Coffee House

Their drinks are still on us

1 May 2012

It has been a busy day for Commons committees, and I don’t just
mean the education and media select committees either. The John Bercow-chaired House of Commons
has released a briefing note outlining some of its recent decisions relating
to the running of the House. It covers three areas: ‘Mobile devices for members’ (aka, iPads for MPs); ‘Trees in Portcullis House’ (let’s keep ‘em, so long as we
can make ‘em cheaper); and ‘Alcohol policy’ (more on which below).

It’s the last of these that will probably get the most attention, not least because of Eric Joyce’s recent misadventures. So what does Team Bercow recommend? Nothing much, in truth,
unless you count the prescription that ‘at receptions and events where alcohol was served, glasses would be topped up less frequently’. There’s also some stuff about a
‘consultation to take place with the Administration Committee, the House of Lords and the Sports and Social club on the opening hours of bars on the Parliamentary Estate,’ blah, blah,

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One line does stand out, however. It’s this: ‘On pricing, the Commission noted that significant price increases had occurred in recent years and that bar prices were now comparable to
high street pubs.’ After all, while it’s true that there have been price rises in recent years, there’s
still something galling about that ‘comparable’. On drink, as well as on food, that ‘comparable’ generally means ‘cheaper’ rather than ‘the same’. As
Guido puts it, shouldn’t there just be no subsidised food and drink in the Commons at all? I mean, this is
meant to be a time of austerity.

Part of the reason I mention this is because one of David Cameron’s more effective speeches from before the election
was about trimming MPs’ perks. The coalition has gone some way to delivering on those promises, but it’s telling that when George Osborne was asked, in February, about cutting the
subsidy further he dismissed  the question just as
Cameron’s opponents dismissed it pre-2010: by saying that there are more important fiscal matters at hand. No doubt there are — but Cameron and Osborne still oughtn’t get
blasé about this.

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Show comments
  • Malfleur

    TomTom @ 7.17pm

    “Why people on £65,000pa plus £200,000 in expenses should get cheap meals on the taxpayer when HMRC taxes everyone else on Benefits is unclear…”

    I think it’s because without the cheap meals there would be insufficient inducement to interest them in the job…

    Ruby Duck @ 2.46 am


  • Peter From Maidstone

    Ruby Duck, political parties should have very restricted roles in parliament. They are anti-democratic. They should not pay for MPs because MPs should represent constituents not parties.

  • Liz Brown

    So we are “all in this together”. Minimum pricing will apply in the HoC? I think not. Why, in this day and age, are we asked to subsidise our MPs (and attendant hangers on) food and drink? Surely they are the only group of workers who have bars in the workplace? In most businesses nowadays, drinking at work is most definitely a no no

  • Boudicca

    The Houses of Parliament are a place of work. There should be no alcohol sold or consumed on the premises whilst work is underway, in case it impairs the judgement of the workforce.

  • Sir Everard Digby

    Perhaps the subsidised food/drinks are just a symptom of the culture of the political classes?

    1. Who voted for them to have these subsidies -not me. Cameron was ‘promising’ in 2009 to get rid of them altogether.

    2. Making it attractive to stay within their bubble simply reinforces the bubble mentality

    3. It’s a place of work. Most I have worked at did not permit alcohol consumption in working hours. Quite right too. The well-oiled do not make good decisions generally.

  • Ruby Duck

    @Andy H

    Good stuff, although I would go a bit further and say that the MP should be paid by the constituency. They can put a value on the MP when they vote.

    Anything more than would have to come from the party.

  • wrinkled weasel

    Nowegian Senter Partiet MP Kjersti Toppe wants alcohol banned altogether in her Parliament, never mind the subsidy. And before people go off on one, Kjersti’s party is avowedly anti-EU.

    Personally I would not ban alcohol, but simply make MPs pay the market price. If they cannot handle drink, then they must surely be subject to censure, and if they are drunk and disorderly they should be brought before the Speaker.

