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House of Commons Commission

Volume 559: debated on Thursday 28 February 2013

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

House of Commons Library (Books Borrowed)

The three books most frequently borrowed from the House of Commons Library between 7 May 2010 and 14 February 2013 were “How Parliament Works” by Robert Rogers and Rhodri Walters, borrowed 44 times, Erksine May’s “A Treatise upon the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament”, edited by the Clerk of the House, borrowed 33 times, and in third place “A Journey” by Tony Blair, borrowed 31 times.

There is no surprise that the most popular book borrowed is a well-written and informative read, but does he share my disappointment at the lack of progress on a new and updated edition? Perhaps the Commission could consider some ways of encouraging progress. I understand that the rack has fallen out of fashionable use, but perhaps a spell clerking the Administration Committee or even the Travel Office consumer panel might encourage progress?

I am sure that both of those posts would be warmly welcomed by all conscientious Clerks, but the serious point that the hon. Gentleman makes that colleagues are using works that are possibly in need of updating will I am sure have been heard by those who may be responsible for it.

Order. I should inform the House that the present Clerk of the House presented me with a signed copy of the sixth edition of his well-thumbed tome upon my election to the Chair. I hope that the House will feel that I have gained greatly from reading it cover to cover.

Food and Drink Subsidy

7. What progress the Commission has made on reducing the subsidy on food and drink served in the House. [Official Report, 9 May 2013, Vol. 563, c. 1-2MC.] (145145)

The cost of the catering service is expected to have been reduced by £1.1 million over the past three years. It stood at £5.9 million in 2010-11 and £5.1 million in 2011-12. The forecast cost for the current financial year is £4.8 million. The current aim is to reduce the cost further so that by 2015 it should be reduced by £3 million, roughly half of what it was at the start of the Parliament.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s answer, but recent media reports that the subsidy for Parliament’s 19 restaurants, nine bars and the coffee shop has actually increased over the past year were met with dismay from many of our constituents across the country. In addition to what he has said today about reducing the cost of the House catering facilities, I urge him to look at moving even faster on the issue to ensure that all subsidy is removed as soon as possible.

We are certainly seeking to reduce the cost wherever possible, but there have been changes in the way we operate that make turnover more difficult. I point out that the key gross profit, or kitchen profit, made by the House’s outlets is fully comparable to what we would expect to find in industry. It is the other costs, caused largely by our sitting arrangements and the staffing required for that, that put us over into subsidy. That is the area currently being tackled by the business improvement plan.

Should we not always think of the 12,000 or more passholders beyond the number of Members of Parliament, most of whom are on lower salaries, and consider that it is perfectly in order to have an element of subsidy? Those passholders include journalists who work in the House. Therefore, in trying to be prudent about bringing down the cost of the catering service, we should bear in mind that in many places of work it is quite normal to have an element of subsidy.

My right hon. Friend makes a valuable point. It is worth noting that the gross profit, or kitchen profit, made in the dining rooms is at the high end of the scale and extremely comparable to high street restaurants. The subsidy is needed far more in the canteens, which are enjoyed by passholders on far more modest salaries.