The Role of the FCO in UK Government - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  The Government has announced its intention of reshaping the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). In his first major speech as Foreign Secretary, in July 2010, Rt Hon William Hague MP said that the Government had a "new approach" to the FCO. He has said that he considers it "part of [his] responsibilities as Foreign Secretary to foster a Foreign Office that is a strong institution for the future",[1] and that he is determined to "place the Foreign Office back at the centre of Government".[2] In other words, the Foreign Secretary has made institutional change at his department one of his priorities in office.

2.  Mr Hague's statements of ambition for the FCO came after a number of years marked by public expressions of concern about the condition of the department, by senior former diplomats and ministers and independent observers. The Foreign Affairs Committee in the last Parliament considered such concerns on a number of occasions, in its series of inquiries into FCO annual departmental reports.[3] In its last such Report, in March 2010, our predecessors concluded that there "continues to be a vital need for the FCO [...] to carry out its traditional functions", but recommended that after the General Election the Government carry out "a comprehensive foreign policy-led review of the structures, functions and priorities of the FCO, MOD [Ministry of Defence] and DFID [Department for International Development]".[4]

3.  Discussion of the state of the FCO has been taking place against the background of an international debate among academics and practitioners about the continued role and relevance of foreign ministries and the diplomacy they have traditionally practised. There is a widespread view that changes to the international policy environment pose significant challenges to the way in which diplomats and foreign ministries in the developed world have traditionally worked.[5]

4.  The Foreign Secretary's plans for the FCO form part of a wider reform agenda for UK international policy-making set out by the Government. This agenda is centred on the creation of the National Security Council (NSC), under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, which met for the first time on the Government's first full day in office in May 2010 and has continued to meet weekly. One of the NSC's first major tasks was the elaboration of a new National Security Strategy (NSS) and the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The creation of the NSC represents the further elevation of a 'national security' perspective in UK policy-making, which forms part of the challenge to traditional notions of 'foreign' as opposed to 'domestic' affairs.

Our inquiry

5.  In July 2010, shortly after the Committee's membership was elected in the new Parliament, we decided to conduct an inquiry into The Role of the FCO in UK Government. We wished to scrutinise the steps taken by the Government with respect to the FCO as an institution, in the light of the concerns about the department raised in recent years. We decided that we could most sensibly conduct our inquiry after the Government had announced its new National Security Strategy (NSS), Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and medium-term Spending Review, in October 2010. In November 2010 we therefore announced the following terms of reference:

  • What is the FCO's role in UK Government? Given the policy framework established by the new National Security Strategy, the creation of the National Security Council and the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, what should the FCO's role now be, and how should the department relate to other parts of Government?
  • How should the Foreign Secretary's claim to be putting the FCO "back where it belongs at the centre of Government" be assessed?
  • Especially given the spending constraints set out in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, how—if at all—could the FCO better organise and utilise its financial and human resources so as to fulfil its role?
  • How does the FCO work across Whitehall? Are the FCO and its resources organised so as to facilitate cross-Government co-operation?
  • What should be the role of the FCO's network of overseas posts?
  • What is the FCO's role in explaining UK foreign policy to the British public?
  • What should be the FCO's role in relation to non-governmental organisations?
  • Given the new Government's emphasis on using the FCO to promote UK trade and economic recovery, how can the department best avoid potential conflicts between this task, support for human rights, and the pursuit of other Government objectives?

We added that we would "welcome submissions which address, in particular, the FCO's relationships with the Department for International Development, the Prime Minister's Office and the Cabinet Office (including the National Security Council); the role of the security services in relation to the FCO; and the FCO's role in the management and implementation of EU business for the UK Government".[6]

6.  Our inquiry focused on the FCO's policy role for the Government. We did not attempt to investigate in detail all areas of the department's work. We focused in particular on the ambitions expressed by the Foreign Secretary. The concerns about the FCO which had been voiced previously by commentators and former diplomats centred on the department's policy role, discussion of which also dominated the evidence we received. Areas of FCO work which we do not attempt to discuss in this Report, but which we may deal with in future inquiries, include consular services and immigration.

