Session 2010-11
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Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 89



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 8 December 2010

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr Bob Ainsworth

Mr John Baron

Sir Menzies Campbell

Ann Clwyd

Mike Gapes

Andrew Rosindell

Sir John Stanley

Rory Stewart

Mr Dave Watts

Examination of Witness

Witness: Professor The Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, FBA, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History, Queen Mary College, University of London, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: I welcome members of the public to this sitting of the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is the first evidence session of our inquiry into the role of the FCO in UK Government. I welcome our first witness, who was deliberately chosen to try to get us addressing the right issues. Our witness is Professor the Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, acting professor of contemporary British history at Queen Mary college, University of London. Professor, a warm welcome from the Committee. It might be helpful if you’d like to make a few opening remarks, and then we’ll get into questions.

Lord Hennessy: Thank you, Chairman. I have just a few opening thoughts. I am pleased and honoured to be asked, and I hope that I can help. Your inquiry is very timely, because some very interesting things are happening, some with more than a dash of novelty-the National Security Council in particular-and others of a more remedial kind; for example, William Hague’s attempt to restore the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to what I think is its rightful place in the Whitehall sun. It has been somewhat eclipsed in the past few years.

But there is a first-order question, if I may respectfully suggest, before we as a country can help determine what kind of Foreign and Commonwealth Office we need as the chief, but not the sole, instrument of UK foreign policy in relationships with overseas countries and international institutions. We now, quite rightly, conceive of national security in the round, and the new NSC is intended to reflect that. My own judgment and instinct is that given our past, and the strength and capabilities we still possess today as a country, we should not-almost cannot-seek to be a thoroughly modest, happily shrivelled, once-great power, shorn of global reach and aspiration. I don’t think it’s within us to settle for that. The Plowden report in 1964 looked at this, and Lord Plowden quoted Churchill saying, unsurprisingly, that most Brits do not wish to see their country-not that those were his exact words, he wouldn’t have used the word "Brits"-"relegated to a tame and minor role in the world."

I am not, however, a wider still and wider man. That risks overreach and overstretch of resources, even greater than we have experienced of late. It also risks making ourselves look faintly ridiculous to the rest of the world-what Stryker McGuire, the recently retired "Newsweek" man in London, used to call "our impulse to be a pocket super-power", which needs careful watching and, on occasion, curbing.

To use a phrase that Sir Percy Cradock liked to use in his days in the diplomatic service, the hand that history has dealt us however leaves us represented, I think, still on more international organisations than any country: a permanent member of the UN Security Council; a nuclear weapons power and one of only three-perhaps now four-countries with truly global intelligence reach, thanks to our longstanding, quite extraordinary and, once very secret, intelligence alliance with the United States. The other global intelligence power would be Russia, while the possible fourth one would now be China.

My own view is that we should neither undersell nor oversell ourselves. The FCO is normally very good at treading that line, but it has suffered a period in the doldrums and should be-perhaps now is-in the process of restoring itself to its justified position, as I said in my opening remarks. Finally, Chairman, you sit now at the front end of a long line of inquirers: the so-called Eden-Bevin reforms of the 1940s that were very significant and changed the service, the Plowden inquiry of 1964, which I have already mentioned, the Duncan inquiry of 1968 and the Central Policy Review Staff review of overseas representation in 1977-and I wish you well.

Q2 Chair: Thank you very much. We have had a lot of written evidence already from a lot of witnesses saying that the role of the Foreign Office has been weakened and marginalised in recent years. Do you agree with that, and does it matter?

Lord Hennessy: I do agree with it, and it does matter, but the one cheering thought is that the Foreign Office has had more comebacks than Judy Garland. It is a natural recoverer, for institutional reasons as well as prevailing good sense. I do not want to be unkind, but the problem tends to arise when there is a Prime Minister-we have had a few since 1938-39; Neville Chamberlain was a classic example-who thinks they have a special insight into the world and its problems, and when it’s allied with a sense of personal destiny, you are in real trouble. It means that the pros who live with the problems years in, years out and use careful language, not primary colours language, can be either marginalised or vilified. When that happens, it is quite hard to recover from it, but the Foreign Office is a natural recoverer Department.

I am quite traditionalist about Whitehall. It has to be a federation of Departments. The Prime Minister, of course, has the great co-ordinating role and has to lead, but things don’t go well when the lead Department is marginalised beyond a certain point. To some extent it has been, and I was very pleased that both in opposition and when he became Foreign Secretary William Hague made it explicit that that wasn’t going to happen. His vision statement is shot through with all that.

Can I declare a malign interest? I can’t bear the word "vision". It is an age thing. I rather relish the days when the British diplomatic service didn’t know what vision was. You know the story-I think it is true-of Sir Oliver Franks going to Washington in the Cold War, being rung up by a Washington radio news station and asked what he wanted for Christmas. Out went the broadcast on Christmas day-it was great power ambassadors. The French ambassador: "I want liberty, equality, fraternity for the whole world." The Russian ambassador: "Freedom for all victims of imperialism." Sir Oliver Franks: "How very kind. Perhaps a box of candied fruits would do." I much prefer that.

I am not attuned to the business plan. It is a good idea. There is some good stuff in there but when it comes to vision, even though it is very well written, because the Foreign Secretary, as you know, has a very fluent pen, I rather recoil from it. I don’t think it’s is the way the Brits should do it. It should be implicit rather than explicit. It is flaunting, and it is asking for trouble.

Q3 Chair: To a degree, Foreign Secretaries come and go, but Prime Ministers stay on. Look at Tony Blair, he had three or four Foreign Secretaries. Gradually, after a while he will be more knowledgeable in the broader spectrum of things. Do you think that could explain why earlier in the premiership the Foreign Secretary has more power than perhaps later in the premiership?

Lord Hennessy: That’s an interesting thought. It’s allied to another argument I used to hear in Whitehall. When a Prime Minister has been around a long time, and there is resistance in his or her own party, and the press is deeply non-understanding-to put it mildly-it used to be called the temptation of the VC10 syndrome. To get on the Royal Air Force plane, with those beautiful stewards and the wonderful linen, and to be lauded and magnified when you get off the plane, becomes a temptation. It’s understandable. It’s very human.

The accumulation of knowledge on the part of some Prime Ministers is very profound, and of course if you’ve been Foreign Secretary yourself, as Mr Macmillan had been, there is a tremendous temptation to want to be your own Foreign Secretary as well. Selwyn Lloyd had many, many virtues, but he was always in the shadow of Mr Macmillan, who had been Foreign Secretary and was steeped in the great game. He also had the word power to do it. He loved summits, unlike Alec Home, who used to be quite funny about Harold’s weakness at summits. He loved summits as a great performance. The scope for amateur dramatics was always a temptation for Mr Macmillan. Long premierships can bring their own problems as well as increasing wisdom and knowledge.

Q4 Mike Gapes: You said that the FCO had been somewhat eclipsed in recent years, and you alluded to the longevity of Tony Blair and, by implication, Margaret Thatcher. Is that the only real reason for this trend that’s taking place, or are there other factors, such as globalisation and ease of communications, that also have led to this?

Lord Hennessy: Yes, certainly. The diplomatic service recoiled from the early telegraphs, because it thought the man on the spot would lose-they were all men then-his autonomy. So every technical change seems to have threatened them to some degree. The electronic era that we are now in means that the man on the spot-the old imperial phrase-doesn’t count any more. The other factor is temperament, even if it’s a short-lived premiership like Mr Brown’s. Mr Brown put a lot of effort into DFID, commendably in many ways. It meant, however, that the balance of the budget for our overseas representation was skewed. I think the Foreign Office was skimped and DFID had as much as it needed.

Being a historian, I don’t go in for theories-social scientists do that-but I do have a theory, which you may think is completely absurd, Chairman and you’ll tell me if you do. Male British Prime Ministers, whether they know it or not, are the products of British imperial history. Mr Blair, to be unkind, was Lord Curzon-you biffed Johnny Foreigner into line for his own good, whether he asked you to or not. Gordon was the Church of Scotland Missionary Society. You give them a Bible, a tract, a plan of how to dig a well and a bit of money through DFID. Which bit of the empire they come out of is quite revealing of premierships. I say this as somebody who would have preferred, if it had been still there, to be a district officer. But thanks to Sir Anthony Eden, there was nothing left for me to district-officer by the time I was of an age. I sympathise with all that. You may think it’s an absurd theory, but I have tried it out on you, anyway.

Q5 Mike Gapes: You said male Prime Ministers. Where does Mrs Thatcher fit in?

Lord Hennessy: She was a one-off and a phenomenon. I am still somewhat bedazzled. Of all the Prime Ministers that I try and write about, it’s very hard for me to capture Mrs Thatcher. She was the most remarkable force in the world, even at a time when she was first Prime Minister, when our Exchequer was very thinly lined. She put a lot of money into defence, admittedly. Sir John Stanley is the one I defer to on this, because he knew her so well, but she still bedazzles.

There are two weather-makers among the post-war Prime Ministers I have studied and written about. One was the exact reverse: Mr Attlee, who had all the charisma and presence of a gerbil, but was a great and lasting influence. Mrs Thatcher, who was the reverse of a gerbil, was a remarkable woman. She changed the terms of trade in the way our country behaved abroad, and certainly Prime Ministers. It was a complete break. Some would say it was part of the tragedy in the nature of her demise that she was tone deaf on some of the requirements you need to be a world leader. But it’s not for me to judge that. I find her extremely difficult to write about, partly because of this phenomenon-this bedazzling phenomenon. Nobody was neutral about her, which in diplomatic terms is very interesting. Nobody who dealt with her was in any way casual or neutral about her, as far as I can see. My one regret is that she and Chancellor Kohl didn’t get on. I think it was a great pity for Europe and for ourselves that that relation was so antipathetic. But my heavens, it produced some rip-roaring pieces of gossip and stories.

Q6 Mike Gapes: I don’t want to talk about cakes. Let’s move back to the issue of technology and globalisation. We have heard some evidence from Professor Daryl Copeland, for example, who talked about the impact on diplomacy of globalisation, not just for the UK, but for all foreign ministries throughout the world. How do you think we have fared compared with other countries in this transition?

Lord Hennessy: I like to think that we have not lost our nerve in terms of retaining a respect for the indispensability of high-class political reporting from specialists who are trained in hard languages and how to live in hard places. Whatever the technological shifts, we must never lose sight of that. It gives us a competitive advantage if we stick to that through thick and thin-even though the nature of communication is what it is and the information explosion is what it is.

