HC Deb 07 July 1950 vol 477 cc822-916

Ordered: That the First and Second Special Reports of the Select Committee on Kitchen and Refreshment Rooms (House of Commons) be now considered."—[Mr. Coldrick.]

11.13 a.m.

Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)

I beg to move, That this House approves the general recommendations contained in the said Second Special Report. Until I recently became associated with the Refreshment Department, I never dreamt that there were so many potential managers of refreshment departments in the country. When the First Special Report was submitted, it soon became obvious that there were numerous people outside this establishment who felt they were infinitely more competent to run the services connected with this House than any of those on the premises.

A preponderance of newspaper correspondents, with remarkable facility, have proceeded to show how we could wipe out the deficit and provide the kind of service required. In view of the fact that the provision of the service for the Press has contributed substantially in the past—and does at present and will, I believe, in the future—to the losses sustained, I imagined that the Press correspondents would at least have refrained from exacerbating public opinion by seeking to create a totally erroneous impression. I am merely suggesting that they are much more well informed and far less innocent than the public generally regarding the Refreshment Department of the House of Commons.

I suggest that in discussing this matter we refrain from bringing any political bias into the matter. We on the Committee are much more concerned about the appetites of Members than about their politics. We recognise the great difficulties confronting us, and we endeavour to the best of our ability to provide the form of organisation and kind of services that will meet the requirements of those entitled to dine within the Palace of Westminster. If we look through the Reports that have been published over a period of years, it will be found that they, in common with the two Special Reports we are now considering, have pointed out the unsuitability of the building from the point of view of supplying the provisions, drink and other facilities that are necessary.

We have to recognise that those who constructed this building never envisaged the possibility of feeding between 1,800 and 2,000 people. Consequently, in view of the haphazard growth of the need, we find that at the present moment we are obliged to provide food and drink in all sorts of nooks and crannies far removed from the kitchens and cellars. On examination, it will be found that the larders are so far removed from the kitchens that if they had been constructed for that purpose, one would imagine that the architects had deliberately provided them to keep the rations away from the kitchens.

We likewise recognise that some of the places to which the food is taken are approximately 100 yards or more away. That involves a colossal amount of wastage, so far as labour is concerned, in carrying the food to and from these places. All those who have examined this subject have indicated the impossibility of adapting this old building to modern requirements. As far as the Committee is concerned, we deem it to be our function to provide food and drink for all the people entitled to consume it on the premises at fair prices, or prices comparable with those that are charged outside, and to do it in consonance with the needs and dignity of the House. In doing so, we believe there is a responsibility resting upon us to provide wages and conditions for the staff which we have no need to be ashamed of or to deem unsatisfactory.

When we have regard to these limitations, we recognise how the losses have occurred in the past. Let it be clearly understood that the losses sustained last year do not represent the first losses sustained by the Refreshment Department. If we examine the accounts over a century, it will be found that this problem has been confronting us perennially and that there has always been a marked division of opinion upon it.

The losses are incurred primarily owing to the unsuitability of the building. Those of us with experience in the trade know perfectly well that, if this building were so designed that we had a few large rooms with kitchens adjacent, we could feed the people at probably half the cost, but owing to the difficulties I have enumerated, that is literally impossible because we cannot carry out the necessary structural alterations.

I think we all agree as to the impossibility of calculating the number of meals that will be required in this House. That is the second cause of the losses sustained. As a plain matter of fact, we are endeavouring to do two totally incompatible things. We are endeavouring to provide a service for people who have to work in this place. Just as we deem it necessary to have messengers and a large number of other people to minister to the needs of the Members of the House if we are to conduct the business efficiently, so we recognise that, if the time of hon. Members and others is not to be wasted by leaving the precincts in order to obtain food, we are placed under the necessity of supplying the service.

That means that we have to maintain the maximum of staff to meet the needs of the maximum number of people in the shortest possible time. If hon. Members doubt that, they have only to cast their minds back to the memorable night of 14th June. They will remember what happened. On that occasion we all had the excruciating experience of gathering our trays and waiting interminably in queues. We received innumerable complaints because of the time that was wasted by hon. Members in getting food. It is literally beyond the capacity of the manager, or of the Committee, to ascertain what will be the requirements. Consequently we are constrained to keep a very substantial staff to meet those needs, even though we know that they will be idle for a very long period of the time. No person of business experience would try to conduct a business on that basis as a commercial proposition.

I want all hon. Members to realise that if we think the service is essential, as your Committee believe it to be, we must be prepared to pay for that service quite apart from its commercial aspect. People fondly imagine that we can run this service purely as a business proposition. I am sometimes amused to find that we will pay a large sum of money for some service which we deem to be essential and cavil about the relatively small amount involved in seeing that hon. Members are well served with food and drink. One of your illustrious predecessors, Mr. Speaker, very strongly rebuked hon. Members on one occasion, I understand, because they ventured to leave the precincts of the Palace to get food, much to the neglect and detriment of the business inside the precincts. We may rest assured that if we all started running away from here at times when our presence was needed for the carrying on of the business, we also would incur a rebuke from you, Sir.

That constitutes some of the reasons, but we must recognise that the major reason for the substantial loss is the decision, which the Committee believe to be a Proper decision, to refrain from casualising the waiters and waitresses and all the other people in the Refreshment Department. We believe that it is unbecoming and degrading to the dignity of the House that people should be employed to minister to our needs when we are here and in the Recesses should be compelled to go into the labour market to get employment as best they can. A substantial portion of the staff is of ages ranging between 45 and 70. I cannot imagine hon. Members virtually throwing those people into the ranks of the unemployed to scramble for employment in the periods when we do not happen to be here.

Consequently, the members of the Committee, rightly in my opinion, insist, as the old Committee had already insisted, that full employment should be provided for those people. That naturally involves us in a very substantial loss. If hon. Members will look at the Report, they will find that over the last year we sat 169 days. If anyone imagines that it is possible to make a surplus sufficiently large in 169 days to cover wages for 365 days, I suggest in all modesty that such a person knows nothing about business. We recognise that the formula which was adopted by the Treasury for meeting the loss incurred during the Recess by making a payment for those who were engaged and were paid wages, superannuation and so forth, was totally inadequate to meet the situation. Therefore, we are not wedded to the formula that we have submitted.

We suggest that it is unreasonable on the part of this House to expect the Refreshment Department to carry the losses sustained when we are not present. We believe that the Refreshment Department should discharge its obligations efficiently when we are here and when it is providing the service, but when we are not here it should not be charged with such a responsibility. It is for that reason that we suggest in the Report that, instead of working out this matter on a weekly basis, we should charge the House with the responsibility of paying for the people who are idle when hon. Members are not present. I need not state the formula mathematically, but I think it is the only basis upon which a reasonable calculation can be arrived at.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he make it clear that the formula proposed by the Kitchen Committee involves the Treasury paying wages to the staff on every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year?

Mr. Coldrick

I imagine that the hon Member is conscious of all that took place in the Committee, because he was a member of the Committee. He will recall that we considered this proposition and that an alternative was submitted, as is set out in the Report. We found as a matter of practice that although we worked for 169 days last year, very few lunches were served on Mondays and very few dinners on Fridays. Therefore, for all practical purposes, there are three full days and two half days. In the Report we draw attention to the fact that, strictly speaking and on an accountancy basis, we should proceed to calculate on four days' full service in this House. If that becomes the basis, we can eliminate Sundays and proceed, as every employer would be obliged to proceed, to pay for six days a week. On that formula we shall find that the grant-in-aid would be larger than if we included Sundays. It is simply a matter of working out the formula that has been submitted.

The Committee recognise that no business would be expected to conduct its affairs on the principles laid down by the Department. We are provided with no capital, so whether we want to buy a bun or a basket we immediately have to incur an overdraft. The new Committee started its operations with the consciousness that it was confronted first of all with a £9,000 debt and an overdraft at the bank of £32,000, on which it has to pay three per cent.

For that reason, no parallel whatever exists between the running of this establishment and the conduct of a business outside, and it is because of this that we propose in the Report that we should charge the Treasury either with the responsibility of providing the capital or with the responsibility of meeting the interest on the overdraft, for no business could possibly operate without having capital provided on a totally different basis from that which prevails in this case.

This Committee and other Committees have recognised that losses have been sustained. They have examined various means of effecting economies. I know what some hon. Members have done in creating the impression that our meals are subsidised. What have these petty economies meant? Hon. Members will recall that it was decided to remove the waiters from the Smoke Room and it was decided that we should have very few replacements, and the net result was that far more indignation was created through those petty economies than they were worth. It meant that we were retaining chipped crockery and all sorts of things which, rightly in a case of this nature, evoked strong resentment on the part of hon. Members. I trust that hon. Members will at least be big enough to recognise that petty economies of that kind are not calculated to wipe out the losses which are likely to be sustained.

Therefore, this House is charged with the responsibility of facing the issue fairly and squarely. I can say, on behalf of the overwhelming majority of the Committee, that our desire is to see the place run efficiently, but at the same time we intend to maintain the dignity of the establishment. If there are hon. Members who imagine that the work can be done much more efficiently and expeditiously—I have no doubt that a number do—we shall willingly vacate our position on the Kitchen Committee so that they may take our places. To revert again to the night of 14th June, I was amazed to find the number of hon. Members who felt that they could run the establishment far better than the present manager. From Parliamentary Secretaries down to the most humble back bencher, they could all tell us precisely what we ought to do. I had a strong suspicion that many of them had devoted a lot more attention to the arts of the cuisine than they had to the work of their own Departments and that that might account sometimes for the delay in correspondence coming from those quarters. My experience is that the people who are very dogmatic and assertive in this matter, are usually those who know least about the subject on which their dogmatism is exercised.

We have submitted a new proposal changing the basis of the formula on which the grant shall be made and we are charging the House with the responsibility of asking that the Treasury shall either provide capital, or meet the interest charge upon the overdraft.

I want to say to those who imagine that our meals are subsidised that if the meals were really subsidised, we could reasonably expect a large number of the hon. Members and the staff, in a place of this nature, to be constantly complaining about prices being too low, but I have never received a complaint that the charges we are now imposing are too low. Indeed, on innumerable occasions I have had severe complaints that they are too high. Obviously the two things are inconsistent. We cannot argue that the meals of hon. Members are being subsidised and at the same time make the allegation that the charges now being imposed are excessive. Consequently, I hope that we shall disabuse the minds of both the uninformed within the precincts of this Palace and the less well-informed outside this establishment, about this matter.

If we examine the accounts we find that 38 per cent. of the total savings represent the turnover on food and provisions. If we imagine that we can impose extra charges upon those things which comprise the 38 per cent. of the sales in order to cover our net losses, we are in common language, living in a world of fantasy.

One of the Amendments on the Order Paper to this Motion suggests that we should call in certain experts to show us how to run the establishment and to alter the methods of accounting. It will be seen from the Report that we have instituted a new method whereby accounts will be presented to the Committee more regularly. I should feel inclined to accept the Amendment, but with one proviso and that is that once the experts have given their advice, they should give the mem- bers of the Kitchen Committee and the manager six months' holiday while they carry out their own advice, bearing the responsibility for any losses incurred during that period.

I say that advisedly, because a similar proposal was introduced in 1915 or 1916. Some remarkably clever people were then brought into the House in order thoroughly to examine the accounts and structure of the Department. Their advice was that we should set up a popular restaurant, have a grill room with different charges, and a number of other things. It is fairly obvious to me that the people who received the expert advice, were much more expert in practical things than were the experts, and consequently the thing fell through. If hon. Members want to introduce experts, we ought to put the experts to the acid test of operating their own advice. If that is agreed to, I should be prepared to accept the Amendment.

The other Amendment virtually means that we have no faith in the present capacity of the Refreshment Department to do the work and that the work should be let out to some other department. I have not such a low estimation of our own capacity or of the capacity of the manager as to believe that outsiders could do this work as effectively as it is done now. Over a very long period of time the House has rightly resisted the idea that an outside establishment should have complete control of staff inside the Palace. We believe that that is our responsibility, and it was primarily for that reason that we decided to undertake the work ourselves. I trust that we shall say emphatically this morning that we stand behind the Report and that the finances of the Department shall be placed upon a stable foundation.

11.39 a.m.

Mrs. Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I beg to second the Motion.

It is highly desirable that we should come to a sensible conclusion this morning because the controversy and the unnecessary publicity which there is about this subject is unworthy of the dignity of the House. I may reiterate one or two of the points which have been made by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) but that is only because they are important. He said that in very few years during the last century were any profits made by the Refreshment Department of the House. The fact that out of 1,800 to 2,000 people who have access to this service the maximum number of Members who use it is 625, should remove the idea that the Members of this House are eating up thousands of pounds worth of food provided by the taxpayers. Other hon. Members will probably give figures comparing the amounts paid by the various classes of people who use this service.

It is true that the deficiency of the Refreshment Department has been greater since the institution of regular employment for the employees, but the employees feel they are being treated summarily if they are treated differently from the rest of the permanent employees of this House. For that reason I support the policy of giving them employment all the year round. It may be said that they get opportunities of earning additional money. I think those opportunities are fewer than most people imagine if they look merely at the months of Recess, while the staff would point out that if they do earn a little extra, their wages are not so high that it would put them into an affluent position.

We must also remember that in pitting the staff on a permanent basis, particularly the Dining Room staff. we abolished their opportunities of extra gain by way of tips. In fairness to them we must admit that while we only have certain working days, they get in their number of working hours in those working days, and, in my view, work very hard. In the catering world it is understood that an overhead charge for average wages of staff of more than 22 per cent. is not desirable. However, by keeping our staff on a permanent basis, those charges are brought up to 54 per cent. On the other hand, as I have said, we have stopped some other avenues for making extra money.

I am a newcomer to this House but have had opportunities of going round the building, and I have come to the conclusion that it is only the prospect of permanency which keeps our staff with us. I will tell hon. Members why. We in business have to conform to many rules and regulations, and I am not saying that they are wrong, but our staff have not the facilities and the conveniences which other staffs have in commercial houses. I go further and say that some of their conditions would not be tolerated by inspectors in commercial houses. The position may have arisen to some extent because the Refreshment Department has grown up in a haphazard manner with little bits here and there, all highly inconvenient, and none of them making for good and easy working.

I do not think it is realised by many people that we are serving refreshments in 13 different and scattered places in this building. The staff required is at least 150. People in the trade would agree, I think, that our turnover in a properly constructed building would not require that number of people. I am reminded of a report made by students of a domestic training college who were shown round the House of Commons this year. They came here expecting to see ideal conditions They were sadly disillusioned, and in their report which appeared in the college magazine, they said that the kitchens, which they had expected to find of the highest order, in conformity with the place they served, seemed old and deep in the bowels of the earth, and that the meals seemed to go on a mystery tour before reaching their destination, the Dining Room. In passing, to emphasise how difficult it is to cater here, may I add that the mystery tour costs us no less than £1,000 for porters to take the food on its way. Such a charge would not arise in a properly planned business house.

While the odds against economical running are great, there should be no slackness in running the service because we are the guardians of the taxpayers' money. As a Kitchen Committee it is up to us to watch the Refreshment Department to ensure that any call made on the taxpayers' money is as low as possible. I want hon. Members to note that in the Report we suggest they should have more frequent and detailed reports of the week to week workings of this Department. That has not been done before but it is very essential, otherwise we cannot keep a grip on the running of the Department. It would be a great help to us in running the Department more efficiently.

As the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee has said, some people believe that an outside firm of caterers might do the job more cheaply and efficiently. I am told that over the years there have been well-known and experienced caterers among the Members serving on this Committee. I do not think any of them have offered to take on the job. I do not profess to be well-known, but I can assure hon. Members that I would not do so.

It must be recognised, too, that earning a living in the catering trade is earning it the hard way. That applies particularly to this Palace. I feel sure, however, that the Committee will guard carefully the position and that hon. Members can look with confidence to good running provided the points made by the Chairman about financial policy—which is hopelessly at sea—are accepted. Given that, I am certain we can provide a satisfactory service which will not be a great burden on the taxpayer. Finally, I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the last three paragraphs in the Report and point out that they represent the majority view of the Committee and that we gave careful thought to the points enumerated.

11.50 a.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I have taken a considerable interest in this problem since I came back to the House. I opposed the re-election of the Kitchen Committee for a time in the hope of having a Debate then, and I have tried on two occasions since; but I know that a great many hon. Members want to speak, so I will try to set a good example by being very brief.

When the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee was speaking I sought to interrupt him. He bad prepared his speech very carefully and, naturally, did not want his thoughts to be diverted. He made a statement about the Press and said that they contributed towards the loss. I suggest that he does not know whether they contribute towards the loss or not. The Chairman and none of the Members of the Committee have the faintest idea which department pays and which loses; there is no system of cost accountancy as between the various departments. I should very much like to be the concessionaire for the Smoke Room, even for 169 days in the year, judging by the cheerful atmosphere which prevails as the result of a certain amount of expenditure.

The Report is most inadequate. It has been suggested that Members are sub- sidised, but we do not know whether they are or not. The public outside think that we are, and they do not like it. In the document which has been produced there is a heading, "Provisions, wines, cigars, etc,"; then we are told that 1,800 people are served. Surely, we might be told how much of that was paid for by Members and how much paid for by other people.

I am not unaware of the ramifications of this Department, because I am a privileged wearer of the Defence Medal, which I got for sleeping here 150 nights during the war, in common with many others. During that period we discovered every place in the building where one could "get one" in the small hours of the morning. I admit that I had the assistance of certain noble Lords and others in discovering some of the ramifications of the catering at various times of the day.

None of the speakers who have so far intervened has told us that, before we start with the accounts from the commercial point of view, this place is very heavily subsidised; it pays no rent, no rates, no Schedule "A", no cost of furniture or heavy equipment, and has free electricity, gas and water. I do not know what all those are worth on a commercial basis, but I should think that the true loss, having regard to the commercial value of the premises, equipment, gas, and so forth, is far in excess of £22,000—it is probably double that. I find not the slightest attempt on behalf of either the Mover of the Motion or the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill), who seconded, to face up to the magnitude of the loss. It is true that £81,000 is only a small turnover for a business which attracts a lot of attention.

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) talked about the disgraceful scenes on the occasion of the all-night Sitting, which I was fortunate enough to miss. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I was fulfilling an engagement which was made nine months before and I took the usual precaution of pairing, so I was not here. But I have taken part in a good many all-night Sittings in this building. We always had proper service before the war. What is the reason for the deterioration in service? [An HON. MEMBER: "Because you have been away."] No, it is not because I have been away; it is because there was passed into law a Measure which I resisted at every stage—the Catering Wages Act.