7.  We also chose to exclude from the scope of our Report a number of subjects we have dealt with in other Reports published in 2011. In particular, the present inquiry was able to build on the work we carried out in the first of our planned yearly inquiries into the FCO's annually reported corporate performance (a series which will continue our predecessor Committee's inquiries into FCO annual departmental reports). In our Report on FCO Performance and Finances, published in February 2011, we considered not only the FCO's 2009/10 financial and staffing position but also its Spending Review settlement for 2011-15, as announced in October 2010.[7] We considered issues relating to the British Council as part of that Report. In light of the cuts in services and staff at the BBC World Service which were announced at the end of January 2011, we carried out a short separate inquiry into the World Service, and published a Report on that subject in April 2011.[8] Finally, in a short Report on FCO Public Diplomacy: The Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012, published in February 2011, we briefly discussed the FCO's public diplomacy policy.[9] Given our comments in these three recent Reports, we did not tackle as part of the present Report the FCO's responsibilities for the British Council and World Service, or its wider public diplomacy role.

8.  Our inquiry has thrown up a number of issues which may merit more detailed investigation; we may return to them, as well as to the areas of FCO work we did not cover in this inquiry, later in this Parliament.

9.  We took oral evidence on The Role of the FCO in UK Government on five occasions. We heard from: the Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon William Hague MP, accompanied by the FCO's Permanent Under-Secretary since 2010, Simon Fraser CMG; Mr Hague's two most recent predecessors from the two major parties, Rt Hon David Miliband MP (Foreign Secretary in 2007-10) and Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG, QC, MP (1995-97); the National Security Adviser, Sir Peter Ricketts GCMG (who was FCO Permanent Under-Secretary during the period 2006-10); the FCO's Permanent Under-Secretary in 2002-06, Rt Hon the Lord Jay of Ewelme GCMG; the former senior diplomats Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG, former Ambassador to the UN, and Alastair Newton, former Director of UKTI USA (the latter now with Nomura International, although giving evidence in a private capacity); Professor the Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary, University of London; and, from the independent research and advisory sector, Alex Evans and David Steven of the Center on International Co-operation, New York University, who co-wrote a 2010 Chatham House report on UK international policy-making.[10]

10.  We received written evidence from 34 individuals and organisations, including: Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change; three further former Foreign Secretaries, Rt Hon the Lord Howe of Aberavon CH, QC, Rt Hon Lord Owen CH, and Rt Hon Jack Straw MP; a number of former senior diplomats, whose careers with the Foreign Office/FCO spanned the period from 1950 to 2007;[11] the City of London Corporation, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union; and a number of senior academics and think-tank researchers. We are pleased to have prompted such a collection of serious and wide-ranging contributions and to have been able to put them into the public domain. We would like to thank all our witnesses for giving us the benefit of their experience and views. We publish the written submissions received from witnesses who did not also give oral evidence in a 'virtual' second volume of our Report, available on the Committee's website.[12]

11.  We have also been able to draw on evidence received as part of our FCO Performance and Finances inquiry; and—although our focus here is on institutional matters rather than policy—our rolling inquiry into Developments in UK Foreign Policy, for which we have taken evidence from the Foreign Secretary twice to date, in September 2010 and March 2011. Aspects of our inquiry also overlapped with work undertaken recently by other parliamentary committees, most notably the Defence Committee's inquiries into the Strategic Defence and Security Review,[13] and the Public Administration Committee's 2010 inquiry Who does UK National Strategy?[14]

12.  We have been conscious that Sir John Chilcot is currently preparing his report on what is probably the most far-reaching UK foreign policy decision of recent times, that to take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Iraq Inquiry Report, which is expected later in 2011, may well have much to say which is relevant to the subject of our current Report.

13.  We finished taking evidence for our inquiry just before former President Mubarak resigned in Egypt on 11 February 2011 and the uprising broke out in Libya against the rule of Colonel Gaddafi. The wave of political instability and change in Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa has been widely seen as the new Government's first foreign policy crisis, and the decision to participate in international military action to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973 its most important foreign policy decision to date. Many further lessons will no doubt be drawn from the FCO's handling of the UK's response to these events.

