Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140
TUESDAY 16 JULY 2002
JAY KCMG, MR
CMG, MR SIMON
GASS CMG AND
140. Sir Michael, there are a couple of other
questions I would like to ask you on the security side. As you
will have been briefed, one of the security issues that arose
out of the Committee's extended inquiry into arms to Sierra Leone
in the last Parliament was the very, very serious lack of ability
by the Foreign Office to deploy secure communications rapidly
to a high commissioner or an ambassador when the high commissioner
or ambassador was obliged by the security situation to move to
a different location. I was slightly concerned by what you and
your colleague, Mr Collecott, have said so far. Certainly you
gave the impression that this was still all under consideration.
I wonder whether you could tell us whether you have, as of today,
satisfactory systems and back-up in place, particularly in relation
to portable secure communications, whereby at literally no notice
you would be able to ensure that a senior member of the diplomatic
staff who had to move instantly was able to be joined up with
secure communications at that new location?
(Mr Collecott) I think the answer is "yes"
and there are two facets to that. Firstly, we have invested and
are in the process just this month of rolling out 250 secure mobile
telephones as a first tranche for precisely these reasons. We
are sending one or two to each of our posts abroad and distributing
them to senior officials and Ministers in London precisely to
meet the need for secure communications in all types of circumstances
and, frankly, to avoid the difficulties that one has with an increasing
use of mobile phones which are not secure. That is one immediate
answer. The second answer is: yes, we also have a small, portable
satellite dish which we deploy extremely rapidly wherever we need
it, which can be used either for secure telephone contact, secure
data transmission, sending e-mails, which was, for instance, the
first thing which the people we sent in to Kabul took with them.
It was the development beyond that which unfortunately took a
Sir Patrick Cormack
141. You only have one?
(Mr Collecott) No, we have several of them which sit
in shrink-wrap packs and are sent extremely rapidly to wherever
they are needed round the world, sometimes to places where the
local telephone system for other reasons is not as good as we
would wish. We are a long way down that track. We also try, as
you might imagine, to anticipate difficulties, such as the ones
you mention about maybe needing to move the seat of the high commissioner
or ambassador. In one or two cases recently we have installed
permanent secure communications and secure automation systems
in other posts so that we have a back-up and somewhere to move
the high commissioner or the ambassador, should we need to in
142. The next question I want to put to you,
Sir Michael is this: as you are aware, this Committee has taken
a very close interest in the follow-up to the tragic murder of
Brigadier Saunders in Athens. I would like to ask you whether
or not you are satisfied that your Department's requests for close
protection of personnel that you judge are needed in your posts
overseas will be met adequately by the Ministry of Defence in
(Sir Michael Jay) I will ask Peter Collecott again
as he has been handling that particular issue.
(Mr Collecott) In the particular case of Brigadier
Saunders, as you will know, the Ministry of Defence inquiry has
now produced a report which, from our point of view, was very
satisfactory. No report like that is entirely satisfactory because
it is dealing with a very unsatisfactory event but it gave us
the reassurance that the security measures which had been put
in place were entirely the right ones in the situation and gave
assurance that for the future, in trying to protect people, we
are doing the right things. You ask specifically about close protection
teams. We still have a close protection team in Athens and in
many other places. Money is, of course, an issue. We have to fund
the close protection teams in all but the very shortest timescale.
Finding the funds for the close protection teams that we believe
we need is a high priority. Although at times it looked as if
the boundaries were being rather squeezed, I do not believe we
have been in a situation where we have had to turn round and say,
"We really believe close protection is needed in this place
but we cannot find the resources to do it".
(Sir Michael Jay) We would never put ourselves in
the position in which we believed that close protection was needed
and we did not provide it.
143. I am very glad to hear you say that, Sir
Michael, because that can be the only proper and responsible stance
for all your diplomatic and service personnel for whom you are
responsible in overseas posts. I hope you can assure the Committee
that if a situation arose in which you had very rapidly to expand
the amount of expenditure you were carrying out on close protection,
and I wholly understand myself the cost of that, you would, if
necessary, go to the Treasury and seek a supplementary expenditure
contribution to make certain that crucial requirement was met.
(Sir Michael Jay) One way or another, Mr Chairman,
we would ensure that we had the money so that our staff had the
close protection we judge necessary. After 11 September, there
was, as you can imagine, a tremendous increase in security requirements
worldwide. I do not have the figures in front of me but we increased
our security spending quite markedly in order to meet that. That
was an absolute requirement. That will continue to be so.