A prominent Member of this House walked into the Dining Room two nights ago. He had been engaged in the House and wanted something hot to eat. He was told that the chef had gone. But we cannot go at 9 o'clock. People must face up to the responsibility of doing the job properly. I do not want to criticise the staff in any way, but the idea that anyone can have a higher standard of living by doing less work, is not true, and that is what we are applying to the Kitchen Department.

I think that the service is much worse than it used to be. I am not blaming the staff—I have known many of them a good many years, and am on good personal terms with them; but the fact remains that the service is worse than it was. It is no good merely saying that the Department have always made a loss. They have not made losses of this magnitude. A couple of thousand pounds a year sometimes used to be the deficiency; it is now £22,000. That is what wants explaining away.

Some of us are worried and perturbed about the situation which exists. Now we are told that the lay-out is very bad—it may be. I remember that when Sir Phillip Sassoon was First Commissioner of Works he took a rather active part in improving the amenities of the Dining Room; the Smoke Room was removed from the position now occupied by the Strangers' Dining Room to its present position; the kitchen was moved across the corridor. It was a completely modern kitchen in the eyes of the then Kitchen Committee.

It may be that all the Kitchen Committee are not very good because the wrong people are appointed. My own view is that the membership of the Committee is much too large. Nobody running a commercial business would have 15 directors to run a business with a turnover of less than £100,000 a year.

Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)

When the hon. Member talks about directors of a commercial business, is he talking about full-time directors? Is he trying to compare full-time directors of a commercial business with Members of this House who serve on a committee?

Sir H. Williams

Certainly.

Take the analogy of an ordinary club, of which there are many which are running catering establishments with a bigger turnover than the Refreshment Department of this House. They have a secretary or catering manager, a chairman of the committee, and a house committee which, as a rule, is much smaller than our Committee. The ordinary board of directors of a small company may consist of one or two full-time and two or three who are part-time who serve really in an advisory capacity. If there is a board of directors or a committee of 15 to run a small business, the control which they exercise over the management diminishes in proportion to their numbers. The efficiency of a committee in managing a commercial business is in inverse proportion to its size. It is true that very large businesses want large numbers of advisory people; banks and big businesses have very large directorates because they want to have very large contacts, but the administration is always in the hands of the few. In having the administration in the hands of so many we do not know where we are

I think that these accounts, in the form of their presentation, are a disgrace—they are so uninformative. They tell us that 54 per cent. of the receipts goes in wages. I have tried to do the arithmetic, but up to now have failed because I cannot find 54 per cent. of £81,932 in the items set forth for wages. No doubt somebody has a comptometer or a slide rule or something that does percentages. It would be rather interesting to find out.

It would be interesting also to find out what were the takings in that very nice bar where we used to have supper during the war, which opens out in the Central Hall, which is patronised by the police as a bar and canteen and which we used then. I want to know whether that makes or loses money. I do not know whether the bar a little further along the corridor, to which one gains access down some stairs opposite the Lords Library, is run by us or not. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is patronised very largely by Members of the House, I have observed. It may be that they are patronising an institution which is run at a profit, because the other is run at a profit, although it caters for far fewer people.

I do not know whether the Cafeteria is a successful enterprise or not. I have observed a very large number of Members patronising the Tea Room. Is that one of the loss makers or profit makers? Downstairs, a very large number of meals are served in the Harcourt Room. Very often when we want to bring a relative or friend we find it very difficult to get tea—the place is packed. The Strangers' Dining Room is packed on most days, as is the Members' Dining Room.

We want some explanation why a business which gets all the custom it wants, and runs for more days in the year than the ordinary seaside hotel or boarding house, makes a loss.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

It does not. It makes a profit when it is working.

Sir H. Williams

But the hotel and boarding-house people have to live the whole year. Would the hon. Member say that a proprietor of a boarding-house goes away and does another job during the slack season?

Mr. Evans

They do not keep their staffs.

Sir H. Williams

They may not. But what did our staff do before the war? They said, "We hope they will rise by Bank Holiday because we have jobs fixed at Margate." That is the reality of the case.

Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)

Is not the hon. Member talking of pre-war days. when there were periods of mass unemployment?

Sir H. Williams

Even in a period of mass unemployment they had no difficulty in getting jobs during the Recesses.

Mr. Pannell

They had to be content with signing on at the labour exchanges.

Sir H. Williams

No, they did not they got jobs. Today, there is a shortage of manpower. What is the use of that kind of interruption?

Mr. Pannell rose

Sir H. Williams

What I say now can be read by my electors tomorrow if they want to pay sixpence to read it.

Mr. Pannell

The hon. Gentleman will probably contradict it.

Sir H. Williams

It is most improper to suggest that I shall contradict anything I say in this House, and I hope that the hon Member will not say that again.

I want our staff to be properly remunerated, but I think it is quite absurd to pay people full rates for 180 days in the year.

Mr. Edward Evans

At daily rates for the whole year?

Sir H. Williams

For what? We are not all on daily rates in this place. If I were, I should be paid far more—piece rates perhaps for every Question I ask or for every column of HANSARD attributed to me. Our remuneration is for performing services continuously throughout the year: twelve hours a day if the House is sitting and seven or eight hours when the House is not sitting. Those are the normal hours of work of an M.P. That is his job. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) knows perfectly well that that is what he does. Why does he pretend that he is so idle during the Recess?

We ought to treat the staff properly. The trouble before the war was that part of the staff were put on a retention rate, which was half pay, and the rest were completely sacked. That was wrong. We were a sweating shop from that point of view. The bulk of the staff did, however, succeed in obtaining remunerative employment during the long Recess. Occasionally, I am asked to take meals in London at public banquets, and so on, and I am served by people, whom I regard as friends, who work in our own dining rooms.

Mr. Edward Evans

They are paid.

Sir H. Williams

Of course they are paid; why pretend that they are not. Is the Lord President of the Council going to arrange for the whole of the catering staff for the Festival of Britain to be paid for the whole year? Hon. Members may be familiar with great exhibition places like Olympia. The exhibition opens for roughly half the year and the other half is spent in dismantling the exhibition, rebuilding, and so on. In the meantime, the catering staff—a very large staff indeed—is employed elsewhere. I do not see any reason why we should not do what everyone else does and run our catering on a proper commercial basis, and remove from the mind of the public the idea that M.Ps. are not paying the full cost of their meals. Neither the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee nor the hon. Lady can say where we are making or losing money on the catering of this House.

12.3 p.m.

Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)

One substantial point was made by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) which I think, must be answered, and I propose to do so in the course of my remarks. May I say, at the outset, that I think that it would be very wrong if we, as Members of Parliament became unduly sensitive because fun is poked at us. I think that it is a healthy sign of democracy that people, such as Members of Parliament, Ministers, and so on, should not only give the laugh but take it when it is made against them. I think that is quite fair, and I have no objection to it. I appreciate the difficulty of B.B.C. comedians who run out of reasonable material and poke fun at politicians; I think that is quite fair and quite legitimate.

Nevertheless, there are limits as to how far so-called humour is employed, and although I do not object to professional comics using us for a cheap laugh, I do rather take objection to the type of reference which appeared in the "Sunday Chronicle" on 21st May. It says this: Members will go on holiday on Friday for 18 days because Mr. Herbert Morrison does not want them hanging about Westminster getting into mischief. While they are away you will pay them about £36,000 in salaries. You will also, of course, pay for each of them their fare home. The only consolation I can offer you is that they will not be eating at your expense in the House, so you will save a little there. I propose to examine that charge in some detail. I do not object, as I said, to comics, and I do not object unduly to professional journalists who are short of copy indulging in that kind of cheap gibe. What I do object to most strongly is Members of this House, who are in a position to know and get the facts, indulging in cheap publicity with the purpose of bringing the House into disrepute. I have before me the "Daily Telegraph" of 4th May, 1950. There are these headings to a column: Critic of M.P.s' meals. 'Pathetic' food in Commons. There then follows: Mr. W. A. Steward, Conservative M.P. for West Woolwich, told the annual conference of the Catering Association in London yesterday that the standard of catering in the House of Commons was 'really pathetic.' In his opinion it rose little above the standard of any canteen. Mr. Steward, who is chairman and managing director of a West End restaurant, added: 'I am certain that the majority of Members here could put on a better meal at 5s. than we get in the House of Commons. I don't know how they succeed in making a loss, but I think it is scandalous.'… The next bit is really juicy: Some of us are going to try to get on the Kitchen Committee and have a bit of fun from which we hope the electorate will benefit. I did not know that a Select Committee of the House of Commons was a place where one had "a bit of fun." One may have lots of things but not a bit of fun. Perhaps the hon Member will tell us just what he means by "a bit of fun"?

Following on that, I will give a short quotation from a journal called "Catering Quarterly," which, I understand, is the organ of the profession. It says: At a catering conference quite recently a statement was made by Mr. W. A. Steward. Conservative M.P for West Woolwich, alleging that the standard of catering in Parliament rose very little higher than the standard of any canteen … Going back more than 30 years we are personally aware of the standard which Members of Parliament have enjoyed in the past, with a first-class caterer and administrator in control and a kitchen committee. Today, the policy of having a good caterer must surely be the same as 30 years ago. It is of little concern to us whether or not the standard of the 'House' has degenerated to the 'really pathetic' state now given as an opinion by Mr. Steward. What does concern us is the inference that the standard of canteen catering is even lower than 'pathetic.' To Mr. Steward we would say that he is obviously in possession of a very limited knowledge of canteens and their catering standards. I will not make any further comment on that.

I want the House to get this subject into reasonable perspective. We are spending a whole day discussing an item of expenditure which, in itself, is one of the most trifling. Let us be realistic about it. Last year's deficit—one of the worst we have ever had—was £22,012. The total vote for this House last year was £863,000. That amount covers Members' salaries, fares and all the rest of it. To run the House of Commons side of this Parliament the total expenditure was £863,000. I want the House to compare the two figures, so that we can get something like a true perspective.

I hope that this Debate will not generate into a two-sided political Debate. I have never questioned the right of the Opposition to select what they should debate on Supply Days or upon the Estimates, but I must say that we have not had a single Debate on the Estimates of the House as such since 1945. There has never been, so far as I can recollect a single question asked on other items except the Refreshment Department and the work of the Kitchen Committee. I am not questioning this expenditure. I believe it is perfectly sound. On police and custodians was spent £11,253 in 1945 and in 1950 that figure had risen to £20,848. Let us take the Library. I appreciate that we are getting far better service in the Library than we had in 1945 when I came here. I am told by the lawyers—God bless them—that it is the best legal library in the world. I do not know whether it is, but that is what they tell me and certainly they work very assiduously there of an evening.

In 1945–6 the cost of the Library was £2,921. I can find no records of the amount spent on books in that year, but maybe that is because I cannot read the records correctly. In 1950 salaries alone were £13,330 and books, etc., £4,285. Again, let me repeat that I am not in any way questioning what we get for that expenditure. What I am pointing out is that surely at some time in the five years there should have been some question so far as that was concerned.

The hon. Member must know surely that the Kitchen Committee was newly appointed at the beginning of this Parliament. Its first job was to face up to the whole issue and make the House face up to it. I am not being critical of previous committees, but it was this new Committee who agreed to have a departmental system of auditing and accounting so that we could find at intervals during the year just what are the takings, what are the labour costs, what are the material costs and what are the profits or the losses in every department.

I hope the hon. Member for Manchester Blackley (Mr. Diamond) will inform us, when he moves his Amendment, how much time he has spent acquainting himself with the system in operation in the Refreshment Department and the future system we are to put into operation. I was hoping that the Chairman would give the House some details under this head. In fact, we have already engaged a new employee for the purpose of running this section so that eight times a year we shall have a report and all the details before us.

There is no magic about accountancy. If we were to accept the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman it would not replace the loss of last year. It would not make the Members stop here and eat up the food, if we shut the House at seven o'clock Accountancy does not get us over the difficulty. Accountancy is merely figures on a piece of paper The magic of it sometimes absorbs the people who operate them.

Sir H. Williams

Can the hon. Member tell me how it is that the Chairman already knew that the Press dining room was making a loss?

Mr. Daines

If the hon. Member will be patient I will deal with that point very faithfully. The next fact I wish to emphasise is that we cater for 1,800 people. There are only 625 Members of Parliament. Let me repeat that, because it is just as well to get this question in proper perspective. We cater for 1,800 people and 625 are Members of Parliament. I am trying to help the hon. Member for Croyon, East (Sir H. Williams) in regard to the magic of accountancy that he was dealing with; perhaps he will pay attention. The essential figure which we have to show clearly, as we do in the Report—I assume that the hon. Member has read it—is that 54 per cent. of the turnover goes in labour costs.

I have taken an average day in the operation of the Department. I went to the catering manager and asked him to choose any average day, so that it would be quite fair. This is what I find, on Wednesday 28th June. The staff canteen average cost of meals, is a fixed charge of 1s. 6d. In the Press dining room the average cost of a meal was 3s. 9d. The average cost in the Members' dining room was 5s. 7d. May I point out that meats in the Press dining room were 98; in the Members' dining room 282; in the Harcourt dining room, 182, where the average price was 9s., and in the Strangers' dining room, 152, at 10s. It must follow that if the labour costs are 54 per cent. then it is more profitable to serve a 5s. 7d. meal in the Members' dining room than a 3s. 9d. meal in the Press dining room.

Sir H. Williams

; On that basis Lyons teashops must lose money.

Mr. Daines

The same amount of labour is employed in cooking and serving food at 3s. 9d. for the Press dining room as in the Members' dining room for 5s. 7d. Therefore, it must follow that the amount of subsidy is greater for the Press dining room than it is, proportionately, for the Members' dining room and I should have thought that, that being so, the Press would have been more concerned with giving us a fair crack of the whip.

Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, East)

When the hon. Member refers to the average cost in these respective departments does he mean the average price paid by the consumer?

Mr. Daines

Yes, I am sorry I did not make it clear. This is the average price paid for each person. If one is entertaining one's girl friend in the Harcourt there are two people accounted for.

Mr. Russell (Wembley, South)

Would the hon. Member say whether the figure mentioned is purely for food, or does it include drink?

Mr. Daines

Yes, it includes drink. It is quite obvious that if hon. Members, whatever is the rate of pay of a Member of Parliament, go into the Harcourt they do not spend 10s. on food; there must be a little lubricant with it, but I am quite impartial about it.

Members of the House who differ from the Report of the Kitchen Committee should, I consider, bring before the House alternative proposals. I wish to be quite fair. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), did, as a member of the Committee, bring before us what he put forward as considered proposals. They are in the Report. If a person is a member of the committee, and objects in principle to the Report, a duty devolves upon him to bring alternative proposals before the committee. What the hon. Member proposed was that we should sell the whole of our wine stock, raise all prices by 10 per cent. and put a capital levy on hon. Members. Whether that was political or not I do not know, but maybe he has been converted to the political principle of a capital levy. I do not, however, think we should take those proposals very seriously.

I would say a serious word or two about the alternatives which have been canvassed so far as the Report is concerned, and the proposal of the hon. Member for Croydon, East, that we should sack the staff of the House when the House is not sitting, or substantially reduce it—

Sir H. Williams

No; I suggested that the subsistence should be half-rate and not full rate; I did not say we should sack them.

Mr. Daines

What the hon. Member overlooks is that conditions outside today are different from pre-war conditions. We are today facing difficulties, because there is serious unrest among the staff inasmuch as they know very well that they would get substantially higher money outside than we are giving; but they stop here because of the presumed security that they thought we would be prepared to give as decent employers. I think we have a social responsibility which we should not evade.

As for the other proposal—I do not know whether it will be made in the House—that we should put the whole of this business out to a public caterer, that, in my judgment, is merely a subterfuge to cloak over the other proposal of sacking or reducing the staff. I think it would be most unsatisfactory, particularly in the present unsafe condition of the world, if there were an arrangement with an outside caterer, and if we never knew where we were from one day to another. We should have no control over who was employed; and all sorts of consequential difficulties would follow. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) would say then. At present he undergoes agonies and nightmares about Communism, but what would happen if the waiters in this building were unknown to us. In fact, the Red bogy would then become quite deplorable. A commercial basis is quite impossible.

Cheeseparing was tried, as the Report of the last Committee shows, and what a miserable business it was. Members of Parliament—Members of the Mother of Parliaments—could not have their tea in cups that were not cracked, because we were afraid to face up to the position and buy proper cups. For weeks in the Tea Room we had cracked cups, with all the infection that was possible, because the manager was trying to carry out the instructions given by the Committee. We have tried to cut down on staff uniforms, and that is the reason why some of our staff go about in their own dress suits instead of the normal uniform. There was a genuine attempt to cut down on expenditure, as, for instance, cutting out the waiters in the Smoke Room. When we actually did it, was there not a loud scream from the very people who are always bleating about economy? Let us have some sense of dignity and realism about the problem. I do not expect the Leader of the Opposition to go to the counter and wait his turn for his whisky; nor do I expect the Prime Minister to queue in the smoke room if he wants a cup of coffee, any more than I expect any other Member to do it. Let us at least have some sense of dignity about the conduct of this House.

The Committee—I had better close now for I have taken far more time than I intended—consists of 17 Members, and there were only three who dissented from our Report. It is perfectly true that they were Conservative Members of Parliament, and but for those three dissentients the Committee were unanimous. In fact, I go further and say that many prominent Conservative Members of Parliament were very active in framing this Report, which is now before the House. I wish to say of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), who, I anticipate, will join in the Debate if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, that while he differs with us on principle, he was very helpful in the shaping of the Report. Personally, I have no objection at all to the attitude he has taken up, which while I differ from it, seems to be a perfectly reasonable one.

Finally, I hope the House will turn down any Amendment, wherever inspired and wherever it comes from, which simply means delay. I hope the House will accept the Report. It is a matter of complete indifference to the Committee whether the Report is accepted or rejected. The Members of this Committee are not paid to sit on it, but as Members they give the best service they possibly can to their fellow Members. If the House rejects this Report, the logical thing for the House to do is to constitute a fresh Committee and let them have a go.

Finally—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is the second 'Finally'."] I do not know whether it is the third or fourth "finally," but after this one I will sit down. I believe that what is behind the whole of this—and I am excluding Members of the House of Commons from this—is a cheap campaign of political, sneering and innuendos which allege that because there is a majority of Labour Members in this House prices are rigged so that Labour Members and other Members will get their meals on the cheap. That is untrue, and is unworthy of any honest examination of our accounts. Anyone who makes such an imputation should be ashamed of himself.

12.26 p.m.

