Committee not be afraid of asking for better things. Let them go to the Treasury, if necessary, and ask for more money for the staff and to the Minister of Labour and ask for more labour, basing themselves on the High Court's judgment. I think my hon. Friend is quite wrong, technically, when he says that he is bound by the Minister of Food. I am sure we should not want to ask far extra rations but, constitutionally, if we liked, we could do so by the judgment of Lord Hewart in that case. I do hope the Kitchen Committee will consider this matter seriously, because if there is no improvement in all respects during the present Session, I, or at any rate those who will be here next year, may be inclined to put down a Motion to oppose the setting up of the Committee and suggest instead that a private business man take over the whole affair.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)

I do not know why my hon. Friend the Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) should complain about the Kitchen Committee being discussed here to-day. A wise chairman and a wise Committee would welcome discussion of the work that they were doing——

Mr. Muff

I said so.

Mr. Buchanan

My hon. Friend used an argument which is becoming all, too common nowadays, namely, saying words of abuse instead of using argument and reason. Nowadays, it is usual for some people to say "Fascist" when disagreeing with another person. It is thought that that word dismisses him altogether. My hon. Friend used the same kind of argument in speaking of an "underground movement." I personally still believe in the arts of argument and reason, instead of using abusive phrases. I, like others, would like to pay my compliments to the members of the various staffs in the House of Commons, the refreshment-room workers, the police, the engineers and the like, who render so much good service. May I be allowed to say a word or two, which is probably not strictly in Order, in praise of the Clerks at the Table? When I entered this House there was miniature warfare, day in and day out, between Members and the Clerks at the Table, who thought it was their duty to interfere with every Member. Since then there has been a radical change and I, for one, now find the Clerks helpful to me in my work.

I do not want to enter into the question of entertaining foreign delegates or other people outside this House. I have always been thankful that I was not a London Member. I have always been thankful that my constituency was poor, and that I had few visitors because nobody could afford to come to London. In any case, I always objected to being turned into a tourist guide, because I thought I had more important work to do. Further, if you showed parties round the House it was stated that that was all you had to do, whereas if you did not it was said that you were discourteous. I must confess that I have no patience with people who are afraid of saying that there is a dignity and honourableness attaching to the House of Commons, and that a Member of the House of Commons ought to be rewarded with decent service in a host of ways, which I have not time to enumerate now. I remember when the £600 a year was first granted, together with first-class travel. I represent a poverty-stricken area such as few can imagine, yet at election time no person raised this question. What mattered was that a man was a Member of Parliament. People will not grudge a Member his reward; what they are anxious about is the service he is rendering.

I was pleased with the speech made by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). I have no secretary, but I happen to be married to an intelligent woman who is also an extremely indulgent woman. When I came to London it was impossible to take even one's wife into the old Strangers' Dining Room. With the aid of the late Speaker we ultimately were given that permission. But I am not so concerned with the dining room; I am concerned with that area between the Members' tea room and the passage outside. What an abortion. I bring poor people here and I take them sometimes to tea. I did so just before our last Adjournment. They were men who worked on the railway, and were used to eating their meals at work. Yet I felt ashamed to take them into that place. I would have liked to take them into something better. I would have liked to give them decent food in a clean and pleasant place, in the same way as I do at home. That place is an abortion which ought to go. It is not sufficient to say that all this is done for the convenience of the staff. There ought to be provision for the staff and for us as well. I know the difficulties, especially in war-time, but things could be considerably improved.

I have never complained about a notice about the law, which has been referred to already in this Debate, but the assumption underlying that is that we would not carry it out. The hon. Gentleman who is Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, or, rather, has been chairman up till now, has one thing in common with me. He and I like soccer, and he knows that a notice about the law would not be put in a soccer programme, because the assumption would be that the law would be carried out. One of my vices is that I smoke occasionally. Most men want to smoke after having a cup of tea or food. But in the tea room I go to nothing like that is allowed. I visited a Midland workmen's canteen the other day and found there cleanliness and food that I envied. Surely the House of Commons could be placed on that level. That is not too much to ask. Democracies and constitutional Assemblies are going. It will not do any good to belittle ourselves. Such democracies and Assemblies are things to be proud of, and I ask the House of Commons to help Members as much as possible by providing all that is reasonable in the way of food and facilities.