This has been looked at by all the previous inquiries, because there has been a technical element-certainly in Duncan, Plowden and Berrill. If I remember, the review of overseas representation implied-I don’t think it quite said-that you can get, from The Economist and the FT foreign correspondents and so on, pretty much what you need. I have never thought that; I think we really do need specialists. The investment, even though it’s costly, in hard language training and acculturing people who represent us abroad-not just in the Foreign Office, but generally-in the societies to which they are going to be accredited is critical. That will remain so, even if the whizz-bang technology has another great exponential leap. I am a traditionalist, as I admitted, Mr Gapes.

Q7 Sir Menzies Campbell: I did not know that you had this frustration about wearing a pith helmet, being lord of all you surveyed in an obscure part of the globe-I don’t quite see you as Sanders of the River.

It seems, from some of your earlier analysis, that you are pointing to the significance of the personality of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary as having a direct impact on the salience of the Foreign Office. I wonder whether that is typical of the United and Kingdom and not of other places.

On the Quai d’Orsay there is a pretty strong view about foreign policy. I am not sure of the extent to which the influence, or otherwise, of the equivalent of the Foreign Minister is affected by that under the French system. In the United States, the State Department has enormous presence and influence, and again I am not clear about the extent to which that may or may not be affected by whether it is Hillary Clinton or someone else.

To take a domestic example, because you mentioned Attlee, Ernest Bevin was about as formidable as they come. Yet Attlee, by your own description, was, in a different way, formidable in the pantheon of Prime Ministers. Does it work best when the personalities fit together, or when the Foreign Office asserts itself?

Lord Hennessy: A very interesting question. Attlee, in retirement, reviewing Alan Bullock’s book about the life of Ernie Bevin, alluded to the fact that he left a great deal of foreign policy-and, indeed, defence policy-to Ernie, to be a kind of overlord, although he wasn’t called that. He said about Ernest Bevin, "If you’ve got a good dog, you don’t need to bark yourself."

They had a remarkable relationship. Early on, Bevin came to dislike-not being a politician, he was initially a trade unionist-a lot of Labour politicians, because he could not trust them. He said, "Clem’s the only one I can trust." Every time there was an attempted coup against Clem, such as Stafford Cripps’s one in 1947, he would pick up the phone and say, "Stafford, I gather you want me to replace Clem. Well, I’m sticking with little Clem." So he was his great protector as well. The relationship, on the human level, was very special.

Bevin was a genius in the Foreign Office. Not in terms of the use of diplomatic language-he hated Molotov and he never completed a sentence, but everybody knew what he meant. He was remarkable.

The personalities matter in any system, but particularly in ours. I remember when Jim Callaghan became Foreign Secretary in 1974. Ted Heath had not been wildly keen on the special relationship, although the essentials-the nuclear and the intelligence- were not in any way threatened. Jim said to me once that the first job of a British Foreign Secretary is to get on well with the Secretary of State in Washington. Jim was very good at that and his mere arrival restored the relationship to a high degree-he got on famously with Kissinger.

If you want the Foreign Office to be in its rightful place, as I do, it is a great advantage to have, in William Hague, one of the big three on the Conservative side in the coalition. I really do think that matters, so that the Foreign Secretary of the day is not just brought in on Foreign Office or overseas matters, but is a big player in deciding the overall strategy. That is a great advantage for any Department, but I think it’s particularly good for the Foreign Office, because the rest of the world knows that. The diplomatic reporting back, I suspect, from other embassies, reflects that-the clout of the British Foreign Secretary in relative terms within the Whitehall hierarchy. I think that’s crucial.

I remember someone saying, on a much lesser level, about Lord Carrington-a man I always greatly admired, who was a natural at it-as Foreign Secretary: "Abroad loves it." Because Abroad rather expects British Foreign Secretaries to look and sound and speak, and to have a light touch, as Lord Carrington did. He, in another tough period, brought something to it, because of his experience and his style, which was a great advantage.

None of this can be measured. In the metrics that the Foreign Office has given you, in their very interesting submission, none of this is measurable. In many ways, everything we are dealing with is intangible. I don’t know if you want to come to resources a bit later, but it seems to me that when you’re battling with the Treasury, if you’re the Foreign Office Chief Clerk-I don’t think they are called that any more, but have a fancy name-it is very hard to make the case for impact. Yet one serious military engagement averted every generation would pay for the Foreign Office many times over-but you cannot demonstrate that the Foreign Office was instrumental, because you never do it on your own. But those are the real measurements, not the ones you have been given-we have been given the things that you can measure, but they are Tom Tiddlers compared to the real impact. The Foreign Office always suffers from this.

I remember when the World Service was going through a cuts period-nothing to compare with what they are facing now-when John Tusa was running it. They invented a new performance indicator-they tried it on the Treasury-but it is an example of how difficult it is to measure the things that matter. It was called the relative truth index. What they argued was that, in any tyranny that had the technical means of jamming, there were two radio sets that were unjammed, so that they could get the BBC World Service: those of the tyrant himself and the tyrant’s secret police chief. They had to know what the truth was before they could distort it for the rest of the population.

Indeed, I remember talking to a former KGB officer who told me that the KGB would fight to get their dacha in the woods in the Moscow region in those parts where the jammers against the BBC were least effective, for the same reason. Literally, there was rivalry among second-homing on the basis of where you could pick up the BBC. I thought that was the greatest tribute to the BBC overseas service. But none of this is measurable, and the Treasury would just laugh, wouldn’t they?

Q8 Mr Watts: I think you have already answered my question, but I will just press you so that I am absolutely clear about your response. There has been a discussion recently, and people have commented that there has been a centralisation of decision making away from the Foreign Office to No. 10. Is it your view that that is just about the recent occupants of No. 10, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, or does it happen from time to time so it is not a new phenomenon?

Lord Hennessy: It always happens when there’s a big crisis on, when you have a war cabinet in being-whether or not it’s called that-for obvious reasons. But I think that the National Security Council, which no doubt we will come on to in a minute, is one of the emblems of the restoration of a much more alive form of collective Cabinet Government. It’s hard to know but, even if there had not been a coalition, that would probably have been true, because I think that that was the intention-I would like to think that it would have been true.

The National Security Council has got its own-I am collapsing into jargon now-battle rhythm, which is very impressive, but perhaps we can come back to that. As far as I can see, it is properly collective and it is serviced in the old collective way, with proper briefings from the Departments-the Joint Intelligence Committee has had a bit of a revival because of it, because it puts in a paper on most items, or an update. The Joint Intelligence Committee’s forward planning now is very much determined by the National Security Council.

Today’s the day when it happens. As you know, the National Security Council meets after Cabinet on a Tuesday, with the Prime Minister always in the Chair if he is in London, which is crucial. On Wednesday mornings, the official National Security Council-the permanent secretaries’ group-look ahead and, on Wednesday afternoon, about now, the Joint Intelligence Committee meets. So, the rhythms have been adapted to it, and as far as I can see, it really is quite genuinely collegial-proper agendas, proper minutes, proper discussions. I defer to Mr Ainsworth, who knows all about the NSID-Gordon Brown’s equivalent-and how that operated, but I do think, when my PhD students in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time come to look at this, they will see a change. I think that, so far, it’s a beneficial change. I think that mitigates against excessive prime ministerialism.

Q9 Mr Watts: You have touched on two potential models. You said the Attlee model was, "If you have a dog, why bark yourself?" and to leave the Foreign Secretary to run the Foreign Office. Then you said that the relationship between the present Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary is close, and that that works as well. How important is the personal dynamic between the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in getting it right and making the right policy decisions?

Lord Hennessy: I think it’s very important. It is a test of any ministerial relationship, isn’t it? If the private office says, "Minister X wants to come to see you" and there is a sort of sigh, it’s trouble, isn’t it? That is on the low-grade stuff. On the big-grade stuff, of course, you’ve got to see people, but if it’s a protracted whinge or it’s all too difficult, you wouldn’t want the delay. The funny thing about the Foreign Office is that it has always been seen as one of the great Departments of state, and of course it always is intrinsically, but it can go wrong.

I am a great admirer of Mr Macmillan; he was the first Prime Minister I ever studied. Another theory I have is that you expect the premiership-what it is and isn’t for-to be, roughly speaking, the way it was conducted by the first person you watched doing the job as an outsider; I have always been an outsider. But Mr Macmillan was not that good until he had Alec Home, and then it changed. Then he had Alec Home, a man who he got on with, who was an immensely gifted Foreign Secretary. In July 1960 it changed-same Prime Minister, different Foreign Secretary. I don’t want to be unkind to the memory of Selwyn Lloyd, but he didn’t throb for England-or Britain, I should say-as Foreign Secretary, did he? He certainly didn’t. But the Home-Macmillan combination-same Prime Minister, different Foreign Secretary-was completely different. I think Macmillan said of Alec, "He’s steel painted as wood," which was a great tribute from him.

Q10 Mr Watts: Which model would you prefer? The model of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary working collectively together, or the Attlee model of, "Just go and get on with it"?

Lord Hennessy: Collectively-although Attlee, on some occasions, would take on Ernie Bevin. Ernie Bevin didn’t want to get out of India in ’47, and Mr Attlee had been on one of the commissions in the ’30s, and he knew that the time had come. Bevin wrote these impassionate minutes to him, and when he had to assert himself, he did-no question. Also, Attlee was very good at chairing what we would now call war cabinets, the ad hoc Cabinet committee that ran the British end of the Berlin airlift, and also the Korean one. He was Major Attlee after all; he’d been in Mesopotamia and the western front, and he was a man of modesty but self-confidence-because the combination is possible; hard to believe that sometimes, but it is.

Q11 Mr Baron: Lord Hennessy, you have kindly brought to the Committee a sort of historical perspective, as one would expect. Can you shed any light on how we compare in the relationship between the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister and the whole issue of centralisation and international decision making when it comes to other countries? Is there anything to learn from other countries? How do they do it differently?

Lord Hennessy: I am not a great expert on that many other countries. Again it’s the hand that history’s dealt us. We are a collective Executive or we are nothing. That is the way it developed in the 18th century, and through thick and thin we have stuck to that, with occasional aberrations. We were genuinely a collective Executive in the two total wars of the 20th century, when there was an immense temptation, no doubt-indeed, you could probably have got away with not being fastidious about that sort of thing. In the Cold War, we were very collective.

