We have without doubt been discussing a question of great seriousness, and I should like now to come to a domestic matter which concerns the facilities and arrangements for catering and refreshment within the Serjeant at Arms' Department of the House of Commons. I should like first to submit a point of Order and ask, if the Report of the Select Committee of the House has been laid on the Table of the House but has not been received back from the printers and made available to Members, would it be in Order for the Chairman of the Select Committee to disclose details of the Report, in reply to questions raised in the Debate by an hon. Member.
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for giving the Chair notice that he was proposing to raise the point of Order. The answer is, Yes, it would be in Order for the Chairman of the Select Committee to disclose details of the Report because, theoretically, a document laid on the Table of the House is at the disposal of Members. That also applies to other Members who have knowledge of the contents of the Report, though it would hardly be convenient to make extensive use of extracts from it, because presumably the House as a whole is not aware of the contents.
It is ordered by the House to be printed, but I submit that it is not made available. If a quotation is made from a Report which has been laid on the Table but has not in fact been made available, how can I check the correctness of it? When a Report is laid before the House it is discussed at a certain point and availability is part of the process of laying on the Table.
May I submit this point? It appeared in the Orders and Proceedings of this House on 29th March that this Report of the Select Committee had been laid on the Table, and I take it that if Members applied to the Vote Office for a copy they would be told that it was not available because it had not yet been printed. A number of roneod copies had been made available for the use of the printers and for any hon. Members who desired to see the Report, which at that moment was in the Committee Office of the House. I therefore submit that, as it is available in roneod or typed form in the Committee Office after it has been laid on the Table, an hon. Member, in accordance with your Ruling is at liberty to make reference to it.
With your permission Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I will now come to the question I desire to raise. Yesterday, I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bracewell Smith), in his capacity as Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, a Question with reference to the catering facilities which would be made now and in the future for the convenience not only of Members of the House but "for all those whose business brings them to the House." I ask the House particularly to mark those words. In the future it might be necessary for the House to consider an alteration in the hours of sitting, and it was obvious when I put the Question that that was in my mind. In replying to the Question, my hon. Friend gave me the information which I sought, but he went further, and in reply to a question, which was never put by me, he went on to say:
We are not prepared to ask for any preferential treatment for Members of Parliament unless the House decides otherwise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April 1944; col. 2001, Vol. 398.]
I never asked him such a question. I never inferred such a question, and by making a reply of that kind I submit that he rendered a distinct disservice not only to me, but to Members generally and to the House, by suggesting in the constituencies, in the whole country and throughout the world, that the only consideration in the minds of Members of Parliament at a time like this is whether they can get privileges for themselves in the matter of food supplies which are denied to the public. I am sorry that my hon. Friend, particularly as he had clear indication of what was in my mind, felt it necessary to add such unfortunate words to his reply. Those hon. Friends who are associated with me in this view which I am expressing are not asking for any special privileges for Members of the House or for those whose business brings them here. All they are asking for is
for those privileges which are afforded to any national institution or establishment whose efficient management is essential in the successful prosecution of the war. I do not think any Member will dispute the claim that we come well within that category. I want to be at some pains—in view of the large number of Members who wish to speak on this subject—to confine my remarks to a short time and not to exaggerate the case which I wish to put.
In a nutshell, my submission is that the refreshment arrangements of the House of Commons within the Department of the Serjeant at Arms are neither adequate nor good and, in my modest judgment, compare ill with other war establishments which have to face and overcome the same difficulties as my hon. Friend's Select Committee has to do within the strict regulations of the Ministry of Food. This is not a point of view which is personal to me. Representations have been made to me by those representing the officials of this House and by officers representing the Press Gallery, and by Members of Parliament drawn from all sides.
Let us take the question of facilities first. What are the facilities available to officials of the House and to those whose business brings them to the House, whether in connection with the Press Gallery or with other affairs? If by chance their duties keep them beyond a certain hour, as often happens, they have one restaurant to go to; the one in the passage leading to the Harcourt Room. They then find that no hot food is available, and all that can be produced is a piece of spam and perhaps a hot potato, but they are lucky if they get that. It means that the only facilities available for these ladies and gentlemen is the small public tea room. If the House sits a long time, and they go there to get something to eat—and there is a rush on the one available source of refreshments—they find there is perhaps a cake left and no sandwiches, plus a cup of tea. Beyond a certain hour there are no facilities available even outside the House, for the public restaurants which most of us can afford are closed or are full. This means that after a hard day's work, all concerned, Members or not, have to go home with nothing in their "tummies." That is not in accordance with the wishes of this House.
