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There has been a great deal of wisdom and experience among the speakers in today’s debate. I am afraid that my credentials, since I am speaking in my first large Foreign and Commonwealth Office debate, are feebly pale in comparison. I have a half-brother who had a distinguished career first in the Commonwealth Relations Office and later in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am proud to have a nephew who is a serving diplomat abroad as a member of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and my father was a senior officer in the British Council, which was his career. More personally, as a Minister in the Ministry of Defence some years ago, I received invaluable support and assistance from embassies and high commissions around the world without exception. Perhaps noble Lords can see that I have some background in being a supporter of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office over a number of years.

The issue that was raised is the promotion of Britain’s global interests and the resources that are provided to the Foreign Office to pursue them. I argue that those questions should be viewed through the prism of the ever-closer link between domestic and international affairs that many noble Lords have referred to today. The days when the Foreign Office provided the sole channel of communication for British statesmen with their counterparts elsewhere in the world are long gone. Indeed, they were already a distant memory 30 years ago, when the article that I referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was written. The role of foreign ministries has moved on as the world has changed, and frankly that will only continue in what is an increasingly interconnected world.

The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, made the comment that this is a changing world, and everyone has said that implicitly. I am very grateful for the genuine compliments that have been paid to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary during the debate from around the House. As he said in his speech on 4 March:

For that reason, if for no other, all Governments have a duty to keep the role and objectives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office under regular review. The conclusions of the latest such review were announced by the Foreign Secretary in another place on 23 January. They identified the three main roles that the FCO plays: providing a flexible global network serving the Government as a whole; delivering essential services to the British public and business; and shaping and delivering Her Majesty’s Government’s foreign policy.



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The new framework identifies four new policy goals; areas of the greatest importance to the UK where the FCO can make the most difference. We heard about them this afternoon. They are countering terrorism and proliferation; preventing and resolving conflict; promoting a low carbon/high growth global economy; and developing effective international institutions, especially the UN and EU. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, made some very pertinent points about that list.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who spoke in the gap, is concerned about the programme against our network. The strategy takes on an integrated approach to both, so that the climate change policy will raise the programme from £4 million to £21 million and create, critically, 35 new diplomatic staff posts, backed by 70 locally engaged staff to build the relationship and have what we hope will be a real influence on the climate change debate throughout the world.

This new strategic framework is now being implemented with FCO resources being reallocated to these new priorities. I am certainly not going to get into a numbers game on resources—that would be a mistake and would diminish this particular debate. However, I absolutely take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, that the politeness and good humour with which this debate was conducted does not mean that what was said on all sides of the House was not meant with the greatest seriousness. I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and her sharp criticism of the lack of spending that she says the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had over the years. I was listening for a clue—I ask this very gently—about whether any future Conservative Government would promise to increase Foreign and Commonwealth Office spending. I do not expect her to answer that now because I think the answer is probably no. That adds to the problem rather than offering an easy solution to it.

I will say no more about spending: the figures have been given. However, I will say what we will focus the resources on our four new policy goals. It means substantial increases in resources for counterterrorism, climate change and our work in Afghanistan. In addition, funding for counterproliferation, conflict prevention and international institutions is also set to increase, but by more modest amounts. The BBC World Service will launch a new Persian television channel and extend broadcasting, as we heard, of its Arabic language TV service to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The British Council will extend its efforts to build mutual understanding with Muslim societies, particularly among alienated younger populations. I hope that my noble friend Lord Parekh will take particular notice of that.

To achieve these changes, all three bodies will benefit not just from new funding provided by the Treasury, but money recycled internally through ambitious efficiency programmes. These increases will in part be financed through reducing funding for other policy issues, including three areas where other Whitehall departments will be taking on more of the burden: sustainable development, science and innovation and the field of crime and drugs. At the same time, the Foreign Office, the BBC World Service and the British Council are jointly

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committed to delivering £144 million in efficiency savings during the next three years, through a wide range of projects.

