HC Deb 18 July 1988 vol 137 cc786-8
27. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Lord President of the Council how many pieces of (a) china and (b) cutlery are estimated to have been removed without authority from House of Commons Dining Rooms in each of the past five years; at what cost to public funds; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Wakeham

The average cost per annum over the last five-year period of purchases of tableware amounted to £43,000, which represents approximately 2 per cent. of the Refreshment Department's annual turnover. These purchases were substantially to cover general wear and tear. It is not possible to give a breakdown.

Mr. Greenway

It is annoying that we cannot have a breakdown of the figures for china. In view of the high cost of the replacement of china and cutlery—items of which are usually taken as souvenirs—will my right hon. Friend save the taxpayers' money by electronically tagging all china and cutlery? Will he consider issuing plastic knives, forks and spoons stamped with the House of Commons crest to all visitors, so that they can take them away with them?

Mr. Wakeham

As usual, my right hon. Friend comes up with novel and interesting suggestions. I am not sure that the losses that we incur, although we want to keep them down to a minimum, are out of line with those for a busy Department. I shall refer my hon. Friend's suggestion to the General Manager of the Refreshment Department.

Mr. Rees

Will the Leader of the House take account of what is done in one of the most expensive restaurants in London? As so much expensive cutlery is stolen, the men who attend the table now add the cost of it to the bill and, because the people who steal it are so ashamed, the issue is not raised? The owner of the restaurant says that he covers his account every year in that way.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know whether the 2 per cent. is added to the bill anyway, but I do not agree with that suggestion. The 2 per cent. is not an unreasonable figure. Again, I shall refer the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion to the head of the Refreshment Department.

Mr. Dickens

Will my right hon. Friend accept a little advice from me? If he were to send a runner round the offices of Members of Parliament in this and other buildings, he would find any number of cups, saucers, knives, spoons and forks, which have not been permanently removed, but have been taken, as a matter of convenience, when hon. Members have been sitting late through the night, and have then been left there. Rather than cast aspersions on the integrity of visitors to the House, he might follow that suggestion. I have two items in my office.

Mr. Wakeham

May I suggest to my hon. Friend that he returns them forthwith; and, if other hon. Members have any, perhaps they could return them, too.