Mr. Steward (Woolwich, West)

I rather think that few new Members have been called upon to make their maiden speech following such a barrage as we have listened to from the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines). I feel that I should like to explain the circumstances which caused me to make the utterances to which the hon. Member has referred. First of all, I have recently been appointed a member of the council of the Caterers' Association, and was asked to speak on "A Caterer in Parliament." I spoke thereon, and I did not think that anyone would take exception to anything that I said. I might add that at the beginning of the proceedings the chairman announced that it was a private meeting, and so inferred that anything that was said would be private. Rightly or wrongly, I concluded it was private.

At the end of my speech a man got up in the audience and said he thought it was disgusting that Members of Parliament, who were paid £1,000 a year, could not afford to pay a proper price for their meals and that the taxpayer had to help to meet the cost. I got up—I may have been feeling a bit raw—and said it was ridiculous; that we paid an adequate price for our meals, and that in my view—which was an honest one—the meals were pathetic. I particularly had in mind that the previous day or so I had ordered grilled herring, being fond of it—

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Steward

—only to be served with herring which had been tinned and re-heated.

Mr. Boothby

Shame.

Mr. Steward

In my view at that time the dishes were colourless and tasteless. Having had experience of certain types of catering, I really thought that the standard was low. I, too, had seen the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition having to queue up for their drinks, and I had also seen Members who were not trusted with having sufficient money to pay for their teas, because when bringing a guest to this House, a Member has to buy something which resembles a cross between a tote ticket and a cheap theatre or cinema ticket before he can have his tea. It is most undignified that Members should have to do that. Even in the East End of London the proprietor trusts his customers to pay afterwards.

Mr. John Lewis (Bolton, West)

Did the hon. Member say the East End of London or the West End of London?

Mr. Steward

What I said at the time I honestly believed to be true and I do not withdraw one single word of it. The House can understand what were my feelings, when I saw what was recorded on the tape machine. Certainly, had I known that my statement was going to be published, I would not have let this House down in public. I am not a man of that type. Having got that off my chest, I crave that indulgence for which this House is well known, and which I will try to deserve.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House are most interested in the First and Second Special Reports of the Select Committee. The public in general find it difficult to understand how it has been possible to lose some £54,000 in three years in providing Members and their guests and the staff, with meals and refreshments for which fair, and indeed adequate, prices are charged. That is particularly so when it is known that no charge is made for rent, furniture, heavy equipment, electricity, gas and water, all of which are provided free. The Committee are right in stating that the House expects to be provided with food and drink at prices comparable to those charged in similar outside establishments, in accordance with the needs and dignity of the House; I submit that if we cannot do this without costing the taxpayer this considerable sum of money, we should give the job to an outside catering firm.

Many outside firms, because of their experience and the time at their disposal, would run the service with greater efficiency, give a better standard of food without loss to the State and, in addition, consider it an honour to serve this House. It is no good treating the catering business lightly merely because someone else is paying the losses. In this case the "someone else" is the British taxpayer who sends us here to protect his interests. If the House of Commons is to run its own catering, it must apply ordinary business principles or increase the taxpayers' already heavy burden.

There is not the slightest doubt that to run a good restaurant service in the House of Commons, charging reasonable prices and functioning at all the hours required, is not an easy task. On the other hand, I am not convinced that we can run a satisfactory service only by making heavy losses such as are disclosed. Nor am I satisfied that the many shortcomings of the premises, and there are many, in which the kitchen and services have to function, contribute to the loss to any great extent. Certainly they contribute to the difficulties, but many similar shortcomings exist in some of London's best restaurants which provide first-class food. I am not impressed by the statement in the Report about having to serve a great number of staff meals. There are many people in London who get their living from that type of trade, and it should not be unprofitable.

I agree with the comments in paragraph 10, where reference is made to the provision of a new Press dining room which, it is alleged, will add to the expenses of the Committee. Surely, there will be a good turnover, the gross profit upon which should be made to cover any additional running expenses and still show a net profit. I notice in paragraph 16 that the Committee express their intention of scrutinising thoroughly the takings in the various refreshments rooms. I hope that the Committee will not only scrutinise the takings but also the costing and control figures, including the amount of profit or loss made or incurred by each section. I understand from what was said by the hon. Member for East Ham, North, that the Committee will do that, and I am very pleased about it.

The Committee are right when they say that it is ridiculous for the restaurant to be expected to pay interest at 3 per cent. on a bank overdraft of some £32,000. This interest is a complete waste of money. I fail to understand the financial wizardry of the Treasury in permitting this amount to be paid, thus adding to the loss eventually to be borne by the taxpayer.

I should like to comment upon the accounts for the year ended 31st December, 1949, or, to put it more correctly, such bare informative figures as the Reports disclose. The total receipts for provisions, wines, spirits, cigars, etc., amount to £81,932. The cost of those items consumed amounted to £58,711 14s. 3d. The gross profit, i.e., the difference between the two amounts, is £23,221 which represents 28 per cent. on the sales. I am not satisfied with the figure of gross profit. I have carefully weighed up the prices charged with what I consider to be the cost of the food and liquor consumed, and I calculate that the gross profit figure should be at least 10 per cent. more, that is, 38 per cent. on sales, which would have been sufficient to wipe out the deficit of £7,000.

I believe that the gross profit on food sold throughout the restaurant undertakings of the House is about 35 per cent. to 36 per cent., that on liquor it is 46 per cent. and on cigars and cigarettes it is 17 per cent. That is an all-round average of 38 per cent. The House would like to know why only 28 per cent. gross profit was earned and what exceptional circumstances caused the drop of £7,000 in gross profit on trading only. It would be interesting to know what sort of control exists on purchases, sales and stocks and whether any member of the Kitchen Committee has had sight of these control figures. I understand from the hon. Member for East Ham, North, that that will be done. I should also like to know whether the Kitchen Committee has the time—I emphasise the word "time"—to look through the invoices to see what prices are charged for the various goods.

I can understand that the answers to the first two points may be in the negative, because Members are not sent here to function as catering managers; but if the House desires to run its own catering and if losses are to be kept down to the minimum, it is necessary for someone to keep that master's eye on affairs without which the ox never fattens, nor does any undertaking flourish. Members having the temerity to criticise these accounts are under a considerable handicap, to find where the loss has been incurred. I should have liked to see the receipts divided between provisions, liquor and cigars and further split up into various sections—for example, the Members' Dining Room, the Harcourt Room, Private Room, Press Room, Cafeteria and Staff Canteen. Only by that method shall we know where we are making a profit and which section is a burden on the undertaking. Then, possibly, we could take steps to alleviate the losses in the sections concerned.

For some reason or other it is thought that we Members should be satisfied with the bare disclosures in the Reports. I assure the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) and the hon. Member for East Ham, North, that there are Members on this side of the House who are ready to contribute constructive criticism without any desire to gain notoriety or wish in any way to depreciate the valuable work done by the Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East.

Turning once again to the accounts, I find, under the heading "Kitchen Refuse" a small item of £34 7s. 4d. shown as a receipt. I am certain that if the controlled price is being paid for the swill from this House, the figure should be three times as large. On the question of wages and salaries, shown at £38,214, no catering undertaking could possibly run at such a high cost in relation to turnover. As can be seen, that figure actually exceeds the total gross profit earned by no less a sum than £16,000, which is fantastic. I do not know where the hon. Member for East Ham, North, gets his figure of 54 per cent., because the total turnover is £81,000, and wages and salaries come to £38,000, so that in any case the latter must be under 50 per cent. of the former. The figure is probably 48 per cent.

It is all very well to talk about providing conditions of employment for the staff of which this House need not be ashamed, but if we are to run our own catering arrangements without loss and not at the expense of the taxpayer, we certainly cannot afford to pay full wages for 52 weeks in the year for work done and income earned during only 38 weeks, each of five days' duration. Here again, Members are at a disadvantage in having little information on which to comment with accuracy, but it will be seen that our wage bill appears to be in the region of £730 a week. Fourteen weeks Recess means roughly £10,000 loss with little or no additional income to meet this item. No undertaking with a turnover of only £80,000 per annum could afford a wage bill of £730 a week, because it would have no fairy godmother—this must be the first time the Treasury has been called that—to meet its losses.

I appreciate the argument that if we did not provide continuity of employment we might not be able to retain a more or less permanent staff. On the other hand, if the House insists upon paying wages for 52 weeks in the year, extra income must be obtained to meet that extra expense. If the disadvantages are not insurmountable and I am not considered revolutionary, I would suggest that by opening the catering facilities of the House of Commons to the public during the Recess we would undoubtedly get that extra income and be able to pay the extra expense. This proposal may or may not find favour, but the alternatives are: first, to continue being sub- sidised by the Treasury, which is at the taxpayers' expense, however much one may dislike that phrase; second, to pay wages for 38 weeks only plus two weeks' holiday and run the risk of having a continuous change in personnel; third, to give the job to a private catering firm who would make it pay by placing their staff elsewhere during the period when their services were not required.

If I may be allowed and if the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East, will not be offended, I would like to offer a few criticisms of the actual catering in the House, from an ordinary Member's point of view. I do not believe our chief cooks are quite good enough. There is not quite the finish that there should be in many of the dishes; neither does there appear to be any set standard in the portions served, and that can very easily contribute towards the losses of a catering undertaking. There is a lack of culinary skill in the kitchen and there is not enough supervision over many of the dishes served. For example, I do not know from where we buy our sausages, but the casings are so tough that the best way to handle them would appear to be as one would a tube of toothpaste.

I have already mentioned the teas. I think the sandwiches are really pathetic. The fillings are very poor, and I am quite certain that most of the sandwiches which are prepared for teas, find their way into the swill bin. Carving, I think, is done very haphazardly, particularly with the smoked salmon, which is a very expensive item and is nearly always carved badly and never the right way. It is usually sliced downwards, which is wrong. A good carver, as any restaurateur will agree, can save pounds. Incidentally, I believe we pay the top price for smoked salmon, but we certainly do not get the best quality.

The coffee served is not good, and it is not expensive to produce good coffee. There is a certain method which could be introduced; I am not a sales manager or representative for a particular method, but it could be introduced quite inexpensively and I am certain that Members would be pleased with the result. Red or white Bordeaux wine has been advertised on the menu at 2s. a glass, and 5s. 6d. a half bottle since this Parliament opened. I have made repeated requests for that item, only to be presented with some of the Ministry of Food's cheap Algerian wine, which is suitable only for wine vinegar.

The criticisms I have been permitted to make, I assure the House are offered with sincerity and with the sole desire to be constructive and helpful. I hold the view that this great House of Commons could and should provide meals second to none at prices to suit hon. Members' pockets. I believe this could be done if ordinary business principles were applied. I personally do not think it right that we should continue under a system whereby the taxpayer has to contribute 20 per cent. and more to the cost of the food and drink which we enjoy in this House. I understand that the House of Lords catering is carried on efficiently and without loss to the taxpayer. It surely is not beyond this House to do likewise.

12.46 p.m.

Mr. Diamond (Manchester, Blackley)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: while recognising the difficulties under which the Refreshment Department operates, instructs the Select Committee—

  1. (a) to seek the services of independent experts to advise them on the efficient running of the Refreshment Department and on its accounting arrangements:
  2. (b) to reconsider the recommendations of their Second Special Report in the light of the advice so obtained, and to report to the House."
It falls to my very pleasant lot to offer the congratulations of the House to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Steward) who has just made his maiden speech in a fluent and very audible manner. We are always delighted to be able to hear a new Member, particularly one speaking on a subject on which he is obviously very well informed. I should like also to congratulate him on the choice of subject and on the occasion, because it is very pleasant indeed for an hon. Member who is anxious to avoid controversy to speak when we are not discussing a party Measure and when the Whips are off. Although he was himself the subject of some controversy, the hon. Member was able to avoid any controversy in his own speech.

I myself offer the hon. Member my own personal thanks, for he enabled me to start off in a manner which I hope will be acceptable to the whole of the House. I certainly have the feeling that what I am about to say in the remainder of my speech may not he entirely acceptable in all quarters. In fact, if any hon. Member finds a rather unusual item on the menu, such as roast yak, and discovers that it is perhaps rather tough and has an uninviting taste, he will not be surprised to find shortly after that there is a by-election in Blackley.

In the first week of my Membership of this honourable House, I learned that there were three rules which every new Member must obey. He must under no circumstances clap, he must not refer to the House of Lords, and he must never say anything pleasant about any member of the Kitchen Committee. I hope with your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, to be allowed to break that rule and to express my gratitude to all the members of the Kitchen Committee who have a very difficult and thankless task, as I am sure every Member of the House recognises. If there are vacancies on the Kitchen Committee I am sure the volunteers will be very few indeed.

In thanking the Kitchen Committee for the work they have done, I hope I may be permitted also to express my own gratitude to those officers who serve under them and from whom I have always received complete courtesy and very adequate attention, although I may add that I have never been conscious of having been given anything more in any dining room or in any way of service than that for which I thought I was paying a reasonable price.

Having said all that, I think the circumstances of this case are such as to warrant a re-examination by the Kitchen Committee, and by the House, of their own Report. I recognise that losses in this House, with catering in the way it has to be carried on, may be inevitable. I recognise that there are special circumstances. I recognise that losses have been made over the last 100 years and I want to put the matter in its proper perspective. I recognise that there is the point of view of a service as well as the purely commercial approach to this problem. Nevertheless, I think we must examine what has been reported in the Second Report, having regard to the size of the losses, having regard to the way the losses have mounted, having regard to what is likely to happen to the losses in future if nothing further is done, and having regard to our own special position as Members of Parliament dealing with taxpayers' money for ourselves, among others.

First, the size of the losses. In the first Report we are given figures, but, of course, they are what I might call the minimum figures. Even accepting this figure of £7,600 as the net loss for 1949, that alone, I should have thought, was a figure which would make every hon. Member pause and wonder whether some further examination ought not to take place. But I cannot accept that figure as a fair and full description of the loss sustained by the Catering Department.

There is a note under the Trading and Profit and Loss Account. I cannot help thinking it unfortunate that the Kitchen Committee did not regard it as appropriate to expand on that note and to give some estimate of the money involved. The note says that a large number of services are provided free by the Ministry of Works, the Stationery Office, and the Post Office. No figure has been given for that and if I am compelled to make my own estimate, and my estimate should be wrong, I do not feel that I shall owe an apology to the House but rather that the Kitchen Committee might have helped me and the House in general by making some estimate based on what, in fact, was already being given by way of hidden subsidy.

I have made the only calculation it is open to me to make. First, I have taken the cost of the food. With the normal percentages, I have built from that what would be the overheads of a normal establishment which had to serve that amount of food. Taking that into account, and having made the appropriate adjustment for the existing overhead expenses by reference to certain items, and in particular to the additional payment made to the staff during holidays, it seems to me quite clear that no less than £20,000 is the amount of hidden subsidy already in these figures in relation to such items as rent, rates, lighting, heating, depreciation and so on—all the items which are referred to by either the Comptroller General or by the Committee in their note under the profit and loss account itself.

The figure at which I have arrived is slightly in excess of £20,000 per annum. Therefore, if one takes the view of the accounts which I take, namely, that during the last four years, as shown in the second Report—the years 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949—the trading loss before counting Treasury aid amounted to £61,000; and if one adds to that the £20,000 worth of overhead expenses which a commercial undertaking would have to incur each year, an additional £80,000, one arrives at what, in my view, is a fair estimate of what has been lost by the Catering Department over the last four years—namely, something in the neighbourhood of £140,000.

That figure is my estimate. It is an honest estimate. It may be inaccurate, because the information has not been given. If it is inaccurate, then it is an excellent argument for having an expert give the information which I suggested should be supplied. If it is accurate, then it is an excellent argument for having a catering expert to see why we have lost £140,000 during the last four years. Thus, the first of my reasons for wishing the Report to be re-examined is the size of the losses which have been made last year and in the three previous years.

My next reason is the trend of the losses. Great stress has been laid on the very important fact that the staff are now paid throughout the year and I do not dissent one iota from that practice. But the fact remains that that was first put into operation in 1947 and that, the Treasury having given their grant on the basis of non-sitting days in the year, the accounts for that year showed a profit of nearly £1,000. Thus, during the first year that this present system was in operation there was a profit of £1,000, after having taken into account the Treasury grant. The exactly comparable figure for 1949 is a loss in excess of £7,500.

When we have a trend like that of a profit in year one of £1,000; a loss in year two of £5,000; and a loss in year three of £7,500, surely it is up to us as responsible Members of Parliament to see how far we have travelled and, indeed, where we are going. When we look at the Report we find one suggestion, and one only, which might reduce expenditure—namely, the comment, numbered 13, that the choice of dishes served in the Dining Room is excessive. That is one suggestion which might reduce the loss, but there are a vast number of suggestions, which might be absolutely advisable and worth while, all of which would have the effect of increasing the amenities, increasing the costs and, therefore, increasing the loss, unless prices are raised or something is done about it. We are therefore faced with the fact, first, that the real losses have been very substantial indeed; secondly, that they have been increasing at an enormous rate; and thirdly, that the recommendations of the Kitchen Committee are that additional amenities should be provided which, in the absence of any other substantial recommendation, can only mean that losses will be greater in the future.

I am sorry that the Kitchen Committee did not give me a figure for what I would call this hidden subsidy of rent, rates and so on, and I am still more sorry that they did not comment in the second Report on what I thought was one of the most relevant statistics in the whole of the accounts, especially after they had very helpfully said in their first Report that they would make a complete review of the whole situation. The point to which I refer is one upon which the Comptroller and Auditor General himself comments and it is, indeed, almost the only one upon which the Comptroller and Auditor General does comment. I should have thought that there could have been no greater invitation to the Kitchen Committee than that comment, to which they could have replied by giving the explanation.

I refer, of course, to the fall in the rate of gross profit. Anyone who has to look after an commercial undertaking, or indeed any similar activity where one buys and sells—and I do not class this as a purely commercial undertaking of course—is concerned, as a first statistic, with his rate of gross profit. It is elementary and we are all concerned with it. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) is not here to help us with his advice; he seems to take the point of view that under no circumstance can experts contribute anything in any walk of life. [An HON. MEMBER: "He did not say that."] Apparently he took that view. I am only too glad to repeat that comment and I do not propose to withdraw one syllable of what I said.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has pointed to the position in the year 1947, when we had all the problems which we still have, and when things were presumably as difficult or as easy as they are now—and I know nothing of the circumstances; I have not examined the figures and I have not had an opportunity, nor did I think it appropriate, to go into the whole host of details with anyone. I have had what is open to every other hon. Member—these Reports—and if these Reports are inadequate to enable one to form a conclusion, that casts a reflection on those who have submitted them to us.

