asked the Lord President of the Council what was the actual financial loss in the last three years of the Members' dining room, the special functions in private rooms, the Press catering section, the Members' cafeteria, the bar, the Harcourt Room, and the Strangers' dining room and cafeteria, respectively.
As I have said in answer to Questions on a number of previous occasions, the finances of the Catering Department are at present under urgent review and I think it would be advisable to await the results of this investigation before detailing figures in the way requested. A full statement will be made as soon as possible.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I, at the request of interested parties connected with the Catering Department, deferred this Question for nearly two months? Surely on a question of this sort the House is entitled to the information? If we are sustaining losses can we be told what they are for the respective departments?
I fully appreciate what my right hon. Friend feels about this. I am most anxious not to mislead the House. I want to be absolutely sure that when we break the losses up between the various departments we are giving precise figures. At present I cannot do this.
Are we to assume that matters in the Refreshment Department were as serious as the length of the inquiry would seem to indicate? Could my right hon. Friend say at this stage if the numbers on the payroll exceeded the number of workers?
I cannot possibly answer the last part of that question without notice. My hon. Friend should put that question down for answer. As to the first part of his question, I do not want to under-estimate the seriousness of the situation.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in view of the prices charged by the Refreshment Department and the fact that the department is not subject to many of the normal overheads that an outside restaurant would have to bear, many of us find it difficult to understand how these losses have occurred? Will he say who is responsible for undertaking the review and whether he has thought of bringing in management consultants to look at these finances?
We have thought very seriously of bringing in consultants. In one sense we have done so, from the Treasury. It has looked at the situation from the O. & M. point of view. I do not want to go any further before the Committee reports as a whole, but I do not want to under-estimate the seriousness of the situation.
May I ask the Lord President to inquire into the circumstances of the completion of Star Court on 1st December, when I understand a party took place, and when, as I further understand, an outside catering firm came in?
I had guessed that this might possibly be the basis of the Question, but I would claim that one could not say that the party which took place to celebrate the completion of the building occurred in the House of Commons, since the House of Commons had not taken that particular building over at that time.
May I take it that it is so demonstrably clear that the profit margins on these particular commodities are fair and reasonable that this important Committee of the House thinks that they should be maintained, not only for the Kitchen Committee, but for very many retail outlets throughout the country?
Since smoking cigarettes is now regarded as a direct consequence of cancer—[Laughter.]—as Euclid said, vice versa—since this House warns Members and others against the practice, why do we sell cigarettes?