Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. I will tell you why: because I have got an axe to grind. I put down a parliamentary question, and so I think has Mr Chidgey, to Mr Straw[14]. You will recall that Mr Straw came here and he told us that his bedtime reading was The Statesman Year Book, though he had not got to Andorra fully because he had noticed that that was a fully independent state in the United Nations, but his second thing was that he looked at national income extracts of the Overseas Territories. If you remember, there was the controversy about whether or not Gib should have been able to provide it. It is a matter of history. Now they have provided it. This is very interesting. I asked him to put in the library of the House of Commons the equivalent accounts or income statistics which he felt Gibraltar should have applied in relation to all the other Overseas Territories. That was on 3 July and on 10 July he replied, "I will write to my Honourable Friend as soon as possible". I put it to you, Sir Michael, that in fact when they received that question the blood drained from people's faces because in fact the Overseas Territories elsewhere than Gibraltar have not supplied those, have they, not completely? They are not available. If I am wrong, why are they not in the House of Commons library this afternoon?

  (Sir Michael Jay) I will need to look into that too, Mr Mackinlay. I do not know the answer to those questions. I will look into them as soon as I get back to the office.

  181. So I can expect by this evening to have the Overseas Territories' accounts or statistics appropriate and equivalent to what Jack Straw criticised Gibraltar for not making available? They will be in the House of Commons library this afternoon, will they?
  (Sir Michael Jay) I cannot promise you that.

  182. But you will promise me if they are not you will tell me why, will you not?
  (Sir Michael Jay) I promise you that we will be in back in touch with you this afternoon on these issues.

Sir John Stanley

  183. Sir Michael, any response to the Committee, please, to the Committee Clerk.
  (Sir Michael Jay) Indeed.

Mr Mackinlay

  184. I think that I am almost finished on the Overseas Territories but I just want for the record to say that although the question is to a politician it is presumably some of your folk who advise him on this. Why cannot I get a response to this?
  (Sir Michael Jay) I will look into it when I get back to the office, Mr Mackinlay. I have not myself been following these particular questions in detail and I will look into it and, as the Chairman suggested, write to the Committee.

  185. I am happy about that but what I do not want is anybody to think that they have got the safety of the harbour of the parliamentary recess, because I am telling you: I want to know the position by the end of the day, bearing in mind that the reply should have been on 10 July. I would now like to turn to asset management. Page 136 refers to our flagship embassy in Berlin. I am correct in saying that this is a PFI, I think, and certainly there is a little picture, I think, of our Berlin embassy. I have two questions because I have to say to you that when I visited it I thought it was a very unattractive building, although I am not an expert on architecture. In the ambassador's office you look out of the window and there is a thing which looks like a water tower which you face. My first question is, who in hell looks at the design and the science and marketing and says, "This is a wonderful thing"? What advice do you get on buildings which are not only expensive but are intended to be flagship? Secondly, I think I am fair in saying that your predecessors have boasted in their reports how it is a wonderful place for holding exhibitions because there is a big area, and your colleague is nodding, but there is no air conditioning. I found that quite extraordinary. As I say, personally I found it an unattractive building but my judgement might be wrong, although I would like to know who the hell assesses these things. Second, it is quite extraordinary to me to have this lovely exhibition here and no air conditioning. What do you say to that?
  (Sir Michael Jay) I was there at a time of year when the absence of air conditioning did not matter.

  186. The reverse was true for me.
  (Sir Michael Jay) On the question of how a decision is taken, I think I am right in saying that there is an architectural competition to design our flagship embassies. There was an architectural competition to design the embassy in Berlin.

  187. Yes, but we are still on architecture. Who judges the architectural design?
  (Mr Collecott) The competition in Berlin was certainly judged by outside experts from the architectural world. I cannot remember who it was. In the case of less prominent buildings then clearly we contract architects to produce designs for us and we also have quite a cadre of in-house architects who will provide advice on which architecturally is the best solution or which of the possible solutions will work architecturally as part of the feed into the decision which has to be taken internally on what kind of building to build, but we do have in-house architects.

  188. After we have structured and built the building is that when it goes to the PFI management company, because there is a management company there, is there not?
  (Sir Michael Jay) It is owned by a company. We lease it back.

  189. Would the decision on things like the air conditioning be a matter for us as the commissioning people or is it for their stewardship?
  (Mr Collecott) It would have been part of the original specification whether or not a particular part of the building should or should not have air conditioning, so it was our responsibility.

  190. Finally, on page 144, it says "Corporate sponsorship". There is a nice table there, and I do not want to be disrespectful but it does not tell me the foggiest idea really what these sponsorships are for. It tells me the value of them. The Haj delegation, there is a project of £30,000 on that and other sponsors are British Airways and Noon Products. Consular publicity, I suppose I understand, but what are the conditions of these sponsorships? What is that Haj delegation and the money from British Airways?
  (Sir Michael Jay) The Haj delegation is a delegation which goes every year from the Foreign office to help Muslims from Britain who are making their Haj pilgrimage and the Foreign Office for the last few years has sent a delegation which consists of Muslim staff from the Foreign Office, plus some doctors who give their services voluntarily and led by prominent Muslims, in order to ensure that they provide the consular help which very large numbers of British Muslims going to the Haj each year need and that has been hugely welcomed by the Muslim community here and it is something which I think is a very good thing.

