HC Deb 09 July 1996 vol 281 cc165-6
8. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how much was spent in his Department on official hospitality in 1995–96. [34904]

Mr. Arbuthnot

During financial year 1995–96, my Department spent £5.105 million on official hospitality.

Hon. Members


Mr. Banks

Some of my colleagues seem to think that £5.1 million is a lot of money. Actually, the Minister has got the answer wrong, and it pays to come into this place knowing the answers to questions. The actual figure is £5,334,092.80, which represents a 9.62 per cent. increase on the figure for entertainment in 1994–95.

Does the Minister feel that, at a time when military service people are receiving P45s and being thrown out of their houses, it is wrong for Ministers and brass hats—including the Secretary of State—to spend so much money on hospitality, unless the Minister is about to announce a new defence policy whereby we get all our enemies together and party with them till they drop?

Mr. Arbuthnot

The hon. Gentleman jokes with us. The problem with political jokes is that sometimes they get elected, and he is the living embodiment of that. It is because of questions similar to the one he asks that we commissioned an independent report by Sir Peter Cazalet, which said last year that the level of entertainment carried out is probably about right.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can remind us whether he returned the Greater London council silver—or did he hang on to it for home entertainment?

Mr. Wilkinson

Let me give my hon. Friend some free consultancy advice about MOD entertaining. Would it not be appropriate in the financial year 1996–97 to invite representatives of the Baltic states to Headquarters Allied Forces North-West to see how Norway has been a first-class member of NATO without allowing the stationing of foreign troops or nuclear weapons on its soil? Could this not be a useful precedent for the enlargement of NATO, and a good use of taxpayers' money?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I agree with my hon. Friend that Norway is a first-class member of NATO. He raises an important point, which is that, overseas, perhaps more than in the United Kingdom, entertainment is used as a normal method of doing business. The majority of our overseas posts could not operate nearly as effectively in the United Kingdom's interest without taking part in the social activities that are involved. The entertainment is therefore worth every penny that we spend on it.