In 1947 the gross profit was 62½ per cent. of the cost. It is expressed as gross profit on the cost, so let us keep to that. It was 62½ per cent. in 1947. In 1948 it fell to 47 per cent. In 1949 it fell to 41.2 per cent. Why? Not a word of explanation. It is the main statistic in any similar account. Attention is drawn to it first and foremost by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is the one thing which has no relevance whatsoever to staff, to crockery—to all these other things we have been hearing about. It represents purely the difference between the cost of food and drink and the sale price of food and drink. Why should that vary at all? Why it should vary by this colossal rate is something for which I say this House, without one dissentient, ought to think itself responsible enough to say, "We must have this looked into."

The House ought to examine very carefully to see what would have happened if the figure of 62½ per cent., which the Kitchen Committee, with all the difficulties in this House, with all the difficulties we had in 1947, was able to achieve then, had been maintained, when with that gross profit ratio there was a net surplus, after taking into account the Treasury grant, of £1,000. Had that gross profit ratio been maintained—and we have not had one syllable of explanation as to its fall—there would have been a loss of only £500—a negligible loss. In 1949, when we were battling with a net deficit of £7,500, which the Kitchen Committee recognised to be substantial enough to justify the trouble, for which we are grateful, to have a review of the undertaking, if the gross profit ratio had not been changed, there would have been a net profit, after taking into account the Treasury grant, of more than £4,500—if only the same difference between the cost and the sale price of food and drink had been maintained.

That, I should have thought, was a very material item; and the net result of all that, in all these three years, would have been, instead of a loss of nearly £12,000—the net deficit for those three years, as shown in the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report—there would have been a net surplus of £5,000. At the start of that year there was £2,000 "in the red", as it were, so instead of having a net capital deficit in December. 1949, of £5,600, the Kitchen Committee would have had a capital balance of £3,000. I must regard that as a matter which seriously requires examination by those who are most capable and who have the time to look into that situation. That is the second point to which I draw the attention of the House—not only the size of the losses but the trend of the losses.

Then when one looks to the future, one does see that the losses in the future are more likely to rise than fall, because there is only one suggestion, and that, perhaps a minor suggestion, made for a reduction in the losses, but a whole host of suggestions—which, I repeat, may be perfectly good, proper, acceptable suggestions—made regarding increasing the amenities for both Members and staff, which may be perfectly worth while but which will inevitably have the effect of increasing the losses on the present basis.

There is one further reason why I think it is really up to the House to have another look at this situation before it adopts the Kitchen Committee's Report. That is what I may call the approach to the problem. I recognise that this is not a commercial undertaking, in that those normal commercial criteria are not wholly relevant. Nevertheless, I do not think they can be wholly excluded, and I think we have to look at it partly in that way and partly in the way that there are services being given. But if there is an argument that it is necessary to give services to Members—in the Library, by way of messengers, and in the refreshment rooms; and I recognise that it is so, particularly at all-night Sittings—if the service point of view is appropriate there, then I think we should be a little more specific about why, although the service point of view may be relevant for 600 Members, it is also relevant for some 1,200 others.

I do not know who those others are. I only know from the Report that 1,800 people are served, of whom 600 are Members. Therefore, 1,200 are not. I should have been happier if the Committee had shown us that it is essential that all those others, whoever they may be, should be supplied with that form of service—that is to say, irrespective of the fact that money was being lost in so doing, and that that money was being lost in a large way. I think it is absolutely essential that we should know more about the situation than we know at present. Even if we accept the principle that these services are appropriate for Members, I think we should know a good deal more about why we should have to adopt the same principle for others unspecified, referred to by numbers only in the Report.

At the same time I think I must point out that the whole attitude of the Committee in framing the Report—at all events the majority Report—seems to have been to cover the losses rather than to avoid them. I think it is unfortunate that that should have to be said, but the Report itself makes it quite clear that the Committee feels that these losses are inevitable, and that what the House has to do is to face the matter fairly and squarely, and see that these losses are covered by the Treasury. I think that before we accept these losses as being inevitable, we should look into the matter a little more carefully.

One could make a lot of suggestions. It is open to every hon. Member to do so. One contribution which it occurs to one to make is that, perhaps, the wine stocks are too large. If they contribute to the overdraft, either additional prices should be put on the wines—and, in any case, wine improves with keeping and so could bear additional prices—or the stocks should be run down. I should have thought that, in certain respects, the amenities could be considerably reduced, accompanied by appropriate reductions in the prices, of course. I should have thought it would have been worth while considering whether hon. Members should voluntarily agree to a 10 per cent. service charge.

I am entirely in favour of the abolition of tipping, but I was not aware that the abolition of tipping was instituted so as to save Members money. I thought it was done so as to put the staff on a proper footing, and that I accept; but there is no reason why at the same time hon. Members, who in all other establishments naturally and normally give tips at the end of every meal—on the train or wherever they go they automatically do that—should be saved this 10 per cent. It seems to me quite reasonable, therefore, that such a suggestion should be considered, whereby Members would give a 10 per cent. contribution added on to the bill automatically whenever eating in rooms where they receive service, and that these cumulative 10 per cent. charges should be retained by the Kitchen Committee—not handed over to the staff, because they are already dealt with, but retained by the Kitchen Committee—as an appropriation in aid towards the total cost of wages.

Whatever individual suggestions we may have to make, a far more important thing is to realise that here is a case for a fuller examination of the whole facts. I am suggesting, therefore, in the words of the Amendment, that we should seek the services of independent experts. The independent experts I have in mind are two, one a catering expert and the other a chartered accountant. The House can, of course, take a different view if they think fit. Perhaps I might declare my interest immediately as a chartered accountant, and also say that I hope the House will accept the statement that there are occasions when chartered accountants can make a useful contribution from their professional knowledge and experience. Until that full and further investigation has taken place, we ought to ask the Kitchen Committee to keep an open mind on the conclusions they have reached so far.

It is fairly clear from what has been said today that they have not had really adequate information on which to base their conclusions. That seems clear from what is indicated in recommendation 16, which says: Your Committee have arranged that in future detailed trading accounts are to be presented. It seems from that recommendation, and from what has been said this morning, that the Kitchen Committee has not been given hitherto the necessary information on the takings and expenses of the separate sections for which they are responsible. Until we can localise these losses, I do not see how we can possibly attempt, in a fully informed and sensible manner, to deal with the problem. It is because the Kitchen Committee have not been adequately informed, in my view, that I am asking them to keep an open mind on the conclusions they have so far reached until an investigation has taken place.

I think I am entitled to refer to the other place as an example of a similar catering problem. My information is that the other place makes a small profit on its catering over the year, and that it pays its staff the whole year round. I do not know whether that is an exact comparison. But surely the public must feel that some examination is required if the other place can make a profit while this House makes a loss which is very substantial indeed.

If this investigation takes place and shows, as indeed it might, that the Kitchen Committee have done an excellent job, as well as their officers, and that there is nothing whatsoever, given the circumstances of this House, which can be done to reduce these losses, then the Report will have been well worth while. For we are in the position of trustees, voting ourselves money, in effect, by adopting this Report. We have to satisfy the public at large, particularly the taxpayers, that we are being more than honourable in regard to the use of their money.

Mr. Albu (Edmonton)

I beg to second the Amendment.

1.14 p.m.

Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)

I am glad that this Amendment has been put down. The fact that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has been nodding approval with very much of what has been said by the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) indicates that the Amendment has not been entirely a surprise to him. I certainly agree that we cannot just accept the accounts of the Kitchen Committee in this form, and that we must have another look at them. I also agree that the Kitchen Committee should be asked to submit their accounts in a much more amplified form—perhaps they might study the Companies Act and see what a private company has to do in similar circumstances.

I have the highest possible regard for the Kitchen Committee. Theirs is not only a rotten job, but a thankless one. I also have a high regard for the staff, from the catering manager downwards. We have very loyal and cheerful service in the House, and the last thing we want to do is to impair the conditions under which the staff work. I would join issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Steward), who has just made his maiden speech. I think that the food of this House is excellent, especially at lunch. Although I do not know how to carve salmon, I do not think the smoked salmon is anything to grumble about.

Having said that, there is surely a much wider consideration. It is not the consideration of £25,000, or whatever the amount is, which is a small sum of money compared to the amounts the House dispenses in other directions. There is one overriding consideration, to which the hon. Member for Blackley referred, and that is the good name of the House of Commons. Whatever we may do in other directions, we must be extremely jealous of the perquisites we vote ourselves. I do not want to hear B.B.C. comedians in "Music Hall" talking about Members of Parliament eating their heads off at the taxpayers' expense. I do not want to be asked by a heckler what I had for dinner at his expense.

That is why I feel that we cannot accept this Report, and, above all, the recommendations as they stand. What does it all amount to? It means that in spite of no rentals or expenses on fuel, light and heating, we are to ask the taxpayer to pay the whole of the wages of the staff, not only when the House is not sitting, but on Saturdays and Sundays as well. We are asking the taxpayer, in effect, to push 2s. under our plate every time we sit down for dinner. I am not prepared to accept that without much further investigation.

The hon. Member for Blackley referred, quite rightly, to the contrast of the House of Lords. I know that the conditions are different. They do not have dinner there, and in other respects the conditions are also different. The fact is that these unpaid servants of the State, in contrast to Members of Parliament who are paid, make their catering establishment "break even." I am told that the food is not as good. Perhaps it is not, but at any rate they are not prepared to eat the bread of charity by asking the taxpayer to pay for the quality of their food.

Mr. Coldrick

Will the hon. Member indicate where he has seen the accounts of the other place published?

Mr. Gammans

I am open to correction. If the hon. Member is prepared to say that they are making a loss, I will accept that, but I do not remember the Kitchen Committee of the House of Lords asking the Treasury for a subvention.

Mr. Coldrick

No accounts are published.

Mr. Gammans

But they do not come here and ask for money, as we are doing today.

There are one or two minor points I should like to raise. One is that the kitchens are obsolete. If they are obsolete, I should willingly consider a grant for their improvement. I would consider a grant for the modernisation of the kitchens, or any other part of the House, if it meant that from then on we could "break even." It may be right that we should feed our own staff and, perhaps, the Press at the taxpayers' expense, but I should want a great deal of convincing that we should feed ourselves and our visitors at the taxpayers' expense.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I was a Member of this House 20 years ago and the thing that has impressed me more than anything else on coming back now, is the difference of the attitude of the staff in the Refreshment Department. Twenty years ago, because they were ill paid, they were servile in their desire to attend us. Now there is an entirely different spirit. It is a very welcome change and the Kitchen Committee ought to congratulate itself upon it.

Mr. Gammans

That is all right, but it does not affect what I was saying. I certainly do not want the staff in the House to be ill paid. Let us pay them ourselves, but not ask the taxpayer to provide tips for the staff. I think the charges at lunch here are less than one would have to pay at a comparable West End restaurant, especially when we consider tipping. If hon. Members do not believe me, I challenge them to eat here on varied menus for a whole week and then to go along to a West End restaurant, order exactly the same thing, and see what they have to pay for it. These are minor complaints. My chief complaint is that the Kitchen Committee are apparently not even prepared to try to find an alternative. They just accept the fact that the loss has to be borne by the taxpayer. I am not prepared to adopt that attitude.

The Committee ought to see whether this job can be put out to contract. There would be one overwhelming advantage, in that the contractor would be in a position to find alternative employment for the staff when the House was not sitting. Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and the summer are the times when there are the greatest demand in the hotels. The standard answer to that is that it was tried in 1937, but under rather special conditions. I think Lyons turned it down. If it was tried then, why cannot the Kitchen Committee get it tried again. If they could come back and say, "We have tried to put this job out to contract. We have advertised it in every way but no one will take it on," or "No one will take it on without a subvention," they would be in a strong position to ask for help from the taxpayer. As it stands, and, above all, in its recommendations, the Report exposes Members of Parliament to undesirable insinuations at a time when parliamentary government is challenged all over the world. Let us see that nothing we ourselves do, enables Parliament to be derided and attacked.

1.23 p.m.

Miss Bacon (Leeds, North-East)

I was very pleased at the manner in which the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) began his speech, by expressing sympathy with the members of the Kitchen Committee. They are, like myself, new members. When I was asked, three months ago, if I would be a mem- ber of the Kitchen Committee I first of all refused, but, under pressure, accepted. Then I discovered I was a member of a Committee which was supposed to run a business without capital, with a bank overdraft, and in circumstances which made it impossible to make a profit. Not only that, but we seemed to be the target for jokes, for newspaper cartoonists, for criticism by members of the public, and even for criticism by Members of this House, who ought to know better.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hornsey used certain phrases. He referred to the bread of charity. It is not in keeping with the dignity of the House to suggest that we are eating the bread of charity. He referred to prices here not being comparable with those charged in West End restaurants. I think most hon. Members will agree that the prices here are as much as they can afford to pay. They are not cheap. I grant that they may be much cheaper than the prices paid in West End restaurants, but the overwhelming majority of Members of this House cannot afford, and never could afford to eat in West End restaurants. We are here to do a job of work and we cannot afford to go to West End restaurants.

Mr. Gammans

If the hon. Lady is admitting that the prices here are lower than those of West End restaurants, then she is admitting that our prices are subsidised by the taxpayers.

Miss Bacon

No, not at all. I do not eat at West End restaurants, and I do not know much about them, but I know that we pay a sufficiently high price for the food we eat here. An examination of the menu will show that. I remember taking a taxi to get here at about I o'clock mid-day. As soon as I said "House of Commons" the taxi driver said, "I suppose you are just going in time for your lunch. I understand it has the best and cheapest lunch in London" I told him that he ought to try it.

I have a menu here I know that hon. Members are well aware of this menu and propose to quote some items from it because members of the public outside are not aware of it. They believe, because of the propaganda that is being put forward, that we are getting very cheap meals every day of the week. I see here, for instance, "corned beef fritters," which is probably a piece of corned beef fried, at 1s. 9d. After that, to make up the meal, you need to have potatoes at 6d. or peas at 8d., in addition to sweet, soup or cheese, or anything else that you desire. Further, there is fillet of plaice on its own, at 2s. 6d. Any criticism from hon. Members about prices comes from both sides of the House and is that the prices are too high for the food we receive.

I cannot answer in great detail the points put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond). He employed theoretical accountancy arguments which I should like to see in print before commenting in detail upon them. I would like to refer to some of the things he said. First of all he asked, "Who are the people who have to be fed in this House, in addition to the Members?" He said he did not understand who they were. I should have thought that anybody who has been a Member for five years would fully understand what other people have to be fed within the precincts. They are secretaries, staffs of the House, the Press, and visitors. Let us not forget that we are here from morning to night five days a week. If we have to see visitors we see them here. We cannot leave the House. We have to have here not only our personal visitors but visitors from our constituencies and business visitors. I should have thought that would have been evident even to my hon. Friend.

I was surprised to hear him suggest that we should have a 10 per cent. service charge. Experience in the past has shown, and figures have proved, that when prices have risen so high as to become incomparable with those outside, Members have tended to go out for their meals. The amount both of trade and of profit then falls off. We have to be careful that prices do not get so high that the loss becomes correspondingly more.

I suppose it is inevitable, in a Debate of this kind, for hon. Members to mention details of the services that we get here and the food that we have. I also have criticism of some of the food and of the way in which it is served. However, any suggestions which members of the Kitchen Committee have from hon Members are usually for improving the facilities, suggestions which result in spending and not in saving money, thus adding to our losses. The main purpose of the Debate is to enable the House to stand up squarely to the position in which the Kitchen Committee finds itself, because this is not primarily a responsibility of the Kitchen Committee. It is a responsibility of the whole House. I hope the House will state quite definitely the limits in which it requires the Kitchen Committee to work.

I want to reiterate some of the problems with which the Kitchen Committee is faced at present and with which accountancy cannot deal in any way. First of all, we are not like any commercial establishment I believe that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Steward) is a caterer. He said, airily, "Let this out to a commercial establishment." Up to now we have had no offer from any catering establishment to take over the service

Mr. Gammans

Has it been made known publicly that we are willing to accept an offer?

Miss Bacon

I understand that previous Kitchen Committees have made known that desire and that while a few minor firms at first thought that they would be able to tackle the job, when they saw what they were up against they would not take it on. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, is not in his place because I should like to ask him whether his firm would have been able to take it on and make the many improvements, including those in carving and serving, which he mentioned.

It must be agreed that we cannot compare this with an ordinary catering establishment. The building is completely out of date in many respects. We are trying to run a 20th century high-speed Parliament in a hopelessly inadequate building, built for a time when Members of Parliament came to the House for a few days a month and only stayed here for an hour or two at a time. As has been said, the catering in this building is all over the place—there is a little bit here and a little bit there—and alterations need to be done.

I am surprised that no one has yet praised one part of the Report which I thought would have met with universal approval. That is the part where we propose to do something about the two horrible rooms downstairs, the cafeteria and the bar, where our overheads, and particularly wages, are high. I must emphasise that we are only open effectively for three full days a week and two half-days, and perhaps not even as much as that because an early rising one evening may mean that all the dinners are left in the hands of the Refreshment Department. On the other hand, all-night and late night Sittings also present difficulties.

The long Recess has been mentioned. When we are considering the long Recesses and the position of the staff we should remember that the staff find it extremely difficult to make firm commitments of any kind with outside bodies during the Recesses. The House has sat on four occasions during the long Recesses in the last five years—that has been in August or September or at the beginning of October—and in some cases we have met at short notice. This year the position has been worse because not only have we had a Recess but we have also had the General Election, and that meant that we left here in the middle of December and did not return until the middle of March. Yet the wages had to be paid.

I have heard only three suggestions from hon. Members about how we might meet the losses. There was, first, that we should call in an outside caterer. An outside caterer might find himself able to do it, but, so far, we have not found a big reputable firm which has been eager and willing to take on the job. Second, there is the suggestion to raise prices, but to cover those losses we should have to raise prices to fantastic levels, probably two or three times the present figure, and that would probably result in all the trade being driven away. The third—the only real argument which has been put forward today—was to put the staff back again on the casual employment system which they had before 1945.

Mr. Edward Evans

The good old days.

Miss Bacon

There has been a lot of muddled thinking this morning about full employment. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) suggested that because there is full employment today, the staff would be able to find work during the Recesses. That is not the real problem. The real problem is that if we try to recruit staff today under the condi- tions which obtained before 1945, we should not get any staff at all because of the full employment situation. Our staff get a wage varying from £5 10s. to £6 10s. a week with no tips, and although it is true that they have their week-ends, and might earn money during the Recess, if they had not those compensations I am quite sure that we should not get staff at those wages under the conditions which we offer them here.