Funding the essential public services that we provide to the British people will be sustained and our dedicated staff will continue to provide consular assistance around the world to Britons living, working and travelling abroad. My noble friend Lady Symons made particular reference to how this issue has gone up the agenda in a huge way in the past years and will continue to become more important. We will continue to help British business and the UK economy through UK Trade and Investment, and we will continue to support Britain’s migration objectives through the FCO’s work, as well as in co-operation with the new UK Border and Immigration Agency.

In 2003, the FCO reviewed its global network to ensure that resources were deployed in line with priorities and that they were providing the best possible value for money. This resulted in the closure of a number of posts in Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific. It goes without saying—and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, will remember this from his days as Foreign Secretary—that a decision to close a post in any country is never taken lightly. Our global network is an important asset for the country and one which we intend to maintain and enhance. But priorities change and we have to deploy our resources in a manner which best reflects this. The FCO’s respect and reputation around the world remain second to none, but we cannot be everywhere, engaged on every problem. Choices have to be made and we have to look for new ways of working.

As we have heard, the overall number of FCO posts around the world has actually increased, from 242 to a total of 261 today. There have been 32 closures and two temporary closures—that was the figure of 34 that the noble Baroness mentioned—but there have been 18 openings, which were not mentioned, and 35 others that were not principal offices but trade offices and offices with other important diplomatic functions. Posts have been closed and opened, but I would argue that it is not so much the pure numbers that make the difference as to whether such decisions are good or bad; what really matters is whether they fit in with what should be the priorities for the United Kingdom. Do they take care of United Kingdom interests?

A range of matters were raised around this issue. As far as DfID and the point about heads of offices perhaps representing the whole of government are concerned, the only countries where that is a live issue are Swaziland and Nicaragua. The position of principle, for which I would think that there is a degree of support around the House, is that double-hatting DfID officers would require them to take on a whole range of diplomatic functions—consular, visas, trade and representational. That would contradict the statutory requirement to give primacy to reducing international poverty, which is DfID’s prime role.

Another issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, on which I answered a Question a few weeks ago, was entry into the EU civil service. It is not just a question of languages, it is a question of the relatively low entry grade into the EU civil service under its

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rules, which means that UK civil servants with a few years’ experience would sometimes have to take a retrograde step in seniority and pay. Our job is to try to make joining that civil service appear a more positive career move for young diplomats. The noble Lord will know about the internal review that is taking place.

My noble friend Lord Parekh was concerned about ethnic minority numbers in the FCO. I will write to him with a full answer. I have figures that suggest that there are 507 “minority”—perhaps that is an unfortunate description—members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or 8.4 per cent. That was the number of UK-based staff from ethnic minorities in 2007; but I will give him more details.

I always have a lot of sympathy with the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. I have a special affection for Latin America, as I think he knows. We now maintain 21 sovereign posts in the Caribbean and Latin American area. The remaining countries are covered by these posts and our staff make regular visits to them. Of course this is not a complete substitute for maintaining embassies in all countries, but it enables us to discuss important issues and protect British interests. I take a little exception to his comments on UK Trade and Investment. The UK Trade and Investment organisation is very much part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham is a Minister both in the FCO and in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. It is not that difficult. The Chief Executive of the UKTI, Andrew Cahn, is a member of the FCO board. As my noble friend Lady Symons said, ambassadors and UKTI staff in embassies, high commissions and consulates are part of a joint effort to promote Britain’s trading interests across the globe.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, in his robust way, posed some very important questions. I am sympathetic to the link between defence and foreign policy. As far as the Royal College of Defence Studies is concerned, he is correct. The FCO no longer funds the nominated overseas candidates as it used to but it still provides a lot of support to the RCDS. I have a list of things that it does—it has a seat on the contact group, it helps to identify overseas tours, it supports the tours, it fills secondee posts, it attends the training courses and it identifies high-calibre candidates overseas to attend the RCDS courses in London. I know this answer will not satisfy him, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is still very involved with the Royal College of Defence Studies.