In putting the Question to my hon. Friend yesterday I anticipated that in future the House might have to sit later. That depends on what decision the House might make in the future. If we do sit late it is not unreasonable to ask my hon. Friend and his Committee to provide facilities for us to eat. We cannot carry on talking nine or ten hours a day unless we have something to sustain us. The purpose of my Question was to ask whether in these circumstances extra food would be provided to supply two meals a day. How can my hon. Friend suggest that this is asking for preferential treatment for Members of Parliament which is denied to the public? I do not want to say too much about the cooking. All I would say is this, that at the moment, God and the Ministry of Food supply the food, but, so far as the cooking is concerned that is—
As I was saying God and the Ministry of Food supply the food, but the cooking in the House of Commons is a matter for the Devil himself. I do not expect pre-war standards, but I have lived on Army rations in two wars, and in other places in this war, where the food provided comes from the common source it is much better cooked and better served than we get here in the Mother of Parliaments. I observe that in the winter, when there is a shortage of meat—and I am not asking for any extra meat—we never have venison. It never occurs to my hon. Friend to apply to the Chairman of the Forestry Commission to let us have some venison, which is sold at the price of 9d.per lb. I have never seen venison on the menu of the House of Commons. There seems to be a lack of imagination in the administration.
Let us come to the staff arrangements. If it is impossible to carry on with the present staff, might I ask whether my hon. Friend has considered applying to the Ministry of Labour to supply the extra staff required? If this House is placed on a war footing—which I think we have a right to claim—then the Ministry of Labour can direct the necessary labour. If that is not possible, and we do not wish to make any unfair claim, I am quite sure that that splendid organisation, the Women's Voluntary Services, would regard it as an honour and a privilege to provide a service for the legislators of their country.
I think the Kitchen Committee—if I might have the attention of the Chairman for one moment—has fundamentally wrong ideas on this matter. The purpose of the Kitchen Committee of this House is not to make profit but to provide adequate, clean and good meals at reasonable prices. If the Kitchen Committee find themselves unable to provide that service on an economic basis, this House would, no doubt, be prepared to make grants-in-aid towards the cost—as it has done in the past. My hon. Friend, at least in his capacity in this House, does not have to pay any dividends. His Committee has to pay no rent, no rates and no taxes, and nothing for lighting or heating, and nothing at all for overheads. But restaurants, Mr. Speaker, can, and do provide much better meals at the same prices while having to face such charges, beside discharging their legitimate responsibilities to their shareholders. I would like to make one or two references to the 1944 Report. In accordance with your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, I have availed myself of the privilege of reading this Report in the Committee Room of this House.
To the Report of the Select Committee which was laid on the Table of the House on 29th March. It has not yet been returned from the printers, but a roneoed copy is available to those hon. Members who wish to see it, in accordance with Mr. Deputy-Speaker's Ruling. I am not an accountant, but it appears to me that, on provisions alone, this Committee has made a profit of no less than 47½ per cent., which hon. Members of this House have been required to provide in high prices. The accounts as they are presented are published in a most sketchy and most extraordinary way. They make no difference as between the profit made on the sale of wines and beers in the bars and smoking room, and the profit made on the sale of provisions. Perhaps when the hon. Member replies he will enlighten the House on that point. Having made a profit of 47½ per cent. which we have to pay—and it is rough on some hon. Members who cannot afford these high prices—I find they have not applied to receive a grant-in-aid from the Treasury. I venture to suggest that the hon. Gentleman desires to show his personal business efficiency by coming to this House and saying, "For the first time in many years, the Committee, under my control, has not shown a loss, but a profit." That I do not think is the purpose of the Committee. When a grant-in-aid is received I do submit that the actual amount should be shown. I hope that in the future when these accounts are brought to the attention of the Comptroller-General he will see to a that they are presented in a much more detailed fashion in order that Members of Parliament can have a better idea what the position actually is.
