HC Deb 23 July 1962 vol 663 cc952-3

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

45. Mrs. CASTLE

TO ask the hon. Member for Holland-with-Boston, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, whether he will introduce a rule to prevent the booking of private dining rooms in the House of Commons by Members acting as, or on behalf of, a public relations consultant in the interests of a particular firm.

46. Sir C. BLACK

TO ask the hon. Member for Holland-with-Boston, as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, Whether it is permissible for the catering facilities at the House of Commons to be booked on behalf of public relations consultants.

Sir H. Butcher

With permission I should like to answer Questions 45 and 46.

As the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend know, the general rule regarding booking of private dining facilities is that no booking may be made for a private dining room except by a Member, who is obliged personally to attend the function.

In my opinion, cases which can be the subject of criticism are few and far between. Indeed, there have been only two instances since I have been Chairman which have caused me any anxiety and in each case the hon. Members concerned have been so good as to cancel their bookings as soon as I mentioned my misgivings to them.

Accordingly, I do not fed that it would be fair to the vast majority of Members to propose any alteration in the rules.

The Committee can go no further than to require adherence to the letter of their rule. The interpretation of its spirit in the context of the dignity of the House must be a matter for hon. Members individually.

Mrs. Castle

But is it not a fact that in the most recent of the cases to which the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee refers the cancellation took place only after there had been considerable Press publicity about the matter and that the hon. Member, as Chairman, was in no position to enforce cancellation because he had not a specific rule? Is he also aware that 105 hon. Members signed a Motion the last Session asking that this rule should be introduced? Would he not safeguard his own position as well as the general reputation of the House if this were made an automatic rule, as suggested in my Question?

Sir H. Butcher

The fact remains that the functions to which the hon. Lady referred did not take place. It is rather difficult for any group of hon. Members serving as members of the Kitchen Committee to make rules which might bear quite hardly on their fellow Mem-bens. We prefer to leave it to the general good taste and feeling of hon. Members on both sides of the House.