I am running out of time so let me move on to the EU external action service that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, mentioned in his opening remarks. Of course the new structures for EU external action established in the Lisbon treaty included the creation of this service, representing one potential driver of future change. The new structures offer a real opportunity to deliver more coherent and effective EU action on our globalisation agenda without weakening the intergovernmental nature of CFSP or the successful Commission-led policies on trade and enlargement.

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This is an example of working through the European Union mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, also made special mention of the future external action service. The new high representative for the common foreign and security policy will need support, so the proposal is—and I hope it will be supported around the House—that we bring together in one body the machinery and staff that already exist in the Council Secretariat and Commission while increasing the influence of member states through secondments. This is not about creating some new institution; it is about increasing the effectiveness of what is already there, including the Commission’s overseas delegations, at the same time making it more responsive—and this should be popular with all sides of the House—to the requirements of the member states themselves.

We have no plans for any future post closures in Europe or in the rest of our network beyond those that have already been announced. However, as the demand for FCO services—political, commercial, consular or visa—changes, the FCO must be able to deploy its resources in response to that, opening and closing posts and relocating resources where they are most needed. Unless the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does that, it is not doing its job properly.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary attaches a great deal of weight to broadening the skills and experience of staff. I am pleased to say that the Foreign Office today is very different from the institution that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, joined in 1960 or that my half brother joined even earlier than that and which has been caricatured endlessly. It benefits from the skills and perspectives of significant numbers of staff from other parts of the public and private sectors. At the most recent count, the FCO was acting as host to 211 staff on inward secondment or interchange. Many of the staff have also previously worked in business, in other parts of the Civil Service, or in the third sector, which contributes to a good mix of skills and experience that increasingly reflects the makeup of British society as a whole.

These new faces range from board members, such as: the FCO’s director general of finance, who moved from the Metropolitan Police; its chief information officer, who was previously with the BOC Group; ambassadors and high commissioners, notably the high commissioner in Dhaka, Anwar Choudhury from the Ministry of Defence; and the ambassador designate to Cuba, Dianna Melrose, formerly of DfID and Oxfam. The traffic is far from one way, with 100 FCO staff on outward secondments—a 60 per cent increase in the past year alone. Importantly, the FCO is showing the way to the rest of Whitehall by opening all appointments to senior Civil Service positions in London and overseas to interchange. Every vacancy is now advertised across the public service through the Civil Service recruitment gateway. The noble Lord, Lord Dykes, made the important point about women and particularly couples being able to work in embassies abroad. That is a step change of huge importance. Anyone who remembers the Foreign Office from years ago knew that such a thing was a complete impossibility then.



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I have overrun my time. I am sorry that I have not dealt with all the points that have been made. This has been a significant and important debate. The FCO has demonstrated the flexibility, leadership and determination required to deliver on its international priorities, both now and in the years to come. We have had to take difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, but I am confident that these have been the right ones. I am of the firm belief that the changes resulting from these decisions will ensure that the job of Foreign Secretary will still be considered that of a great officer of state in the future, and that the reputation of our Diplomatic Service as one of the best in the world will be maintained and enhanced, along with that of the UK as a whole. Once more, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for raising this subject.

4.33 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. We have stressed how much the context of diplomacy has changed. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, remarked on registry trolleys. The first embassy I ever went into was in a small town in Germany. I remember being disappointed that the registry trolley there did not still squeak, as John Le Carré said in this book that it did. We have changed, and we on these Benches accept that we must continue the process of change. We do not think that we should spend more, but we do think that we must prioritise. I was interested, after saying in a Radio 4 discussion programme in December that we should cut consular services in Europe because people getting drunk in Tallinn and Prague and losing their wallets did not necessarily deserve the full weight of the British Government behind them, to be told that there were cheers in relevant departments in the Foreign Office as they listened.

