Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from the Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  When we met on 13 March I undertook to write to you with additional information on a number of specific points.

  (Q 182)  The Committee asked about the number of Turkish speakers engaged in our operation in Turkey, and coming up through the ranks for future deployment there. Seven of our UK-based staff in Ankara speak Turkish (ie have passed the FCO exams at "functional" or "operational" level). Five of our UK-based staff in Istanbul are at this level. I enclose a note on the position within the Diplomatic Service as a whole.

  (Q 214)  The Committee expressed interest in the nature and scale of the projects supported under our EU Action Plan for Turkey. I enclose a note with the full details of this successful programme last year. We aim to repeat that pattern this year.

  (Q 215)  The Committee discussed our visa operation in Turkey. There was not time for me to set out all the measures we have recently taken to analyse the problem, and to ensure that we meet our targets for speed and quality of service. I enclose a comprehensive note on this issue.

  (Q 219)  The Committee asked about Turkey's share of the Chevening scholarship programme; and whether past reductions in Turkey's allocation had been predicated on Turkey's future qualification for the EU's Socrates programme. I enclose a note showing the pattern of spending on Chevening scholarships across the FCO "Wider Europe Command" (under which Turkey is brigaded) over four financial years. That is the principal context in which Turkey's allocation is decided—as Mr Macgregor explained at our meeting. Nevertheless, we do work in close partnership with the European Commission, both in Ankara and in Brussels, and we aim to ensure that our programmes are coherent and mutually reinforcing. Our overall aim is to ensure that the largest affordable number of Turkish students come to British universities.

  The Committee sought reassurance that pressures on our visa operation were not hampering our Chevening scholarship programme. I am satisfied that appropriate systems are in place to ensure that Chevening scholars are fast-tracked through the visa process. Since our meeting, we have reconfirmed that the British Council in Turkey shares this assessment.

  (Q 216)  The Committee asked about one specific case, raised with you by the British Council. The Chevening scholar concerned was granted a visa for her studies. The problem arose when, having returned to Turkey, she applied for a visa to attend her graduation ceremony in the UK. It appears that, on this occasion, she may not have supplied a letter of recommendation from the British Council, or even signalled that she was a Chevening scholar (our visa office has records which would permit such a claim to be verified). We will be able to investigate further once the individual concerned confirms to the British Council that she wishes her name to be divulged. Meanwhile, the British Council in Turkey have reviewed their procedures for scholars wishing to attend graduation ceremonies. While they do not cover such scholars' costs, they do provide letters of support upon request, and explain this procedure when debriefing scholars when they return at the end of their studies.

  Finally, although the Committee did not specifically request this, I enclose a copy of the opening statement I had prepared. May I wish you an interesting and successful visit to Cyprus next week? I look forward to the Committee's report.

Rt Hon Jack Straw MP

Secretary of State

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

22 March 2002

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