asked the Lord President of the Council if he is aware that the sales of light refreshments such as tea, coffee, cakes and other sundries in the Refreshment Department have fallen seriously; and if he will recommend to the Services Committee that the prices should be reduced, in order to increase sales again and so help to reduce existing losses.
May I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful Answer? Will she assure us that she will do everything possible to get an increasing number of hon. Members and others who are able to use the catering services in the House to do so?
I have been asked to reply.
The full establishment of all grades in the Refreshment Department is 205. Owing to difficulties in recruitment, the staff employed by the Department at the moment numbers 183, that is 22 below establishment. Casual labour is engaged at hourly rates to bring the number of staff up to full strength whenever possible.
Whilst thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I take this opportunity on my own behalf to thank Mr. Roberts, who has just retired, for the great service he has done for hon. Members of this House? I am sure that many other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will echo my thanks.
Does the hon. Lady appreciate fully that there is a fantastic turnover in the catering staff? Is there anything more that can be done to arrest this unfortunate trend?
I agree with what the hon. Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) has said about Mr. Roberts. He has done an excellent job under very difficult circumstances. The question of the number of staff and of keeping them is giving great concern to the Catering Sub-Committee. One of my hon. Friends has just whispered to me "Pay me properly", but the scale of pay has been agreed with the trade union. The salary scale is under investigation and a statement will be made as soon as possible.
Employees of the Refreshment Department sign above their names on the wages sheet for the receipt of a wage packet. Full details of the calculation of the individual's wage are set out on a slip attached to the packet. This practice has been accepted by the union representing employees in the Department.
If I follow my right hon. Friends Answer correctly, he is not denying that employees in the Catering Department sign a blank sheet of paper for their wages. Is that the fact? Has it any legal justification?