Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 212)



Mr Illsley

  200. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have devised a Charter for the Management of Staff Overseas, which has been disseminated to all posts. Have overseas posts received training on the implications of the Charter, and how do you ensure that posts are treating locally engaged staff in accordance with the Charter?
  (Mr Charlton) The importance of local staff is obvious when you look at our numbers and all our posts would agree with that. Where they will need training they will certainly ask for it. I think they are well experienced in dealing with local staff and well understand the importance from London. We do offer now more and more training courses for local staff. Some of those are for managers too. In fact, I went to one ten days ago which was a regional course for local staff and managers of people, so the idea of management of local staff is becoming more and more important.

  201. One case came to our attention after the Committee had visited St Petersburg a few years ago and a couple of years down the line led to an expatriate member of staff in the St Petersburg post trying to seek redress for what he believed was unfair dismissal. Because he was an expatriate grade he could not access the legal system in Russia to pursue his case, and his application to go before a tribunal in this country was dismissed on the basis that he was not resident in this country, presumably. It just occurred to me that it must be a small percentage of locally engaged staff who are expatriates. Is there any employment protection for staff in that position who are living abroad?
  (Sir Michael Jay) There are in fact quite a lot of local staff who are expatriate in some parts of the world. In the United States, for example, a large number of local staff are expatriate. The general principle on which we operate is that they are governed by the terms and conditions of service of the employment law in the country in which they are serving, but I take notice of the question. I do not know the answer to the question as to whether a member of staff is as it were falling in between two judicial systems and cannot seek redress. It is a position we should look at maybe.
  (Mr Collecott) I think we should look at that. I am familiar with the case. I had forgotten that he was actually not able to seek redress in Russia and I cannot remember therefore what the circumstances precisely of that were. Maybe we should look into it and let you know.

Sir John Stanley

  202. You will be letting us have a note on that? Thank you.
  (Sir Michael Jay) Yes.[16] One or two other points on local staff, if I may, going back to what I said before the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I may not have got the figure completely right, but the latest one I see is 8,800, I think. The substantial number of local staff that we have around the world are in the front line of almost everything we do—our consular work, our visa work, our commercial work, our public diplomacy work, and increasingly in one or two places around the world some political work as well. I do not think in the past that we have paid enough attention to their management. We are now trying to pay more attention to their management. We have set up a local staff unit within the Personnel Directorate in London which I think is a good development. A member of the local staff that I met recently in The Hague suggested that it would be a good idea if a locally engaged member of staff were part of that unit. I think that is an excellent idea and we are trying to put that into place now. We are also trying to break down the barriers between local staff and home based staff which have been too pronounced in some parts of the world. It is easier in some parts of the world than in others. I also, if I can say this in a tiny moment of self-flagellation, do not think there is enough in the report about our local staff and I would like to offer more about the importance and numbers of our local staff in the report next year. I think there needs to be more.

  203. Sir Michael, I would like to ask you personally on a question which bears particularly on you as the Permanent Under-Secretary. As you will recall, earlier this year our ambassador in Romania was placed in a very invidious position, having submitted a letter for the Prime Minister's signature in support of a contract which was being sought by a British company, and the British company in question happened to be a company that had given funds to the government party of the day. Such letters written by ministers have been written under successive governments and I myself regard it as a perfectly proper and indeed a necessary part of any government's determination to try to strengthen the hand of British exporters round the world. It will inescapably from time to time follow that when such letters are written it turns out that the company on whose behalf the letter has been written will have given a financial contribution to the governing party of the day. I hope you will agree that the position in which our ambassador in Romania was placed was really quite unacceptable in terms of the comment that was made in the media and comments that were made casting doubts as to his party political impartiality and there were a number of, I thought, clearly unnecessary and intrusive comments in relation to his personal life. I would like to ask you as the Permanent Secretary what steps you have taken to ensure that our ambassadors and high commissioners round the world are not in the future placed in the same position as our ambassador was in Romania, when they are perfectly properly asked by the government of the day to provide a draft of a letter in support of a British export contract to a company which may or may not be one that is supporting financially the government of the day.
  (Sir Michael Jay) I agree with what you say about the ambassador in question, Chairman, and I spoke to him over that period and told him that in my judgement he had behaved entirely properly in supporting British interests in the way that he did. What I then did afterwards was to send a note round to all our ambassadors outlining some of the lessons from that particular episode and drawing attention in particular to the question of what is a British company and so on, which is one of the issues which was at the heart of this. The short answer to your question is that I see it as my duty to support any ambassador who finds himself in a difficult position of that kind and that is certainly what I did and what the Foreign Secretary did in this case.

  204. I would like to ask you whether that is actually sufficient because unless you as Permanent Secretary issue some clear statement of guidelines to your ambassadors and high commissioners to cover this eventuality, guidelines which of themselves would then enable any ambassador or high commissioner placed in this position to say, "I was simply following the established guidelines laid down by the Permanent Secretary", then it is I fear only a matter of time before another ambassador or another high commissioner is going to be placed in the same invidious position. I would suggest to you that it is not good enough to say, "The Permanent Secretary will be behind you if you get into the same sort of position that our Ambassador in Romania got into through no fault of his own".
  (Sir Michael Jay) In the immediate aftermath of that we did send guidelines to our ambassadors on this question of the support that they should be giving to British companies and since then we have been in touch with David Wright, the head of British Trade International, to ensure that there are clear guidelines to be issued to people.

