Email from Rt Hon Jack Straw MP |
Stating the "role of the FCO" in a mission
statement or its equivalent is very straightforward. It is words
to the effect that the FCO is there to represent the United Kingdom,
its people, government, businesses and other institutionsand
its valuesin dealing with nations and peoples overseas.
As Foreign Secretary I put my name to a number of such statements.
Much more difficult in my experience is setting out
the priority which should be accorded the separate parts of the
activities which make up this role, agreeing on metrics (if any)
to measure activity and its outcomes (as well as outputs), and
determining with the Treasury whether and how this should all
be paid for.
As I am sure members of the Committee are well aware
there has been a long-standing suspicion of the FCO in the Treasury.
(This goes back well beyond the last Labour administration). It
is partly cultural. The Treasury at official level like to compare
the difference to that between "gentlemen, and players"
(with the Treasury the latter)though there was never any
evidence that I saw that the social background of Treasury officials
was very different from that of FCO officials.
Part of the work of the FCO is difficult directly
to measure, but this should not obscure its value. Building successful
networks, gaining the confidence of those in key positions of
power or influence, is a key role for all our diplomats abroad.
If relations with a particular country are in any event on an
even keel, the breadth and depth of the diplomatic relationships
will not make much difference to Britain's interests in that country.
But if there is, for example, a political or consular crisis involving
the UK and that country, then the successor otherwiseof
our relationships will become all to clear. I'd be happy to offer
The consequence of the Bali bombing, and criticisms
of our response, in October 2002 led me to oversee an upgrading
of the standing arrangements for dealing with consular crises,
with a separately staffed 24 hour Response Centre in London, and
"rapid response teams" on standby around the world.
On the whole these arrangements have worked well. But in the world
of 24 hour news, and the internet, handling consular crises has
become more difficult, as expectations from British citizens,
and demands on the FCO are raised, and the FCO's work has to be
undertaken in full public scrutiny.
One aspect of the inquiry is relations with other
Government departments. The then Permanent Secretary (now Lord
Jay), and I greatly encouraged secondments both ways. (My Principal
Private Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, 2008-10 came from
the FCO (since returned), and did an excellent job for me). I
am however unclear how extensive is the two-way traffic, and whether
there have been any studies of the effects of secondments both
for the individuals' careers, and in the interests of better governance.
These are just a few thoughts which the Committee
may find helpful.
Let me know if you would like any further details.
25 January 2011