Future of MPs' bar in doubt

THE FUTURE of Annie's Bar - the Westminster haunt famous for the late night exchange of confidences, gossip, rumour and occasional abuse between ministers, backbenchers and journalists - will be called into question in the House of Commons tomorrow.

A confidential report proposes the scrapping of the functionally furnished bar, deep in the bowels of the Palace of Westminster. Even more controversially, it also proposes food stalls to cater for tourists in the 11th-century Westminster Hall.

The report, commissioned by the House of Commons Refreshment Department, will anger some heritage enthusiasts by proposing that the Hall - one of the outstanding buildings in Britain and the only surviving part of the original Palace of Westminster - should house the stalls to cater for the huge volume of visitors to the Commons.

An interim written answer is expected on the future of Annie's Bar, out of bounds to all except accredited lobby journalists and MPs. The report says it should be replaced by a cellar wine bar for use by MPs, Commons staff and 'journalists when accompanied by a Member'.

The report, by Food Service Associates, of Henley, says the stalls in Westminster Hall are the 'favoured option'.

It says they would be 'suitably designed to complement the design of the Hall, with the design, the layout, the costume of service assistants etc, matching the period in which the Hall was used as a market place'.

The stalls would provide a catering service in the form of drinks and light snacks . . . and it would also provide a place to sell souvenirs.

They would be fully mobile so that they could be removed when the hall was needed for state occasions.

The report admits there could be a need for increased security and adds that 'another important consideration would be that regarding the provision of toilet facilities for tourists'.

The report also proposes 'rationalisation' of the menu in the Member's Dining room which would reduce its extensive a la carte provision in favour of a changing set menu with additional grill items.

This will mean higher quality food and less wastage, the report says. It also suggests replacing the present 'silver service' with a 'plated service'.

It says the latter will 'enable members to discuss matters with the House with fewer interruptions' from waiters.

The question for answer tomorrow has been submitted by Brian Wilson, MP for Cunningham North, a supporter of the plan to replace Annie's with a wine bar.

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