May I now say one word about wages. It has been common gossip in the House for some years past that the wages paid have been totally inadequate. If that is the case we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. It is for this House to set an example to industry and not only to pay fair wages, but to pay generous wages. I gather that there is a small permanent staff. What that consists of I do not know, but I gather that the permanent staff is paid for 365 days a year and is only required to work for 119 days. If that is the case I think that the hon. Gentleman should offer some explanation to the House as to the variance between the temporary workers and the permanent workers. If he is having difficulty as regards wages, he should avail himself of the Catering Act which this House has recently passed, and apply to a Board to guide him in the wages which should be paid, wages which would exclude the necessity for tipping in the House. For many years this House has had the reputation of being the best club in the world. I venture to suggest that any hon. Member, whether he is a member of a working men's club, or the Carlton Club, will agree that it is very unfortunate when tipping comes into a club atmosphere. After all, all Members of Parliament are equal, at least that is what we are told. There is an equality between the Prime Minister and the most recently elected Member of Parliament. If there is that equality in the sight of the "Corps of Politicians," let us pay the staff of this House on an adequate and generous basis, and banish this evil of tipping, particularly from the smoking room. The practice is extremely bad; rather pay them an adequate and fair wage and enhance their dignity and the dignity of Members at the same time.
I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman replies, he will enlighten us on that point. I have no knowledge of the facts, and no means of finding out. Is my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich really satisfied with the present condition of affairs? I want him to face up boldly to the realities of the problem, as nine out of ten Members view it today. I ask him to invite his Committee to review the whole problem now, in its broadest possible aspect; to review the present arrangements and examine the obvious shortcomings. I ask him to submit his recommendations to the House, in a special report and I do so in the confident knowledge that, if he brings forward useful recommendations, however drastic, they will meet with overwhelming encouragement and support from Members in all parts of the House.
I have some special right to talk on this matter, because it was only a very short time ago that I was secretary of a committee upstairs which secured a number of amenities which we at present enjoy in this House. Had it not been for the recommendations we made to the Kitchen Committee and to the Serjeant at Arms, we should not have been able to get any guests into the House, and we should not have had the cafeteria. It was not the initiative of the Kitchen Committee which produced those tawdry amenities. [Interruption.] I say "tawdry amenities"; they are very tawdry. It is one of the difficulties of this House that the products of the public schools do not know the English language.
I really have not time to give way. I have just two minutes, because I want to give the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bracewell Smith) a chance to reply. We got those amenities on the initiative of back bench Members of this House. I cannot understand what comes over Members after they get on the Kitchen Committee. Before they become members of that Committee they display initiative, enterprise, imagination, and independence of spirit. As soon as they become members of that Committee, they become furtive and unfertile, and they go about looking as if they all have guilty consciences—and if they have not got guilty consciences they deserve to have them, because most people know that we are very badly treated by the Kitchen Committee. I am not going to say that the Committee have an altogether easy time. Although my hon. and gallant Friend is right in suggesting that they have many advantages and have not the overheads that many restaurants have to carry, they have also physical conditions far less convenient than modern restaurants possess. Therefore, we cannot expect them to do things on the same terms as restaurants created for that purpose.
This is a very old building, and, by preserving its historical characteristics, we deny the Kitchen Committee the modern conveniences which make for efficiency. That is a reason why the House of Commons should be ready to give the Kitchen Committee assistance. It is not fair that Members of Parliament should have to put up with bad food and dear food in order to maintain the historical physical condition of the House, and it is a reason why the Exchequer should come to the assistance of the Kitchen Committee and why the House should support them. I am bound to say that most British Restaurants which I have visited put on a better meal than is put on in the House of Commons. Most factory canteens supply a better meal, and certainly all the Armed Forces do. There is no reason why our digestions should be assailed in the name of patriotism. I, therefore, suggest that, while we have no time to consider this matter in detail, the House is entitled to ask from the Kitchen Committee rather more enterprise and consideration than it receives at the present time.
As Chairman of the Kitchen Committee may I say that I think the House will appreciate the difficulties of replying without having had the subject-matter of the case before me. I have had to pick it up from the remarks of hon. Members. The hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Colonel A. Evans) displayed a little anxiety at my reply, but the hon. and gallant Member will remember that he asked for additional food. Anyone knows that we get the food that we require in accordance with our returns.
Yes, but we do not want additional food. We get our ordinary allocation of food in accordance with the meals served, but additional supplies of food means food over and above the allocation we get under the rationing Order. I was perfectly clear that, as -far as additional food, over and above what we are allowed to have, is concerned, the Kitchen Committee are not prepared to ask the Ministry for any extra supplies. We shall not ask for any preferential treatment for this House of Commons, and I was perfectly correct in my answer. I am sorry the hon. and gallant Member did not put his question a little more clearly.
