This article is from the July issue of Total Politics
Are bars in Parliament a good thing, and could it operate without them?
Many members feel it’s appropriate for Parliament to have facilities in which they can entertain their constituents, and constituents very much enjoy coming here. Members lead very busy, stressful lives, and are required to be in the House long after ‘normal’ working hours.
If they wish to unwind with a sociable beer or glass or wine with colleagues, then I see nothing wrong with that. I’m sure Parliament could survive without bars, but it would be a shame if constituents and other visitors were to lose the opportunity to be entertained here.
To what extent has the Commons doctor’s call for healthier drinking influenced the House’s policy on bars?
The Commission takes its responsibilities for the users of the Commons estate very seriously, and is lucky to be very well advised by the Occupational Health Service and others. The Commission was very mindful of the doctor’s advice when it recently announced a package of measures to support sensible drinking.
To what extent has recent press about bars in Parliament influenced your desire to reform them? Some members feel they’re being punished for Eric Joyce’s actions. Are they right?
Of course we’re mindful of the House’s reputation, and it’s important that we respond to public concerns or explain misleading press coverage. The recent incident did provide an opportunity for a review of the use of alcohol on the estate, but it’s something that the Commission considers from time to time.
We hope that the reasonable package of changes we recently announced is not seen as punitive – the Commission is simply taking seriously its responsibilities.
Bar staff have often been scared or frightened to confront Members about occasional bad behaviour, thinking the House Authorities would back up the MP. Has there been a change in direction, in particular, as part of the House’s Respect Agenda?
I don’t think this is a significant problem at all, but it is an employer’s duty to ensure that its staff are trained for, and supported in, undertaking their work. My message to all those who work or visit here is that common courtesy and mutual respect is essential if the House is to operate successfully in service of the public.
What do you have to say about the reporting of Parliament’s bar business, specifically talk of reduced-price alcohol or the level of ‘rowdiness’?
There are a number of myths that continue to be perpetuated, one being that the bars here serve very cheap alcohol. Since 2010, the price of alcohol served in the House has increased significantly and the prices in our bars are now comparable with high street pubs, and kept under constant review. I also don’t recognise the wilder reporting concerning ‘rowdiness’ on the estate.
Once myths get established it’s very difficult to counter them, but in spite of that, the Commission will continue to do what it thinks is right to encourage sensible alcohol use on the estate.
The House is a reflection of the society it represents, and so we need to respond to the growing concern over the issue of alcohol misuse, and the devastating effect it can have on individuals and their families and friends.
Providing guidance, help and support through the Occupational Health Service and the Speaker’s Chaplain, and taking action on issues such as opening hours, availability of soft drinks etc, is our way of responding to this challenge.
Read Sean Dilley's full article on drinking in Parliament here.