HC Deb 27 February 1919 vol 112 cc2046-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £60,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1919, for a Grant-in-Aid of the Government Hospitality Fund.


It will be recollected that on a previous occasion there was a considerable discussion in Committee on the subject of some disclosures in a Report which was issued by a Committee set up with regard to financial control, and that gave rise to a very large amount of public dissatisfactionas to the supervision, if I may so put it, which was exercised by the proper authorities over not only the amounts but the manner in which those large sums were paid. Be it observed here on this Estimate that there is a very large additional sum of £60,000. I suppose we all quite realise that at a time like this, when this country in general and London in particular is a sort of junction of the world at a time of world crisis, there is necessarily a great amount required for Government hospitality. The Committee would not for one moment grudge proper expenditure in that way. I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he can tell us if any new system has been devised, and, if so, what it is, whereby this expenditure will not be liable to the gross scandal—I do not hesitate to use those words—which certainly occurred under the previous system of administration?


My right hon. Friend knows very well that this is a Vote which the House has been in the habit of granting without disclosing a large amount of details. I can quite understand, in view of the fact that it has grown to a much more considerable figure than used to be the case in the past that my right hon. Friend and hon Members generally would like a word or two of explanation on this Fund. It is, of course, in a somewhat anomalous position. I am the Minister personally responsible for its administration. It is no part of the work of any Department. It is a personal responsibility cast on myself, and I am responsible for the expenditure incurred under it. I can assure my right hon. Friend, and I think he will take it from me, that it occupies a considerable part of my time. I have done my best in every way to check any tendency to needless expenditure. It is obvious that when you have a very large number of important missions from all over the world, of which London has been the centre now for so long, missions of the highest importance, and including men of the highest importance, it is difficult, and I am sure the Committee would not wish me to exercise our hospitality in a small or curmudgeonly manner. We have made arrangements, through the secretary I appointed for the special work—the work grew so that I had to create a special staff for it—with the leading hotels to give us special rates. We have endeavoured on all occasions in that way to economise.

There are a good many things added to this Fund which formerly were not laid upon it. Various functions have been transferred from the Ministry of Information, which had a hospitality department of its own, to this Fund. In fact, a centralisation of Government hospitality has been taking place. Various Departments have had little funds which have been administered by those Departments which have probably escaped review by the House. The Government have wisely endeavoured to get all this work under one hospitality fund. Another matter which has scarcely been alluded to is the ordinary hospitality which occurs every year. A large part of this sum relates to the Imperial Conference and the Imperial War Cabinet. On that we realise that there is a large standing expenditure for the distinguished Prime Ministers and the Ministers of our Dominions Overseas. The expenditure for their accommodation and entertainment has been borne on this Fund on the instructions of the Cabinet. Coming, as they do, with great inconvenience to themselves, to assist us in most responsible work, that is an arrangement which ought to be maintained. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee that the work is carefully supervised. On more than one occasion I have felt it to be my duty to warn Departments that the Vote is getting a very large one, and that their laudable desire to entertain everybody who comes over here and to ask large numbers of people to meet them must be curtailed. I think this warning has had some effect. On the other hand, of course, there has been a very large increase in the cost of provisions from which we all suffer. Therefore, even with a small amount of entertainment, the cost of it has been swollen by the large amount of the cost for food in the last twelve months for giving even modest entertainments. I do not think I can add anything useful to my statement, except that I shall keep a very sharp watch on this Vote so long as it is under my charge.

Sir J. D. REES

This Vote is a very necessary one, and from all I see, it has been very well administered. It is obvious that the demands on the Government in this respect must be enormous. I heard this Vote once discussed, and those who took part in the discussion were under the impression that all the money was expended in hospitality in London. I believe that is by no means the case. Is that so?


Some of it is provincial expenditure.