  205. I would be grateful if you could provide the Committee with a copy of your guidance telegram. You referred to guidelines that are to be issued. Have those guidelines been issued to date?
  (Sir Michael Jay) I will have to check on whether they have been issued or not. I will look into this question when I get back.

  206. We would certainly wish to have a copy of those guidelines, if they have been issued or as and when they are issued, please.
  (Sir Michael Jay) I will look into the question of whether they have been issued.

  Sir John Stanley: And the Committee would wish to have a copy of those guidelines when they are issued.

  Mr Chidgey: I have one more question on the Overseas Territories. This relates again, Sir Michael, to the speed of response to written questions which obviously fall to you and your staff to provide the information on. I put down a series for answer at the beginning of July on the Overseas Territories regarding the preparation of annual financial abstracts. I asked very simple questions: which of our Overseas Territories prepare annual financial abstracts and which do not; has the Foreign Office been in discussion or correspondence with any of our Overseas Territories in regard to their financial abstracts and, if so, which of our Overseas Territories has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had a reply from and which is it still awaiting a satisfactory reply from. They are very straightforward questions, nothing particularly difficult. I have been given the holding answer of, "We will reply as soon possible", but I do not see what the problem is. There are only so many Overseas Territories. The correspondence that you have with them must be fairly up front. You know there is no great file of information. I do not understand why it is difficult to answer the questions.

  Mr Mackinlay: And you are more or less—

  Sir John Stanley: Sorry; let Sir Michael answer Mr Chidgey and then you can come in.

Mr Chidgey

  207. My adviser here is working very well. We hunt in pairs.
  (Sir Michael Jay) I will need to look into the question, Chairman.

Mr Chidgey

  208. Do you take my point? This is not exactly rocket science.
  (Sir Michael Jay) I will look into it.

  209. Can I say finally, Sir John, can I have some lead from you because, as you were discussing with my colleague here earlier, I think the Committee has an interest in this difficulty we are having in getting responses to questions which are germane to the work of the Committee. Again, as you have suggested with Mr Mackinlay to have some sort of response today, I think it would be appropriate if I could have some sort of response for the Committee in the same sort of timescale.
  (Sir Michael Jay) I can promise you a follow-up of some sort during the course of the afternoon. I am afraid I cannot without looking into the details promise you a substantial reply. If the request was for a substantive reply to the points today, I cannot promise you that because I will have to look into where we have got to and how complicated it is. I can certainly promise you as it were an update or a sitrep by the end of the day.

  210. But not a holding answer on a holding answer, Sir Michael.
  (Sir Michael Jay) I will have to look into the substance of it all.

  Sir John Stanley: Sir Michael, we would be grateful for any help you can give, but also we are conscious that when it comes to individual questions which Members have tabled, then it is for Members to pursue the relevant ministerial office.

Mr Mackinlay

  211. Yes, but if I had not asked those questions we could be asking you this morning and it is a matter on the record that Mr Straw said these should be available. In fact, he said he was gobsmacked that these were not available. The $64,000 question today is, are these documents in existence in London? That is something we need to know and I cannot for the life of me find out why that cannot be established. The spin-off of this issue is in fact a response to some questions on advice to ministers because presumably, when somebody—Jones, Carter-Brown or someone or other—says, "Minister, I have put in your Red Box the statistics but we cannot find Gibraltar's", that must have happened, and he says, "Thanks very much". Where did Mr Straw get this from, about Gibraltar not having these statistics? Presumably the person who put him up to this might be in Brussels, and presumably then did not advise him that the other Overseas Territories, for which you have greater responsibility when it comes to some of the territories where there is not devolved self-government—it really is a cover-up, I have got to say to you, a shocking cover-up. And there is a parliamentary recess coming up and I am not going to tolerate it.
  (Sir Michael Jay) I undertake, as I did earlier on, Chairman, to look into this when I get back to the office.

Sir John Stanley

  212. Sir Michael, we are very grateful to you and to your colleagues, and we would also be grateful if you would convey the thanks of the Committee to the very considerable number of your staff who must have devoted a great deal of time to producing the latest annual version of your report which has been of great value to this Committee and I am sure to the wider public. We hope it has also been of value to your Department in compiling it. Thank you very much.
  (Sir Michael Jay) Thank you, Chairman. May I say that it is a pleasure to be before the Committee in the more formal capacity than has been the case in the past but I do see it as very important during my present job to work very closely with your Committee. You travel widely. You see many of our posts at first hand and have a perspective on the operation which is very valuable to us and I look forward to developing that relationship while I am in this job.

  Sir John Stanley: Thank you, Sir Michael.

16   Ev 83. Back

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