HC Deb 17 July 1916 vol 84 cc670-1
65. Mr. LYNCH

asked whether in cases where entertainment is provided in Parliament buildings for distinguished guests from overseas or abroad any part of the cost falls upon public funds; if so, whether any public control exists over the selection of guests to whom invitations are extended in this country, and particularly whether the military representatives of French direction of aeronautics recently invited to a Government luncheon at the Carlton Hotel, presided over by Lord Curzon, were entertained at the public expense; and, if so, why, having regard to the advantages of interchange of views, all those Members of Parliament who had been pressing for a more efficient Air Service were purposely excluded from the list of invitations; and whether care will be taken to avoid such abuses in the future?


I propose to reply to this question in the exact words used by me in answer to a somewhat similar question eight years ago, when the Government Hospitality Fund was first established. The answer I gave on that occasion was as follows: The Prime Minister has asked me to deal with this question, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will not think me wanting in courtesy if I decline to give him any detailed answer to it. My colleagues, in making me responsible for Government hospitality, have imposed on me a task which is very onerous and very delicate—a task for which I confess I feel myself wholly unfitted—but one which I can only perform at all if I am happy enough to command the confidence of both sides of the House. National hospitality would lose half its utility and all its grace if the reasons for which it was proffered or withheld were to become a matter of question and answer in Parliament. I would not for a moment suggest that this House should be debarred from criticising my administration of the fund when the necessary Vote comes up for discussion. They will then be entitled to condemn my conduct of it, or to suspend or cancel the policy itself. But even on such a debate I should not be prepared to defend myself by stating the grounds on which I had abstained from offering hospitality to any individuals or delegations, for I am convinced that such a course would absolutely destroy the aim of international comity, which is the basis and object of this new departure. I can, therefore, only ask for the generous indulgence and confidence of the House during the commencement of this experiment, and until, in their opinion, I have ceased to deserve it.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will weigh the fact that none of us would have raised this question if the funds had not been public funds, and if there were not a possibility that the Government would use those public funds to put a ban of prejudice on critics or opponents of the Government?