Eric Pickles is 'committed to celebrating Christmas, including its Christian heritage'
There is no-one in Parliament who would make a better Father Christmas than Eric Pickles. And this little speech by Robert Neill, in response to a question by Caroline Flint, is a skilful riposte to Labour's attempt to criticise his department for presumed festive excess:
Hansard, 20 December 2010 : Column 942W
“Caroline Flint: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many Christmas parties and drinks receptions his Department plans to host in December 2010.
Robert Neill: As the Secretary of State indicated in his departmental press notice of 29 November 2010, the new Administration is committed to celebrating Christmas, including its Christian heritage. We should not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christmas and the importance of the birth of Christ.
Ministers recognise that we live in frugal times due to the need to pay off the significant public deficit and national debt that the Government have inherited from the previous administration. But there is no need to play Scrooge.
In this context, a Christmas tree has been placed in the Department's reception at Eland house which has been provided at no cost to the taxpayer. This is in contrast to the previous cost of £1,037 for a Christmas tree outlined in the parliamentary answer of 12 November 2009, Official Report, column 849W.
Ministers plan to hold one small reception for senior DCLG staff to thank them for their hard work this year. Their work includes the abolition of bureaucratic Comprehensive Area Assessment and other local red tape, stopping the imposition of bin taxes and the unfair ports tax, and laying the ground for radical new powers for local authorities through the Localism Bill. The reception will be held in Eland House. Individual divisions within the Department may hold Christmas lunches paid for by staff.
A Christmas quiz and Christmas fair are being held for staff to raise funds for the Civil Service Benevolent Fund. The fair included Christmas carols sung by the Environment, Transport and Communities choir, ETCetera, and by Westminster Cathedral primary school children.
Last year, the Department spent £2,855 of taxpayers' money on Christmas cards. This year the departmental Christmas card, now with appropriate Christian imagery, has been produced at no cost to the taxpayer and will be sent electronically. Recognising the need to look after the vulnerable at this time of year, we are also supporting the homeless charity Shelter in the card. We will ensure that the right hon. Member is included on the distribution list.”