The information requested is not held centrally and therefore it has not been possible to provide a full response in this parliamentary session. However, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) asked a similar question relating to the cost of hospitality in each Northern Ireland Department in each of the last five years. I refer the hon. Lady to the reply I gave on 13 September 2006, Official Report, column 2397W.
We cannot provide the information in the format requested by the hon. Member as to do so would be at disproportionate cost. The information requested is captured under “hospitality”, which includes food, alcohol and other related costs.
Expenditure incurred on hospitality by the Northern Ireland Office includes accommodation and hospitality for members of the royal family, visiting dignitaries and heads of state, and also hospitality for the representatives of business, voluntary and community sectors in Northern Ireland attending the annual garden party at Hillsborough Castle, as well as limited hospitality for staff working out of office hours in accordance with established procedures.
The amount spent on hospitality by the Northern Ireland Office, excluding its agencies and NDPBs, in each year since 2001-02 was:
Amount (£) 2001-02 235,989 2002-03 363,755 2003-04 319,741 2004-05 258,436 2005-06 299,634
All expenditure of official hospitality is made in accordance with published departmental guidance on financial procedures and propriety, based on principles set out in Government accounting. The level of hospitality must be defined, and a broad outline of cost and numbers attending must be provided on all occasions before authorisation. Expenditure should be kept as low as possible, compatible with the occasion and the standing of guests.
A necessary pre-condition for any entertainment or hospitality to be financed from Northern Ireland Office funds is that it will be in the direct interests of the Northern Ireland Office. While one cannot always guarantee that the benefit will be achieved, that must be both the intention and the reasonable expectation.