The UK Civil Service

Facts, Analysis and Comment.

Replies to Invitations

Replies to unsigned invitation cards follow the standard form of words set out below, and neither the Minister nor the Private Secretary signs the reply:

Mr . . . thanks the President of the Worshipful Company of Toast Fork Manufacturers for her kind invitation to the reception on . . . [and is glad to accept] [but regrets that he is unable to attend].

Letters declining invitations to specific events usually start by thanking the correspondent ‘for his/her kind invitation to’, or ‘ for kindly inviting me to’, the event. There then follows one of a range of possible formulae, depending on the underlying reason for the refusal. Similar formulae can sometimes be used to decline invitations to, say, write magazine articles. But you should always avoid dishonesty. It has a nasty habit of being detected.

Some examples, for Ministerial or Private Secretary signature, are as follows:

Standard refusals

However, as I am sure you will appreciate, the Minister receives many requests of this kind and cannot accommodate them all. She therefore regrets that she must decline your invitation on this occasion.

Or: but sadly, pressures on her diary are such that she is unable to accept.

Or: Regretfully I must decline. As you can imagine, I receive many invitations from a number of excellent candidates but cannot, unfortunately, respond positively to them all.

Or: As I am sure you will appreciate, I receive many invitations of this kind. I am sorry that I have to decline your invitation on this occasion.

If the invitation is in respect of a particularly busy period:

Unfortunately, due to heavy diary commitments around that time, I am unable to accept your invitation.

Or: Unfortunately her diary is particularly full during the period in question and she therefore regrets that she will be unable to accept your invitation.

If there is a definite prior engagement:

Unfortunately I [have a prior engagement] [will be abroad at the time] and so must regretfully decline your invitation.

But if you have checked that another Minister is willing to take on the engagement and that the substitution is probably acceptable to the hosts, the Minister might add:

However, I understand that [another Minister] would be glad to address the conference. If this would be acceptable, perhaps your secretary could contact his diary secretary (tel: 020 7 . . . ) to confirm the arrangements.

A refusal to have a further meeting with those interested in a familiar subject (drafted in this case for either Prime Ministerial or Private Secretary reply) might read:

As you know, [Ministers] met . . . on . . . [and are fully aware of the importance of this subject to your constituents]. And they are keeping in close touch with developments. [I] [They] do not therefore think that there would be any practical value in holding an additional meeting.

If appropriate, the letter can be rounded off with best wishes for the success of the event. Examples are:

However, I hope that the dinner is a great success.

Or: The Minister was, however, pleased to note . . . And has asked me to send you his [congratulations and] good wishes for the future.

Or: She would however like to send her best wishes for what she hopes will be [a] [an interesting and] successful event.

It can be more difficult to decline a general invitation e.g. to visit a company when next in the area. But the Minister might use one of the standard refusals at (a) above or, if true, simply say:

I have no plans to visit the area in the near future.

But if the Minister means it, he or she might add:

... but if I [am] [or another Minister is] in the area [I will] [we shall] certainly bear [the company] in mind.

Or a Private Secretary might add:

He will certainly keep the company in mind for inclusion in a future visit to the area if possible.

(But note that the use of either of these formulae will require the appropriate local office to make an effort to include the company in a future visiting programme.)


Martin Stanley