It is rather obvious to the House that the Kitchen Committee has had "a kick in the pants" to-day, and many complaints have been made, a lot of them not justified at all. I have no time to reply to all the various points raised, but, in regard to future hours, I think it would, perhaps, be better if we wait until those hours are fixed before we say what we are going to do. I did, however, say that we would provide for adequate dining-room arrangements when those hours are fixed, and I hope that answer will satisfy hon. Members. In regard to cooking, very drastic remarks were made. [An HON. MEMBER: "And deserved."] One hon. Member said that venison was never on the menu. It is not on the menu because not one Member of Parliament ordered venison on the one occasion when it was on the menu, so we simply did not order venison again. I am simply giving this information to the House. So far as staffing arrangements are concerned, most of our staff, almost 75 per cent. of them,. have been with us over 20 years, and, had it not been for them and their loyal service, it would have been very difficult to carry on at all. I think this House should pay a great tribute to those persons behind the scenes who have been so loyal in this particularly trying time.
This House of Commons is not an easy establishment to cater for. Sometimes we get 400 or 500 hon. Members, just as we did the other day, when the House was packed and everybody wanted a meal at the same time, and the congestion of the arrangements was very severe. Well, we had to cater for them. That is what you get in the House of Commons. If you only have 14o seats, it is obvious, all Members cannot sit dawn at the same time. It is said that the Chairman has wrong ideas. I would invite the hon. and gallant Member to be Chairman tomorrow if I could arrange it through proper channels, and he could take it on. We try to do our best in very difficult circumstances.
As far as profit is concerned, that is the last thing we have in mind. In 12 years, this is the first time the Kitchen years, has made a surplus, but it is not a surplus made out of food. The hon. and gallant Member spoke about 47 per cent. bringing in just over £4,000, but our wages come to just over £8,000.
It is not Government control. I have been a member of the Kitchen Committee for 10 years and Chairman since 1937 and we did not receive any subsidy from the Government until 1939.
We could do so, but I think the Kitchen Committee should pay its own way. We should pay for our food and have done with it. That is my personal opinion and the opinion of the Committee.
In regard to a grant-in-aid in 1939–40 we received £4,000, in the following year £3,000, and the year after the Treasury refused to give any grant-in-aid, so that the total was £7,000. When we started more or less balancing our accounts, the Treasury refused to give any more. The hon. and gallant Member raised the question of a permanent staff and I might as well deal with the question of what we have done with the surplus. We decided to increase the wages of the staff and we have expended that £1,400 surplus on the increase of wages.
I should think that they are higher than those provided for under that Act. There has been a general increase in wages to the kitchen staff. We have not dealt with the waiters, 'but with the staff behind the scenes who do not go in to the customer. We have dealt with the kitchen staff and the office staff and have given them roughly a percentage increase of almost 20 per cent. The whole of that £1,400 surplus which has accrued from 1943 has been given away to the staff in increased wages. The Kitchen Committee have dealt with this very closely, and we thought that, under the circumstances, that was the best method of disposing of the surplus.
It is a long list and hon. Members must bear in mind that in pre-war days we were working five days a week—we have been working three days, now we are working four—and that the 49 members of the permanent staff—there are 65 members on the staff in all—get full pay throughout the year. For 52 weeks they get pay and they work 119 days. We are not grumbling at that but—
The waiters are getting £2 a week, and they get their percentages over and above that. We have already been in touch with the waiters to anticipate what the increase will be provided the hours of meeting are altered. I want to assure the hon. Member that I see all the members of the staff personally, and all these increases have been made by direct contact with the staff.
But for Heaven's sake do not let anybody be under the impression that I or any other hon. Member of this House is resisting improvement in the conditions of the staff. That is precisely what we are not doing. All we are suggesting is that we ought not to be expected to pay on our food, for 100 days a year, wages for the staff for the whole year. It is nonsense to expect this to pay on a commercial basis, because it is not a commercial unit.
It would be on anything but a commercial basis if it were not for the sale of drinks. These are the only things that let us out. If we were purely on a food basis, we would not be able to do it.
Do not blame the Kitchen Committee for that. Let us be quite frank. The hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. R. Thomas) and I have discussed this matter, and to raise it on the Floor of the House when he knows exactly what the position is, is, to my mind, quite beside the point. The Kitchen Committee did not dictate the letter; it was written by the Clerk to the Committee on instructions, but we did not see the form of it. The hon. Member objected to the form.