The aberrations, I would say, are Suez, and although I wasn’t privy to all the Cabinet discussions, and I await, to say the least, Chilcot, as we all do, I don’t think Cabinet government shone in the first months of 2003. But we are a collective Executive; it goes with the grain of the way we do it, it goes with the grain of the British constitution. One of our great advantages is that we have never had a Primus-with a capital "P"-inter pares, or when we have had the appearance of it, it doesn’t go well. This sounds that the way that Brits deal with the rest of the world is not a model because we are so different. It is both hubristic and daft to say that, but it’s interesting, isn’t it, how what we used to call the dominions have that model, give or take, and the rest of the world is very often quite admiring of our model, particularly if you add in the notion of the non-partisan career Crown service that carries on across the piece, particularly in the intelligence world.

The rest of the world spends a lot of time telling me that we anguish too much about our system. In fact, if the Chairman will allow, I have an e-mail about this from a man I greatly admire, Philip Bobbitt, who used to work in the United States Administration. I asked him what our overall attempts to be a considerable power in the world look like to an American, from the outside. Perhaps you want me to mention that later, but the rest of the world has always been admiring. When I used to go to Washington more often than I do now, people in its intelligence world, for example, would often take me on one side and say how much they admired the Joint Intelligence Committee system and the all-source assessment stuff, in particular.

Q12 Mr Baron: Do you think that the collective model that we saw in the world wars and in the Cold War was weakened by the Iraq war and perhaps even by the intervention in Afghanistan?

Lord Hennessy: I am not sure about Afghanistan. Again, I defer to Mr Ainsworth on that. I don’t want to be unkind, but in the end Cabinet is the final sprinkler system to hose down a potentially over-mighty Prime Minister, and only the Cabinet can do that. If you are in the run-up to a war, you really have to test out every bit of it, including the legal opinion-you have to ask for a full legal opinion, not a little shrivelled bit of one-at all the stages. From the evidence of memoirs and what people have said and the evidence to Chilcot, I am not sure those conditions were fulfilled. I think the Downing Street 22-the other 22 in the Cabinet room-are the indispensable element of that. At times of anxiety, tiredness, conflicting pressures and the onrush of events, I have immense sympathy for people who have to take decisions under duress, particularly on peace and war, but I am not sure, to use a phrase beloved of the late Roy Jenkins, that they "rose to the level of events." I await Chilcot, which will give us the wherewithal to make those judgments, because an outsider like me does not have enough to go on, but that is my instinct.

Chair: We all await Chilcot with interest.

Q13 Sir John Stanley: Lord Hennessy, I will, with some difficulty, resist the temptation to tell you what really happened at the first meeting between Mrs Thatcher and Mr Kohl.

Lord Hennessy: Do, do. Please, please.

Q14 Sir John Stanley: We must stay within the Committee’s terms of inquiry. To return to the present, from what you have seen of Prime Minister David Cameron so far, what do you consider are the differences between what he expects from the Foreign Office and what Gordon Brown or Tony Blair expected from the Foreign Office?

Lord Hennessy: It seems to me a much easier relationship. I had great respect for David Miliband, and still do, but it seems a much easier relationship. Do you remember Mrs Thatcher once said about Keith Joseph that the great thing about Keith and herself was that they had no toes and they didn’t knock each other? I don’t think it is like that, but it seems to me that there is a much greater ease and self-confidence in the relationship, which again is much more collegial. Institutionally, the NSC, as far as I can see, is helping that. That is certainly the impression I get.

If you talk to diplomats themselves, they are faintly cheered by that so far. I said to one of them the other evening that I was coming to see you today, and that I was going to say that Mr Hague’s purpose seems to be to get the Foreign Office to its place in the sun. He said, "Well, we’re warming up slightly. It’s not the sun, but we’re warming up." I get the impression that they are quite battered. When I was young and watching Whitehall, I never thought that I would have to worry about the British Foreign Office; I thought it was like Canada-it was just there and took care of itself.

I became worried, however, and I will tell you when I became worried, if you will allow me, Sir John. It was long before the foreign exchange agreement with the Treasury caused such havoc, and I am very glad that that has been restored, so that resources are foreseeable. It was friends of mine in the Secret Intelligence Service who said to me, "You should look at the Foreign Office." I asked why, and they said, "Well, they’re cutting back on their research analysts quite a bit, and this is affecting our work quite profoundly." I asked what he meant, and he said, "Well, when we get our special stuff, the first people we take it to, to see whether it fits or if it’s different, are the analysts in the Foreign Office, and they are being thinned out. You should look at the Foreign Office." It was not just that, but it seemed to be becoming less than the sum of its parts-that the very gifted people that it has always managed to recruit, certainly since the generation that I grew up with went in and right through, were not being used to maximum effect. With a bit of luck, that will be put right.

Q15 Sir John Stanley: But could I ask you again, do you see Prime Minister David Cameron trying to expect the Foreign Office to deliver any different role than its role under his two predecessors as Prime Minister?

Lord Hennessy: Yes, I think so. Every Prime Minister wants the Foreign Office to be more commercially minded and trade-minded and so on. The long story of the reviews from Eden and Bevin, which put the consular service within the system, rather than having it semi-detached, right through Plowden, Duncan and the review by Berrill in 1977, is that they have wanted a greater emphasis on trade and economic benefits to the UK. But seen from the outside, the impetus that Prime Minister Cameron has given to this, and the detailed changes that seem to be under way, make this review particularly powerful. It is an old threnody, but it is being sung fortissimo at the moment, and with a bit of luck, it will work.

I remember that after Duncan, in 1968, the Foreign Office rightly put some of the people that it foresaw as going right to the top-indeed, they did go right to the top-into consular jobs, particularly in the United States, for a while. That was a sustained effort, but each generation comes back to this. It may be-it is too early to tell, and I am on the outside-qualitatively different, but the priority given to it by the Prime Minister, reflected in the business plan and in what the Foreign Office has told you, is very impressive.

Q16 Sir John Stanley: Do you think that there is any danger that the greater emphasis on commercial objectives will be at the expense of the degree of priority given to human rights?

Lord Hennessy: I hope not. I hope that it is grown as an extra capacity, rather than it diminishing something else. It should not be a zero-sum game, because you need these fistfuls of gifts if you are going to have a Foreign Office that- If you want to be a substantial player in the world-it’s a big question for some people, but it isn’t for me-you need all these fistfuls to work, including the soft power, including the British Council and the BBC Overseas Service.

It is interesting to look at the language used by the Government on all of this. In the National Security Strategy it says: "The National Security Council has reached a clear conclusion that Britain ’s national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence." Indeed, William Hague has said that our foreign policy "should extend our global reach and influence". They are wanting us to do better and more, which I can understand, but you have to be careful; overreach is a real problem. Every generation has said that. I remember Mr Macmillan’s first broadcast as Prime Minister in January 1957 in the ashes of Suez. He said, "People say we have ceased to be a great power. What nonsense." Harold Wilson said in 1965: "Our frontier is on the Himalayas." Every successive premiership has wanted all of that. There is no appetite for a shrinkage of influence, but there is probably a consensus about not sweating the assets that we have in our overseas representation and reach and the rest of it, but making maximum use of them.

We don’t have these prior debates about where our aspirations should lie, hence my opening remarks. I know that that is not your remit, but it’s lurking behind your inquiry, because it always lurks behind the inquiries, every one of them, if you look back. Again, I feel a particular need for humility, because if you read Duncan, the area of concentration in ’68 was western Europe and North America and the outer area included places such as India, China and Saudi Arabia; so each generation, although it has the same impulse to be more than the sum of our parts and not just any medium-sized power tucked up in a regional organisation called Europe, has delusions, and I probably have as many delusions as any other man.

Chair: Lord Hennessy, we still have a number of areas that we want to touch on, and time is running out. Will colleagues keep focused on the point?

Q17 Ann Clwyd: May I follow what Sir John Stanley said? He asked you whether you thought the emphasis on trade was compatible with the aspirations for human rights. You said that you hoped so. Well, the Prime Minister has just been to China, and obviously it is an embarrassing thing to mention in front of hosts like the Chinese, who are incredibly sensitive on the issue of human rights. Is it really compatible? Can you increase trade and also press the important issues on human rights?

Lord Hennessy: I think that you can, but it is a delicate line and I would not be very good at treading it, because I am not very good at wrapping things up. You have great experience in that, but I do not. I am a great believer in the John Bright view-mid-19th century though it is-that the benefits of increasing trade mean that there is a much greater chance of avoiding serious conflict.

As you get more embedded into a trading relationship, the harder it is for aggression, lack of understanding, and indeed parodying of each other, to flourish. I remember that when Schuman created the Coal and Steel Community with Monnet, he said that the whole idea-with the war-making industries of steel and coal-was to lock Germany and France in an embrace so tight that they would never be able to raise a fist against each other again.

That’s a sort of romantic John Bright view, but I’m a great believer in trade being, as time goes by, a healer and an enabler. But it’s is very difficult. Even if the Chinese, who are very sophisticated about everything, are going to expect a private conversation on human rights with some degree of directness, it’s not easy. But there again, the reason why we keep top-class diplomats and why we hope we have a succession of very good Foreign Secretaries is that they are good at treading that line. But I do think that the John Bright argument, particularly in the case of China, holds-I certainly hope it does.

Q18 Ann Clwyd: May I take you back to the National Security Council? You have already made it clear that you are in favour of it, and you think it will enhance the Foreign Office. We’ve had conflicting written submissions, one from Lord Owen who agrees with your point of view and the other from Edward Clay, the former diplomat, who suggests that "it undermines the post and potential contribution of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. We should not...need two (or more) Whitehall departments running foreign policy."

Lord Hennessy: I think it’s about the way it’s constructed. There was the concept of national security that Gordon Brown had when he created the NSID Cabinet Committee, the big Cabinet Committee, which-again I defer to Mr Ainsworth-didn’t really meet until the last year of that Government. In an age when we quite rightly see national security as a seamless garment, from agents in the field and their agent runners at the first line of defence, through politico-military diplomacy, trade aid and soft power to the Trident submarine out in the north Atlantic now, if you’re going to see it in the round with counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation and all the rest of it, as well as the pacemaker items such as Yemen, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan at every meeting, you need an institution like this. I think it goes with the grain.