14.  In the remainder of this Introduction, we outline the context for our consideration of the FCO's role. In Chapter 2, we consider the FCO's priorities as set out in formal Government statements and documents, including commercial work, human rights promotion, and the Overseas Territories. In Chapter 3, we assess the Foreign Secretary's aspirations for FCO foreign policy leadership, and identify in the process the department's core purpose for Government. We consider in that Chapter some implications of this purpose for the FCO's co-operation with other departments. In Chapter 4, we discuss the capabilities and assets that the FCO has available to carry out its role for the Government.



15.  It is unusual for a select committee to inquire into the basic purpose of the department it shadows. It may seem particularly unnecessary to query the purpose of the FCO, which is one of the 'great' departments of state and one of the most well-established elements in the Whitehall landscape. The then Foreign Office was established in 1782, along with the Home Office: among contemporary government departments only the Treasury is older. The FCO was formed in 1968 when the Commonwealth Office was merged with the former Foreign Office. Former Foreign Secretary Rt Hon Jack Straw MP told us that "stating 'the role of the FCO' [...] is very straightforward. [...] The FCO is there to represent the United Kingdom, its people, government, businesses and other institutions—and its values—in dealing with nations and peoples overseas".[15]

16.  Despite their typically long histories and apparently self-evident purpose, foreign ministries throughout the developed world face significant questions about their continued role, and challenges to their traditional ways of working.[16] The former Canadian diplomat Professor Daryl Copeland told us that "diplomacy, and its institutions and practices, have not adapted well to the challenges of globalisation", and "are going through a rough patch [al]most everywhere"; "foreign ministries", he said, "are underperforming and face a crisis of relevance and effectiveness".[17] The consultant Caterina Tully, former Strategy Project Director at the FCO, said that "many foreign ministries are wrestling with the issues and questions" raised in our inquiry.[18] She drew our attention—as did Alex Evans and David Steven—to the first United States Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), conducted under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the US State Department. This review, published in December 2010, represented a deliberate attempt to create in respect of the United States' civilian instruments of international policy a counterpart to the well-established US Quadrennial Defense Review.[19] Ms Tully noted that both the French and German governments had also been engaged with the issue of foreign ministry reform, and that innovations in this field had been introduced by Australia, Canada and Singapore, among others.[20]

17.  Traditionally, foreign ministries have dealt primarily with foreign governments, in private, and they have been the primary—if not exclusive—interface between their home government and 'abroad'. They have also focused on traditional national interests of sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic benefit.[21] In the contemporary world this model is being challenged in many ways. Caterina Tully summarised for us as follows the pressures confronting the FCO and other Western foreign ministries:

(a) New sets of policy challenges, often uncertain, diffuse and interlinked: these include complex, nonlinear systems of global and regional public goods (e.g. water, labour, food, energy and carbon security), new security challenges (in particular around radicalisation, early intervention and conflict prevention), and the interlinkages between economic and national security.

(b) A growth in the impact of different actors and evolving means of engagement and influence: not just the growth of BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] and other countries, but also regional and local actors (e.g. cities), high-net worth individuals, diaspora groups, state-owned and multinational businesses, civil society, etc.

(c) Changing and multiplying forms of governance within which to promote the UK's national interest: including the different 'G' groupings, ad hoc alliances, UN, revitalised regional bodies and the European Union, counting the External Action Service.[22]

18.  At least some of the challenges facing foreign ministries have been developing over decades, if not centuries. In his submission, Sir Peter Marshall KCMG, former UK Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, took a longer historical perspective than other witnesses and identified a number of factors which transformed diplomatic conditions in the 20th Century, including: the increase in cross-border activity and thus in diplomatic business; the rise of 'values' as well as interests in diplomatic affairs, as 'security' came to be conceived as an individual as well as national phenomenon; the rise in the number of diplomatic actors, both state and non-state; increased public involvement in diplomatic business, made ever-easier by technological change; and "the vanishing distinction between internal and external affairs, and of the hitherto clearly accepted difference between the two, above all in sovereignty and jurisdictional terms".[23]