I have been a Member of the House of Commons for some years now, and I am glad to say that it is not going back, but is, to some extent, improving. It is a sober and a clean House of Commons. Its Members' characters compare with those of most folk. I trust that the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee will give better facilities for food and make it within the reasonable grasp of every Member to purchase it. I utter these words for the future, post-war years. When I see the legislative programme, those who are going to be diligent are going to have less time to go outside. Do not put a penalty on those who attend. Everything now is a penalty on the regular attender. I trust that the Chairman of the Committee will not think that those who have raised this matter are hostile to him or to his work, but we ask him to take the necessary steps.

6.51 p.m.

Mr. Bracewell Smith (Dulwich)

I think the House will have listened with great interest to everything that has been said about the Kitchen Committee and I am glad that its appointment has aroused such widespread attention, because it is a rather intimate affair. Food and speeches go together. You make a bad speech and you have bad food and you do not know which to blame. The Debate has certainly provided an opportunity for Members to ventilate their different viewpoints. I have been a Member for 10 years and have enjoyed the confidence of the Committee as Chairman for seven years and during that long period I have only missed two meetings, so that I cannot be accused of being dilatory in my duties. I was very glad that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said what he did and that his attitude seems to have changed so completely since Thursday week, when he spoke of the Select Committee being incompetent and lacking in gastronomic imagination and said that the meals—not some meals but all meals—were dull, expensive and had. That is a pretty wholesale condemnation. But to-day he said he hoped that the House, and the Committee in particular, would accept one of two attitudes, either one of hostility or one of accepting that whatever was said was in a spirit of decent co-operation. I am very glad to accept the second view. I hope everything that has been said will be accepted as showing that they all want to help. We know how the Committee is handicapped. Hon. Members will remember with some satisfaction the delightful functions that used to be given before the war in the rooms on the terrace. They will remember entertaining their constituents to strawberry teas.

Mr. Bevan

They were very expensive.

Mr. Smith

Anyhow the facilities were there and food was unrestricted. Then we had the outbreak of war, and the routine of the House was somewhat altered in consequence. Then we had the very heavy blitz of 1940–41, when a great deal of space had to be taken from the kitchen department and our sphere of service was somewhat restricted. This department applies for its food to the local food office, and we have to apply in accordance with the number of meals we serve. We cannot get any increased allowance of food except from the food office, and therefore we are entirely in the hands of the Minister. We get blamed indirectly for quite a lot of things. Do not blame us for something over which we have no control.

Mr. Bevan

There are certain hotels which have abnormal demands made upon them at present because they are centres for visitors from abroad. Would the Ministry of Food dare assert that those hotels are not having additional rations? We want to have the same as the Savoy, for instance.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Mabane)

All are on the same basis.

Mr. Bevan

I am sure the Savoy is not on the same basis as pre-war.

Mr. Mabane

They are on the same basis as this House.

Mr. Smith

Unrationed food is bound to be expensive. As far as rationed food is concerned, we make our application to the food office in the usual way and it is granted in accordance with the amount that anyone else gets. No concession is made to the House. We should be very glad indeed if the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert) would use his persuasive powers and ask the Minister to relax a little.

Petty Officer Herbert

I have done my part.

Mr. Smith

We got to the period of 1940–41. I want to go back to the days of 10th May, when we had to transfer our equipment and staff to another place. It was not an easy matter to get going. Some members of the staff were without homes and they had to travel to the House and to get away at night, as everyone else did, and the conditions of service were very difficult indeed. These were some of the difficulties that we had. I agree with so many remarks that hon. Members have made that, when the Committee is set up, I am certain that every member of it will take very earnest note of all the suggestions and criticisms that have been made. We must remember that we are limited in space. We have not any rooms on the terrace now. The space at our disposal is very limited owing to the effect of the blitz and so on. There, again, the acquisition of these rooms is not in the province of the Kitchen Committee. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was one of a group which went round to see some of the rooms, and he knows the difficulties.

Mr. Bevan

I was secretary of that group. What I would like to ask my hon. Friend is why, if the Kitchen Committee finds difficulty in persuading some of these ancient atavisms that control us, it does not come to the House and ask our assistance.

Mr. Smith

I am not certain that the Kitchen Committee has that power. We could recommend the Department concerned——

Earl Winterton

If the Serjeant at Arms or the Lord Great Chamberlain refuse facilities, will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to report to the House? Some of us will find means of dealing with it, and very effective means.