We do need to redirect our priorities. We know that the Government no longer like to have the sort of inquiries that they had in the 1960s and 1970s. I suggest, however, that we need to continue this discussion, that the Government should try actively to carry with them those outside and those in the other parties, and that the Foreign Office cannot do this on its own. Other departments are now enormously engaged in international business. The figures on exchanges that the noble Lord has just quoted are welcome. This needs to be a Whitehall approach as a whole.

On the point of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, I have been impressed in embassies I have visited in the last three or four years that one of the economic staff always seemed to be an extremely bright young Asian economics graduate. The FCO is changing, although one should also say that our last permanent representative at the UN was someone for whom English was only his second language—Welsh being his first. We are beginning to cope with all these necessary social changes.

I have just one last doubt. I read about headcount reductions in the Gershon review. In all the capability reviews of departments I have looked at, I wonder whether, in pursing the goal of cutting back on staff, “efficiency” reductions do not sometimes risk cutting

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those who need to carry through the responsibilities we give them. Having said that, and hoping we will all continue to follow this discussion, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Medical Careers: Tooke Report

4.36 pm

Lord Patel asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the Tooke report on modernising medical careers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I start by thanking all the noble Lords taking part in today’s debate. I also congratulate Sir John Tooke and his colleagues on a well thought-out report that will become the template for postgraduate medical training in years to come.

Today, we debate one of the most damaging episodes for British medicine. It has left thousands of young doctors with their aspirations and ambitions dashed. Many have been left without career or job and with an uncertain future as a result of the implementation of Modernising Medical Careers and MTAS, the online Medical Training and Application Service. Young doctors have been badly let down and are demoralised and disillusioned, their careers and lives wrecked. In many instances, families have been split up for many years to come. Two out of three trainees are still without training posts. In some surgical specialities, one in 10 trained, experienced trainees are not successful in getting on the career ladder. Some are choosing to emigrate; some are leaving medicine—often our best—because they have lost confidence in the system in England and in medical training. Many will not get on the training ladder again in the current round of applications. I have a letter from several oncology trainees who, after five years in training, have been unsuccessful and are asking for help. The letter is supported by 23 of the consultants they work for. The cry from trainees is,

I guess that the cry is addressed to this Minister, for the rest have failed them.

The Tooke inquiry identified major flaws in the system of postgraduate medical training and a series of errors and fundamental problems in important areas such as the role of doctors at various stages of their career and faults in the delivery of training, the plethora of organisations involved being more concerned with protecting their self-interest, influence and in territorial battles than in young doctors, their training and the effect ultimately on patient care. MMC, the inquiry found, was an aspiration to mediocrity and not excellence. British medicine and training, once considered the best, is now damaged by a service that seeks doctors who are just competent and not excellent. We now need to work hard for a decade or more to reverse the damage.

The Tooke report rightly found that no one involved in the process should feel exonerated. In an editorial, Richard Smith wrote:



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That is exactly what the Tooke inquiry has also found. Any new structure responsible for postgraduate medical education and training must guard against that. As the report states,

The Tooke report has identified deficiencies in current training at virtually every stage. Concerns are expressed about training objectives for foundation years 1 and 2. Not only was the process of selection deficient; the number of doctors applying was grossly miscalculated. The selection process failed to get experienced doctors on training courses. In the opinion of many, specialist training has failed to deliver competent doctors who are able to function independently.

The report’s findings suggest a need for root and branch reform, and Tooke suggests a way forward. The fact that the report found deficiencies and a need to find resolution to problems in eight key areas—policy objectives; the doctor’s role; policy development, implementation and governance; work force planning; medical professional engagement; management of postgraduate medical education and training; regulation; and the structure of postgraduate medical education and training—says it all and reinforces the need for wider, durable reform.


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