The FCO in comparative perspective

19.  Caterina Tully summarised the FCO's contemporary position as follows:

The purpose of the FCO has become less clear as its traditional role and key asset—as gatekeeper and conduit of international interactions—has disappeared. The increased complexity of the environment, the increase in the number of its partners, the participation of domestic departments in international networks, the different potential entry points or ways it can make a difference, combined with a sharp reduction in resources, has meant that the FCO has had many focal points and spread its skills thinly. As a result, and despite various attempts to strategically sharpen it, the FCO's strategic purpose has become blurred and requires a gentle refocus.[24]

20.  The FCO has been acutely aware of the challenges to its purpose and operation in recent years. Sir Peter Marshall characterised the White Paper UK International Priorities: A Strategy for the FCO, published in December 2003 under Jack Straw as Foreign Secretary, as already encapsulating the scale of the "change of mindset required in the Diplomatic Service" in order to manage the changes in its external environment, after the end of the Cold War and the attacks of 11 September 2001.[25] David Miliband's 'strategy refresh' process, leading to the announcement of his Strategic Framework for the department in January 2008, was a response to a perceived need to rethink the FCO's role.[26] The most recent Cabinet Office Capability Review of the department, published in March 2009, said that the FCO "needs to continue to think radically about its place in a changing world".[27] Internally, the FCO has been engaged in a process of change virtually uninterrupted for the last 20 years.[28]

21.  Witnesses felt that, when viewed comparatively, the FCO and the UK Government remained among the world's most accomplished diplomatic operations. For example, working from his view that "all governments are incompetent in one way or another", Sir Jeremy Greenstock told us that "in terms of diplomacy [...] [he was] still to be convinced that there is a Government less incompetent than the British one".[29] Caterina Tully said that the UK Government and the FCO were "considered to be ahead of the curve by other governments in some areas, like public diplomacy and thought-leadership on new complex global challenges".[30] David Miliband told us that other foreign ministers "generally say" that they would like their foreign ministries to be like the UK's.[31] However, some witnesses suggested that the performance of the FCO relative to its 'competitors' had been slipping in recent years. For example, Charles Crawford CMG, former Ambassador to Warsaw, told us that "The last decade or so has seen a startling loss of quality within the FCO, a phenomenon noted by many foreign diplomats".[32]

22.  We asked the Foreign Secretary whether he was drawing on 'best practice' at other foreign ministries in his thinking about his department. He replied that the FCO was studying its French and German counterparts, although he noted that their different structures and cultures made it difficult to "cherry-pick" particular practices.[33]

23.  We conclude that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is not alone among foreign ministries in facing significant challenges to the way in which it has traditionally worked. Such challenges arise from changes in the nature of international government business and the international diplomatic, technological and political environment which are affecting foreign ministries throughout the developed world. However, the FCO should not forget that many of these challenges will continue to require deep geographic and language expertise if they are to be tackled effectively. We are pleased to note that our witnesses largely felt that the FCO remained among the world's most accomplished diplomatic operations. We welcome the Foreign Secretary's openness to learning from the practices of other foreign ministries. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the FCO indicate which features of which other foreign ministries—if any—might beneficially be adopted by the UK.


24.  Recent years have been marked by a wave of expressions of concern about the condition and position of the FCO, from senior former diplomats and ministers, as well as independent commentators. In the historical survey of the FCO's policy advisory role which he submitted to us, Sir Peter Marshall categorised what he called these "modern discontents" as:

  • "sofa diplomacy", i.e. the replacement of "orthodox diplomacy" conducted by the FCO by a variety conducted by "a small group of advisers in No 10";
  • "managerialism", in the shape of "the adoption by the FCO, in undiscriminating common with other Government departments, of management tools and practices in conditions which can be so utterly different"; and
  • the "hollowing-out" of the FCO, i.e. a decline in "the quality of advice offered" by the department.[34]

25.  All three of Sir Peter's "discontents" have featured among the recent expressions of concern surrounding the FCO. For example:

  • One of the most prominent attacks on the phenomena associated with "sofa diplomacy" was that made in 2006 by Sir Rodric Braithwaite, former Ambassador to Moscow and foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister John Major, who accused then-Prime Minister Tony Blair of having "reduced the Foreign Office to a demoralised cipher".[35]
  • The best-known critique of recent "managerialism" at the FCO was the leaked valedictory telegram of Sir Ivor Roberts, completing his term as Ambassador to Rome in 2006, who charged that "in wading through the [...] excrescences of the management age, we have [...] forgotten what diplomacy is all about".[36]
  • The charge of "hollowing-out" at the FCO was made by former Foreign Secretary Lord Hurd of Westwell in a widely-noted contribution in the House of Lords in February 2009. Lord Hurd contended that the FCO was "ceasing to be a storehouse of knowledge providing valued advice to ministers".[37]

In its last Report on an FCO annual departmental report, in March 2010, our predecessor Committee reviewed these and other public concerns about the FCO that had been voiced as of that date, including also by Sir Christopher Meyer, former Ambassador to Washington, and former FCO Minister Lord Malloch-Brown.[38] The Committee concluded that it was "incongruous that the position of the only government department with a global reach [was] threatened with erosion at a time when globalisation is acknowledged as the key phenomenon of our times".[39] We consider each of Sir Peter's three "discontents"—the relationship with No. 10, managerialism, and the quality of FCO foreign policy expertise—further in our present Report.


26.  The scale and quality of the FCO's activities are determined, at least in part, by how much funding it receives. By the standards of departmental budgets, the FCO's is small: an annual £2.35 billion in 2009-10, or roughly 0.65% of all departments' combined spending.[40] David Miliband told us that a year's FCO spending is spent on the NHS in roughly a day;[41] William Hague noted that his department's spending (including the British Council and BBC World Service) was less than that of Kent County Council.[42]
Figure 1

Source: House of Commons Scrutiny Unit
Figure 2

Source: House of Commons Scrutiny Unit

27.  Over several spending rounds, the FCO's real-terms budget has increased by only relatively small amounts each year, or has been flat or falling. Meanwhile, the budgets of the security and intelligence agencies and the Department for International Development (DFID) have been rising steadily. The FCO's share of total government spending remained flat, at 0.4%, between 1998/99 and 2009/10. Figures 1 and 2 illustrate these trends. Moreover, in the period 2008-2011 the FCO's spending power was less than its budget, because the withdrawal of the Overseas Price Mechanism (OPM) in the 2007 Spending Review left the FCO's Sterling-denominated budget exposed to the effects of Sterling depreciation. (Previously, the Treasury, through the OPM, had provided protection for the local value of FCO spending against the effects of exchange-rate fluctuations and differential inflation rates. The FCO spends over half its budget in currencies other than Sterling.)[43] The FCO was engaged in cost-cutting programmes throughout the 2004 and 2007 Spending Review periods, and by 2009/10 it was taking steps described by the then Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Peter Ricketts, as "pretty drastic" in order to reduce spending, primarily in order to compensate for the effects of Sterling weakness.[44] The FCO's in-year spending reductions in 2009/10 were the subject of a recent study by the National Audit Office, which largely commended the department for the way in which it identified and delivered the cuts.[45] However, having concluded at the time that the department's 2007 Spending Review settlement "risk[ed] jeopardising the FCO's important work",[46] our predecessor Committee said in its final report on these matters in March 2010 that the cuts being made at the FCO were "unacceptably disrupting and curtailing" the department's work and represented a "threat to the FCO's effectiveness".[47] The new Foreign Secretary told us in September 2010 that the FCO's discretionary spending had effectively been reduced by 17% in the two years before the change of Government.[48] In June 2010, following the change of Government, the FCO was obliged to find a further £55 million in additional spending cuts in 2010/11.