Mr. Smith

I can assure the Noble Lord that now we have had this Debate the Members of the Committee will be much more energetic in that direction than they have been. If we felt that the House was behind us, I think that more recommendations would be made. I am sure that Members of the Committee will bear that in mind at our future meetings. I want the House to know of the limitations on our work. A certain room has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), and I quite agree. As the Noble Lord knows, I have made certain suggestions for the new House which I hope will be carried out. At the moment there is a lack of material to equip canteens. Whether we should get priority for our work or not I do not know.

I know the Committee very well, and I want the House to be assured that we work very hard. We have never failed in any instance to consider complaints, suggestions or criticisms which have been made by private Members. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) referred to the appointment of a new catering manager. That is a matter which the Committee has already considered, and I can assure the hon. Member that the appointment will not be made unless a very exceptional man comes along. I can assure him that we will not exclude those serving in the Forces who are not able to apply at the present time. In the past the Committee has done what it could to serve the Members of this House. Members come first in the service. The question of guests must of necessity come second under the conditions of wartime, and there must be a limitation on their number. The labour difficulties are still with us. Food control is still with us. I want to take this opportunity of confirming what has already been said about members of the staff. No one knows the members of the staff better than I do. They have worked with us for 20 or 30 years, and if we had not had very loyal and faithful service from those old members of the staff during this period of trial and difficulty, I do not know what we should have done.

I want to give one or two instances. There was an occasion when Members were called together by wireless at 10 o'clock. At 6 o'clock we had a meal ready for them. There was another occasion when the other place was without gas and water, and we had all the food cooked elsewhere in order to "keep the home fires burning." There was another occasion when the whole establishment, staff and equipment, had to be transferred to another place within an hour. That was done and a meal was on the table within an hour. Those are a few of many things which one could enumerate for which the staff must receive the thanks of the House. I hope that the Committee will be appointed and that, when it is appointed, it will have the confidence of the House. I hope, too, that the House will allow the Chairman to be appointed by the Committee and that the Committee will be able to come to their decisions without any interference from any Member of the House.

7.7 p.m.

Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)

There are two points I wish to make. One is a new point, which I hope the House will agree is of some substance. The value of this Debate is that it has shown that the root evil is simply the extraordinary inferiority complex which Members of Parliament have had when any discussion has taken place in the past about the facilities they require to carry out their duties properly. I hope that after what has been said in this Debate the Kitchen Committee will be fortified and feel that it has the House behind it when it insists that certain things can be done, as they should be done, to make it easier for Members to carry out their duties in so far as the provision of refreshments is concerned. My second point is this. Various hon. Members have pointed out the difficulty we are in in connection with providing facilities for the entertainment of guests who come to see us and this honourable House. I may be over-prejudiced on this, but I feel that it is of the utmost importance at the present time, with so many of our Allies in this country, and with Service troops coming home on leave, that every opportunity should be given to people to come and see the House of Commons at work. I must say frankly that this suggestion has been before my colleagues on the Kitchen Committee and has not met with their approval, because, I believe, they felt they would not have the House behind them. They may think differently to-night.

The problem is one of space, and I suggest that for the next 12 months at least we have a large unoccupied breathing space in the shape of the floor area of the old Chamber—I see no reason what- ever—I hope it will not shock Members—why a temporary structure should not be put on the floor of the old House of Commons. I believe that many American officers and others would be only too pleased to be able to sit down in a sort of tea room there and feel they were actually sitting on the site where so many historic events took place. It may be argued that there would be staff difficulties. I am convinced that if the W.V.S. of Westminster were asked to provide personnel to serve in that canteen or tea room, they would be only too delighted to do it and that we should have as many people as we wanted.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered: 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.

Committee to consist of Seventeen Members:

Sir Ernest Bennett, Sir Reginald Blair, Mr. Brooke, Mr. Cooke, Viscountess Davidson, Sir Henry Fildes, Mrs. Hardie, Commander King-Hall, Mr. Liddall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore, Mr. R. C. Morrison, Mr. Muff, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton Pownall, Mr. Bracewell Smith, Mr. Evelyn Walkden, Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward and Major A. S. L. Young.

Power to send for persons, papers and records:

Three to be the quorum. [Major Sir James Edmondson.]