§ Mr. Charles Irving
I have been asked to reply.
In accordance with the policy of the Catering Sub-Committee to reduce the loss not only on the Private Dining Rooms, but the whole Refreshment Department, substantial increases in the prices on drinks were agreed upon in February, and it has been agreed that further increases should be introduced after the Whitsun recess. These will apply to drink and food. I am hopeful that by the end of this financial year, the trading year ending 1981, we shall show a substantial trading profit for the first time.
§ Mr. Cryer
Because of the loss of more than £100,000, is it not scandalous that the Catering Sub-Committee should try to keep bookings secret—possibly to protect those hon. Members who are parliamentary advisers to outside organisations? That means that the taxpayer has been benefiting public relations organisations through the enormous losses of the Private Dining Rooms. If the loss it to be brought to an end, why not put the matter completely above board and make bookings open to the public and to hon. Members?
§ Mr. Irving
I do not think that the question of secrecy will make the slightest difference to our profit and loss account. For as long as can be remembered it has been the custom that the Catering Sub-Committee does not publish the names of the organisers of functions. The Sub-Committee agrees in many respects with the hon. Gentleman's remarks and would 22 deprecate any use of the Dining Rooms that would be likely to bring the House into disrepute. I do not think that the Catering Sub-Committee is likely to change its views on a matter that has been discussed ad nauseam.
§ Mr. Freud
Will the Chairman of the Catering Sub-Committee confirm that the huge loss in the year in question, and the arguable profits in the current year, were achieved without paying anything for rates, rent, insurance, heat, gas, light, repairs or renewal? Will he say how long it has been since a new appointment at senior managerial level has been effected in the Catering Department?
§ Mr. Irving
I have greater admiration for the hon. Gentleman when I see him on television than I do when I listen to his questions, which are irrelevant to the difficulties in the Catering Department, of which he, if anyone, should be fully aware.
On several occasions I have given the Commission an assurance that, with the arrangement that has been agreed by the whole House, we shall show a trading profit at the end of the financial year. If the hon. Gentleman requires all the details for which he has asked, I shall be happy to furnish him with them.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Catering Sub-Committee is using in the Catering Department only the best industrial practices which apply to every outside organisation. There is nothing special about the arrangements that we have made for trying to run the Catering Department properly for the first time in a long time.
§ Mr. Aitken
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the pay and conditions of those who work in the Catering Department have recently received a long overdue improvement? Is he aware that if the improved pay and conditions are the cause of the price increases, many of us will consider that a good cause?
§ Mr. Irving
It is significant that at the commencement of this Parliament the Catering Department faced a disgraceful inheritance from the previous Administration, namely, a debt of £3 million. Whatever steps we take, they cannot possibly be as bad as the steps that were taken in the past. I assure the House that, thanks to the Leader of the House and to 23 the Commission, the staff of the Catering Department have, for the first time, been rewarded and given a pension, of which they have been deprived by Opposition Members over the years.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am afraid that we have run out of time for these questions. However, I will allow one minute extra later during Question Time so that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) can ask his question now.
§ Mr. Foot
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Before the hon. Gentleman continues on the line that he has taken with the House, will he take into account the fact that a member of his party was Chairman of the Catering Sub-Committee before the election? When he speaks as he did about the way that these matters were conducted previously, is he answering for all the other members of his Committee? Will he take into account that if he answers questions in that manner he will not have a Kitchen Committee left?
§ Mr. Irving
I am sorry to say that, not having previously answered any questions in the House, I have few hon. Members who attend the Kitchen Committee anyway. The untiring efforts of Labour Members to make difficult the work of almost the only attender of meetings of the Kitchen Committee are succeeding. I owe a special debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean). With few exceptions, he and I run it together. We are doing our best in a difficult job, which has been recognised as difficult for many years. It is sad that Opposition Members cannot be more helpful.
§ Mr. Cryer
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall the somewhat partisan outburst by the Chairman of the Services Sub-Committee, and you will no doubt recall that for the previous five years the Chairman of that Sub-Committee was a Conservative Member. You, Mr. Speaker, are not normally responsible for answers that are given, but in this case there is a connection, in that 24 the answers should be solely concerned with the facts and the information that is sought. As I understand it, the Sub-Committee is responsible to the House of Commons Commission, and the Chairman of the House of Commons Commission is yourself. Therefore, if there is an attempt to put a smokescreen of partisan abuse around replies when hon. Members are seeking information, it can reflect on you, Mr. Speaker. The fact that you, as Chairman, are ultimately responsible is an indication that this is fundamentally a House of Commons matter rather than a partisan matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that the question was not addressed to the right hon. Member who answers for the House of Commons Commission. It was a question addressed to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. If it was the responsibility of the Commission in this case, the point should have been addressed to the right hon. Member who answers for the House of Commons Commission.