28.  While facing downward pressures at home, the FCO's budget has been subject to increased demands, owing to factors including: rising dues to international organisations such as the UN; the need to increase the physical security of FCO posts overseas, following the fatal attack on the British Consulate in Istanbul in 2003; and the increase in the UK presence in dangerous—and thus expensive—locations such as Kabul. Over a longer horizon, as Sir Malcolm Rifkind in particular reminded us, increased demands have arisen simply from the increase in the number of UN Member States, which require UK representation there in some form.[49] The FCO hopes to open its newest Embassy later in 2011, in South Sudan, following that country's independence.[50] Figure 3 plots the number of UN Member States against the number of FCO staff and overseas posts since 1989:

Figure 3

Sources:; successive FCO annual departmental reports and resource accounts; FCO parliamentary answers and statements. Figure 3 should be regarded as indicating trends rather than precise figures, given that the data on which it is based were compiled from a variety of sources and may not always be exactly comparable and/or may have been subject to revisions.

29.  The Foreign Secretary told us that in comparative terms the FCO represented "good value for money". He noted that the French Foreign Ministry operates only 18 more overseas posts than the FCO (279 against 261), but has a budget almost twice as large.[51]

30.  The 2010 Spending Review, covering the period 2011/12 to 2014/15, has restored Treasury protection for the local value of the FCO's budget against the effects of exchange-rate fluctuations. This will give the FCO much greater certainty about the resources available to it. The overall annual budget for the 'FCO family'—that is, the department plus the BBC World Service and British Council—will fall by 24% by the end of the period. Excluding the greater reductions being made in the budgets of the World Service and British Council, and the removal of responsibility for funding the World Service from the FCO altogether from 2014/15, the FCO's departmental budget will fall by 6% in real terms by 2015. The FCO told us that, taking account of expected increases in ring-fenced international subscriptions, it expected its core budget to fall by around 10%.[52] In our Report on FCO Performance and Finances in February 2011, and bearing in mind the reductions in FCO spending implemented during previous years, we concluded that the 10% cut "may have a very damaging effect on the department's ability to promote UK interests overseas". We also noted that the 2010 Spending Review settlement would "accentuate the regrettable long-term trend for the FCO to lose out relative to other departments and agencies in the allocation of government spending".[53] In evidence to our current inquiry, in January 2011, Sir Jeremy Greenstock told us bluntly that he thought the FCO was "understaffed and under-resourced".[54] The FCO was in the process of deciding how to implement its Spending Review settlement as we conducted our inquiry.

31.  We conclude that the FCO's resources have been reduced in real terms over an extended period, even as the demands on the department have continued to rise. While we welcome the Government's restoration of some exchange-rate protection to the FCO's budget in the 2010 Spending Review, we are concerned about the potential impact of the Spending Review settlement on the FCO's operations. We regard a lack of resources as one of the major threats to the FCO's continued effectiveness. We further conclude that reductions in spending on the FCO can prove to be a major false economy. We recommend that the Government in deciding the funding of the FCO needs to take greater account of the magnitude of the public expenditure commitments that may be required if the under-funding of the FCO and its agencies leads to hostilities that might otherwise have been prevented.


32.  David Miliband and Lord Hennessy both stressed that it was difficult to consider 'the role of the FCO' without also considering the nature of the foreign policy which the Government wished the department to pursue. Policy, in turn, rests in part on the Government's analysis of the international environment confronting the UK.[55] Sir Peter Marshall supplied us with an historical analysis of the various reviews of the F(C)O which have been conducted in the 20th Century, which made clear the intimate connection between the UK's place in the world, UK foreign policy (and the funds available for it) and the shape and purpose of the department.[56]

33.  The Government believes that changes in the global order are making it more difficult for the UK to exert international influence. The UK's international economic weight is declining in relative terms, as is that of the most prominent geopolitical blocs to which the UK belongs; and international political influence is following the shifting economic balance eastwards and southwards. The financial and economic crisis since 2007 has accelerated the trend. Meanwhile, more countries are becoming important in international politics (including states with which the UK has not had recent close partnerships), as are a plethora of non-state actors (such as non-governmental organisations, philanthropic organisations and corporations); and all are arranged into complex alliances which may vary from issue to issue.[57]