I said to another Select Committee of this House that it struck me as like the Committee of Imperial Defence 1902 but with rather better IT. One couldn’t call it the Committee of Imperial Defence these days. When Arthur Balfour set up that Committee, it was the prototype National Security Council, to try to treat imperial defence in the round, and that included economic factors as well as military ones. It produced the first war book in 1911-a tradition that’s been sustained since. The NSC goes with the grain of past British practice. It’s different from the old Cabinet overseas and defence committee that existed from the ’60s for a very long time, but I think the times require it. I don’t see in any way why it should be seen as a threat to the Foreign Office, particularly as William Hague has said-I think, in his evidence to you-that the Foreign Office feels that it’s very much one of the lead Departments, and that foreign affairs run through the veins of every bit of Government. I rather like that phrase.

It is a matter of self-confidence really, but I do think it’s the best way to do it, and the reorganisation of the Cabinet Secretariat beneath it is wholly beneficial, as is that knock-on effect, that boost for the Joint Intelligence Committee. It seems to me that with a bit of luck, it’s raising everyone’s game, but it’s early days, and it’s quite hard to be sure from the outside, as you know.

Q19 Ann Clwyd: Is there any significance in the fact that Peter Ricketts has come from the Foreign Office to the role of national security adviser?

Lord Hennessy: I think he was a very good man for the job, and he just happened to be in that Department, but maybe there is an extra significance. Given the formation of his career, he covered pretty well all the points, so it’s probably ad hominem-if that’s the phrase-rather than institutionally that way. It will be interesting to see who the second national security adviser is. But I do think it’s very promising. Of course, a nerd like me can overdo the significance of institutional change, because that’s what I write about, but I really do think that I’ve detected a quickening of the pace and a greater concentration, and that it’s a good deed in a rather shaky world.

Q20 Ann Clwyd: What is your view of Lord Owen’s idea that the council should be put on a statutory footing? Is it too early to come to that conclusion?

Lord Hennessy: Harry Truman did that with the National Security Council in ’47, which meant that it’s run right through and is one of the great fixtures in Washington. It did them great service, certainly in the Cold War. It is an interesting idea, but, again, constitutionally one wonders whether it is right for a current Administration to bind its successors through a statute about how they construct the machinery of government. I am not sure that it is. He may have had that in mind. I was very interested in that. Probably he did have the National Security Act 1947 in mind. But, if it works well, as it seems to be doing, it would be very wise of future Prime Ministers to carry it on.

Having said that, there is always a danger, isn’t there, that Prime Ministers want to be anyone but their predecessor? Indeed, the Cabinet Office itself was nearly wiped away when Lloyd George fell, because Bonar Law thought it was part of LG’s over-aggrandised style of government. So, the Cabinet Office, which we now of course all regard as indispensable, nearly disappeared. The Treasury made a pitch to take it over, as it often does.

There may be something in David Owen’s idea; I don’t know, but it’s interesting. Very few Government institutions are based on statute. The Departments are all royal prerogative, apart from the Ministry of Defence, which has the Ministry of Defence Act 1946, so you can’t just get rid of the Ministry of Defence using the royal prerogative and Order in Council-because it’s statutory. Maybe it is a good idea. I was interested in that.

Q21 Mr Baron: Is there a danger, though, that there may not be an intentional threat to the Foreign Office from the NSS and the SDSR, but that there could be an unintentional one, in the sense that the dynamics of our foreign policy making could be influenced by the political and bureaucratic drivers, courtesy of these strategies? That could present an unintentional threat. Combined with the CSR, you could paint a scenario in which the FCO finds itself boxed in-not intentionally, but because we live in an increasingly bureaucratic environment.

Lord Hennessy: That’s an interesting thought, but if you’ve got self-confident Ministers of high calibre, they should see that coming-they really should. Ministers can and do prevail when they have to and want to, there is no question about that. Indeed, the machinery of government-which goes back to my answer just now-is very much a prime ministerial thing. It’s interesting, but bureaucratic takeover shouldn’t happen. Also, when you look at the plethora of inputs into the National Security Council, there are quite a lot of competing baronies there. It is going to be very difficult if someone is trying to pull a bit of a flanker, not to be-

Q22 Mr Baron: So you don’t think that the NSS or the CSR will affect the FCO in policy or institutional terms at all.

Lord Hennessy: I like to think that it will help it, because I think it is a more realistic appraisal and picture of the world that we are confronting. Indeed, I think the plan is to have two a Parliament, but I would still have one a year, actually, as was happening under the previous Administration.

The first one had terrible streaks of "Blue Peter" in it-you know, solve world poverty, then we’ll do that-this awful "Blue Peter" stuff interlarded with serious pol-mil, grown-up stuff. This one is rather freer of all that, and rather freer of the language of management consulting, which is a great relief for traditionalists like me. That is my only complaint about it. It’s a little test for all of us: is there one single phrase in the National Security Strategy that sticks to the velcro of our memory? I think not. It would be nice if there were.

Q23 Rory Stewart: Professor, one of the big changes in the Foreign Office over the past 15 or 20 years has been to emphasise management and administrative skills, as opposed to hard languages and political knowledge. You can see that in the promotions over the past 10 years.

You have a rather friendly, optimistic view, but actually what you are hearing out of the Foreign Office embassies is people who are specialists in particular languages and countries feeling that they are being marginalised in favour of rather slick purveyors of management jargon, who rise effortlessly up to the top. Such people are not really in a position to challenge policy on Iraq and Afghanistan, because they simply do not have that depth of knowledge.

Lord Hennessy: I was very taken by Mr Crawford’s evidence to you, and sympathise with some of it, again as an outsider. I will come back to your big point in a second, but a related point is that if you lack precision of language-which he is arguing that they do, because it is not seen to matter any more-that is a huge own goal. Every recruit to the Foreign Office should be given George Orwell’s classic 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language, about the contamination of language and the price you pay. So, I was very interested in what Mr Crawford said.

Also, I am an Ivor Roberts man-that valedictory dispatch that ended them all. His one from Rome caused them to be stopped as a great tradition, which I was really quite cross about. I am with him when he talks about the mania for the management consulting virus and the mania for acronymia and bullshit bingo. Every fibre in me agreed with Ivor Roberts. I think that’s a huge displacement activity. It was a friend of mine, again from the secret world, who said to me once, "It’s the price we pay for the collapse of the Soviet Union." I said, "I beg your pardon?" He said, "When the Sovs existed, they used language in a routinely deceitful way and as an instrument of deception. They kept us relatively clean. Once they were gone, there was nothing to save us from the management consultants."

Q24 Rory Stewart: These are very charming anecdotes, but there are serious structural changes in the Foreign Office that make this happen. It is not simply that some cultural thing has shifted, where we are promoting and demoting different people.

Lord Hennessy: I sympathise with your argument. The first-order requirement is skilled people with the hard languages who know countries. It is not incompatible with good management at all; I just simply don’t think it is. It is just that the whole language in which intra-Whitehall relationships are conducted, not just reporting within the Foreign Office, is wholly affected.

I know I am spoilt, because I spend a lot of time in the archives, in the old days, and these beautifully written submissions had a point. The precision of language and the quality of analysis was not just a form of out-relief for the gilded youth from the ancient universities, but was of high utility to the state. I don’t know how we get it back. You have had experience on the inside.

Q25 Rory Stewart: What structural or institutional reforms could we introduce to change that?

Lord Hennessy: I would just like the Foreign Secretary to say, "Anybody who sends me acronymic management consultant language will have their submissions sent back." The whole tone and pitch would change. The Foreign Secretary is a highly literate person. He doesn’t go in for bullshit bingo-I certainly hope he doesn’t. He should send the stuff back in the way a university professor would. Word would soon get around, if you had all that management stuff coming and he said, "I’m not reading that. Translate it please." Mrs Thatcher did that, didn’t she? "Translate please. I don’t speak the language." That would set the tone.

Your old service has tremendous gossipers; the rapid circulation of gossip is second to none at the Foreign Office. All it would need is one bit of scrawl from the Foreign Secretary saying, "I don’t understand this. Translate please", and bottles would be opened. There would be the hosannas of a grateful diplomatic service. I am serious. You may not think so, but I am. That is what I would do if I was the Secretary of State.

Q26 Andrew Rosindell: We would be fascinated to hear your views on the role of the Foreign Office in terms of our post-colonial responsibilities. This is an area that is often neglected or even ignored, and I think it is something that I would love to hear your views on today. The Foreign Office is still responsible for 16 overseas territories. Do you think we are getting our relationship and our responsibilities to them right at the moment?

Lord Hennessy: I certainly hope so. I really should know much more about this than I do, but we all know, to state the obvious, the high price that can be paid when we neglect this, the Falklands being the classic example-and, in some cases, as the irritant that Spain sees it, Gibraltar.

Also I think there is a duty of care. It is an old-fashioned way of putting it, but the residual empire-except it isn’t that anymore-and its legacy are a primary duty of care for this country. Rightly or wrongly-I think probably rightly-we take the view, certainly in my age group, that with the way we disposed of empire, nothing became us like the leaving of it, and that with a few terrible exceptions of Zimbabwe, it was well done. It was very perilously done too.

I am writing a history of the 1960s at the moment, and the immense skill of Iain Macleod as Colonial Secretary with Macmillan was breathtaking. It was like playing simultaneous chess on about 10 boards, two of which could have set fire any minute. I think the residual duties are very considerable, but I wish I knew more about that.

Q27 Andrew Rosindell: In 1997, Hong Kong was the last colony to leave the control of the UK to become a part of another country or independent. Since then, none has done so, and none intends to do so. Do you feel that it is appropriate that as we approach 2011, those 16 territories, despite being neither foreign nor Commonwealth, should be under the control of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

Lord Hennessy: I think so, as long as they are happy with it.

Q28 Andrew Rosindell: Do you prefer what the French do, or the Dutch where they give them more independence?

Lord Hennessy: More independence.

Q29 Andrew Rosindell: But treat them as equal citizens rather than as old colonies where there is no time or finances to deal with their issues.

Lord Hennessy: It is an interesting thought, but I would treat it in the way I think the Foreign Office does-as a kind of bespoke arrangement. It is what the territories want. If there were any desire to change on their part, their wishes would have to be respected and I am sure they would be.

The imperial legacy is very different in each of the imperial powers. Ours has a particular flavour, and I think that we should carry on as we are unless those territories concerned wish it to be otherwise, and then their wishes should prevail if, indeed, that is possible. It’s a pretty straightforward principle, isn’t it?

