The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. James Callaghan)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement about overseas representation—indeed, I have two statements to make to the House, for which I apologise. I can only pray in aid the fact that I do not often do so.
I have decided that there should be a major review of the priorities and requirements for our overseas representation. With the agreement of the Prime Minister and of those of my other colleagues concerned, I have asked Sir Kenneth Berrill, Head of the Central Policy Review Staff, to review the entire range of our foreign policy requirements, both at home and overseas, and to consider what the future pattern of our overseas representation should be.
This is an appropriate time for a review as several years have passed since 386 the Duncan Committee reported, and the issue of British membership of the European Community has now been resolved.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has its own Inspectorate which keeps operations and staffing at home and abroad under rigorous review. These regular inspections have helped to achieve the continual redeployment which is necessary to match changes in the workload from place to place and from time to time. They have also contributed to a steady reduction in the size of the Diplomatic Service—that must be unique!—which now employs 12 per cent. fewer staff than in 1965. We must recognise, however, that since the Duncan Report—and I should like to pay a tribute to the late Sir Val Duncan, whose contribution in this field, as in so many others, has been outstanding—there have been great changes both in the international scene and in our own situation.
The review will have the following terms of reference:To review the nature and extent of our overseas interests and requirements and in the light of, that review to make recommendations on the most suitable, effective and economic means of representing and promoting those interests both at home and overseas. The review will embrace all aspects of the work of overseas representation, including political, economic, commercial, consular and immigration work, defence matters, overseas aid and cultural and information activities, whether these tasks are performed by members of the Diplomatic Service, by members of the Home Civil Service, by members of the Armed Forces or by other agencies financially supported by the Government.I have asked Sir Kenneth Berrill that the CPRS should complete the review as quickly as possible, and he will be given all the help and information that he requires. I am sure that ready assistance will also be forthcoming from other quarters, both inside and outside the Government.
I wish to make it clear that the decision to hold this review does not reflect in any adverse way on the dedication or the competence of the members of the Diplomatic Service or our other representatives overseas, which has impressed me and, I believe, my predecessors from both sides of the House. Indeed I pay tribute to a Service whose members, with their wives and families, serve the nation well in circumstances and surroundings that are sometimes unpleasant and occasionally 387 highly dangerous. The work they do has been done well, and often outstandingly well, but the purpose of this review is to examine whether the tasks themselves may require to be changed.
I shall, of course, inform the House of the conclusions of the review.
§ Mr. Maudling
We welcome the review and the wide terms of reference which I understand do not exclude the Foreign Office from the general review of Government expenditure that is now taking place. We accept that this is no reflection on the Diplomatic Service, which is one of the finest in the world and of which we can be proud. I wish to associate the Official Opposition with the tribute paid by the right hon. Gentleman to Sir Val Duncan, which is very well deserved. I hope that the review will be conducted as quickly as possible. In the meantime, for the avoidance of doubt, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm reports that the CPRS has already made investigations and reported?
The CPRS started to make inquiries on its own initiative. It has made no report. A certain amount of gossip resulted and was leaked to the newspapers. If there is to be complete co-operation on this matter, I have asked Sir Kenneth Berrill that all concerned with the review at any time should maintain the normal requirements expected when they undertake these jobs.
§ Mr. Wrigglesworth
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the commitment in Labour's programme to widen the background of recruits to the Foreign Service? Will be give an undertaking that the review will cover this aspect?
Yes, Sir. I remember what was said and indeed I had some part in it. The purpose of the review is to make recommendations on the most suitable and effective means of representing and promoting those interests. I have intimated to Sir Kenneth that I shall regard it as part of his responsibilities to examine recruitment and staffing. I entered the caveat that the staff side will need to be carefully consulted and must have the fullest opportunity to make their own recommendations.
§ Mr. David Steel
I recognise that we have a highly skilled Diplomatic Service, 388 but will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that what is involved is to attune the functions of our Foreign Service to the needs of a middle-ranking Power in the late 1970s and early 1980s? Will the review place proper stress on the commercial function of our overseas representation? Further will the review include in its terms of reference the question whether some consulates might conduct operations jointly on the basis of several EEC countries being represented together in other continents, even if this will involve some change of attitude on the right hon. Gentleman's part?
