Wining and dining overseas chiefs is key to diplomacy, the Foreign Office has said as it defended spending £4,500 of taxpayer cash on lunches.
One of its ministers praised “the appropriate use” of public funds and pointed to significant trade and security benefits amid scrutiny over the sums from Labour.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, wrote to James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, last month asking why his department allocated the sum to three events last year.
Ms Thornberry also asked whether any of the publicly declared hospitality spend – covering bills run up on March 21, June 28 and July 26 – included “expenditure on alcoholic beverages”.
But David Rutley, a junior minister at the Foreign Office, said in response: “Hospitality has long been an important part of building relations and diplomacy.
“Expenditure was subject to normal FCDO controls and an appropriate use of public money.”
Mr Rutley revealed the £1,800 cost of the March event, held at the Corinthia – a five-star hotel once used as Ministry of Defence offices – went towards a lunch hosted to mark the first meeting of a committee overseeing the free trade deal between the UK and Vietnam.
“The meeting was an opportunity to build relationships with key ministers and senior officials from the Vietnamese ministry of industry and trade,” he said.
The June event took place at Stanley’s, a contemporary restaurant in Chelsea that describes itself as “inspired by the English countryside”, formed part of the first ever Mozambique in the UK Week and cost £2,138.
Some £1 billion worth of progress was made on investments and exports in mining, renewables and energy, the Government said. Trade between the two countries totalled £253 million last year,
The final event referred to by Ms Thornberry was at the Waterfront Brasserie in Vauxhall, and saw a high-level delegation from the Vietnamese public security ministry visit their counterparts at the National Crime Agency.
Britain has spent the last year seeking to forge closer economic and diplomatic ties with Vietnam, with whom it sees scope to address various issues including regional security.
Mr Rutley declined to answer the specific question from Labour about whether alcohol was consumed at any of the events.
Hospitality spend on high-level visitors is not uncommon, is seen in Whitehall as constructive, and details of Foreign Office ministers’ meetings, gifts, hospitality and overseas travel are published four times a year.
Labour and the Foreign Office were contacted for comment.