Q30 Mr Ainsworth: You have mentioned your friends in the secret world a couple of times. The current construct is where the agencies are responsible to the Home Office and the Foreign Office. Is that the right shape in the age of a National Security Council and a Joint Intelligence Committee?

Lord Hennessy: If we were starting again, we wouldn’t do it that way. When the Committee of Imperial Defence wrote the paper in 1909 out of which they came, it was a very different world. It fitted reasonably well the configurations then and, indeed, SIGNIT wasn’t that big a player until the Great War, as you know. The importance of that has remained central ever since. But again, it seems that the price of upheaval if you merged two of the three, or all three, would be very considerable and, in those services, there doesn’t seem to be any appetite for it. The co-ordinating mechanisms in the Cabinet Office, which are of long standing now-the first co-ordinator of security and intelligence was appointed in 1968-seem to me, as an outsider, most of the time to do it really well. I have always been very impressed by the assessment staff process.

We find compatibility between those ancient regiments of the line, each with their different traditions. They are very proud in their different ways, and understandably so. We compensate very well for that through the central intelligence machinery, but again I have not been a customer, as you have, of the product, so it is hard for me to judge it unless I go backwards 30 years to the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments that the students and I work on.

I am being very conservative today, but I would take a lot of persuading that it would be worth while and valuable to tackle a big first-order question like that, unless there was really good reason to do so-in fact, an overriding reason-and that the main customers of the product thought that there were distortions built in or inadequacies because of the structures. I can’t see from the outside any evidence of that. Our tradition of adapting perhaps a bit of institutional creativity through the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has worked very well, as far as I can see from the outside.

The rest of the world seems to think so, because there is a steady stream of people coming from abroad to adapt the JTAC model to their requirements. That is the best way of doing it, as is the incremental approach, which is the way that it has been done. Crises, of course, cause rethinks. The Joint Intelligence Committee didn’t really come into its own until the second world war, with Winston Churchill as its customer. It had existed since 1936, but it was a pretty feeble thing until about 1940-41.

The most important thing to me, and the pearl beyond price, is the British intelligence tradition that came out of the second world war that you keep separate the producers of the picture, who give you reality and spare you nothing, and those who decide what to do on the basis of it. If ever those lines become fuzzy, we are in real trouble. There have been aberrations, but they have always been put right and, for me, that is much more important than the structures-that bit of the tradition.

Q31 Mr Ainsworth: The Chairman is itching because we are a little beyond time, but I am totally intrigued by some of the things you said about overweening Prime Ministers and the need for balance. You put that in the context of the Foreign Office, but your evidence almost seems to suggest that it relies on personalities. Looking back, do you detect a difference of approach between Governments of different parties?

Lord Hennessy: It’s funny that you should say that. The late Alan Watkins, who I admired greatly, used to say that the Labour party has one great virtue. When it meets, it meets to the sound of breaking glass. People are extremely direct with each other, even if they are fond of each other. But that didn’t seem to happen after 1997; the clash of breaking glass seemed to disappear. In fact, on one occasion, when I was cross about something, I described Mr Blair’s Cabinet as the most supine since the war-since Neville Chamberlain’s. I still think that. Poor Alan Watkins turned out to be wrong.

Q32 Mr Ainsworth: But you don’t think it’s structural between people of different political persuasions?

Lord Hennessy: I think if the Prime Minister wants proper discussion, people will flourish. I criticised Mrs Thatcher for a while, too, for being over-dominant in the chair. She used to open Cabinet meetings by declaring what she wanted the outcome to be and defying everybody else to defy her. But she wasn’t happy unless she had a bloody good argument on the way to the conclusion. I rather respected that. The remarkable lack of argument in the Blair Cabinet is what struck me. Indeed, it didn’t seem to take casework on anything. I had been studying the war books-just to cheer myself up-for the transition to world war three; and the full Cabinet-the full Cabinet-had to take 80 decisions in the last hours of peace, which is ridiculous. I don’t think the full Blair Cabinet took 80 decisions in a whole year. Not that that’s analogous to the end of the world. That worried me in the Blair years. I thought that was a genuine deficiency, and I don’t think it did him any good in the end. It always ends in tears, doesn’t it?

Q33 Chair: Lord Hennessey, thank you very much. I’m sure I speak for the whole Committee by saying I could sit here for another hour listening to your views. It was also very remiss of me not to congratulate you on your appointment to the House of Lords. You will be a very useful addition there. I gather you made your maiden speech on House of Lords reform the other day.

Lord Hennessy: Very pertinently.

Q34 Chair: In 10 seconds, are you for the status quo or not?

Lord Hennessy: A better version of the status quo. My friend Ralf Dahrendorf used to say most Brits will settle for a better version of yesterday. I said to them it would have been impertinent to apply to join the Cross Benches if I had wanted a wholly elected House. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? The great Lord Desai, an old friend of mine, took me on one side afterwards and said, "You’ve been in a matter of hours and you’ve shed all your radicalism entirely."

Chair: You’re an establishment character already. Thank you very much indeed. What you’ve said is much appreciated, and has given us plenty of food for thought.

Examination of Witness

Witness: Rt Hon The Lord Jay of Ewelme, GCMG, former Permanent Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2002-2006), gave evidence.

Q35 Chair: Lord Jay, welcome to the Committee. This is the first evidence session of our inquiry into the role of the FCO. We thought it thoroughly appropriate that someone of your experience and stature should be invited to give evidence to us. Would you like to make an opening statement, as it were, and then we’ll go into questions?

Lord Jay: Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be back with the Committee. Thank you for the invitation. The only thing I would say is that it’s five years since I left the job of Permanent Under-Secretary, and I look back on my career perhaps slightly differently from when I was appearing before this Committee as Permanent Secretary. That has included the first 10 years or so with what was then the Ministry of Overseas Development. I then worked for the World Bank. I also worked in the Cabinet Office. So I have seen the Foreign Office from both inside and outside, which, with hindsight, gives one a bit of perspective.

Chair: And that is why you are of great help to us.

Lord Jay: The only other thing that I would say, in case you are going to ask any questions about the relationship with DFID, is that I chair a medical aid charity called Merlin, which receives money from DFID. I should declare that as an interest straight away.

Q36 Chair: We are going to ask you questions about DFID later on.

I read a report that someone said that the Foreign Office "has probably changed more during Michael Jay’s five years as Permanent Under-Secretary than in the previous 30 years." That is quite something to have said about you. Looking at the Foreign Office now and when you left it, and remembering when you joined it, how has the situation changed? How has it changed since you retired in 2006?

Lord Jay: I am less able to talk about how it has changed since I retired. There is a continuum, as there often is. There was a time, 20 years ago or so, when the Foreign Office had an almost unique expertise in abroad, when other Departments did not deal with abroad so much, except for one or two-the Foreign Office did. The Foreign Office represented them, in a sense.

The work of virtually every Department now has a lot of "foreign policy" in it, whether to deal with the European Union or with other international issues. It took the Foreign Office a bit of time to recognise that that meant that its role would have to evolve fundamentally in order to respond to changes in Whitehall that were reflecting the way in which the world was changing.

When I was Permanent Under-Secretary, I tried to get the Foreign Office to change to reflect those changes. That essentially meant getting our embassies abroad to see themselves as servicing Whitehall and not the Foreign Office. It also meant getting the Foreign Office to see itself as having a role in helping the rest of Whitehall to deal with a lot of issues in which the Foreign Office had some expertise, such as languages, dealing with abroad and understanding cultures. We made some progress on that; you never make enough, and we got some things wrong, but that was what I was trying to do.

Q37 Rory Stewart: Lord Jay, what are the big factors that will drive the relevance of the Foreign Office? What things are going to determine, over the next 10 or 20 years, whether it will be able to be a big Department of State or a minor player?

Lord Jay: When you are talking about the Foreign Office, you need to distinguish whether you are talking about the people who are in London at the time, or embassies and high commissions abroad as well. If you are talking about embassies and high commissions abroad, there is always going to be a need for Britain to have representation in the key countries that affect our interests. We need people there who understand those countries, who understand British interests and who are capable of interpreting one to the other.

Those people will no longer be, for the large part, all Foreign Office, as they were, say, 20 years ago. A large or even medium-sized embassy is now a mini-Whitehall. You have a dozen departments, all reporting directly back to their Department in London-that’s the way the world is. The role of the Foreign Office in an embassy is to make certain that the ambassador or high commissioner-who will normally be from the Foreign Office, but does not have to be-has overall control over the whole operation, whether or not that involves reporting back to the Foreign Office.

In a well run embassy or high commission abroad now, you often have a far more joined-up approach to Government policy than you do in London. You have eight or 10 departments working very closely together, seeing each other all the time and talking to each other under the control of an ambassador or a high commissioner. So there is no question at all but that embassies and high commissions will have a crucial role for as far as we can see.

The interesting question is, "What is the role of the Foreign Office in London?" There are some issues in which the Foreign Office will always have a prime interest: it will always be the leading Department on aspects of foreign policy; it will work with the Ministry of Defence on aspects of defence policy; and it will have an understanding of the countries that other Departments need to deal with, which gives it a role to play in explaining to them how to do business and working with other Departments. There is a clear role for embassies, and there is an important role-but not the traditional role- for the Foreign Office in London.

Q38 Rory Stewart: There has been a very dramatic and quite brave push over the past 10 years to take the Foreign Office in a more managerial, administrative, professional direction. There are many good things about that, which you discussed, but are there any areas, looking back, where we went a little bit too far? Are there any ways in which one could swing the pendulum back? Are there any ways in which that revolution may be dangerous?

Lord Jay: I am now on the board of various companies, and I work with non-governmental organisations. The idea that you can distinguish between administration and policy, or management and policy, seems to me to be quite wrong. To be able to deliver a particular objective, you need to have an organisation that is designed to do that. What I found, when I took over at the Foreign Office, was that that was not fully recognised.

Q39 Rory Stewart: Just to interrupt for a second. I fully understand that you did an amazing job, but what might be the downsides of what you did?

Lord Jay: The downside is that if you concentrate too much on that, you are not concentrating enough on the big policy issues. Getting the balance right between the two is never going to be straightforward.

Q40 Rory Stewart: Are there structural things that we could do which would ensure that we mitigated those downsides? Are there structural changes that the Foreign Office could introduce to make sure that it did not go too far in that direction?