On the question of the needs of a middle-ranking Power, I wish to remind the hon. Gentleman of the last part of my statement—namely, that the purpose of the review is to examine whether the tasks themselves require to be changed. I do not wish to anticipate the results of the review. When it is complete, I shall give my own views on the proper rôle of the Diplomatic Service in a country with the history, experience and talent Britain possesses. I shall wait to see what Sir Kenneth Berrill and his associates have to say about the situation.
As for the question of commercial functions, if we take the Middle East as an example, our embassies in the Middle East, except one for particular reason, have been strengthened in the past year. I regard this as being an essential part of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
As regards joint representation of EEC countries, I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman means when he mentions a change of attitude on my part. I raised this matter with some of my colleagues, but I discovered that in one area an ambassador could not be found to fill the post. We had an ambassador who could have undertaken the task, but it came to nothing.
§ Mr. Luard
Will my right hon. Friend say whether the terms of reference of the inquiry will cover not merely the question of representation in the broadest sense but also the relative level of representation in different posts, since some of us believe that there are some posts abroad that are over-staffed, particularly in the number of attachés, who are not, 389 strictly speaking, members of the Diplomatic Service, whereas other posts are at present too small? Will the review examine the relative scale of different embassies as well as the general problem of representation?
I do not wish to prejudge the situation, but the aspect mentioned by my hon. Friend is of concern. That is why I am grateful that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has enabled me to include in the terms of reference that Sir Kenneth Berrill should be able to examine the work done by attachés and others and by members of the Armed Forces and other agencies. The appropriate level now required in our embassies is one of the important issues. I want to see an efficient and effective Diplomatic Service. I have no axe to grind. We want the best service we can get in the most efficient and economic way.
§ Mr. Heath
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I agree that, following our entry into Europe, this is a timely matter and that I do not think that the Foreign Service will take exception to a review of this kind? After all, it was necessary before the Eden reforms in the early 1940s, the Bevin reforms, and the Home reforms in the 1960s. Is the Foreign Secretary convinced that the CPRS is the best means of carrying out such a review? The terms of reference are indeed very broad, perhaps rightly so. The task of considering the functions of British diplomacy in all its aspects is an enormous one. The CPRS—I set it up—was not founded for such a purpose nor do I believe that its staff is properly equipped for such a purpose. While I would welcome a review of this kind, I must take leave to doubt whether the head of the CPRS and his staff are properly and adequately equipped and are suitable for this task, especially if they are to carry out the other activities for which the CPRS was formed.
I considered this matter, too, and I considered the alternatives. One immediately springs to mind. On balance, I believe that with the present level of staffing—and it will be strengthened—the CPRS can do this job. We shall see the quality of its report when it emerges. I do not undertake to agree with it when it is received, but I 390 hope that I shall be able to do so. I have said to Sir Kenneth Berrill that I hope that he will consult the widest range of outside interests on this matter and associate them with his work, including, for example, the staff side.
The right hon. Gentleman was right to make his initial point. I made certain that this matter was discussed with the staff side before we launched on it although, as was made clear to it on my behalf, this is not basically a staff matter. It is a functional review from which certain staff changes may result. I hope that we have chosen the right instrument. Let us all give the CPRS all the help we can in discharging its task.
§ Mr. Lipton
Will this review make impossible a repetition of the scandalous waste of public money involved in providing a house in Paris for many thousands of pounds for a member of the British Embassy staff?
Yes. Without taking up my hon. Friend's adjectives, it will be part of the task of the review to look at the level, scale and appropriateness of entertainment allowances and matters of that sort.
§ Mr. John Davies
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have had the good fortune to have recent experience of the efficacy of our missions in the Middle East and that my experience was that they serve both commercial and political interests with great intelligence and ability? Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House the assurance—I do not think he has yet given it—that the CPRS report, when it is produced, will be made available publicly, particularly to the House?
I was pretty guarded about this. I said that I shall inform the House of the conclusions of the report. There may be some sensitive matters that might not be appropriate for publication. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman—and I thank him for what he has said about the work of this excellent service—will take it from me that in setting up the review my purpose is not to hide anything but to expose the whole situation so that we can have an efficient service. I shall, therefore, publish as much as I can.