Orders of the Day — House of Commons (Administration) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th April 1978.

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Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby 12:00 am, 12th April 1978

With the leave of the Committee, I shall endeavour to deal with the questions that were specifically asked of me.

I begin by saying that I very much agree with the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) when he says that we should leave it to the Commission to take its own decisions. That has been the whole basis upon which the Government have approached the matter, and the evidence this morning is that that is the general wish of members of the Committee.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Services Committee. It is true that my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) sees an important role for that Committee, and I think that that would be the wish of this Committee and, indeed, of all hon. Members.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of the Refreshment Department. It is not, as we know, a Department of the House. The employer of catering staff is the Catering Sub-Committee of the Services Committee, and we all know that the Refreshment Department is heavily in debt. If the House decided that a restructuring of authority for House catering was desirable, it would be possible under Clause 4(2) for the Refreshment Department to be made a Department of the House and thus to be brought within the authority of the Commission. But this is a matter for subsequent consideration if it is thought to be necessary, and what is being created is the framework within which that might be done.

I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman's plea for fair Press coverage of that matter. The latest example came earlier this week as part of the Express group of newspapers' continuing attack upon Members of Parliament. It is only a week ago that the group did a front page lead on the staggering revelation that Members of Parliament cost more than members of the Royal Family. I should not have thought that that was surprising in view of the fact that there are 635 of us, but this is the sort of level at which the Daily Express is conducting its vendetta against Members of this House. I suppose that if anything can be said for the newspaper it is that the attack appears to be directed at both sides.

I find the paper's latest story quite staggering. The headline reads: You foot bill for Members of Parliament's meals", and the first paragraph says that a bill for £1 million to meet losses on House of Commons catering is to be picked up by the taxpayer. Towards the end of the story there is one paragraph from the hon. Member for Fareham (Dr. Bennett): Dr. Bennett added that 3,500 meals a day are served at the Commons but only 100 are in the Members' Dining Room. The rest are for civil servants, typists, police and other staff of the House.