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Their drinks are still on us

1 May 2012

6:32 PM

1 May 2012

6:32 PM

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,

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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