HC Deb 31 January 1955 vol 536 cc691-3
45. Mr. Gibson

asked the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the accounts of the House of Commons Refreshment Department for the year ended 31st December, 1954.

Mr. William A. Steward (Chairman of the Kitchen Committee)

My Committee hope to submit their report to the House early in March. Subject to audit, the accounts for the year ended 31st December, 1954, show a profit of £425 1s. 7d., before taking into consideration any sums received or due from the Treasury by way of grant-in-aid in respect of wages and other costs incurred when the House is in Recess. Any sums received from the Treasury will thus become available for reducing the accumulated deficits of previous years.

This is the first time the Refreshment Department has paid its way without Treasury grant-in-aid since 1944, and I should like to pay a tribute to the members of my committee and the manager and staff of the Refreshment Department for their co-operation in achieving this encouraging result.

Mr. Gibson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we shall receive that report with a good deal of satisfaction? Will he see that certain newspapers which have specialised in attacking Members of Parliament on this matter receive a copy of the report when it is issued? Can he assure the House that a considerable proportion of this improvement has not been secured by reduction in the numbers of staffs, or in the wages and conditions under which they are employed? Can he say whether the joint consultative committee which it was suggested should be set up to enable the staff to have a say in these matters is working, and how succesfully?

Mr. Steward

I will leave it to the Press to be as fair as I think they will be. Relationships between the staff and my Committee, through the staff representatives, have never been better, and I have every reason to believe that the staff will be as pleased with the result of the year as I think most hon. Members of this House are. The welcome result has mainly been brought about by increased revenue from the sponsoring by hon. Members of parties during weekends.

Mr. J. N. Browne

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the whole House is very grateful to him for the alteration he has made in the facilities, and that this astonishing result brings into sharp perspective the difference between Labour theory and Conservative practice?

Mr. Beswick

I join in paying tribute to the Committee of which the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Steward) is Chairman, but is he aware that not all members of the staff share his optimism about their present relationships with the Kitchen Committee? There has undoubtedly been a severe deterioration in conditions since this side of the House was in power. May I also ask whether there has not been a loss of dignity to this Mother of Parliaments when, in order to reduce our deficit, we hire out these rooms at the Palace of Westminster for the purpose of having fancy dress parties on a Saturday afternoon?

Mr. Steward

The hon. Member is wrong in his reference to relations between the staff and the Committee. All complaints that cannot be handled by the manager are immediately reported to the staff sub-committee, which then meets the staff representatives; and the problem is settled. To my knowledge, there is no point of dissatisfaction which has not been satisfactorily settled. With regard to week-end parties, I can assure the House that the people who have attended those parties have been impressed with the dignity of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, have been impressed with the dignity of the House—and have gone away much more Parliament-minded.

Mr. Isaacs

Can the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee state that the staff are properly and adequately remunerated for the time they spend serving at these parties on Friday and Saturday evenings?

Mr. Steward

Yes, I can say that with all assurance. First of all, those members of the staff whose hours of duty, by reason of attending during the week-ends, exceed those provided for under the Catering Wages Act, are paid overtime. In addition, they share equally in the distribution of the 10 per cent. gratuity which is added to all bills.

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