Lord Jay: I am not sure they are structural changes. It is making certain that the individuals concerned are fully aware of those. There are structural changes in the sense that the Foreign Office needs to-I am not sure that they are structural changes-be working closely with other Departments, to ensure that there is a proper joined-up approach. That can be done partly through bilateral talks.

We had regular talks between the top echelons of the Foreign Office and the chiefs of staff, with the Home Office, DFID, the Treasury and other Departments, to make certain that there were constant discussions. I am sure that they still go on. That is one way in which you can focus on the big policy issues and not focus too much on the management.

The idea that there is a management and that there is a policy and that the two are somehow separate is misguided. It is as misguided in Government as it is in business or anywhere else. The two have to go together, and sometimes they get out of kilter.

Q41 Mike Gapes: May I ask you about the impact of the establishment of the National Security Council? It was established after your time, and it builds on developments that came in from 2007 under the previous Government. What are the implications for the FCO of having a National Security Council?

Lord Jay: I think that it is a positive thing to do, with one proviso. First, it has to have an effective head, as it has at the moment. That head has to report to the Prime Minister, and be seen to report to the Prime Minister. It will only work if the rest of Whitehall sees this as an organisation that is driven by the Prime Minister, and that somebody who has the Prime Minister’s confidence is running it. That will give it authority with the rest of Whitehall. That is a pre-condition for it working.

As far as the Foreign Office is concerned, it makes certain that foreign policy issues are at the centre of the work of the NSC. One other thing, which I think is terribly important and which we certainly had not got right when I was in the Foreign Office, is that there was always a temptation to see policy on the one hand and money on the other. You would agree on a policy which might well involve the Foreign Office as an essential supporter of the policy in Afghanistan, but you did not get the money for it.

The MOD would get the money, and the Foreign Office would not get the money, and you had to close posts in some parts of the world to support the effort in Afghanistan. One thing that the NSC could do is to make certain that when it is focusing on what foreign or defence policy issues are, you have proper joined-up money and joined-up management, as well as having an agreed policy. That would be an advance for the Foreign Office, I would have thought.

Q42 Mike Gapes: If there had been an NSC in your period, you would have been very positive about it?

Lord Jay: Yes, I would have been positive about it, particularly if it had been led by someone from the Foreign Office.

Q43 Mike Gapes: Would you have been positive about it if your predecessor had had the job? I am thinking in terms of the structure and relationship.

Lord Jay: Is that an ad hominem question, or is it a general question?

Q44 Mike Gapes: No, it is an organisational question. Clearly, Peter Ricketts has experience of the FCO, but is it helpful to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office because the previous Permanent Secretary is then in this leading role within the National Security Council?

Lord Jay: I think it is an extra advantage if it is somebody from the Foreign Office who is there. But the idea that, when you are in a job as important as that, you only look after the interests of your own Department is false. A good civil servant is going to see his or her role in working for the Prime Minister as successful or not in so far as the whole of Whitehall is behind him.

Q45 Mike Gapes: But is it not true that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s influence is improved and increased in the Government as a whole, collectively, because of the fact that, as you said, the person who is doing the job is of a particular quality?

Lord Jay: Yes, I think it certainly helps the Foreign Office that that is the case, but I do not think it is a precondition. I worked for Tony Blair as his personal representative-his sherpa-for the G8. It helped the Foreign Office that I was doing that, but the importance of the job was not because I was in the Foreign Office, but because I was working for the Prime Minister and was seen to have the Prime Minister’s confidence. Other Departments recognised that and responded accordingly. The key factor is that the person who is doing the job has the Prime Minister’s confidence and is seen to be working for him. That seems to me to be the chain of command that is important, as other Departments will see that this is an organisation that they have to take seriously. If he becomes another senior official in the Cabinet Office without the Prime Minister’s confidence, other Departments are going to say, "Well, we’ll do our own stuff."

Q46 Mike Gapes: It has been suggested by Lord Owen that the NSC should be placed on a permanent, statutory basis, so that it becomes, in effect, like in the United States; Lord Hennessy gave us evidence on that just now. Do you think that there is an argument for that or is it too early to make that judgment?

Lord Jay: I think that there is an argument for it; I am not sure that I would share it. It is certainly too early to advance it, because we need to see how it works.

Q47 Mr Baron: Lord Jay, there is a view that we can express optimism about the NSC, strategy and so on. However, there is a concern that the dynamics of our foreign policy could be influenced more by the bureaucracy and the political drivers spawned by the NSS and SDSR, if you like, than by a cool assessment of our foreign policy requirements by the Foreign Office. Do you think there is any validity in those concerns?

Lord Jay: I wouldn’t have thought so. I would have thought that the NSC is going to depend very heavily on advice from the Foreign Office about what the foreign policy implications of a particular course of action are. I hope that the Foreign Office would provide good, well-argued advice, drawn from the experience of its embassies abroad, and the people who had worked on whatever issue was being discussed.

Q48 Mr Baron: You don’t see anything in that?

Lord Jay: I don’t see that.

Q49 Mr Baron: Do you think that there could be any financial mismatch, in the sense that you have these structures in place now, which will have financial implications? Do you see any sort of imbalance between our foreign policy objectives and the finances attributed to those?

Lord Jay: No; as I said just now to Mr Gapes, I would hope very much that one advantage of having a National Security Council is that it is going to ensure that finances are considered as part of the foreign policy-that the policy that it recommends, advocates and encourages others to adopt carries with it the necessary financial support. One of the things that has quite often gone wrong in the past is that we have had the policies and each Department has then had to fight separately with the Treasury to get the money. That has meant that there have been divided efforts, which has been quite harmful.

Q50 Mr Baron: As the Permanent Secretary who oversaw the development of the FCO’s first formal set of strategic priorities, what benefit do you think they have brought to the Department?

Lord Jay: I think they have shown the Department that there are certain strategic priorities which are key ones. What they have ensured is that the Foreign Office structures begin to follow the priorities, and that you are putting your resources where your priorities are. There was huge resistance to having a set of priorities. Of course, those who were the priorities rather liked it; those who were not the priorities thought that it was extremely unhelpful. In a sense, to them it was unhelpful, because it meant that certain parts of the Foreign Office’s operations were less important than others. Any organisation has to be fairly clear about what its priorities are. In retrospect, we had too many priorities in the first strategy that we produced. I think that they have been reduced since, and I think that that was right. I do not think that we could have had fewer than we had to start with, because even having them at all is quite a struggle. But I do think that they’re necessary.

Q51 Mr Ainsworth: In your time, in cross-departmental working, what were the difficulties that you encountered?

Lord Jay: The difficulties were partly genuine policy differences between Departments on some issues. There were some issues with the Home Office-differences over migration policy, for example. Sometimes the difficulties were to do with personalities, although there were probably far fewer problems with personalities than there had been in the past, simply because people worked together more often. Oddly enough, when I look back on it I don’t think of the difficulties, I think of the advantages of working together.

Q52 Mr Ainsworth: I am not so sure that those cross-departmental areas of work get the priority that the core departmental areas get. Don’t you think that that’s a problem with our system? To some extent we work in Government in silos.

Lord Jay: There’s a genuine difficulty here. A Government have to work in silos; you have to have different sorts of operations. I don’t know whether we’ll come on to this, but apart from the NSC, which I think is quite small and well organised, I’m very much against tinkering around with the structure of Government to reflect a particular interest, because that tends to be time-consuming, and it tends to take people’s attention away from other issues, and it doesn’t tend to last.

Yes, there are silos, but it has to be understood that there is a common objective, which, say, the MOD and the FCO are both advancing. That wasn’t always straightforward; there were differences at times. But it was much better because we had regular meetings with the chiefs of staff, I would see the Permanent Secretary regularly, and Ministers would meet.

Q53 Mr Ainsworth: So there are no real recommendations for change there from you.

Lord Jay: I think that the NSC is a real help there. There certainly is a need for some kind of comparatively light mechanism, but strongly supported by the Prime Minister, which can focus on potential difficulties between Departments and try to resolve them before they become really serious. I think that this mechanism is really worth a try. I don’t know whether it’s going to work. I think it’s got a good chance of working and I think it is better than Departments having just bilateral contacts with each other.

Q54 Mr Ainsworth: I thought that there were real problems in areas such as conflict prevention, or where you’ve got DFID with a big budget-or a relatively big budget-and the MOD with a big budget, and the FCO with a fairly small budget but trying to bend the other Departments to their will and probably struggling to do so.

Lord Jay: Yes, I think there were difficulties there; you’re right. That is one area that was never satisfactorily resolved while I was there. This comes back to what we were saying earlier, that the NSC can have a role in areas such as that, and in ensuring that the budget follows the policy. What we were tending to do was to decide the policy and then have the arguments about the money. That does not seem to me to be a sensible way to go about Government business.

Q55 Mr Ainsworth: The Foreign Secretary said something about the FCO’s job of getting everyone working together on Britain’s vital interests and everything else, and yet there seems to be this tension, with people repeatedly saying, "Well, the NSC will do that, effectively." So, what’s left for the Foreign Office to do if the NSC is going to be the glue between the Departments?

Lord Jay: Well, the NSC is concerned with making certain that security policy is better co-ordinated. The Foreign Office does a huge amount more than that, with its work on trade, on promoting Britain’s commercial and industrial interests, and on issues such as climate change. Those sorts of things are at the heart of what many embassies do. They are the areas in which the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary above it have an important role, both in leading the Foreign Office and in co-ordinating the rest of Whitehall. Security issues have been quite important recently, and it is good to have a National Security Council doing that.

Q56 Mr Ainsworth: What is the unique thing that the FCO brings to Government that they want? What does the FCO do for the Government that no one else can do or get done?

Lord Jay: It is thinking all the time about its focus and raison d’être, which is what is happening abroad, and how to promote British interests there-what’s going on and where our interests are-and advancing them in those areas where it has unique authority, but I also see it as much more obviously servicing other Government Departments and helping them.

When I was at the Foreign Office, people would ring up and say that they had a really difficult issue with something in Latin America, and ask us how to go about it. We might say that we knew a bit about Bolivia, Peru and Chile because we had people there who speak the language and understand the Governments. It acts as a support mechanism for other Government Departments. I don’t want to belittle that, because it is rather important, but it means that you help to get a more combined and coherent overall Government approach to issues than if each Department acts alone. I think there is a real role there.

Q57 Sir Menzies Campbell: To pick up on that, from your previous analysis, you would not want the role to be confined to facilitating, but you’d expect it to combine both leadership and facilitating.