34.  Nevertheless, the Government has stated explicitly that it "rejects the thesis of Britain's decline in the world".[58] In its October 2010 National Security Strategy, the Government declared that "Britain's national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence".[59] In the Government's view, in order to retain—or even extend—its international influence despite the circumstances moving against it, "the UK should become even more active overseas".[60] The Prime Minister said in his November 2010 Mansion House speech: "We are choosing ambition. Far from shrinking back, Britain is reaching out".[61] The Government is focusing in particular on expanding the UK's bilateral relationships with states in the Gulf, Asia and Latin America. The Foreign Secretary has made clear that his plans for his department flow from the Government's approach to foreign policy.[62]

35.  Former FCO diplomats Charles Crawford and Carne Ross both argued that the UK needed to 'up its diplomatic game' in the face of more difficult international conditions and a growing number of international diplomatic 'competitors'.[63] Our witnesses also highlighted the most obvious potential difficulty facing the FCO in its current context, namely the tension between global ambitions and constrained resources. Lord Hennessy warned of the risk of overreach;[64] and David Miliband stated that "it's very important that we don't talk about a global role if we're not willing to fund it".[65]

36.  We conclude that there is a potential tension between the demands on the FCO arising from the Government's ambitions for an active global UK foreign policy and the resources made available to the department. We recommend that the Government must ensure that the resources allocated to the FCO are commensurate with the scale of its foreign policy ambitions.

1   William Hague, "Britain's Foreign Policy in a Networked World", FCO, London, 1 July 2010 Back

2   "Developments in UK Foreign Policy", oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 8 September 2010, HC (2010-11) 438-i, Q 1 Back

3   For example, Foreign Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2007-08, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2006-07, HC 50, paras 70-76; Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2009-10, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2008-09, HC 145, paras 328-338 Back

4   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2009-10, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2008-09, HC 145, paras 337-338 Back

5   See, for example: materials from the conference "Challenges for Foreign Ministries: Managing Diplomatic Networks and Optimising Value", Geneva, 2006, at; Daryl Copeland, Guerrilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations (Boulder/London, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009), especially ch. 9, "The Foreign Ministry: Relic or Renaissance?"; Carne Ross, "It's time to scrap ambassadors and their embassies", Europe's World, Spring 2009; Director's Note of Ditchley Foundation conference "The functions and purposes of modern diplomacy", March 2010, at; Sir Jeremy Greenstock, "Diplomacy: A lost art in an open world?", in Andrew Duff, ed., Making the Difference: Essays in Honour of Shirley Williams (London, Biteback, 2010); Sir Leslie Fielding KCMG, "Is Diplomacy Dead?", the VIII Adforton Lecture, 16 June 2010, via Back

6   "Announcement of new inquiry: The Role of the FCO in UK Government", Foreign Affairs Committee press release, 4 November 2010 Back

7   Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2010-11, FCO Performance and Finances, HC 572  Back

8   Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2010-11, The Implications of Cuts to the BBC World Service, HC 849 Back

9   Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2010-11, FCO Public Diplomacy: The Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012 , HC 581 Back

10   Alex Evans and David Steven, "Organizing for Influence: UK Foreign Policy in an Age of Uncertainty", Chatham House, June 2010 Back

11   The FCO was created in 1968, when the Commonwealth Office was merged into the Foreign Office. Back

12 In references, evidence which is published in the 'virtual', web-only volume is indicated by a 'w'. Back

13   Defence Committee, First Report of Session 2010-11, The Strategic Defence and Security Review, HC 345; inquiry launched on 13 January 2011 into The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy Back

14   Public Administration Select Committee, First Report of Session 2010-11, Who does UK National Strategy?, HC 435 Back

15   Ev w59 Back

16   See the references cited in note 5. Back

17   Ev w14 Back

18   Ev w57 Back

19   Ev w57; Qq 115, 121-122, 126 [Alex Evan and David Steven]; for the QDDR, see Back

20   Ev w57 Back

21   See Sir Ivor Roberts, ed., Satow's Diplomatic Practice, Sixth Edition (Oxford University Press, 2009). Back

22   Ev w58 Back

23   Ev w68-69 Back

24   Ev w58 Back

25   Ev w78-79; FCO, UK International Priorities: A Strategy for the FCO, Cm 6052, December 2003 Back

26   David Miliband, "New Diplomacy: Challenges for Foreign Policy", Chatham House, 16 July 2007; HC Deb, 23 January 2008, col 52-53WS Back