We must remember that this is the British House of Commons and we must approach the matter with dignity because this is the British House of Commons. Let us also remember that those who work in the Refreshment Department are not the only servants of the House who are free during the Recess. I understand that the messengers are also paid and are perfectly free to take up any employment during the Recess, to which nobody objects. It is regarded as a charge on the House of Commons. The messenger service is a very necessary one to the House, and we also regard the catering service as a very necessary one to the House. Hon. Members have to be in constant attendance here and they must have meals. I believe that it is an essential part of the running of the House of Commons that we should have a proper and efficient catering service.

It has been said that the House of Commons is the best club in the world I believe that that was said at a time when the House of Commons was a club. Today, it is not a club; it is a workshop. In view of some of the facilities for hon. Members perhaps it might be called the worst workshop in the world. I pay tribute to the staff of our Refreshment Department. They have very erratic hours and their working conditions are not good. The staff includes women, and they are sometimes called upon to stay the whole night through. We ought to give them a word of praise

There are on the Order Paper Amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and another in the name of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) who sits on the Kitchen Committee. I should have been much more impressed with the Amendment which the hon. Member for Twickenham and his hon. Friends have put down, had he been able, inside the Kitchen Committee, to put forward some constructive suggestion in opposition to the Report, but he was not able to do that. I believe that an examination of the Report will show that although the hon. Member and one or two others voted against it, they had no amendment to offer to alleviate this position. It is perfectly true. as my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) has said, that the hon. Member helped us in various respects and showed that he was an expert on grammar and on the English language, but, apart from that, we did not receive one constructive suggestion.

I therefore urge the House to accept the Report of the Kitchen Committee. I am certain that no accountancy will take away those practical difficulties with which we are faced and I hope the House will accept its responsibilities and bring about the conditions under which we can work.

1.41 p.m.

Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)

Although I am in a minority on the Kitchen Committee, there is much in what the hon. Lady has said with which I am in complete agreement. However, I was a little dubious about the propriety of alluding to things which happened during the discussions in that Committee. I did not raise a point of order because it is not a matter of much moment, and I do not propose to say anything about what was said on those occasions, because they are matters which we should not discuss outside the Committee—

Miss Bacon

May I explain that the Report of the Kitchen Committee is couched in such terms that what I said will be found to he quite evident. No Amendments were put down at that meeting. That is shown in the Report.

Sir R. Ross

It may be a matter of taste, but, whether in order or otherwise, it is better that we should not discuss matters that have taken place in the Committee.

There is one serious point in the Debate today and that is the impression which is being fostered by some people, I think in ignorance, that we are being fed on advantageous terms at the public expense That is utterly contrary to the truth because the deficit from which we are suffering is not in respect of the food but in respect of the service. That is the big item which makes it difficult, in fact impossible, to run the kitchens of this place as an economic concern I have the greatest sympathy with the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) as Chairman of the Committee, although I have not always agreed with him. We are faced with an extraordinarily unpleasant and objectionable task in starting with a heavy deficit. Certainly I would be only too eager to sacrifice my position upon that august body to anyone who thinks he can do it better and I think most members of the Committee feel the same way.

As to the question that we are subsidised in our food, I do not think we are. I have listened to every word spoken in this Debate, except for a short interval during which I addressed myself to the practical side of the subject under discussion, and then I had three small potatoes and had to pay 2d. a potato. which is a shocking position for anybody from Ulster for we like to eat lots of potatoes. Certainly the price of 2d. a potato is not a low price and I can feed much more cheaply at home than I could ever hope to do here. So it is well to get it out of the minds of the public that we are being given cheap food at public expense, for it is entirely contrary to the truth.

We are here trying to fulfil our obligations as Members of the House of Commons, and it is impossible for us to get away. It is not that we have not got the wish to get away—many of us have it, and I have often heard the wish expressed in quite spirited terms even by hon. Members who are supporting the Government—but we have to stay here and do our duty, and therefore it is essential that we should be provided with food. On the other hand, what worries every member of the Kitchen Committee and most Members of the House is that it is most repugnant to all of us that this should be a serious charge on public funds. I have been much impressed in the Kitchen Committee with the honest endeavours of hon. Members from all quarters of the House to try to deal with the situation as we have found it. It was an awful thing to inherit the position of the accounts when I and several other new members went on to the Committee.

At the same time I cannot accept the Report because I think that no sufficient effort has been made to get the feeding of the House of Commons taken over by some big catering establishment. Some hon. Members dislike the idea. I do not like it particularly, but I like it a lot better than having to charge the public funds with a substantial amount of money in order to keep the catering side of the House going. I have always held this view about the desirability of having it taken over by a big catering firm.

The reasons why every effort should be made to see what a big catering firm can do are these. The elasticity of a big firm can be great. It can transfer the staff which normally attends us here to some other place when the House is not sitting, thereby avoiding the overheads which the Report asks the Treasury to cover. There may even be an advertisement asset in the contract being given to a big catering establishment—this may startle hon. Members—and I by no means bar the Co-operative Society. In fact, many hon. Members would appreciate the "divi." Before we face complete failure and the need for substantial subsidy from the Treasury, inquiries should have been made in every direction amongst big catering firms to see whether they would take it on, even on a payment from the Treasury, because that payment would be infinitely less than the amount which the Treasury will be asked to put up under the terms of the Report.

Mr. Daines

Is the substance of what the hon. Gentleman is saying that the fact that a firm caters for the House of Commons is a saleable asset as far as publicity is concerned, and that we should cash in on that?

Sir R. Ross

The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) has raised a reasonable point. I do not say categorically that it is, but it might be, and I rather welcome the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond), because in the course of such an inquiry it should be possible to see whether something practicable cannot be achieved. It is most distasteful to all of us to have to add to the national expenditure as regards the service of this House. It may be necessary. Certainly it is necessary that meals at a reasonable price should be available to hon. Mem- bers when they have to attend their duties here.

I am quite convinced of one thing, that if we put up the prices not only shall we not cover the deficit, but we might quite likely make a greater loss than we are making now. Although I agree with the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) in his main recommendation, I did not agree with him in suggesting that the prices were low. People ought to get that out of their heads. I can certainly find places where I could feed just as well at no greater price. I do not see any hope of improvement in that way.

The reason why I am one of the two dissentients to the Report of the Kitchen Committee is that I did not think that a sufficient search or inquiry had been made regarding the possibility of obtaining the services of a big catering firm, with far greater elasticity and a more liquid organisation than this little shut-off catering business which the Kitchen Committee have tried to run in a building which certainly is not suited to the purpose, and whose customers are as tiresome as they possibly could be, by going away for General Elections, not being there when expected, and sitting up all night at other times. With a big firm the proposition would be entirely different. It might be possible for them to run the work even without loss; certainly, it should cost the country much less, if, after inquiry, such a firm undertook the work, than is likely to be lost by following the recommendations of the Report which we are now considering.

1.51 p.m.

Mr. John Lewis (Bolton, West)

I cannot appreciate the reasons why those who have spoken on behalf of the Kitchen Committee have resisted the Amendment which has been proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond). It seems to me that those who are most vitally concerned with the administration of this part of our Parliamentary life should at all times be concerned with ensuring that they are running the Kitchen Committee with the greatest efficiency.

The whole matter is a question of efficiency and nothing else. If the Amendment of my hon. Friend is accepted, and an outside expert states categorically that there are no grounds for assuming that there could be greater efficiency than there now is, then by all means let him say so, because the Kitchen Committee would then be in a very much stronger position than it is in at present. If I were a member of the Committee I should most certainly welcome every investigation into this question, because it would serve to indicate that the Members of the Committee are anxious to prove conclusively that they are doing all they possibly can to reduce the loss.

Mr. Coldrick

Is my hon. Friend prepared to accept the proviso, which is the acid test that I laid down, that we are quite prepared to accept expert advice provided that the same people will be charged with the responsibility of carrying out the advice which they tender?

Mr. Lewis

The point made by my hon. Friend is not a good one, for this reason. Many Government Departments and Ministers make a practice of calling in outside expert advice to advise them on questions of efficiency inside the Departments, and if a Government Department called in outside experts, I see no reason whatever why the Kitchen Committee should object to this procedure.

The Department which we are considering is a vast administrative organ. The serving of so large a number of meals, and the buying, purchasing and allocation of food, is a major undertaking. I am quite satisfied that no harm could be done by asking expert advice from outside to give an opinion about the efficiency of the organisation. Some of the confusion which has arisen on this point is because comparisons have been drawn between the House of Commons restaurant and an outside restaurant. No comparison whatsoever can be made between the two. People have to use the House of Commons restaurant because they have no alternative. We have to stay here at all hours of the day and night. We are forced to use the restaurant and are in precisely the same position as workers who have to use the canteen in the factory where they are employed. In those circumstances there may be some analogy between our restaurant and a canteen, but not between the House of Commons restaurant and restaurants in the West End of London, to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans).

Mr. W. Fletcher

Would the hon. Member assist us by saying, briefly, what form the expert advice is to take? Leaving aside the accountancy, does he suggest that expert advice superior to at least two members of the Kitchen Committee, who have been in the catering business for many years, can be provided without considerable delay?

Mr. Lewis

I do not propose to deal with the accounts; they have been adequately ventilated. I take the point of the hon. Member, however, and will give him an example of what I have in mind. I was told recently that there had been a fire at a depot under the control of a local education committee in Scotland which had been used for supplying meals under the auspices of the local authority. During the time when the depot was being rebuilt, an outside firm of caterers were asked to come in to do the job. They were allocated precisely the same quantity of food as had been issued hitherto, and served precisely the same meals. By the time that they had completed their contract—I think it was over a period of three months—very great surpluses had accumulated, which indicated a greater efficiency in both the allocation and the distribution of food. That is the kind of thing which is worth investigating.

I do not go as far as the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross), who suggested that an outside firm of caterers should be called in—I do not know. But I do say that rather than anticipate efficiencies or inefficiencies, a view which is objectively impartial would to a large extent convince not only hon. Members, but the public, that we are doing all we possibly can to reduce the loss.

Mr. Daines

I take it that my hon. Friend is suggesting that we should now have outside expert assistance apart from the accountancy side.

Mr. Lewis

Yes.

Mr. Daines

Would he say that the telephone department of the Post Office also could do with that expert advice?

Mr. Lewis

That, of course, is not a question which my hon. Friend should address to me. I am the lowest form of animal life in the Post Office, but I do not withdraw what I said before, that it has been the practice, and, I think, will be the practice in future, for outside expert consultative opinion to be sought whenever that is thought necessary.

I should like to say a word or two about the question of staff payments. All the hon. Members who have dealt with this point have been right in part. By that I mean that there is no doubt whatever that, in the main, the losses which have been occasioned over the past few years have been due largely to the fact that the staff have been paid during the time when the House has not been sitting. I most certainly support any system which ensures that the staff are well treated and well paid and are not likely to suffer unemployment when the House is not sitting, but it seems to me that the Kitchen Committee might have applied a little more imagination to this problem than they have done hitherto.

There is no difficulty at all in ascertaining whether a waiter who is not working in the House of Commons restaurant when the House is not sitting has or has not obtained employment elsewhere. As these periods when the House is not in Session coincide with the time when there is a great shortage of waiters in hotels all over the country—at Christmas, for instance, and during the summer holidays, and at other times—I am quite satisfied that quite a high proportion of these waiters get temporary jobs. It seems that there would be no difficulty whatever in paying a waiter half-salary if, in fact, he got a job. I submit that there should be no difficulty in finding out whether the waiters have got jobs, and if they have, paying them half-salary for that time and not having them drawing a full salary from another form of employment.

Reference was made during the Debate to the question of keeping open the restaurants during August and September for visitors from abroad—Americans coming to this country and others who find pleasure in coming to this place and who would like to dine here. There have been rumours that the Board of Trade have made recommendations to the authorities of this House on those lines. I do not know whether this is true or not, but I understand they were turned down categorically by the authorities of this House. I believe that every consideration should be given to this question, because if, in fact, the restaurants are working during this period, it would do a great deal, on the figures given us this afternoon, to reduce the loss made at present.

I agree with hon. Members who have said that the staff are doing a very good job. I believe that they are all trying their best, but I believe that there are inherent difficulties in this place which make it virtually impossible to obtain the degree of efficiency which is possible outside. All I am asking hon. Members to do is to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Blackley, whether they are members of the Kitchen Committee or not, because, by that means, they will be showing that they are not afraid of investigation taking place, and that they welcome outside objective opinion as to the efficiency of the management and organisation. It is not so much a question of accountancy as of efficiency in the day to day management of the restaurants.

If, in fact, the special conditions that exist here—the position of the kitchens, the number of meals, the hours at which meals are served, and any other factors—prove quite conclusively that it is impossible to make any improvement, then that outside expert will say so. I do not think that we must assume that he would be biased in any way. I ask, therefore, that this Amendment should be adopted, and accepted both in principle and in spirit, by those members of the Kitchen Committee who have hitherto opposed it, and who have, I think, put themselves in rather a bad light because of their opposition. They have made Members and the public feel that they are not anxious that every avenue should be explored to ensure that the restaurants of this House are run with the greatest efficiency and with the lowest possible subsidy.

2.3 p.m.

Captain Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)

I think that the House must be in some doubt as to the possibility of getting a better service from outside than we have from inside in our catering establishment. We heard the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill), who, I believe is in the catering trade, say quite categorically that she would not like to take on the job. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Steward) also in the catering trade, gave us to understand that he would not be adverse to having a go at it. It may be well worth while to have that point re-examined.

In the few words which I shall say, I do not want to go into comparative details of that sort. Least of all do I want to criticise the Kitchen Committee for the work they have been doing. It is a very arduous job. As an hon. Member opposite said, it is a job which always attracts the criticism of the thoughtless, as well the thoughtful from time to time.

There are, however, one or two points of principle that I think ought to be made. I am not going to bring in politics, except to point out that some of us on this side are at a disadvantage when discussing these matters in our constituencies because Members on the other side are, as a whole, not adverse to seeing more and more costs of one sort and another, and more and more services of one sort and another, being loaded on to the shoulders of the State. We, on the other hand, take the other view. We want to unburden the central authority wherever we can. We are constantly saying that economies are possible and ought to be made, and, personally, I should find it very difficult to go to any part of the country and advocate economies in this or that, when I had, a few weeks or months before, voted £20,000 in order to subsidise—use what word we will—to make up the difference between the actual cost of my meals and what I and my fellow Members had paid for them.

That is the difficulty I find myself up against. Any question of ratios and juggling with accounts and saying that we will put the service on the general services of the House and pay for our food does not meet the point to my mind at all. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross), who spoke a few minutes ago, said that people could not say that we were being subsidised on our food. Of course they cannot. But in these matters we cannot differentiate between food and service. As any hon. Member knows, one can go to a little restaurant in Soho and get for a few shillings exactly the same food as one would get in a restaurant in the West End for four times as much.

When we are talking of the prices of catering establishments we are not talking of the actual bread, butter and meat we get on our plate, but the whole set-up of the show. Therefore, it is nonsense, I think to talk about our not being subsidised on our food but on the way in which our food is served. We have to take the two things together. Where should we go from there? What practical suggestions can we make?

The excellent Reports of the Kitchen Committee do not, unfortunately, differentiate in numbers between three categories of people they are serving—the staff, Press and Members and their friends. I think that there ought to be a distinct differentiation between these three categories. If the House in its wisdom decides to subsidise the catering arrangements of the staff, that is all right by me. If it decides that the hours which the Press have to work and the conditions under which they have to work make it necessary that they should get all their food here, and our arrangements make it impossible to serve that food economically, and, therefore, we should give a subsidy to the Press, that, too, is all right by me. But between that and saying that we are to give a subsidy to ourselves, I think there is an absolute gulf.

We have been told about what has been done in the last hundred years. Things have changed a great deal in that time. It is only within comparatively recent years that repayment has been made to us for expenses, let alone our getting a salary. We are getting a substantial salary of £1,000 a year, which, I think, makes it the more obligatory on us to see that we carry our own weight and that we do not put any further burden upon the taxpayer on our account.

Mr. J. Lewis

Are we to understand that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is advocating that there should be an increase in the prices charged in the restaurants here, because that is the only conclusion that can be drawn from what he has said?

Captain Waterhouse

If the hon. Gentleman will do me the honour of listening to what I am going to say, he will find that I am suggesting some remedies.

The first of the remedies I have to suggest is this: I do not know, from the figures given by the Kitchen Committee, how many guests Members bring into the House. It is perfectly proper that we should be allowed to bring guests to this House, but it is also perfectly obvious that bringing guests may be subject to abuse, especially if prices became too low. I am not saying that that is so. I am merely making that point as being a potential danger.

I do not know how many guests we bring in, but in the First Report the Kitchen Committee picked out eight average days, and the number of meals served on those days was 3,000. If, in fact, there are anything like 3,000 meals served each day in this House it means that a very great number of those are served to guests. I suggest that there should be in this House, as in most clubs, a guest charge. It could be made whatever is thought proper. I do not wish to tie the Kitchen Committee to any figure, whether 6d. for tea, a 1s. for lunch or 2s. for dinner. The point is that a guest charge should be made, which would certainly help to bridge this gap.

So far, we have got three points in answer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. J. Lewis). First, we can do what we like with the staff so that there ought to be no loss about the staff. Second, we can do what we like about the Press so that there should be no loss there, and, third, there is this charge for guests. Finally, there might be a margin between what we sell and our total costs, and that ought to be met by a capitation fee on very Member of this House. It would not be a very large sum with those three modifications and any other economies which the Kitchen Committee, in their wisdom, think practicable. It would not be more than 30s. a month, and, after the Financial Secretary has had his pull at it, it comes down to about 15s. a month. If that were the margin, I believe that hon. Members on every side of the House would welcome that expenditure if they believe, as this Report says, that the dignity of the House is at stake, that we have a social responsibility to the staff of which we should not be afraid, and that the conditions of staff employment are such that the House need not be ashamed of them.

If we are not to be ashamed and if we are to have dignity, we have got to pay for our meals ourselves, and not put them on the taxpayer. How can we suggest that this House should be dignified and yet let the taxpayer pay for us? How can we be content, if we want our meals well served, in order to be dignified when foreign visitors come along, to let the taxpayer pay? No, if we want true dignity and the welfare of our staff let us achieve them by shouldering this small burden ourselves.

