Support for British nationals abroad: The Consular Service - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

1  Our inquiry

1. Parliament last considered consular services in detail in 2006, when the Public Accounts Committee published a report into consular services to British nationals,[1] following a major National Audit Office (NAO) report on consular services in November 2005.[2] We and our predecessor Committee have since then continued to monitor major changes to consular services in some of our reports on the FCO's performance and finances.[3] Like almost all of our fellow MPs, we also have an interest in consular services on behalf of our constituents, and many of us have had contact and worked with the FCO in recent times to raise and help solve specific problems.

2. We issued a call for written submissions in December 2013, and we took oral evidence from former Ambassadors, NGOs, travel representatives and others between January and June 2014, followed by the FCO Minister Mark Simmonds and FCO officials. We visited the FCO's new crisis centre in London in January 2014. In March 2014, we undertook a two-day visit to Malaga, the largest consular centre in Europe and the location of one of the three new global call centres. We were keen to hear from members of the public who had first-hand experience of consular services, and we hosted a web forum in January-February and held a private roundtable meeting with some of those who had submitted evidence or comments on the forum, to discuss their experiences in greater detail.

3. This report does not attempt to comment upon every element of the Consular Service's wide range of work, and there are some laudable developments in FCO consular services that we do not intend to cover in detail, such as its work on rescuing British victims of forced marriage abroad, or the important work it does with victims of kidnapping and hostage-taking, and their families. Based on the evidence received and our own experience in working with the FCO on such cases, we consider these to be admirable and impressive services run in extremely difficult circumstances. However, in the course of the inquiry we heard from many members of the general public who told us of disappointing and even distressing experiences of trying to access particular kinds of consular support when they needed it. This evidence is, by its nature, anecdotal, and we cannot extrapolate or infer wider FCO failure from it. It is also from a self-selecting group of people who had particular experiences that motivated them to respond, so it may not be representative of all experiences of the FCO's services. Yet the stories submitted to us via our web forum, roundtable, and written evidence, are of sufficient number and gravity that they give cause for concern and cannot be dismissed. We explore some of those areas in chapters 4-7.

4. As ever, we thank all of those who have participated in this inquiry. In particular, we thank the many members of the public who have taken time to engage with the inquiry and tell us about their experiences, some of which were clearly painful and distressing to revisit. The scale of the response reminded us once more how vital consular services are to British nationals, and how important it is to get them right.

1   Committee of Public Accounts, Thirty-ninth Report of Session 2005-06, Consular services to British nationals, HC 813 Back

2   Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Session 2005-2006, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Consular Services to British Nationals, HC 594, November 2005 Back

3   See, for example, Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2008-09, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Report 2007-08 Back

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Prepared 23 November 2014