Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Borrie: My Lords, does my noble friend recall that a Statement was repeated in this House by my noble friend Lord Simon of Highbury on 10th March in which the Government indicated that they no longer wished to second guess an adverse report by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Can the Minister say whether that Statement was to be instantly effective or whether it awaited legislation? Can the Minister indicate whether the reference in the Statement on 10th March to a special exemption for defence industries may be extended in the Government's mind to such matters as take-overs affecting the media?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as my noble friend is aware, at present the Secretary of State acts on

22 Mar 1999 : Column 955

the advice of the Office of Fair Trading in deciding whether to refer a proposed merger to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I do not believe that he would expect me from this Dispatch Box to anticipate any major change of policy.

Cuba: Exports

2.48 p.m.

Lord Sandberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any progress has been made in persuading the Export Credits Guarantee Department to reinstate Cuba as an insurable risk for British exporters.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, Export Credits Guarantee Department cover is available for United Kingdom project exports to Cuba provided payment is made from foreign currency funds held outside Cuba. A senior ECGD delegation recently visited Cuba to explore the scope for expanding this cover and resolving outstanding debt issues. Good progress was made with the Cuban authorities on both issues.

Lord Sandberg: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, I am sure he is aware that the Spanish, Germans and Canadians are queuing up in Cuba to the detriment of British exports. Will the forthcoming visit by Mr Brian Wilson of the DTI cover those points?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, Brian Wilson will indeed visit Cuba again; he was there before Christmas. The occasion of his next visit is the opening of the British Airways direct route to Cuba. No doubt he will cover these issues as well. We are aware of the other countries which have succeeded in embarking on turnkey deals--for example, in airport construction or tourist industries. But they depend on a line of credit which produces revenue from outside Cuba; in other words, hard currency revenue, as I indicated in my first Answer.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I welcome what has been done through the ECGD to seek improvements for our exporters to Cuba. Can the Minister assure us that negotiations are continuing? No doubt the visit of the noble Lord's honourable friend, Mr Brian Wilson, in conjunction with the BA direct route, is intended to increase trade. Will this most important issue, which is holding up British trade, be pursued vigorously?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I pay tribute to her work as chairman of the Caribbean trade advisory group. As she well knows, one difficulty we have is that there are outstanding short, medium and long-term debts due from Cuba. We are pursuing vigorously the issue of

22 Mar 1999 : Column 956

repayment of short-term debts through the private market and of longer-term debts through the Paris Club. If and when those questions are resolved, many other matters will fall into place and trade will be easier.

Ambassadors: Selection and Training

2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they are taking to improve the selection process, the preparation and the language training of Ambassadors and Ministers prior to their appointment to lead the 212 British Embassies and Legations abroad.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, ambassadors, other heads of mission and ministers who act as deputies in the largest embassies are chosen on merit by Foreign and Commonwealth Office selection boards. They receive individually tailored programmes of training and briefing, including relevant language tuition, before their postings. We plan further improvements to these arrangements. From the end of 1999, promotion into the FCO's senior management structure will depend on successful performance at new assessment and development centres. There will also be enhancements to training packages prior to officers' overseas appointments.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her most helpful reply. Does she recall that on 9th January last year I asked when Her Majesty's Government would appointment an individual who had shown distinguished service from one of the minority ethnic communities to head one of our embassies or legations abroad? Fourteen months have passed. What consideration has the Minister given to that issue? Why is there the delay?

Will the Minister assure us that ambassadors can be given at least nine months' warning before they are in place in their embassies so that they can seek to fulfil Diplomatic Service Regulation No. 28, thereby learning the principal language of the nation to which they are posted, so that they do not make complete fools of themselves before the host nation or the 10 million of us who live and work abroad and bother to learn the language?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, before I answer the noble Earl, perhaps I may take this opportunity to express on the record of the House my condolences to Lady Gillmore on the sad death of Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield. I am sure that the House will join me in recognising the great contribution he made to this country both in recent years as a Member of your Lordships' House and previously as one of our most distinguished diplomats. He was an example of the

22 Mar 1999 : Column 957

Diplomatic Service at its very best. He was authoritative, highly skilled and unfailingly courteous. He was also an extremely kind man.

I turn to the specific points raised by the noble Earl. Very occasionally, it is possible to appoint an individual to a particular post, but, on the whole, they are political appointments, or appointments on short-term contracts such as the contract we have with the FCO's ethnic liaison officer. Most appointments are rightly made on the basis of fair and open competition. That fair and open competition for the most part--we depend on the expertise and experience of our diplomats--comes from within the Foreign Office. On occasions it is possible to have open competitions. We have held three such open competitions in the past year or so. But we tend to rely on the recruitment end to ensure that more women and more people from the ethnic minorities come into the Foreign Office.

I believe that we have succeeded modestly in the past year. At the DS8 level--the policy entrance level-- 9 per cent. come from ethnic minorities. There are some 13 per cent. at DS9, the operational level.

The noble Earl's second point related to linguistic competence. I do not think that any of our diplomats are in danger of making what the noble Earl describes as "fools of themselves" abroad. Sometimes people have to be posted at short notice. Events happen. They cannot always have the language training that we should like, but I can assure the noble Earl that when they are not up to the required level the language training continues in post.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, first, I endorse the warm remarks of the Minister about my successor at the Foreign Office, Lord Gillmore of Thamesfield, whose widow I saw this morning. I know that the remarks of the noble Baroness will be of great comfort to her.

Turning to the Question on the Order Paper, does the Minister agree that in most cases--of course not in all--the appointment of ambassadors or ministers to head missions abroad is a matter of not 14 months' training but of a lifetime career's training? Is she aware that my experience of learning Arabic 23 years before I was first appointed to head a mission in an Arabic speaking country was by no means unusual?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, by the time our diplomats reach the stage in their careers of being appointed as ambassadors they have an enormous wealth of experience. The point we must bear in mind is that ambassadors and other senior officers in our overseas posts, and those in London too, have to be chosen on merit. I am sure there would be many protests if they were chosen on any other basis. They are chosen by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office selection boards at different levels. Those boards are staffed by senior diplomats; and all except the No. 1 Board have women sitting on it; the No. 1 Board does not have a

22 Mar 1999 : Column 958

woman sitting on it. However, I am an observer on that board as were my predecessors, so I suppose that I provide a female element in that capacity.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the tributes paid to Lord Gillmore will be echoed in all parts of this House, especially by those of us who were helped so much by him during his period of office and who enjoyed his friendship afterwards?

Will the Minister also accept that the criticisms on the appointment of ambassadors made by the noble Earl and others are not because we seek to deprecate what they do or the help we receive from them? However, it is totally unacceptable for a country with such a vast proportion of people from ethnic minorities not to have any ambassadors, few deputies of whom I know, and almost no one at the highest level from ethnic minorities. It is no answer to say that we have to wait for 30 years. We have to help people to progress up the ladder by training them. In those circumstances, will my noble friend be kind enough to say how many people at the top levels today are from ethnic minorities; and what hope is there of improving that number while those of us present remain alive?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page