  191. What does British Airways get in return?
  (Sir Michael Jay) I do not think they get anything in particular in return. What they have done is to offer help with the air fares, as I understand it, to the Haj delegation and that is what the sponsorship consists of.

  192. Are you comfortable with that sort of thing?
  (Sir Michael Jay) That would fit into the guidance that is selling into the wider markets initiative which enables us, subject to the criteria in the guidelines, to make our budget go further by getting support from others for certain activities.

  193. What was the VIP suite transport, Lexus GB? What is that?
  (Mr Collecott) I do not know. We would have to come back to you on that on detail. It may well be cars which are provided.

  194. You put it in the report. I did not write it.
  (Mr Collecott) I do not know the specifics of that.

Sir John Stanley

  195. Sir Michael, we will have a note on that too. Thank you very much. Last but, I am sure you will agree, most important of all, your people.
  (Sir Michael Jay) Yes[15].

Mr Hamilton

  196. To the Committee on Standards in Public Life on 6 July, Sir Michael, you said, "We have 15,500 people, of whom 9,500 are nationals of foreign countries employed abroad, . . ." You also said, " . . . in order simply to manage 5,500 people in 240 places around the world, we need a degree of flexibility, a degree of acceptance of a diversity of gender, . . ." You also said, "So I think there are a number of forces which are pressing for change in the way in which the civil service as a whole, and certainly we in the diplomatic service, manage our people." You have acknowledged that there are forces pressing for change in the way in which the Diplomatic Service manages its people. How are you going to respond to these forces?

  (Sir Michael Jay) Perhaps I could take the diversity agenda first. I think it is one of the most important things we face. We have targets which are set for us for gender and ethnic diversity which we are working towards. If we take first of all the gender issues, we have a target, for example, which we have not quite met although we are not all that far off, of having 13 per cent of the senior management structure at the Foreign Office as women by 2002. I think we are at 10.6 per cent at the moment and we hope to be able to reach the target of 20 per cent in 2005. Those are targets and we meet those targets by a variety of methods, partly by our recruitment policies but also by the way in which we are changing some of our management arrangements, for example, to encourage family friendly policies in the Foreign Office, more job sharing, flexi-time working. We have recently opened a nursery in the Foreign Office in order to encourage women who might otherwise want to stay at home to continue working either full or part time. There is a very conscious effort to try to develop the sort of policies which will enable the women whom we have recruited and whom we have trained and who might otherwise want to leave us to stay with us so that we can meet diversity targets. That is something which we are doing both at home and overseas. Our targets are less than those of the Cabinet Office as a whole and the Civil Service as a whole because the global mobility requirement which we have, just the fact of managing 5,500 people through 240 posts, makes it a lot more complicated than if everybody was in London. That is what we are attempting to do in order to increase the number of women recruited to and staying in the Foreign Office. I myself, and each member of the Foreign Office board, take certain responsibilities on him or herself and I have myself responsibility for pushing forward the gender agenda, if I can put it that way, because I attach a very great deal of importance to that.

  197. Yet you have no people from ethnic minorities in any senior management post as yet.
  (Sir Michael Jay) We have now. We did not when the annual report was produced. Since then we have got two members of ethnic minorities who are now members of the senior management structure, and we are therefore beginning to move in the right direction. I hope this will improve. I am confident this will improve over time. The recruitment figures are good in the sense of the policy level recruitment figures for 2001/2002 and Alan might like to say what the ethnic minority proportion was.
  (Mr Charlton) Yes. We recruit every year about 35 people at the policy entrant level and of the people we have offered jobs to this year 14 per cent are ethnic minority.

  198. That is quite good.
  (Sir Michael Jay) I am not satisfied with these figures yet but we really are determined and committed to working to meet our targets and to ensuring that the Foreign Office at home and abroad is a better reflection of the diversity of Britain than it is at present.

  199. Obviously we travel a fair bit and we go to a number of posts, and I have to say that the staff in those posts are always excellent. I think we have all been very impressed. One thing which did impress me was that when we went to Madrid there was a young woman from an Asian background there, and also in Ankara; very impressive. Do you think it will be a long time before we have an ambassador from an ethnic minority background?
  (Sir Michael Jay) I hope not. I hope it will certainly be while I am in this job.

14   Note by witness: The Parliamentary Questions raised by Andrew Mackinlay and David Chidgey were answered on 16 July (Hansard, vol 388, col. 175w). Back

15   Ev 82 and Ev 85-86. Back

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