Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 16:56 UK

MPs in a froth over cafe seating

Coffee cups
Storm in a coffee cup? MPs want the decision reversed

MPs are campaigning to reverse the decision to halve the number of seats reserved exclusively for them and their guests in the Commons' Strangers Cafe.

Fifteen have backed a motion opposing the decision to expand the area staff and visitors can use.

They want the authorities to reverse the change "immediately".

The change was made because staff and visitors often have to wait for a seat even if the less-used cordoned off MPs' section has spaces.

But such is the popularity of Strangers' Cafe - so-called because MPs can bring outside guests in - the motion notes there is "often insufficient capacity for hon Members and their guests".

It also complains "that no consultation of Honourable Members took place prior to the decision" to allow the public in unaccompanied.

The change took effect when MPs returned from the summer recess on Monday. The cross-party group of MPs, led by Conservative David Tredinnick, says it "regrets" this.

A pie before dying

It is not the first time parliamentary catering has raised high passions.

Special arrangements for MPs' and peers' dining started in 1773 when John Bellamy, the deputy housekeeper, set up what, according to Parliament's website, "we would now call a snack bar, or grill".

Prime Minister William Pitt's dying words in 1806 were reputed to have been "Oh, for one of Bellamy's veal pies".

But the cuisine on offer was not always so enticing.

In 1853, a select committee revoked a catering contract because of "ineffective attendance, and deficient and bad supply of refreshment in the dining and tea rooms".

The other signatories to the motion of complaint about the Strangers' Cafe are Labour's Michael Connarty, David Anderson, Alan Simpson, Marsha Singh, Bill Etherington, Mohammad Sarwar and John Battle.

Tories Edward Leigh, Robert Syms, David Amess, Liberal Democrat Bob Russell, SDLP leader Mark Durkan, the DUP's David Simpson and independent Richard Taylor have also lent their support.

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