Lord Jay: Yes. I think the embassy leads, and the Foreign Office can help to facilitate, so you need to do both. When I was in Paris earlier on as a financial counsellor, there were some quite difficult issues dealing with Treasury matters, and the future of economic and monetary union and so on. The Foreign Office didn’t have, and couldn’t be expected to have real expertise, but it could say, "These are the people you really need to talk to in Paris. Don’t go and talk to your opposite number in the Treasury because he won’t be the person who makes the decisions on EMU. This person sitting in the Elysée, whom we know quite well, will actually make the decisions. He’s the person you need to see." It’s providing that understanding of how a foreign Government works, and then being able to draw the conclusions of that for the advancement of our own policy. That, I think, is a real role that an embassy can have, and only people who are living in the country, who speak the language, and who are talking day by day to the key people can really do that.

Q58 Sir Menzies Campbell: Without abusing the language too much, it’s a form of intelligence gathering, with the ability to make that intelligence available to any other Department of Government that finds itself engaged with a particular country.

Lord Jay: Yes it is. That is exactly right, and that is why there was still-perhaps there isn’t any longer-a little way to go in getting the Foreign Office to recognise that that is its crucial role. It shouldn’t worry about the fact that someone else might be having the conversation. If the conversation goes well because of the advice the Foreign Office has given as to how it should take place, that is a great success for the Foreign Office, and we have all benefited.

Q59 Sir Menzies Campbell: Could I take you back to the question of the split between policy and funding? You were perhaps discreet, but you said that it created some difficulties with the Treasury. The impression an outsider got on certain occasions, particularly on issues such as defence, was that in recent years the Treasury’s function became almost not policy-creating, but policy-limiting in the sense that there were divisions in the units in the Treasury who seemed to think they knew as much about defence as the Ministry of Defence itself. If that impression of mine and of others was true, it must inevitably have made for conflict, mustn’t it?

Lord Jay: In a sense, because that is partly the nature of the relationship; the Treasury’s role in Government is, on the whole, to constrain expenditure or to make sure that only really necessary expenditure is made. Other Government Departments will inevitably want to spend more money than is available. But it seems to me that you need some mechanism to ensure that those differences are worked out and resolved before the policy is decided, because if they are worked out after the policy is decided, you’ll get a policy that has been stated and announced, without the money then to make it work. Then you have the worst of all worlds. That is where I think the NSC may have a role-in getting those discussions about money and funding and policy together at an earlier stage than has been the case in the past when, clearly, it has sometimes been wrong.

Q60 Sir Menzies Campbell: In your period as head of the Foreign Office, can you think of any occasion that illustrates that?

Lord Jay: Early on in Afghanistan, when I was involved there, there was a large military operation and a requirement for the Foreign Office to send political advisers down to Kandahar and elsewhere, in order to support the military operation. We didn’t have the money for that, so we ended up having to cut posts elsewhere in the world-in Africa and so on-in order to support what was going on in Afghanistan. It was right to support what was going on in Afghanistan, but there should have been a discussion at the time the policy was being advanced as to how it was going to be funded. If there were going to be implications of that funding, that should have been clearer in advance, and not the consequence of something forced on us afterwards.

Q61 Sir Menzies Campbell: Just to sum up, you see the role of the National Security Council in financial matters as being absolutely crucial to its success.

Lord Jay: I do, yes. My own experience of Government is that it is easier to ensure that you have a joined-up policy than it is to ensure that you have the funds to support that.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Joined-up money.

Lord Jay: Joined-up money. That is a very difficult task, but if the National Security Council can do that, it will have made a real advance.

Q62 Rory Stewart: I want to follow on from Sir Ming’s distinction between a sort of technocratic facilitation and leadership. Surely there is another role of the Foreign Office that you haven’t been talking about, which may be apparent in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the role of the Foreign Office is not just that of intelligent facilitator but rather to challenge Government policy and say, "We know more, we understand the situation. It’s not going to work; don’t go in there." Have the reforms of the last five years given the Foreign Office the knowledge, power, will and legitimacy to challenge the Government when they do things that are unwise?

Lord Jay: I think it does do that. I think two things have happened. First, technology has changed hugely. When I was there, the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary-often the Prime Minister-would be on the phone to our ambassadors in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere.

Rory Stewart: This is about before you invade, not after you’ve invaded-questioning the overall decision to invade.

Lord Jay: I am sorry; I am not talking just about invasions. Yes, I think it should do that.

Q63 Rory Stewart: How did it fail to do that?

Lord Jay: Well, if you are talking about Iraq, I’ve given evidence to the Iraq inquiry about all those issues. It did give its advice on Iraq from embassies in the region and from the Foreign Office in London. The decisions on Iraq were made at No. 10 by the Prime Minister. Leaving that aside, the Foreign Office has a crucial role in making certain that all the considerations are taken into account before there is a major change in foreign policy.

Q64 Mr Ainsworth: May I ask you to think about the response that you gave to Ming about making sure the money fits? When there is a war on, people have to respond, don’t they? It isn’t good enough for a Department of State, whether the Foreign Office or parts of the MOD, to say, "Well, we ought to be allowed to just get on with our job, despite the fact that there is a great emergency." Surely we have to expect that we will stop doing things and close things down in order to respond to the needs of the hour.

Lord Jay: Yes.

Q65 Mr Ainsworth: What came through a little bit in your response was that that ought to be thought about. We ought to be allowed to carry on doing the things we have done before despite the fact that-

Lord Jay: No; that is not what I was trying to say at all. Of course there will be implications, particularly if funds are scarce as they are now. If there is a new foreign policy priority or defence priority, that will take funds from elsewhere, but it seems to me that it needs to be part of a decision on a new foreign policy initiative, whether or not it is a military initiative. You can say, "Look, we are going to do this and there are very good reasons, but it will have consequences", rather than let those consequences just emerge later on without having been thought through. That is the point I was trying to make. It is very important for those bits of the Government machine-say the Foreign Office-which will be cut as a result, to know that has been taken into account and that is a consequence of it. Then it is easier to implement.

Q66 Mr Ainsworth: Do you think you always can?

Lord Jay: Not always, but you can have a go.

Q67 Mr Ainsworth: The needs of the hour say that people have to respond, don’t they?

Lord Jay: Yes they do; of course they do, but I really do think that, as any business does, when you are deciding to do something new for extremely good reasons, and it is expensive, you have to say to yourself, "Have we got that money? If we haven’t got that money, what are we going to cut to enable this to happen?" That needs to be part of the decision you make, not left to be swept up afterwards without its having been considered first. That is a good question to ask the NSC, but I would hope that it is the sort of question that the NSC would follow.

Q68 Mike Gapes: Can I take you back to when you began an answer to Rory? What you said about the Prime Minister being on the phone to the ambassador to Iraq was interesting. In your time in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was there a marked increase in the number of occasions when the Prime Minister would directly communicate with ambassadors, rather than going through the Foreign Secretary and the FCO?

Lord Jay: I think it grew as I was there. Yes, it was increasing.

Q69 Mike Gapes: Do you think that has always been the case? Is it something that has been developing over 20 years or 10 years, or it is a phenomenon of the last 10 years?

Lord Jay: I don’t think it’s a phenomenon linked to any one particular Prime Minister. It is a consequence of technological change, the speed at which decisions have to be taken and the way in which people operate now. They get on the telephone and talk; they are not waiting for the telegram to come in or be submitted. They are doing it on the spot.

Q70 Mike Gapes: So it is not related to the fact that if the Prime Minister has a powerful majority and decides to have a foreign policy adviser with real status, there is a trend away from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office being central and No. 10 becomes the dominant driver of foreign policy.

Lord Jay: I think No. 10 tends to become the driver of foreign policy when there is conflict. If you look back at the second world war or Suez-which was clearly a mistake-or the Falklands or Iraq, where there is conflict, the Prime Minister tends to take control. I don’t think that is a particularly Afghanistan or Iraq-related function. I was in the Foreign Office at the time of Falklands war and I have never known a time when No. 10 had such clear authority over aspects of foreign policy as then.

Q71 Mr Baron: Can I take you back, Lord Jay, to when you were in the Foreign Office? I am asking these questions because there are perhaps lessons to be learned going forward. When it came to the lead-up to the Iraq war, from the evidence I have seen, the Foreign Office advised caution, but we had a Prime Minister who was determined to lead us to war. Do you now regret the role of special advisers within the Foreign Office, particularly a unit called the CIS, which was there trying to make the case for war?

Lord Jay: I’m afraid that I don’t remember the CIS.

Q72 Mr Baron: That came out by way of an FOI request, which was then redacted. Apparently, there was this operation within the Foreign Office, led by a chap called Williams, who apparently wrote the first draft of the dossier-not the dodgy one, the one that we were called back in September to debate-which was signed off by John Scarlett. The impression was created that we had special advisers almost at a tangent to what the Foreign Office was advising, promoting the case for war at the time. Do you think that is an accurate description?

Lord Jay: No; it’s not my recollection of how things were. There was a very powerful drive from No. 10. The Foreign Office was giving its advice. John Williams was head of the news department-he was not a special adviser; he was an outside appointment.

Q73 Mr Baron: My understanding is that he was part of the press make-up of the FCO.

Lord Jay: He was head of the Foreign Office news department.

Q74 Mr Ainsworth: He was a civil servant?

Lord Jay: He was a civil servant, but he was brought in from outside at the beginning, I think-certainly before I joined.

Q75 Mr Baron: But do you regret the role that, perhaps, certain individuals-whether special advisers or civil servants, perhaps acting within the FCO but certainly not reflecting its views-had in the run-up to the war?

Chair: I think that this question should be phrased in the terms of the inquiry-address it in general terms.

Mr Baron: I am thinking of lessons going forward. Unless we believe that there will be no wars going forward, lessons could be learnt from looking back at this episode.

Lord Jay: That is why we are having the Iraq inquiry. Of course there are lessons to be learnt. I have certainly been in favour of having an inquiry into Iraq. I think if ever you have anything as serious as the war in Iraq, you need to have a proper look at what the lessons are. I have no doubt about that.

Chair: Let’s turn to DFID.

Q76 Ann Clwyd: I don’t know whether I should admit this before I hear the answer to the question, but in opposition I made the case for the split between the FCO and DFID. I wondered whether, in retrospect, you thought that the separation has been to the benefit of the FCO’s international policy or not?