Miss Burton (Coventry, South)

I am quite sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to be fair, but I believe that what he said will give a most erroneous impression to the people of this country. He spoke about Members receiving the large salary of £1,000 a year. I have particularly in memory an excellent letter in "The Times," which was written by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). Although I do not remember the exact figures in that letter he pointed out that a considerable amount of expenditure devolved upon Members on both sides of the House.

I wish to put this point to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I have no desire to be personal. There are Members on both sides of the House who are entirely dependent upon that salary. There are Members who came to this House and who were earning a small salary, but who, today, are worse off financially though earning this salary of £1,000 a year. I think it would be most unfortunate if it were to go out to the country that Members of this House receive £1,000 a year, on which they could only just live, that there was nothing else and that they were, therefore, asking for charity. I am quite sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would not wish to convey that impression.

Captain Waterhouse

I am not quite sure what the hon. Lady intended. Does she mean that Members are getting £1,000 a year and are not asking for help?

Miss Burton

I am very grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way again. I understood him to say that Members of the House were in receipt of a salary of £1,000 a year and that they should be able to afford an additional expense to meet this deficit. My point is that hon. Members here do not receive £1,000 as a normal salary. What they actually get is a very small salary; therefore, they are not in a position to meet this extra charge.

Captain Waterhouse

I accept that point. The bulk of our salary is, in many cases, eaten up in the extra expenses which we have to meet. I am in no way saying that £1,000 a year is an average amount, but I did suggest, and I am suggesting again, that one of the prime charges on that salary ought to be the expense of the meals which Members enjoy here.

2.17 p.m.

Dr. King (Southampton, Test)

I intervene for one moment to draw the attention of the House to one tiny aspect of the problem. Before I do so, I should like to say how much I regret the fact that the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), in an otherwise excellent contribution to this discussion, should have brought forward for the first time during this Debate, an element of party controversy, by suggesting that we on this side of the House were willing to shovel out public money.

The whole of this Debate has revealed, amongst other things, that on both sides of the House there is quite a strong feeling that most of us are paying about as much as we can and about as we should for the refreshments we get in this House. I speak as a new Member, who all my life before coming here ate more cheaply than I am doing at the present moment. It is true, if we went to the Ritz we would have to pay more for lunch and dinner, but most of the people who make use of the refreshment services of this House—both Members of the House and the staff—do not usually go to the Ritz when they are not partaking of meals here.

The Amendment recommends the appointment of an expert. The biggest and most skilful expert in the world could only tell the Kitchen Committee what they already know—namely, that it is an uneconomic proposition, considering all the difficulties which arise on the question of feeding the Members and staff of the House. As to the refreshment staff, no outside expert could tell the Kitchen Committee or the catering manager anything at all. Their method of payment is a question of principle. If it is financial advice the Kitchen Committee want, that advice is available at any time. If it is catering advice that is wanted, then there is the advice from the catering manager at all times. It would be a great pity if the Amendment received very much support, carrying with it, as I think it does, almost a condemnation, first of all, of the staff and of the refreshment side of the House, and then of the Kitchen Committee.

As a new Member I wish to express my appreciation of the fact that both inside this Chamber and from every branch of the staff in this Palace of Westminster I have received exquisite courtesy right from the first day I came to the House. I welcome the opportunity of saying that. Wherever we go in this House, we Members of Parliament can always count, on receiving kindness and courtesy from those who serve us in this place. I suggest that that is particularly true of the staff in the Refreshment Department. As the most trying customers that any catering staff could ever meet, we receive from day to day willing, eager and always capable service.

I express my appreciation of my fellow Members, who serve on the Kitchen Committee. I was a little alarmed that its "Prime Minister" when introducing that "Cabinet report" threatened to make it a "vote of confidence" and threatened to resign. This Committee devote themselves to the service of their fellows on quite a voluntary basis and I think it right that one who is not a member of the Committee should express confidence in and appreciation of the deliberations of the Committee and the time which they devoted to preparing this Report. I do not wish to go into details, but I think they should be congratulated on the linguistic description of the Stranger's Bar as a place of "hygienic gloom" I call particular attention to the last paragraph of the Report where it is stated that the conditions of service ought to be something of which the House of Commons need not be ashamed.

I would go further and say that the House of Commons ought to be model employers of labour and that all that is spoken of at election times by all political parties should be indicated in our treatment of our staff. So far as the Dining Room staff is concerned, that is true; but I draw the attention of the Committee and of the House to the "Cinderellas" of the Refreshment Department, those who work in the cafeteria and the tearooms. It has been said by another speaker that we are paying salaries of £6 10s. a week or from £5 to £6 10s. a week. I should be happy if any member of the Committee will correct me if I am wrong—

Mr. Keeling

£5 10s.

Dr. King

—but I do not believe that is at all true of the ladies who serve either in the cafeteria or in the tea-rooms. In the Stranger's Bar and in the cafeteria we have ladies who have served this House for upwards of 20 years, and I believe in one case over 25 years. We have, in each of those departments, ladies who are handling tremendous sums of money and who undertake a very responsible job. I do not wish to quote figures of which I am not sure, but I would ask the Kitchen Committee to make sure that it is paying to those who serve in the cafeteria and the tea-rooms what is really an adequate remuneration.

The very difficult nature of the duties of this House imposes hardship on those who serve in the places of which I am speaking. Those hardships are similar to and sometimes worse than those suffered by hon. Members of this House. If we stay till two o'clock in the morning the ladies, in the tea-room at any rate, have to be on duty for one hour after that. They have to make their way home at an early hour, and in some cases the journey home at that hour is a serious matter. I know of one instance where a member of the tea-room staff had to walk for two and a half hours to get home. That is the sort of thing we ought not to permit.

I suggest seriously that when this House closes the tea-rooms should close and that if we need something before we leave the House we ought to be able to get it without imposing an extra hour of work on members of the staff who have already probably worked a long day. If we wish to be model employers, we should fit ourselves a little to the pattern of the Refreshment Department and not expect the department entirely to serve our good pleasure.

The political parties in this House advocate incentives and joint consultation in industry, and I should like to feel that the staff in the Refreshment and Kitchen Department are fully represented on any consultative body; and that the opinions of the ordinary members of the staff are taken into account when considering ways and means of promoting efficiency. I am glad that the Report calls attention to the shocking conditions in the tea-room kitchen. As many hon. Members must have noticed, while we retain faithful servants in the Dining Room and the faithful service of the manageresses, the personnel who do the drudgery in the tea-room kitchen change almost week by week. The cramped condition in that room is something that no outside employer would tolerate and I welcome the fact that the Committee recommend the House to take steps to see that those who serve us work under better conditions.

There should be a statutory allowance of time for breaks during the long day when the tea-room staff are on duty. Their duty hours, I believe, are from half-past nine in the morning until two o'clock, when there is a break from two until four o'clock, after which they carry on until one hour after the House rises. Overtime pay should begin the moment those on duty are working overtime. I hope the House will accept the Report of the Kitchen Committee and do its best to see that those whom we employ have all the advantages we can give them when carrying out their difficult task.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

It is interesting to find that we have only had a Kitchen Committee for about 100 years. In Stuart times the House sat from eight in the morning till noon, and there was no need for refreshments. After the Revolution of 1689, hours lengthened and, as the wife of a Member wrote to her husband: Take something in thy pocket to the House to sup off. Thy age and weakness require it. It is also interesting to find in the Journal of that period reference to the practice of eating nuts in the Chamber. It was not until 1773 that refreshments were provided in the House. In that year John Bellamy, Deputy Housekeeper, was allowed to convert his quarters into a restaurant. Dickens, who of course worked in the Press Gallery, described this in "Sketches by Boz." We read there that: The laughter and conversation of the diners floated into the Chamber with the odour of the viands. But I think that the story of Pitt on his death bed calling for one of Bellamy's pies is probably apocryphal. In 1849 the Kitchen Committee was established and for a time it employed a contractor, but some time before the end of the century it took the provision of food into its own hands. So much for history.

I now come to the Reports of the Kitchen Committee. I regret very much that I differ from the majority of my colleagues on the Kitchen Committee, as they—and especially their sub-committee—worked very hard in producing the two Reports. The Second Report shows that during their discussions I did not conceal my opposition to the proposals and voted against them. That being so, it is not only my right but my duty to explain to the House why I object to the financial proposals. I shall say nothing different from what I said in the Committee.

As the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond), in what I thought was a devastating speech, pointed out, the Report reveals that the deficit has grown very rapidly in the last three years. It increased from £13,000 in 1947 to £22,000 in 1949, which is equivalent to about £35 per Member from the taxpayer. The hon. Member for Blackley pointed out that that sum would be still greater if the overheads which were provided by the Treasury in kind were taken into account. He also pointed out that the deficit would be very much greater if the recommendations in the Report about further amenities are carried out. I very much agree with my right hon. Friend—

Mr. Edward Evans

The hon. Gentleman has said that there is a cost of £35 per Member. Would he not rather put it that there is a deficit of so much per individual who is entitled to feed in the House? We have been told that 1,800 people are permitted to use the facilities provided by the Kitchen Committee. The non. Gentleman tries to make it appear that there is a deficit per Member. I suggest that the number of Members who feed in the House is not more than about 300 or 400 a day.

Mr. Keeling

I will give a complete answer to that point in about two minutes. I was about to deal with the point made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), who said that it really was undignified to provide ourselves with the further amenities proposed in this Report at the expense of the taxpayer. In 1950 this deficit, already very large, will certainly be very much greater, because we are going to sit, I think, for a much smaller number of days. I assume that in this year we shall not sit for more than 120 days, and allowing for the partial attendance of the staff in the Recesses we shall be paying 365 days' pay for much less than half that number of days' work.

The Committee in their Report say, in effect, that we must resign ourselves to a recurring deficit which the taxpayer must make good. I differ from that view profoundly; I believe that the public differ from it; and I hope that the Government and the House will differ from it. I might add that the Government very recently did differ from it, because as recently as 5th November. 1948, the then Financial Secretary said: There can be no question of absolving the Kitchen Committee from the duty of conducting its business on commercial lines."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 139.] It has been said that there always has been a deficit. But what was this past deficit? I find that in the 20 years before the war the deficit, on average, did not exceed £250 a year, which was about 1¼ per cent. of the then turnover. That is altogether trivial compared with the deficit of the last three years, which averaged £18,000, or over 20 per cent. of the turnover. Clearly, it is impossible to base any argument on the deficits of the past, which are so insignificant.

It has already been pointed out that there are two main reasons for the growth in the deficit in the last three years. Since 1946, the staff have been paid throughout the year instead of being discharged at the end of the Session; and since 1946 also, tipping has been abolished, and pay had to be raised to compensate for that. I am not commenting on those two changes; I am merely stating the facts. The immediate combined effect of them was that the wages increased from £9,000 in 1944 to £40,000 in 1946. The staff now get from £5 10s. to £6 10s. a week throughout the year, with food and uniform.

The last line of the Report reads: the charge that Members of Parliament have their meals subsidised is groundless. The Chairman of the Committee repeated that statement. Let us examine this claim. For the last three years the Treasury defrayed the cost of the staff during the Recesses. In my own view, that is in fact a subsidy to Members. The House of Commons is not the only catering establishment where the demand ebbs and flows. Some hotels close in the winter. Could it possibly be said that if such an hotel persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pay the wages of the staff in the winter, that hotel was not being subsidised by the taxpayer? But the new proposal of the Kitchen Committee goes much further. They want the Treasury to bear the cost not only of the wages of the staff in the Recess but on every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year. I asked the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee to admit that that was so. He did not answer, but the formula in paragraph 20 makes it perfectly clear. In other words, the taxpaper is to be asked to pay for the two weekly days of rest of the staff.

Mr. Daines

The hon. Gentleman has just made the comparison between an hotel and this House; but surely we are not like an hotel where future operations are well known. If an hotel is to be shut for four or five months, that is different from what happens in this House where we have no guarantee about when we shall close or open. Who could have visualised when the last General Election was to take place? There is no basis of comparison.

Mr. Keeling

I am not advocating a return to the past, but no difficulty was found then. My parallel about an hotel closing in winter stands. Under the new proposal, the Committee ask the taxpayer to pay for the two weekly days of rest of the staff. If any accountant in the United Kingdom will certify that that is not a subsidy of Members' meals, I do not think that anybody will have any faith in him again as an auditor. In this year, 1950, if the Kitchen Committee have their way the Treasury will pay about two-thirds of the whole wage bill. To say that is not subsidising Members' meals seems to me to be running away from the facts, or, in the words of the Chairman of the Committee himself, used in another connection, "to be living in a world of fantasy."

One other important consideration has to be borne in mind in this connection. As I said, the deficit of the last three years was partly due to the raising of wages necessitated by the abolition of tips. When that change was made in 1946, it cost £6,400 per annum. By not tipping, Members are saved that amount, or something like it. Is it not clear on the facts and figures that the amount which they so save is in effect borne by the taxpayer? I agreed with the hon. Member for Blackley when he made that point, or something like it.

It was said by the Chairman of the Committee that the Refreshment Department is as much a service as the Library, and his argument is that if the staff of the Library are paid by the Treasury, why not the staff of the Refreshment Department? I doubt if that sophistry will commend itself to hon. Members: it certainly will not commend itself to the country. It is surely one thing for the taxpayer to pay for ministering to the minds of hon. Members and quite another thing to pay for a staff to minister to their stomachs.

Now I come to the point about which I was interrupted earlier. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) and the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) pointed out that the public as well as hon. Members eat here and therefore Members are not the only people to be subsidised. I make the preliminary point that I doubt whether that consideration makes the taxpayer any happier. Two wrongs cannot make a right. But anyhow, it does not seem to be appreciated—and I think the accounts are to blame for this—that the losses are chiefly or entirely made in the Dining Rooms, which the public do not use. There is every reason to think that there is no loss in the cafeteria and in the Strangers' Bar which the public do use, because the staff there is small. That is my answer to those hon. Members who made that point.

What is the remedy for all this? What are we going to do? How are we going to meet the losses if not by milking the taxpayer? Several alternatives have been considered. Could we meet the losses by economies? The sub-committee worked very hard on that, and I think they are to be congratulated for the economies adopted, but I agree with the Chairman of the Committee that one cannot make much impression on the deficit in that way. Nobody wants one economy, namely, that the staff should be put back on a casual labour basis, if it can be avoided. I am just as anxious as the Chairman of the Committee or as any other hon. Member that the staff should be well treated. They have served us well. I think they worked marvellously during the recent all-night Sitting, and I join in paying a tribute to them.

I am now going to suggest one economy. In the new Chamber not only is there to be a separate dining room for the Press but there is going to be a separate kitchen. That fact is to be found in paragraph 10. Why should not the Press proprietors be asked to manage their own dining room and kitchen themselves and accept full financial responsibility? I cannot see why the taxpayer should be asked to subsidise the Press.

Another alternative is that we should increase prices; but in general that is not an answer to our problem. A good many increases have been made and some more are possible, but any substantial further rise in prices will certainly increase and not reduce the loss. The proof of that is that the turnover fell from over £100,000 in 1947 to £80,000 in 1949—a drop of 20 per cent. Before the present Session Members were increasingly either going off to eat elsewhere or eating the cheaper meals provided here.

In his Amendment and in his speech the hon. Member for Blackley advocated calling in experts. I have no objection, but as long as we have a deficit amounting to 20 per cent. of the turnover I do not think experts will make much impression upon that, unless their terms of reference are very wide. In her speech, in my absence, the hon. Lady the Mem- ber for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon) said that I had made no constructive suggestions in Committee. I do not think the hon. Lady could have been present when I made the following suggestion. I suggested, and I now suggest, that if we can we should get a contractor to take the whole thing over and so avoid any drain on the taxpayer.

We are told it has been tried before. What are the facts? A contractor existed, as I have already stated, in the 19th century. Secondly, in 1937 a single firm was asked to tender but it declined. Why not try again in 1950? I do not think the fact that the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe said that if she were asked to tender she would refuse, is conclusive. I have been told that there are half a dozen firms, who for obvious reasons I will not name, who would be attracted by the present large turnover, three times as great as it was when the proposal was turned down in 1937, and who also might like the distinction which being contractors to the House of Commons would bring. Anyhow, why not invite offers?

Mr. W. Fletcher

Is my hon. Friend aware that a contractor is expressly debarred by a Ruling of the Speaker from mentioning in any advertisement that he is a contractor to the House of Commons?

Mr. Keeling

Yes, but I think it would get about. To return to the system of a contractor would have these two very great advantages. First of all, it would be economical, because a contractor would be able to employ the staff elsewhere when the House was not sitting, especially as our non-sitting days correspond roughly with the busy time in hotels and restaurants. As regards our staff, I think it is very likely indeed that the contractor would be willing to take on most or all of them. The second advantage in having a contractor is that there would then be a far greater spur to efficiency and a far greater incentive than the present system provides, however zealous the Kitchen Committee.

Other solutions of our difficulties have been proposed and perhaps will be proposed by other hon. Members, but I will not encroach further on the time of the House. I sum up my remarks by saying that I believe that the proposal of the Kitchen Committee would cast an excessive and unnecessary burden on the taxpayer and ought not to be adopted without further inquiry.

2.50 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Douglas Jay)

I intervene in this Debate with a good deal of diffidence, partly because I have never had the arduous honour of serving on the Kitchen Committee and partly because I do not pretend to any of that expert knowledge of catering which was shown, for instance, by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Steward) in his interesting maiden speech earlier today. Nevertheless, as the Committee's Report involves Government expenditure—and the Report is now before the House—I think the House may expect me briefly to indicate what is the Government view on this matter.

Since the Report became available it has, of course, been studied carefully by the Government; and I have listened to practically all the speeches made by hon. Members today, apart from a brief visit to the tea room. I think it is clear from the Report and from today's Debate that the Kitchen Committee is faced with a peculiar problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick) so vividly pointed out. That problem makes it very difficult for the Committee to make ends meet in the ordinary sense.

I agree very much with what my hon. Friend said about the labyrinthine character of these premises. This building always reminds me partly of the first few chapters of "Alice in Wonderland" and partly of my own worst dreams. I think it is well, too, that the public should understand that the irregular periods during which the House sits and the decision to continue staff wages during the periods of recess have created a very special financial difficulty. It is also valuable to bring out the fact that Members of Parliament are only a minority of those who eat in this House. I also realise that this is a long story, going back, I think, for something like 100 years.

I should like to associate myself with the tributes which have been paid both to the Committee itself, which has this arduous, valuable and thankless task, and also to the staff who serve us so well in such very difficult circumstances. This is perhaps a personal view, but I should say that I do not agree at all with what the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, said about the quality of the food. The last criticism that I should make of the food is that its quality is too low.

