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Revealed: Taxpayers fork out £8m to subsidise Lords’ food and drink

Exclusive: Bailout comes on top of £17m spent on bars and restaurants in the House of Commons, with cut-price food for politicians

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Martin Williams
18 May 2022, 3.58pm

The Peers' Dining Room in the House of Lords was given a £3m subsidy

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UK Parliament. All rights reserved

The House of Lords has spent £8m of taxpayers' money subsidising its own bars and restaurants in the last three years, openDemocracy can reveal.

It comes on top of the £17m bailout of catering facilities in the House of Commons – bringing the total to a staggering £25m.

Every one of the 26 bars and eateries across Parliament made a financial loss over the last three years.

The bailout includes a £3m subsidy for the exclusive Members' Dining Room in the House of Lords, which can be used only by current and retired peers – and their personal guests.

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The restaurant was once described by a peer as the place “where this country is governed from”.

While the rest of the UK faces a growing poverty crisis, taxpayer subsidies across Parliament have allowed politicians to access cheap food and drink.

Related story

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Exclusive: Restaurants and bars in the House of Commons cut prices for MPs, as they were bailed out by taxpayers

Most members of the House of Lords are not paid a salary, but can claim up to £323 for every day they attend.

Meanwhile, MPs have had a £2,212 pay rise this year, bringing their total ‘basic’ pay to £84,144 for a backbencher.

But despite making a £25m loss, many of Parliament’s bars and restaurants have actually seen their menu prices fall.

In the House of Commons Members’ Dining Room, for instance, the average cost of food was reduced by more than £1 between 2018 and 2021.

Last week, openDemocracy revealed that prices had become so low that Parliament was undercutting local businesses.

MPs could buy a pint of beer in Parliament’s Strangers’ Bar for just £3.45 last year – compared to the London average of £4.84.

A margherita pizza in the House of Commons cost £3.51 less than it did at the closest Pizza Express.

And MPs could get a double espresso for £1.16 from a taxpayer-subsidised cafe – compared to £2.40 from a Cafe Nero that operates commercially in a parliamentary building.

MPs could buy a pint of beer in Parliament for £3.45 last year – compared to the London average of £4.84

Menu prices across Parliament were finally raised by 3.4% last month. But the new menus are still cheaper than most commercial competitors – and the rise is significantly less than the 5.9% inflation in food prices that has hit ordinary consumers.

Most of the facilities are accessible to anyone working in Parliament – including 650 MPs and 771 peers, as well as parliamentary staff and a group of political journalists. But some of the restaurants, like the Members’ Dining Room, will serve only politicians and their personal guests.

The House of Commons said catering services are seeking “to reduce costs whilst regularly benchmarking their prices with venues outside of Parliament”.

A spokesperson for the House of Lords blamed the financial losses partly on the fact that catering staff are paid the London Living Wage.

“The unpredictable nature of sittings of the Lords and periods where the House isn’t sitting means that revenue is not generated day in, day out, so a subsidy is unavoidable," they said. "The catering and retail service’s income plummeted during the pandemic as most venues closed and external banqueting was cancelled.

"We also pay all our staff at least the London Living Wage and provide workplace pensions to our catering staff. We are proud to do so, but it means our costs are higher than some commercial restaurants.

"Lots of people, not just members of the Lords, use the catering facilities. This includes visitors, staff members, journalists and police officers."

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