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No. 11 Downing Street

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 14 June 2007

5. What procedures are in place to ensure that additional costs associated with holding events at No. 11 Downing street are met by the organisers of those events. (142565)

Every external organisation that uses No. 11 Downing street is required to meet in full the additional costs associated with holding the event.

Given that the householder is in the Chamber, one might think that he would want to answer for himself. However, perhaps the Chief Secretary can assist the House. We know that the Smith Institute has enjoyed the Chancellor’s hospitality on no fewer than 160 occasions in the past 10 years. Of the other 66 charities that used No. 11 in that time, which used it most often and on how many occasions?

The hon. Gentleman’s question was about the extent to which organisations had met the costs. As I said in my initial answer, the organisations pay all those additional costs. The 67 to which he refers on the Treasury website contract directly for catering and equipment. It is a similar arrangement to the one that applies in the Jubilee Room, with which hon. Members are familiar. It operates without difficulty.

This is carers week, the highlight of which for carers, young carers and the seven carers organisations that support them was being invited to a reception at No. 11 Downing street, which the Chancellor hosted yesterday. Given the contribution that carers make to the health and social care of this country, does my right hon. Friend agree that, in carers week, that was a most appropriate way in which to recognise what they give to this country?

My hon. Friend is right. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor appreciated the opportunity to address the carers who attended the reception. In every community throughout the country, carers do a fantastic job. The Government should congratulate and thank their representatives, as that reception made possible.

As one of the most costly events to the taxpayer held at No. 11 during the Chancellor’s time there must undoubtedly have been that at which it was decided to sell half of Britain’s gold reserves at rock-bottom prices, will the Chief Secretary inquire of his shy right hon. Friend whether he will be taking his cross of gold with him to No. 10 or will he leave it behind as a grim relic of disaster for his successor?

Let me give the hon. Gentleman a little reassurance that the European Central Bank was not one of the 67 charities that has used No. 11 Downing street over the past 10 years.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the most expensive events at No. 11 Downing street in recent years was on 16 September 1992, when the then Chancellor lay in a bath singing French popular songs, with future Leaders of the Opposition dancing in attendance? Will he confirm that the cost of that event to the British taxpayer was a minimum of £4,000 million? Was an invoice ever sent to Conservative party headquarters?

I think that my hon. Friend’s calculation is absolutely right. Sadly, the cost of that event was never refunded to the Exchequer and, also sadly, I fear that no Labour Member was present to see it.

Will the Chief Secretary confirm that the Treasury paid more than £11,000 for two seminars organised for its trustees by the Smith Institute, which was a donor to the Chancellor’s leadership campaign? Will he also confirm that it was only two years later, when the Charity Commission started asking questions, that the Treasury noticed that mistake? Will he now guarantee that all direct and indirect support for the Smith Institute from the Government has been properly declared and is in the public domain?

There has been no direct financial support or contribution to the Smith Institute from any Department of Government. I have one confession to make on this topic, however, which may be of interest to the hon. Gentleman. At the No. 11 children’s Christmas party this year, organised with the Booktrust charity, it paid for the invitations, the Christmas decorations and the food and drink—but it is true that the Treasury paid for the Christmas tree.