27   Cabinet Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Progress and next steps, Civil Service Capability Review, March 2009, p 7 Back

28   See John Dickie, The New Mandarins: How British Foreign Policy Works (London, I.B.Tauris, 2004); David Allen, "The United Kingdom", in Brian Hocking and David Spence, eds., Foreign Ministries in the European Union (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, revised edition 2005). Back

29   Q 167 Back

30   Ev w57 Back

31   Q 94 Back

32   Ev w30; we consider issues of FCO quality in Chapter 4. Back

33   Q 329 Back

34   Ev w66-67 Back

35   Rodric Braithwaite, "Mr Blair, it is time to recognise your errors and just go", Financial Times, 3 August 2006 Back

36   Published in Matthew Parris and Andrew Bryson, Parting Shots (London, Viking, 2010), p 147 Back

37   HL Deb, 26 February 2009, cols 336-339 Back

38   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2009-10, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2008-09, HC 145, paras 328-338 Back

39   Ibid., para 337 Back

40   DEL resource budgets; Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2010-11, FCO Performance and Finances, HC 572, para 7  Back

41   Q 99 Back

42   "Developments in UK Foreign Policy", oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 8 September 2010, HC (2010-11) 438-i, Q 15 Back

43   See Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2009-10, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2008-09, HC 145, paras 21-35. Back

44   Ibid., para 51 Back

45   NAO, Spending reduction in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, HC 826, 29 March 2011 Back

46   Foreign Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2007-08, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2006-07, HC 50, para 21 Back

47   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2009-10, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2008-09, HC 145, para 67 Back

48   "Developments in UK Foreign Policy", oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 8 September 2010, HC (2010-11) 438-i, Q 5 Back

49   Q 90 Back

50   William Hague, speech to The Times CEO Summit Africa, London, 22 March 2011 Back

51   "Developments in UK Foreign Policy", oral evidence taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee on 8 September 2010, HC (2010-11) 438-i, Q 15 Back

52   Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2010-11, FCO Performance and Finances, HC 572, para 22; Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2010-11, The Implications of Cuts to the BBC World Service, HC 849, para 5 Back

53   Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2010-11, FCO Performance and Finances, HC 572, para 25 Back

54   Q 165 Back

55   Qq 1, 16 [Lord Hennessy], 90 [David Miliband] Back

56   Ev w62-85. The main reviews discussed by Sir Peter were: Proposals for the Reform of the Foreign Service, Cmd 6420, January 1943; Report of the Committee on Representational Services Overseas appointed by the Prime Minister under the Chairmanship of Lord Plowden ('Plowden Report'), Cmnd 2276, February 1964; Report of the Review Committee on Overseas Representation, 1968-1969, Chairman: Sir Val Duncan ('Duncan Report'), Cmnd 4107, July 1969; Review of Overseas Representation: Report by the Central Policy Review Staff ('Berrill Report'), HMSO, 1977. For discussion of UK foreign policy-and the institutions and instruments available for it-in the context of the 2010 General Election, see the Chatham House project "Rethinking the UK's International Ambitions and Choices", at; and LSE IDEAS, The Future of UK Foreign Policy, October 2010. Back

57   William Hague, "Britain's Foreign Policy in a Networked World", FCO, London, 1 July 2010 Back

58   Ev 77 [FCO] Back

59   HM Government, A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy, Cm 7953, October 2010, p 10 Back

60   Ev 77 [FCO]; FCO Business Plan 2011-2015, available at Back

61   David Cameron, speech to Lord Mayor's Banquet, Mansion House, London, 15 November 2010 Back

62   William Hague, "Britain's Foreign Policy in a Networked World", FCO, London, 1 July 2010 Back

63   Ev w31-32, 33-34 [Charles Crawford], w96 [Carne Ross] Back

64   Q 16 Back

65   Q 101 Back

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Prepared 12 May 2011