Both Houses are now in recess, though one would not necessarily know that given the work that is still going on. It will become quieter as we go further into recess, but today the Palace remains a hive of activity. The Despatch Box is still in considerable use, albeit not in either chamber. Despatch Box is the name of the snack bar (pictured) in the atrium in Portcullis House.
The atrium in Portcullis House is an important social space within the Palace. It is spacious, light and attractive and there are plenty of tables. It is an area where parliamentarians can meet staff or chat to guests. It is extremely busy during the day, especially around lunchtime. Like the Bishops’ Bar, about which I have previously written, it constitutes a useful place for strategic dining. I like to use it, not least because the Despatch Box does a good cup of tea, but also because it is a good spot to interact with other parliamentarians and with others who work in the Palace. I was there this afternoon and was interrupted twice, once by an MP – we arranged to meet later to discuss important business – and once by a colleague from the Lords. Watching the comings and goings gives one a good feel for the place.
Like a number of catering outlets, the Despatch Box will be open throughout the summer. Though there will be less activity than when Parliament is sitting, there will be people working throughout the recess. Having said that, catering arrangements during the summer appear premised on the assumption that no one wants to eat in the Palace in the evening. The catering outlet that will stay open the latest is Jubilee Cafe, the public cafe in Westminster Hall.