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Volume 974: debated on Monday 26 November 1979

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asked the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, as representing the House of Commons Commission, what plans he has for the House of Commons catering.

The Commission has been considering whether it should make use of the powers conferred upon it by the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 in order to implement some of the recommendations contained in the Second Report of the Services Committee of Session 1978–79. A statement can be expected shortly.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, when any press reports are produced showing the catering subsidy in this House, the catering facilities for the press side are also included? Will he make sure that the press employers, who do not pay the full cost of catering facilities in this House for the Press lobby, are charged the full cost, including the cost of presently free stationery, free telephone usage and free use of premises, lighting, heating and so on? Will he also, as a step towards open government, make sure that private Dining Room bookings are published in future?

I take note of what my hon. Friend has to say, and I shall bring the matter to the attention of the Commission.

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy seems to be incapable of providing good English apples, will the right hon. Gentleman do so?

Will the Commission's review of catering take two matters into consideration—namely, that Members and staff of these premises should pay no more than civil servants in First Division messes, or Army officers for that matter, and that the catering staff should receive no less than is received by those employed by the Crown? In order to achieve that, will my right hon. Friend bring the Catering Department under the Commission totally?

What my hon. Friend has said has been noted. A report will be made in due course.

May we have an assurance that the catering will be brought on to a profitable basis forthwith; and if not, why not?

I would prefer to answer that question some time later when I have more information.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at a time when at the posh end of the Dining Rooms the meals are subsidised, so I am told, to the tune of as much as £5 per meal, the present Government are actually making propositions to all local education authorities for the withdrawal of subsidised meals for millions of school children? Will my right hon. Friend say that a Government acting in that manner are nothing short of hypocritical?