It is unfortunately clear, however, that the Committee have found these financial difficulties increasing and that, so far as we can see in the existing circumstances, and without some special measures, there seems little prospect of the budget being balanced even with the existing Treasury grant. Opinions are sharply divided about the best method of meeting the difficulty, as this Debate has made abundantly clear. The Report itself, and those hon. Members who have supported the Motion, would like to see the present formula for the Treasury grant altered so as to increase the grant and, at the same time, the interest on the Department's overdraft borne by the Treasury or, alternatively, working capital provided interest-free by the Treasury.

That is how I understand it and, in effect, it means meeting the difficulty by increased expenditure by the taxpayer. That, I think, is a fact which is not in dispute. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Diamond) in what I thought, if I may say so, was a very well-reasoned and balanced speech, particularly in his analysis of the gross profits and their movement in the last few years, suggested that the Committee should seek the services of independent experts to advise them. In my view, it would not be justifiable at the present time for the Treasury to accept an increased liability here, either by way of an amended formula for grant or by way of interest-free advances, without some independent inquiry having been made on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley. I believe it is reasonable for the Government to continue some assistance from public funds because of the peculiar problems which confront the Committee, and bearing in mind, in particular, the need for the House to set a good example in its treatment of staff. Incidentally, I must say that I do not agree with what the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) said on that subject.

But, taking the 1949 figures, the Treasury is already making a grant of over £14,000 and, in addition, the Ministry of Works, of course, supplies free services and overheads which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley, who has some expertise in these matters, valued at over £20,000. If he is approximately right, therefore, the total contribution from the taxpayer is something like £35,000 a year. It seems to us that in this matter, as in others, the need for economy in public expenditure at the present time must be paramount and that we must follow here the same principle which we would follow in the case of any other form of Government expenditure—that is, that increases cannot be accepted unless the case is made out beyond any shadow of doubt.

I agree that the amount is small, but I really cannot share the view that we should not look scrupulously at even small amounts and I cannot despise what I think one hon. Member called "petty economies." Surely the British House of Commons would wish to set an example in economical use of the taxpayers' money just as much as in good treatment of its staff.

I think the question before us is really whether we cannot find a better balance, in practice, than any we have yet found between those two objectives, and that is why I find myself in agreement with the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley, that the advice of independent persons with experience in catering and accountancy, and so on, should be sought. In spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East, said about outside persons who do not know the job, and so on, it surely is the case that experience of catering does exist in this world and that there is such a thing as cost accountancy. Even though there are special problems, in this case, as I have said, it does not follow that no further economies can conceivably be possible or no further improvements made.

As I see it, such an inquiry would be no reflection whatever on the present Committee. Indeed, if I were a member of the Committee I should value it. Surely none of us in this world knows so much that he can do without any advice from experts. If Treasury Ministers were to try to get the Finance Bill through the House without taking any advice from accountants, draftsmen or lawyers, I do not think the House would be much impressed.

Mr. Daines

My hon. Friend knows that the Committee was freshly appointed at the beginning of this Parliament. He also knows that it covers a wide range of representation, with a professional caterer and a wide range of business men. What he is now suggesting is that we should have an outside expert to advise the House as to whether the Select Committee of the House is competent to run the business of the House.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

Before the Financial Secretary replies to that question, may I remind him that it is the advice of experts that has been primarily responsible for the disastrous policy of the Treasury for the past 35 years?

Mr. Jay

What I was going to say was, that even if such advice did, in fact, prove that the present deficit is unavoidable, and that no improvements can be made, I think we nevertheless owe it to public opinion to demonstrate that fact. I should have thought, if I may put it this way, that in this matter the British House of Commons should be above suspicion. Indeed, it really seemed to me that the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley was no more than a sensible and businesslike and practical one. For those reasons, and, above all, in the interests of public economy, I should like to ask the House today to give its support to the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley.

Mr. Gammans

This outside advice that is to be sought—will it be competent for those people to give advice, not merely on the way in which the Refreshment Department should be run now, but also as to whether the job should be put out to contract?

Mr. Jay

I do not think that I should tie myself down to detail at this stage. No doubt there are various possibilities.

This is, of course, very much a House of Commons matter, and there will be a free vote of the House today. I very much hope, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East said, I think, that it will not be a vote on party lines. Nevertheless, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor asked me to say, just by way of ensuring that we all decide this matter with clear minds, that if the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East should be carried, the Government would, of course, consider such an expression of opinion with the greatest possible respect but as it would involve an increase of expenditure it would not necessarily be binding on the Government. I think I owe it to the House to make that point clear.

Mr. W. Fletcher

Would the hon. Gentleman give us some further detail of what he means by that? Will he explain what is the course of events? Does the Chancellor mean that it is possible that the Treasury will reject any further deficit? What does it mean—that the House of Commons Kitchen Committee goes backwards?

Mr. Jay

I am merely pointing out what, I think, is constitutionally correct—that we are not at this moment voting expenditure; since there has been no initiative on the part of the Crown for proposing such expenditure I do not think the House is in that position. I merely wanted to make the matter clear. I hope, therefore, for the reasons I have given, that what we shall do today is to approve the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley.

Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)

Will my hon. Friend say why it was so necessary to indicate the Government's view? This is a back-hander, it seems to me, at this late stage—to wait until the matter came to the Floor of the House.

Mr. Jay

I am at the service of the House. I should have been perfectly willing to have indicated the Government's view at any time during the day, but I understood that this was considered the convenient moment.

Mr. Pannell

I meant before today.

3.7 p.m.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)

I do not think one would gather from the concluding words of the hon. Gentleman that he or the Chancellor of the Exchequer were very much at the service of the House, because he made it perfectly plain that it did not matter much which way the Vote went today, and that the Chancellor would pay very little attention to it.

Mr. Jay

No. I must make it perfectly clear that my right hon. and learned Friend will pay great attention to it. I was merely making it clear, as somebody talked about voting expenditure, that, of course, we are not voting expenditure today. We shall pay the greatest attention, as I said, both to what has been said and to any Motion that is carried.

Miss Bacon

May I ask my hon. Friend whether or not the Government's view has been put to any Member of the House, and not to the Kitchen Committee, before this Debate?

Mr. Jay

So far as I know, it has been put to nobody.

Mr. Boothby

Therefore, the hon. Gentleman gives us an assurance that this matter was not discussed with the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) in any shape or form; and that when he put down his Amendment it was not in consultation with, and upon the advice of, the Government? We can be perfectly assured that there has been no consultation between the Government and the hon. Member for Blackley in regard to the terms of the Amendment, and that the Amendment came as a complete surprise to the Government? I can be assured of that? That assurance is very satisfactory. I presume that the hon. Gentleman by his silence gives us an assurance on that point.

Mr. Jay

What I said was that the Government's view, so far as I know, has been indicated to nobody before the Debate. I am not saying whether consultations about the Debate have taken place with one hon. Member or not.

Mr. Boothby

We must take it then, that it was not indicated to the hon. Member for Blackley—we know that it was not indicated to the Kitchen Committee. We must assume that it was not indicated to the hon. Member for Blackley behind the backs of the Kitchen Committee; otherwise, the intervention of the hon. Member for Leeds. West (Mr. Pannell) was quite justified, that they have delivered a back-hander to the Committee behind their backs, and have fixed up this Amendment in consultation with the hon. Member for Blackley.

One thing that should be made quite clear is that if the House votes for the Amendment, it will be a vote of no confidence in the Kitchen Committee. That should be clearly understood. In my opinion, every Member of the Kitchen Committee, if the vote were to be carried, should immediately resign, with the exception of my hon. Friends who dissented from the Report. I should certainly take this vote as being a vote of no confidence in the Kitchen Committee.

Mr. Diamond

Will the hon. Member help me by saying what was the purpose of his hon. Friends putting down this Motion if all we could do about it was to say "yes"?

Mr. Boothby

A direct negative would equally be a vote of no confidence.

Mr. Diamond

In other words, the hon. Member is agreeing with me that the House can either accept what the Kitchen Committee said, or go to the other place?

Mr. Boothby

I do not know what the hon. Member means by "going to another place." All I am saying is that this House has an opportunity, and a duty, to express that it has confidence or no confidence in the Kitchen Committee. If it expresses its confidence in the Committee, we shall strive to go on; but if it expresses no confidence, then some of us will go; and with considerable relief, I may say, because it is not an easy job to try to run this catering establishment with an overdraft of £32,000, no capital whatsoever, and with conditions under which no expert could ever hope to make a profit.

There is really only one issue to be faced. I am not denying for a single moment that great improvements could be made. To my surprise, I agreed with practically every word that was said in his admirable maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Steward). I agree about the cooking of the food, the smoked salmon, and—passionately—about the herrings. I think that the whole costing side requires drastic overhaul, and that we have already got in hand. The position has gone on far too long, in my view, without any overhaul. Many improvements could and should be made, and if this Committee cannot do it, then get another Committee that perhaps can. Anyway, we have made a start, according to our own lights, by putting in a great deal of hard work. We are prepared to go on; but if the House wants someone else to do the work, and to do something else, then let them find another Committee!

The House has to face the fact of whether the catering has to be run as a commercial concern, or whether it should be run as a service for the House. For my part, I do not think that it can ever be run as a commercial concern, nor do I think that it should be. I do not think that our meals are being subsidised to the extent that we are charging less for the food we get in the House than we should be required to pay at many outside establishments of all kinds. For many types of food we are charged more. I could go into details about cups of tea and coffee, and slices of cake for 6d., but I am not going to bother about that. I am satisfied that I could get, at any level, a meal outside this House at a cheaper price than I have to pay here; and that this applies to a very large number of catering establishments in London.

Therefore, broadly, the charge that the taxpayer is subsidising hon. Members' food, which is bandied about all over the country, is entirely without foundation. We may say that the Department is inefficient, but we cannot say that the taxpayer is subsidising Members' food when we know that we can go to our clubs and to restaurants and get probably a better meal at a cheaper price than here. It has also to be borne in mind that we are often obliged to eat here, although most of us do not want to do it. The picture that has been painted to the public of Members of Parliament stampeding to the House of Commons in order to get luscious meals at fantastically cheap prices is completely false. I speak for myself when I say that I would do almost anything to avoid having a meal in this House. The public should realise that.

I come back to the question of service or commercial concern. The Kitchen Committee are saddled with this over- draft of £32,000 and have to pay interest upon it, with no capital of any sort or kind. They are required to run the catering of this House under conditions which no ordinary caterer would look at. We can go to any experts we like. It will be a brave expert who takes over the catering of this House. I wish him God speed, if he can be found. I have yet to find him. The decision with regard to the staff and the payment of wages during Recesses having been taken, it is quite impossible to make a profit, or even to break even, upon the catering of this House.

The question arises whether it was right to take that decision. I think it was. I do not want a whole lot of casual labour drifting in and out of this House according to the ebb and flow of when we sit and the holiday seasons. As one hon. Member has said, we live in difficult times. We do not want to have every Tom, Dick or Harry coming in, picking up snatches of conversation and going out, never to be seen again. We want some relationship of confidence to be established between the staff that serve us in this House and ourselves. After all, we still have some dignity.

I agree with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that every economy should be enforced, even the smallest; but I think that the conditions in which our staff have to work are disgraceful. They would shame any other caterer in the country, and no other caterer would tolerate them. The least that we can do is to engage the staff permanently and give them decent conditions of employment. It is due to the dignity of this House that the catering as well as many other branches of its service should be regarded as a service and not as a rather squalid, profit-making concern.

3.14 p.m.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

I have not had the pleasure of addressing you, Mr. Speaker—at the top of my voice▀×in this Chamber for nearly two years, I am now taking advantage of your having called me. It may be remembered that in the beginning of the 1945 Parliament I made a speech when we appointed the Kitchen Committee in which I advocated that tipping should be abolished, that the staff should be paid wages all the year round, and that a superannuation fund should be set up. All those three recommendations were accepted by Mr. Robert Morrison as he then was and his Committee. I think the accountants would agree that the annual loss since 1946 has almost accurately corresponded with the extra cost of paying the staff all the year round. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby) that we must regard this as a service and not in any respect as a business proposition.

I gather that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Steward), upon whose maiden speech I should like to congratulate him, has some connection with the catering industry. I remember that during the war years the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee was Sir Bracewell Smith, and he had some connection with the Cafe Royal, the Park Lane Hotel and other hotels, but hon. Members did not get anything like the good service they did after he was defeated at Dulwich in 1945 and the new Kitchen Committee was elected. Things are now very much better, I am glad to say.

At the, time that the Kitchen Committee Chairman, Mr. Morrison, announced that he was accepting the recommendations which I put forward, I asked you, Mr. Speaker, whether in the event of any hon. Member being seen to attempt to tip a waiter, you would see your way to reprimanding the hon. Member, and you replied that you would leave it to the good sense of hon. Members. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House know that tipping is still going on. It is a very great pity that hon. Members cannot obey a request by the Kitchen Committee that tipping should be completely abolished everywhere in this place.

Anybody who is a member of a club, such as the R.A.C., knows quite well that not only the member but also the recipient of a tip is instantly dismissed should it come to the notice of the authorities. I hope that in the same way the Kitchen Committee and hon. Members themselves will be very vigilant in seeing that they do not themselves make the mistake as they might, of thinking that they are somewhere else. They should also try to advise other people who may be ignorant of the request, whether it be in the Smoking Room or anywhere else, that tipping is absolutely forbidden.

I know that in the last Parliament members of the staff were liable to instant dismissal in the event of their accepting a tip. I hope that the request which is placed at the top of menus and is generally understood will not be abused by anybody in the future. I again suggest, Mr. Speaker, as I did about five years ago, that in the event of hon. Members spotting one of their colleagues attempting to tip, you might consider taking a very serious view of his breach of a generally observed understanding.

I have thought about the Kitchen Committee and their troubles quite a lot. I realise their difficulties and why the firms in 1937 refused to take on this job. The Sittings of the House of Commons are always uncertain, and even the Government Whips do not know how long the House will sit, whether it will sit until 7 o'clock or 11 o'clock or until five or six the next morning.

However, I wonder whether the Kitchen Committee would consider allowing the catering manager, Major Sidwell, to have daily advice, of a political nature, on how long, according to the best opinions, the House will sit. It is clear that if the House had risen yesterday at 6 o'clock the Kitchen Committee would probably have had meals ready for 500 or 600 Members of Parliament. Someone might anticipate the cessation of our proceedings, and in those circumstances the catering manager would probably be pleased to have some political advice as to the likely duration of the Sitting. It would help him to avoid making the loss which, I imagine, arises as soon as the House collapses rather earlier than he had anticipated.

There is another point which I should like to put to the Kitchen Committee. Sometimes we may receive here a man and his wife who are our constituents. I know of no room in this House where the man can have a pint of beer and his wife a cup of tea at the same time. I know that the Kitchen Committee are short of accommodation, but I wonder if they could find a place where proper entertainment could be available for a constituent and his wife when the man wants a pint of beer and the lady wants a cup of tea.

I also feel that in this House, where somewhere between 550 and 600 Mem- bers are spending nearly all their time, the accommodation is much too small, for instance, the Smoking Room. Do hon. Members realise that even when the new House of Commons is open, that will be the Smoking Room for the next Parliament? Is there any possibility of breaking down the dividing wall between the Smoking Room and the Draughts Room—

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)

Chess.

Mr. Bowles

Some people play draughts. Quite frankly, many hon. Members feel that for an all-night Sitting the accommodation is altogether too limited, and that it would be a good thing if more accommodation of that kind could be made available.

I agree with those hon. Members who have said that nothing must undermine the great dignity of this House of Commons. After all, this is the Mother of Parliaments and in some ways we should not be frightened of claiming privileges. I do not mind whether the Treasury has to pay £22,000 a year to supply us, who are doing a job of work on behalf of the country and, on occasions, our guests, with every decent facility and comfort. I say that because sometimes there is a tendency for a democracy to be frightened of claiming the real dues to which it is entitled.

I hope the House will accept the Report of the Kitchen Committee. I do not feel sympathetic towards the suggestion of an examination by experts. All I know of business efficiency experts is that they are expensive, £3 or £4 an hour. I do not know how many would be needed, but they would have to be here for six months or so to find out what is going on. Therefore, I have no sympathy for the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Diamond). The Kitchen Committee is doing the best it can at present and there is new blood on it, which I welcome. With that, and under the able Chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Coldrick), things are improving and, with our backing, will further improve.

3.22 p.m.

Wing-Commander Bullus (Wembley, North)

I should like to be associated with such tributes as have been paid to the Kitchen Committee. It would be a little ungracious if we came here and criticised their efforts without first setting on record our great appreciation of the efforts they have made. Having said that, I hope that whichever way the vote goes, if a vote is taken, the Kitchen Committee will not feel, of necessity, bound to resign.

The Debate seems to have resolved itself into a single inquiry as to whether, in view of all the difficult circumstances—circumstances which always remain—the meals service should continue to be subsidised. I do not feel that we can go on bearing losses and yet I am the first to recognise that the prices charged are considered high. Some prices in the main dining rooms appear favourable compared with clubs and with West End charges, but in the cafeteria the charges might be considered high compared with those existing in similar circumstances. Indeed, paragraph 3 of the Second Special Report of the Kitchen Committee records that the cafeteria is unsatisfactory.

I do not feel that it is impossible to provide a meals service which does not carry losses, and I hope we shall apply ourselves to a service which does not carry so many. That being so, I hope that the present Kitchen Committee will remain in office and that they will not regard this as a vote of censure but will apply themselves to trying to reduce the losses which have grown over the years.

Mr. Boothby

I think that the hon. and gallant Member is under a delusion. If a vote is taken, quite obviously it is a vote of censure. There is no doubt about that, and it should be made quite clear.

Wing-Commander Bullus

With respect, I would say that I am entitled to my opinion. I do not regard it as a vote of censure, because I have the greatest admiration for the hard work of the Committee.

I intervened really to raise two other matters, which, against the background of charges, may be considered small points, but are, nevertheless, pertinent. I subscribe to the criticism made yesterday by my noble Friend the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) when he commented on the handling of food in the cafeteria. Hon. Members will remember that he said he had seen members of the staff and, possibly, others handle bread and sugar. I support the clean food campaign which has been launched, and I am concerned to see that every effort is made in the House to ensure a high standard of cleanliness. I hope that the Kitchen Committee will concern themselves with this subject.

In this connection I hope I shall be forgiven if I say that I am appalled at the amount of smoking in the non-smoking portions of the cafeteria. I have never been quite able to understand why the small area in the cafeteria is the smokers' portion. That is the part that contains the service hatch and food counter; all the food lies there exposed, and many of the cakes and other food bear the fingerprints of many people. A large portion of the cafeteria is devoted to non-smokers. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Tea Room."] Yes, the Tea Room—a large portion of it is devoted to non-smokers.