Lord Jay: It’s a very well phrased question. The answer is that I’m not sure it has always been to the benefit, but I would not want to go back to having a joined-up Ministry. I worked in what was the Ministry for Overseas Development-when it was separate and when it was part of the Foreign Office-and I worked in the Foreign Office when it had a separate DFID.

DFID and the Foreign Office do different things. They have different time horizons; they have different skill sets, and I do not think that DFID should be part of the Foreign Office. I think that it should be a separate operation and, over the past 10 years, it has done a fantastically good job.

I think that DFID needs to work more closely with the Foreign Office from time to time. There have been times when it has got too divorced and seen itself, almost, as a kind of non-governmental organisation that needn’t respond to the way in which Departments expect it to, or should expect it to. It should remain separate, but it should have a much more coherent relationship with the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office than it has had sometimes in the past. But I think it would be a mistake to merge it back into the Foreign Office.

Q77 Ann Clwyd: There is a lot of frustration-I know it from Iraq-among the FCO people working there that DFID has got all the money. That is very frustrating if they would like to have some money to do something different from what DFID has been doing. I have to say that I have also seen waste of money-in publication of literature, for example, in the run-up to the first election, because not enough advice was taken from people who lived in the country and knew what was appropriate literature for people voting for the first time. I know that there is a lot of frustration among FCO people about what they saw as waste.

Lord Jay: I don’t know whether there is now. At times there was a great deal of frustration, about the huge size of the DFID budget compared with the Foreign Office budget, and about the tendency for DFID to operate, as I say, on its own.

I used to discuss this with Clare Short. I said, "Look, this is not the right way to go about it." We disagreed on that-she had her own view of how DFID should be operating. It is right that there should be a separate DFID, and it is right that it should have a substantial budget. That gives the UK a lot of clout in other areas, because we are seen to have a highly effective aid agency with a large budget. But I think it needs to work much more closely than was sometimes the case in the past with other Departments, and I hope that will happen now.

I also think that in the past we drew too-clear boundaries between what was aid money and what was foreign policy money. There are areas in between the two in which it is possible for a certain amount of DFID money to be used for things that are certainly in accordance with DFID’s priorities, but also reflect our foreign policy. It’s possible to do that more than was the case sometimes in the past. But I am not in favour of merging DFID back into the Foreign Office.

Q78 Chair: Following on from that, is there a case for DFID actually taking over some of the Foreign Office’s responsibilities? I have in mind some of the fragile states, where there is little by way of diplomatic effort but a major DFID initiative where it is the lead Department, or virtually. In an effort to avoid duplication and save money, could it take the lead in some areas?

Lord Jay: I don’t think it could easily. It’s very difficult to think of a country in which our interests are solely aid and not foreign policy. If you try to look at some of them now-

Chair: "Predominantly" is the word I would use.

Lord Jay: I recently visited South Sudan. Huge aid is required there; it is essentially an aid effort. The prospect of a referendum in the South on autonomy from the North is something about which it seems to me there needs to be advice from Foreign Office people-on what the implications are and what our response should be.

In Liberia, to take another example, we have a tiny embassy. With the Ivory Coast now in some turmoil, again you need to have people there who are giving advice on the foreign policy implications, not just the aid. That doesn’t mean to say that you couldn’t have a DFID person who was running an embassy there, who was largely doing aid administration, but he or she would also need to be thinking quite hard about what the foreign policy implications were of what was going on in that country and reporting back to the Foreign Office on it. I don’t think you are ever going to get a complete division between the two.

Q79 Andrew Rosindell: Following on from that, Lord Jay, we have the British Council, DFID and the Foreign Office. In many places we have three different institutions operating separately, with residences, offices and infrastructure. Do you not feel that in terms of both cost-effectiveness and operational effectiveness, while they should remain independent as separate organisations, there should be much more integration-working together and sharing facilities-rather than the expensive situation we have at the moment?

Lord Jay: Yes, absolutely. I completely agree with that. When you go to Nepal and have an embassy in one part of town and a large DFID operation in another part of town, it is quite difficult for one to get to the other.

Q80 Andrew Rosindell: And the British Council, too.

Lord Jay: And the British Council, too. I don’t think that makes any sense at all. We need to think about a British Government office and a British Government presence. In terms of security, it makes much more sense to have it in one place. I completely agree with that.

Q81 Mike Gapes: Taking up your point about DFID’s role, certainly in the previous Committee, we sometimes felt that two foreign policies were operating. In Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, the footprint of the FCO was rather limited. There were other countries where DFID was, but the FCO was not.

There were other examples of countries like Kurdistan where we did not have an embassy, but DFID had a limited role at some point. You said, interestingly, that you could envisage a situation when an embassy could have a DFID person; in effect, you would have an ambassador-level person who was actually DFID rather than being a traditional FCO diplomat.

Lord Jay: I think that you could have that. If you had a country in which, say, 80% of the work was managing an aid programme, but there was a need for 20% of the embassy’s work to be reporting back on political developments there and whether the country was stable, I do not see why you should not have a DFID person as ambassador with a deputy who came from the Foreign Office, who was doing foreign policy things. I cannot see why that could not happen.

Q82 Mike Gapes: Can I take you a step further? Isn’t there a case then to revisit the ideas of the Berrill report from the 1970s, about potentially having people from other Government Departments and a cross-fertilisation, whether they come from the Home Office or from business? After all, the Permanent Secretary now is a man who has never been an ambassador and has come from a trade background.

Lord Jay: Well, he spent most of his career in foreign policy or in Brussels, it’s true.

Q83 Mike Gapes: Isn’t there an argument that we should have more?

Lord Jay: There is certainly an argument. You need the best person for the job and the best person need not always be from the Foreign Office. There have been examples. Alex Allan was in Australia. He came to the Treasury, No. 10 and then went to be High Commissioner in Australia. There are examples and I cannot see any reason why that should not happen more often.

Q84 Mike Gapes: Would that involve a complete rethink of the way in which our diplomatic service is constituted?

Lord Jay: No, I don’t think so. I think you would be appointing as ambassador somebody who had come from another part of Whitehall. It would almost certainly be somebody who had, I would think, worked abroad before, because you want someone-if they are going to be ambassador somewhere-who has had experience of working abroad, ideally in the country concerned. If you had somebody from the Department-what is it called?

Mike Gapes: BIS.

Lord Jay: Who worked as a trade representative in Brazil, was then very keen to go back as ambassador and applied, I can’t see any reason why he or she shouldn’t be chosen. But I don’t think that would change the person and the profile of the person. I don’t think it would change the nature of the job.

Q85 Mr Watts: Given the time, Lord Jay, I will put two questions to you if I can. The first one relates to the Government’s proposals to put more emphasis on the idea of people who work for the FCO being stationed out abroad rather than in London, and whether you think that that’s the right emphasis, or whether there needs to be a balance and what that balance is. The second is about the Cabinet role in setting policy for the EU and whether you feel that that is a positive thing or a negative thing, or whether you think it actually means any change of goal for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Lord Jay: On the first point, I don’t have strong views on that. You need people who have had experience abroad and you need people who have experience in London. The risk of having people who spend too much time abroad is that they then lose contact with the political developments and the scene in London. That is a risk and I have to say that when I was head of the Foreign Office there were some ambassadors who I felt could have done with a rather swift reappraisal of some of the realities of life as seen from London.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Name names.

Lord Jay: No; not in this room, anyway.

Q86 Mike Gapes: You mean they’d gone native?

Lord Jay: Yes. But on the other hand, it is hugely important to have people who have real experience. When you have somebody who is ambassador, say, in Beijing or Saudi Arabia who is there for the third time-who really understands the way in which the country has evolved, who knows the people, can talk to them in their own language with a knowledge of where they have come from and what they have done earlier on in their life-that makes it much easier to get under the skin of a country to get to know the key people and to report that back. Then you are in a very good position to advise the person from the Department of Trade, the Treasury or whoever it is on how to go about it. I think that is necessary. Whether you need more than you’ve got now, I’m honestly not sure. But I may be a bit out of date on that.

On the question about the EU-I worked on it for a time in the European secretariat in the Cabinet Office-there has for quite a long time been a well organised secretariat in the Cabinet Office which draws together EU policy. That is necessary because the Prime Minister goes to European Councils and represents Britain there and needs to have constant support on EU issues. The key relationship, however, is always and should be with the Foreign Office. It is the Foreign Secretary who goes to the Foreign Affairs Council, which is the second most important Council. They have to work closely together. If they don’t work closely together, as sometimes happens, that secretariat has a crucially important role. I think there will always need to be-in a sense-a sort of an equivalent of NSC in the Cabinet Office pulling together European policy. Earlier on, it had the extra advantage that there were some Government Departments-the Home Office was one some time ago-that hadn’t really had experience of much EU business. There was almost an educational function in saying, "This is how it works; these are the sorts of considerations you need to bear in mind." That is the case much less now, because everybody does it.

Q87 Mr Watts: You said that the Cabinet Office has developed that over the years. Has the structure of the Commonwealth Office developed with that? Is there a structural-

Lord Jay: It is an interesting question. There was a time when the Foreign Office tried to duplicate everything that the rest of Whitehall did; it can’t do that any longer. It has to focus on the EU issues that are central to the Foreign Office: foreign policy issues and, in particular and increasingly, defence issues-the ones where there is a clear foreign policy issue. It seems to me that the Foreign Office cannot any longer attempt to second-guess what DEFRA is doing on the common agricultural policy. It has to allow that to be done by the DEFRA people and by that Council, but it is very important that there is a unit in the Cabinet Office pulling all of it together and seeing what the implications are.

Q88 Chair: Would you have been able to run the Foreign Office in your day with the resources that are made available now?

Lord Jay: Yes, you can-

Q89 Chair: Do you think it’s going to have an impact on the effectiveness of the Foreign Office?

Lord Jay: I think it’s bound to have an impact on the effectiveness. If I understand the scale of the cuts that are proposed, they are not going to be painless. There will need to be, I suspect, more than just tinkering around the edges; there will have to be decisions on what doesn’t get done anymore and decisions on doing things in different ways. I am quite confident myself that, even with the cuts envisaged, you can have a really efficient Foreign Office working very closely with the rest of Whitehall and-this is the crucial thing-have embassies abroad, which are representatives of the Government as a whole. I think that is possible within the cuts envisaged, but I don’t think it is going to be easy.

Chair: On that note, we end. Thank you very much indeed. We’ve had the benefit of a lifetime of experience in the past hour, if I may say so. It is really appreciated.