Letter: A charming way to refuse a gift

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The Independent Online
Sir: Even junior ministers should be routinely advised by the principal private secretary in the department, if not by the permanent secretary himself, not to receive gifts while in office without reporting them and obtaining official consent ('Good sense and Mr Mellor', 16 September). The late Anthony Crosland ignored the rules and got into trouble over a coffee pot. Others in that government and earlier Labour Party ministerial cohorts were taught to be extremely circumspect. Hong Kong was obviously a danger zone. As the last parliamentary secretary at the Colonial Office, before it was swallowed by the Commonwealth Office, I was permitted to retain a silver cigarette box (I do not smoke) because it was already engraved with my name and date of visit to Hong Kong.

Less valuable gifts could be embarrassing in other ways. As a Labour MP, in the 1950s, I visited the Gold Coast before independence and was advised to present my host in the northern territories with gifts of cigarettes and gin. I disapproved of both, but one had to reciprocate. On my departure, I was astonished to receive three live guinea fowl and a large basket of yams. We made straight for the local hospital.

Returning southwards via Kumasi, I was given some attractive small carvings, but then found that a huge live turkey was to be pushed into the boot of the car. Again, a hospital became the beneficiary. One had to use one's wits as well as charm. But four free air fares - not likely.

Yours faithfully,

EIRENE WHITE

House of Lords

London, SW1

16 September

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