Hon. Members will agree that on many occasions the rules have been broken. On one occasion I presumed to call the attention of a member of the Government Front Bench to the notice on the wall which asks Members not to smoke. To his credit, he apologised and extinguished his cigarette, but only a few days later I saw the same Member lighting a cigarette and smoking it in the same place. These are only small points, but I think that I shall have the support of the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) in this respect.

I am one of those, and I think there are many in this House, who like to eat their food in a clean atmosphere, clear of smoke. I hope that the Kitchen Committee will bear this in mind. If they are prepared to consider cleanliness and better handling of food and this question of smoking, then my brief intervention in the Debate will not have been in vain.

3.27 p.m.

Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)

I rise to speak mainly because I happen be a Member of The Kitchen Committee. I ask the House to bear in mind that the Committee are comparatively new. They have entered into a heritage which they were keen to wipe out. because it was a bad heritage, through no fault of our predecessors, but due rather to the desire to make the Refreshment Department a real service to the House and, above all, a service which could be defended against whatever criticism might be levelled at it.

The Committee realised that it was quite impossible to do what they desired to do until they found themselves in a proper financial position which would enable them to carry out their wishes. Imagine for a moment a committee which is supposed to be a business committee having to work upon an overdraft at the bank for which the Treasury are paying three per cent. interest. They could not embark upon any purchase without increasing the overdraft or involving themselves in an overdraft. They had to go to the bank to borrow the money The overdraft is a crushing burden at the present time even in respect of the amount of interest that has to be paid.

With two or three exceptions, the Committee were agreed to carry on the policy of their predecessors in regard to regular employment. I for one, was pleased when our predecessors on the Kitchen Committee came to that decision. When I was at the Post Office I had this unfortunate experience: the Kitchen Committee would discharge its employees when the House was going into Recess, and they would come to the Post Office asking for employment, in order that they might keep going during the Recesses of the House. That is not a dignified position for this House. I know of nothing more distressing. I ask my colleagues on the Committee who are in the minority: Do they want to get back to those conditions? Do they think it desirable? Furthermore, do they think it desirable that their fellow men or women should have to look up to them for tips—the most undignified position that any human being could have to occupy? So I say that I am pleased that the Committee have endorsed the policy initiated by their predecessors, and I hope that we shall retain it.

Why are we asked to have expert advice? Is the ability of the present manager of the Department being challenged? From what I know of him, he has all the business qualifications that are necessary. That, surely, is not challenged. Is it difficult to know why we are in this financial position? Not in the least. The Committee are perfectly aware that, so long as we continue the policy of full employment, we cannot run this establishment on a commercial basis. Therefore, the experts can give us no advice in that respect. We have an experienced manager. I cannot but feel that this Amendment was an inspired one—inspired by the Treasury—and as the Report has been in the hands of the House for some time, it would have been an easy matter for the Treasury to have made representations before the House even discussed the Report. That would at least have shown a spirit of comradeship, and I have not the least doubt that the Committee would have been prepared to accept suggestions on it.

If the House decides to agree to the Amendment, I, as a Member of the Committee, shall ask that the experts who come in to advise shall work the Department for at least six months and let us see whether their advice is practical. That is the least I ask. I should be perfectly willing to stand aside to see precisely how it worked out. If it is a success, I am quite persuaded that my colleagues would be prepared to act upon the advice and practice of the experts. That is all I desire to say, because I know that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak.

3.34 p.m.

Mr. Walter Fletcher (Bury and Radcliffe)

I am a new member of this Martha among the Committees. Upon being appointed to the Committee, I found the very difficult situation which has been described by so many hon. Members. We found a large deficit which was likely to increase. We found other difficulties, such as rises in prices, when there were fixed meals which still existed when we were appointed, and a system of accountancy which we did not feel was satisfactory.

We had to ask ourselves this question: Shall we continue in the ordinary routine way to try to put this right by any major or minor measures of change or alteration, including those of accountancy; or shall we at the first possible moment issue a report to make it quite certain that we shall have an early debate and put the matter before the House of Commons? By a decision of the House of Commons, we would be reinforced in our talks with the Treasury, so that the Treasury would not be the complete master, because if a vote of the House were taken the House would have adopted the responsibility, which ultimately it must take, for the two major questions which face us. There has been no delay on our part in doing it, and if the Amendment, which we are asked to accept and which savours a little bit of the House of Commons "plot" of which we have heard a good deal recently, were accepted, it would only mean infinitely greater delay without ascertaining a single new fact or adding any greater power of brain or knowledge to that already possessed by my colleagues on the Committee.

What were the two questions we were to ask ourselves? The first major one has been deliberately stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby), who, with the great insouciance of the practised political hand, proceeded to stroll in and steal all the points I was going to make. The major point we had to decide was: Is this service necessary for the efficiency of the House, let alone the dignity, or is it not? We have had a lot of talk about subsidies and losses. Not one word has been said about what might be called subsidies and losses which arise on other privileges and amenities which Members enjoy and expect, and rightly so.

When we walk out of here for our meal, be it good, bad or indifferent, cheap or dear, we step into the Central Lobby and telephone four or five times at the taxpayers' expense. When we come here we park our cars in the Palace Yard—a very valuable asset. If that were let to the public as a public parking place, particularly next year when the Festival of Britain takes place—which may develop on the roads into the "Battle of Britain" —what magnificent revenue there might be for the Treasury. There is even a dollar content in it.

Then there are the dignified and ambassadorial figures who deliver us the little pink slips—the messengers of this House who are most efficient and tactful. They are paid for by the taxpayers. Is there any of this slightly synthetic indignation raised about their services, or about other amenities or one kind or another? No, there is not, and all because they have very little publicity value, and therefore neither the Government nor the ordinary Members themselves think it worth while to consider them. They are just as much part of the efficient service of this House as the meals we consume or the meals consumed by the 1,200 other people, including our guests, who feed inside the Palace of Westminster.

Because we want to have accurate Press reports—we always like to have the maximum amount ourselves—it is undoubtedly a privilege that we cherish very jealously that we shall house and feed the Press, not with the idea of inducing them to report anything of what we as individuals say or do, but because it is an inherent part of the working of the House of Commons.

What the House should face once and for all is this question of whether they are to consider the provision of meals against a reasonable payment so that an hon. Member would not be said to be feeding for nothing, because he has to take his meals here in the pursuance of his duty. I am entirely with my hon. Friend in thinking that it is, on the whole, very much better for hon. Members to go out for their food if they can, because they get outside contacts and they refresh their contacts with people outside the House, instead of being herded together and gossiping among themselves. But with the Whips behind them and with the duties they have to carry out, in nine cases out of ten they cannot do that.

I believe there is a degree of hypocrisy about those who talk of what people in the country are thinking and saying. I sit for a working men's constituency and I am perfectly convinced that when I explain this matter to them they will realise that it is just as necessary that reasonable food should be served here at a reasonable cost and that the balance should be borne by them, as it is that the other services should be provided by this House.

I hear no complaints Mr. Speaker, that the cost of your Department has gone up. In 1945–46 it cost £29,985 and in 1947 it was £52,818. I hope that in 1949–50 you will manage to spend a little more so that we shall see whether hon. Members will challenge that. Without you, Sir, and your Department, the whole of this machine would stop. Not a word is said about that, and the same is true about the Departments of the Clerk of the House and of the Serjeant at Arms. All these Departments have gone up in cost and the charge to the public has increased. To pick out one service is really hypocritical.

An army marches on its stomach. I do not recommend that exercise to hon. Members, but there are political gastropods just as much as there are military gastropods. It is nonsense to pretend, as the picture has been painted, that we are a lot of people indulging in orgies of cheap food at the expense of other people in order to add to the burdens of the taxpayer. That is not true for one moment. As to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) and well argued by him from the academic point of view—

Mr. Pannell

Purely academically.

Mr. Fletcher

Well, the hon. Member is a practical man, too, and he knows a good deal about narrow margins, both politically and in profits. I was a little surprised that a man of his political and professional status should be willing to build up a case without knowing the figures and, so far as I know, without having inquired about the figures. I thought his argument extremely specious when he said that he thought it was better to work it out in vacuo rather than to ask, as he was perfectly entitled to do, for the figures, which would have been provided. It was much less surprising that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury should accept this case, because that has been his policy and the policy of the Treasury for the last five years.

The facts are these. The sale of provisions in 1937 amounted to £46,720, and in 1949 to £37,631. In 1947 the sale of wines was £45,865 and in 1949, £31,531. The sale of tobacco in 1947 was £9,642 and in 1949, £12,734. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that the ratio of profit on food and tobacco is infinitely lower than on wines. He may also realise that some of the profits or smaller losses shown in the earlier years are those that, in his experience—he will, I know, support me in this—always arise when the stocks held are being sold in a rising market at higher prices, and one has not yet reached the point of disadvantage when more costly replacements have to be sold. That is one reason for the differences he has indicated.

It is clear that the Committee are fully aware of all these points. It is equally clear that there have been deficiencies in their methods of presenting the accounts. But the first action the new Committee took when they were appointed was to overhaul the accounts side so that we could get a greater breakdown and a much nearer analysis. I do not think that the idea behind the Amendment will bear much inspection.

The other great point the Committee had to consider was whether we should put out to contract the feeding of this House. I believe that there are absolutely overruling objections to that. First, let us look at the matter from the point of view of a first-class catering firm taking on the job. Being good and prudent business men, undoubtedly they would employ the hon. Member for Blackley to advise them in this matter in his professional capacity. They would immediately come to a conclusion as to how chancy, by its very nature, this catering for the House of Commons would be.

If we have two elections in one year, which is a possibility—I will not use the word "probability"—it is certain that the loss that any catering firm would face would be very great. But many catering firms might say, "We do not mind that loss. We shall get the advertising value whether we are permitted to print it or not"—and they are not permitted to print it—"from it being known that we cater for the House of Commons." What does that mean? It means that hon. Members are perfectly willing to accept a subsidy from a private firm outside. That does not affect their dignity. They think it is perfectly all right for the House of Commons to be subsidised on the basis of an indirect advertisement for a firm of caterers. I will not emphasise the question of the dignity of the House overmuch, though I think it must be taken into account. We should be descending very low if we got as far as that.

What will be the other possibility? If a firm took on this catering on a contract which they found to be increasingly bad as time went by, the Kitchen Committee of the day would be faced with an absolutely impossible situation. Either the catering firm would try to recoup themselves by lowering the standards of staff or lowering the standards of service, food and drink. They would try in the possibly short number of days they would have available—shorter than they had anticipated—to get back their money at the expense of the efficiency of the meals and service provided to Members and to the other 1,200 people who have their meals here as necessary concomitants of our efforts in this House. Those are the only possible things which could happen.

It is true that there might be half a dozen firms who would be willing to have a shot at it; but I believe, for these two reasons, that it is wrong. The House, which has to deal with the efficiency of very much larger organisations, ought at least to be capable of providing an efficient service for its catering and food department. By the word "efficient" I do not mean self-balancing. As long as we have accepted—and the Committee inherited this from previous Committees—the thesis of full employment for our staff, there is not the slightest hope of this Department being self-balancing.

I came on to this Committee with a completely fresh mind not knowing anything at all about the subject. I do not mind admitting that at first I felt a certain revulsion of feeling against the idea that large numbers of our staff would not really be usefully employed for considerable periods of the year. That appeared to be both wasteful and unnecessary. But the more one went into the subject, the more one saw the balancing factor of the need to keep a good and proper staff on a permanent basis, and the more one had to face up to the real decision, which is this: it is perfectly true that members of the staff could get alternative employment for many months in the year; it is true that we could have some system of a retaining fee so that they could come back afterwards. We could find half a dozen different expedients of that nature. But in the end they would only be irritating palliatives and they would not get down to the root of the matter in any way whatsoever.

I believe, with the disadvantages that are attached to it and which I am the first to admit, it is the lesser of the two difficulties that we have to face. Everybody is willing to pay a tribute to the staff but not everybody is willing to pay their wages. As I am advocating paying their wages, I think I may be allowed also to pay them a tribute. We talk on both sides of the House about the need to improve conditions of labour every- where. The conditions of labour of the staff of this House would call for our most severe criticism if we found them anywhere outside. In spite of that, the staff carry on with very little complaint.

One of the reasons which I am going to produce later for resisting the Amendment, which would certainly lead to the disappearance of the present Kitchen Committee, is that we have established a very good relationship with the staff. We are able to discuss their problems and our problems on a very friendly and understanding basis. I think that is true of many previous Committees. I think it is possible that we may have improved on it to some extent; we have received suggestions from them and continue so to do on a number of subjects. They know the difficulties. They know that if the matter were looked at from the really broad point of view, we should not be tinkering about with the subject as we are at present in this Debate, but we should be saying "It is about time we built somewhere within these precincts a really first-class three or four tier modern restaurant in which we could serve food properly prepared in the right way in the right place, instead of the hole-in-the-corner methods into which we are forced.

If we went to the Treasury, who seem nervous about putting one toe into the luke-warm water for a matter of £22,000, if they had the boldness of vision for which they are supposed to be so famous and which they have displayed in other continents, we would ask them for one tiny half-million out of the groundnut experiment to rebuild within the precincts a proper catering establishment. It would pay handsomely. So long as the handicap that we at present have, exists, we cannot possibly get out of the impasse in which we find ourselves.

Let us be perfectly clear. We are now asking for a new method of working. It will not prevent what is wrongly called a loss. We shall continue to have to ask the public, the taxpayer and the housewife, to help pay the necessary money. The suggestion that the catering department should be open in the Recess I do not think would be possible or permissible. It certainly would not pay because it would call for the retention of staff which would make the catering unremunerative.

The suggestion about not being able to get the wine that is on the wine list is, I believe, ill-founded. Let me say that, by and large, the Kitchen Committee do not in any way resent the criticisms which have been made. They can learn a very great deal from all of us but they do feel, and I think they do resent, the idea that at the present juncture, after about three months, having ascertained the main facts and the main difficulties, having brought them to this House, they should be assailed on nearly every side with a certain degree, though not a major degree, of criticism. We are criticised for serving too many dishes. Let me point out that there is very little variety in the dishes served to us. It is always grouse, hot or cold, and we begin to think that the grouses are not always carefully examined before they are put to us.

A suggestion has been made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) that there should be a capitation fee, but I do not think that would recommend itself to hon. Members because it would work most unfairly in a great many ways. In the first place, I think he was wrong in his suggestion of what the cost would be because, if it were imposed, Members would be entitled to set it against their salaries as a legitimate expense of their being here. In any event, I do not think it is the right way to go about this. It also savours of the idea that, as hon. Members, we are entitled to the right to be fed here at a reasonable cost to ourselves.

Anything which promotes efficiency, any suggestion for improvements—and we have had a great many, some very valuable suggestions, and they have all been very carefully noted—is more than welcome, but if the House imposes upon us the suggestion put forward in the Amendment to which the name of the hon. Member for Blackley was the lone signature, and which was then put to us by the Financial Secretary with a wagging of the heavy Treasury finger at the end, saying, "It is just possible that we will not pay"—on a basis which savours very strongly of a put-up job—then I think the Kitchen Committee are perfectly entitled to resent it. There was every opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to approach any member of the Kitchen Committee if he wished to do so and, obviously, the Chairman should have been told beforehand. I think no practical good would come from this suggestion.

I believe most sincerely that the Kitchen Committee have openly stated what their difficulties are, have admitted a great many imperfections. What they have said, in essence, is that if the House accepts, as we do accept, the premise that we do not believe outside catering is right or dignified or possible, and that it would lead to every wrong result; if we accept the full employment theory for our staff, subject to such modifications as may be found possible as time goes on—on the basis of joint discussion between the staff and ourselves—if we accept these two premises, then let us have confidence in the Kitchen Committee who have admitted the difficulties, have insisted upon the House facing up to them and have asked for a mandate to carry on.

Main Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved:
"That this House approves the general recommendations contained in the said Second Special Report."

I have not the slightest doubt that everything which an outside expert could tell us—and that does not mean that we shall not ask for outside advice when we feel we want it—is available inside the Committee or is at our disposal at any time we want it. I have not the slightest doubt that the intervention of experts on both fronts, both on the practical front and on the accounts front, would lead to inordinate delay. Why do we come to the House, as we do, to ask the House to accept, and vote in favour of, our Report? For one reason only, that we believe we can do this job, and we want the backing of the House.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 55; Noes, 43.

Division No. 60.] AYES [4.0 p.m.
Ayles, W. H Field, Capt. W. J. Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)
Bacon, Miss A Fletcher, W. (Bury) Pannell, T. C
Baldock, J. M Ganley, Mrs. C S. Parker, J.
Benson, G Gibson, C. W. Proctor, W. T.
Boothby, R Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Russell, R. S
Bower, N. Holman, P Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Houghton, Douglas Sorensen, R. W.
Brockway, A Fenner Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.) Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)
Bullus, Wing-Commander E E Hughes, Moelwyn (Islington, [...] Viant, S. P.
Burton, Miss E. Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Wallace, H. W.
Clarke, Brig. T H. (Portsmouth, W) Janner, B. Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)
Coldrick, W. Jeger, G. (Goole) White, Mrs. E. (E. Flint)
Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Peckham) King, H. M. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne) Linstead, H. N. Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Crowder, Capt. John F E. (Finchley) Lipton, Lt.-Col. M Young, Sir A. S. L.
Deer, G. McAdden, S. J.
Dodds, N. N. Mellish, R J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Middleton, Mrs. L. Mr. Daines and
Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Morley, R. Mr. G. R. Howard.
Ewart, R. Oakshott, H. D
NOES
Albu, A. H. Freeman, J. (Watford) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Amory, D. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Gammans, L. D Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Blenkinsop, A. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Royle, C.
Bowden, H. W. Hay, John Smithers, Peter H. B. (Winchester)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A. Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich) Sparks, J. A.
Brooke, H. (Hampstead) Hutchinson, Geoffrey (Ilford, N.) Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D Hynd, H. (Accrington) Stross, Dr. B
Champion, A. J. Jay, D. P. T. Studholme, H. G.
Channon, H. Jeffreys, General Sir G. Sutcliffe, H.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E Jones, A. (Hall Green) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H. Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Delargy, H. J. Low, A. R. W. Williams, C. (Torquay)
Drayson, G. B. MacColl, J. E. Wyatt, W. L.
Ede, Rt. Hon J. C Mulley, F. W.
Fort, R. Raikes, H. V. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Diamond and Mr. Keeling.