    It appears that there is a culture of heavy drinking in Parliament and Miss Toppe’s advice is solid:

    “I will not be judgmental or moralizing, but I think it is a paradox that alcohol is so often served to the politicians, while there is broad political consensus that alcohol consumption in Norway must be reduced”

  • TomTom

    “Why not just outsource the entire westminster hospitality operation to someone”

    Are you mad ? It IS outsourced – they submit BILLS to the Parliamentary Authorities and what they PAY covers the DEFICIT which is the SUBSIDY

  • glenlivetguy

    The last comment from Andy H was the most sensible thing I have read on this blog for yonks.Heartily endorsed.

  • Andy H

    I don’t have a big problem with whether MP’s get subsidies. However, they should be treated EXACTLY the same as everyone else, and be subject to Benefit in Kind conditions from HMRC.

    Also, I believe it is time that each Constituency was responsible for supplying accommodation and office support for each MP, so that any investment stayed with the post, and could not be used for personal gain.

    If the MPs are not happy about the new conditions then I believe there are hundreds more people that would gladly take the role.

    Finally, I believe that the MPs remuneration should be linked to the proportion of law they hand over to the EU. The less they are responsible, then the less they should get paid..

  • Tanuki

    Why not just outsource the entire westminster hospitality operation to someone like Wetherspoons, Hungry Horse, or McDonald’s ??
    Let providers bid for the opportunity. Let’s face it, being able to put “By Appointment” and the parliamentary portcullis-logo on their promotional literature must be worth a good amount.

  • Neverundersold

    I find it hard to be outraged by this. It’s the Houses of Parliament for heaven’s sake. I would expect the provision of good quality food and drink, much of it British, at cost price. If it’s well-managed, it’ll be a bit cheaper than a pub, just as many workplaces, clubs, universities etc are. If they’re able to buy wine in bulk with an eye to the future, it’ll be easy to drink well fairly cheaply and functions will be well-catered. Actual subsidy would be questionable, save where the public and other visitors are involved, but the fact you can get steak and chips for 15.50 is not worrying me too much.

  • Cogito Ergosum

    When one of my former employers contracted out the catering, management subsequently moaned that biscuits supplied for meetings cost £1 each. We the plebs also felt the company was trying to make a profit out of its staff rather than out of its customers.

    But that is what happens in the less generous parts of the “real world”. Bring it on for MPs.

  • In2minds

    “bar prices were now comparable to high street pubs”

    Maybe, but the people in pubs are far better.

  • TomTom

    Obviously it’s subsidised. They are private contractors getting direct funding from the taxpayer to cover Fixed Costs so the MPs only pay variable and are probably exempt from Licensing Laws and VAT.

    It is time to make the whole place dry. They also have a good stock of wines and source their steaks from the Buccleuch Estates

    A grilled fillet steak with carrot and parsley gratin, romanesco florets and Madeira jus was offered for £15.50.

    Why people on £65,000pa plus £200,000 in expenses should get cheap meals on the taxpayer when HMRC taxes everyone else on Benefits is unclear – but MPs are exempt from sections of tax laws

  • Archimedes

    How subsidised are they? Is a question of the state actually subsidising them or just not making a profit from the sale?

    Still, it’s tempting to whack them with their very own minimum unit price to discourage the kind of binge drinking that goes on in the strangers bar. It could then be pegged to rises of 3% above inflation annually until they start becoming more inventive when it comes to solving problems, instead of slapping another tax on.

    In fact, better yet, maybe catering and alcohol charges in the Strangers bar ought to be set democratically so that when a gin & tonic costs £50 they’ll know they’re not doing a very good job – a kind of solution the most esteemed of select committees would recommend.

  • Steve

    It’s all very well bemoaning “subsidised food for MPs’, but given there are 650 of them, and around 7000 other employees – cleaners, admin staff, House staff, security, police, researchers, hansard etc – are subsidised canteens (which is what *most* of them are) all that outrageous?

  • Steve Tierney

    I’m probably the only one amongst a load of people who will be shouting about “troffers” or whatever – but I really don’t care about this. Purely a personal position, but I really don’t. So MPs get some subsidised drinks and food in the House Of Commons? The world won’t end.

  • Tulkinghorn

    Is alcohol the evil
    Are perks the evil
    Or is it Bercow as your picture suggests

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