Chairman: Thank you. I am very glad to hear
that and I know the whole Committee will be. Can we now turn to
some human rights issues.
144. Sir Michael, according to the Annual Report,
all Foreign Office staff are now required to take a one-day course
in human rights. How would you evaluate the effectiveness of that
human rights training for your staff?
(Sir Michael Jay) I would be better able to answer
that after the next course, on which I am going to go myself.
I have not yet been on it but will be on it. I do feel that there
is a much greater understanding of human rights issues in the
Foreign Office than there was, let us say, five years ago, partly
because human rights has become a more important part of our policy
and partly because we have been providing the training necessary
to ensure that works and the Human Rights Department is staffed
by some extremely able people. I do not know if any of my colleagues
have a more specific answer but I am struck, having come back
to the Foreign Office after six years away, by the greater emphasis
that we are giving, and the greater professionalism of our staff,
to handling human rights issues and in managing our Human Rights
145. Just moving that along, you have appointed
human rights advisers to certain embassies abroad. How has that
impacted on the work of the posts abroad by having those advisers
in place? Following on, how was it decided which embassies should
have a human rights adviser?
(Mr Collecott) Mr Illsey, I cannot maintain that I
am very close to the detailed question of how the choices were
made between posts. I have had experience of a couple of the advisers
that we have had: one in the Philippines and the other in Moscow,
Both the posts and the individuals concerned believe that both
of those appointments in particular have been a great success.
It has actually opened the horizons and enabled us to do things
which otherwise we might have been able to do but less well, less
professionally, and has broadened the range of contacts which
we, as an embassy, have been able to have with local NGOs and
given them a degree of extra credibility because we are putting
in place human rights professionals. My balance sheet would be
wholly positive about that.
146. Does it create any tension between the
country in which the post is located with human rights advisers
attached to the British Embassy? Does that reflect on the country?
Obviously it must, in view of the fact that human rights advisers
are there. Is there any feedback?
(Mr Collecott) One has to be sensitive in the way
that these posts are projected and sensitive in terms of the project
which the human rights advisers are trying to work on. Obviously
our intention is to work, as far as we can, with the trends within
the country, whether they are NGOs or, quite often, with governments
in the country and government departments who realise that there
are issues which needed to be tackled in the human rights area
per se or in the broader field of good governance, setting
in place proper judicial systems, the rule of law et cetera.
(Sir Michael Jay) It is not always easy, Mr Illsley.
I was in Angola a few months ago and there needed to and wanted
to talk to NGOs and others about the human rights situation. Now,
that is not always welcome to governments but I think it is accepted
that that is a proper role for diplomacy and a proper role for
embassies. It has to be done with a certain sensitivity.
Chairman: We are going to couple with human
rights some issues in relation to the protection of British citizens
147. Sir Michael, you may think it is a strange
jump but I wanted to jump to the protection of our own citizens
abroad, and in particular to an article written in The Times
on 18 June entitled, "Why has the Government let these people
down?" The article is written by Stephen Jakobi, not obviously
somebody who has not an axe to grind, but somebody who has drawn
attention consistently to the plight of people languishing in
foreign jails. He draws attention in particular to the celebrated
and well-known case of Ian Stillman. I know that Baroness Amos
has been working very hard as the Government Minister responsible.
I know that you have staff in the Foreign Office who are working
hard to try and resolve the case for the release of Ian Stillman.
I have to declare an interest in that his sister lives in my constituency.
However, I want to know how you respond to the accusation contained
in that article, particularly that we are not doing enough when
people are tried, or mis-tired as we often think, and imprisoned.
I think Ian Stillman's case is a particularly good example because
of his profound deafness and disability.
(Sir Michael Jay) It is a tragic case and one which
is very much at the top of the list of priorities for our Ministers,
and indeed our High Commission in Delhi. We continue to make representations
at the highest level and take the advice of our High Commission
about the best way in which to try to ensure Ian Stillman's release.
All I can say in response is that in that case, and in others,
I can assure the Committee that we regard this as a very high
priority indeed. We cannot, alas, always achieve what we want,
which is getting another sovereign government to release somebody
from prison, even when we may be convinced ourselves that the
case is just. It is a very important part of our task overseas.
As I say, it is not just our embassies and high commissions but
something which is constantly on the minds of our Ministers, particularly
Valerie Amos, but not just Valerie Amos. The Foreign Secretary
has taken a personal interest also in the case of Ian Stillman,
and continues to do so.
148. Is it easier to deal with governments within
the European Union than governments outside? I am thinking, for
example of the case of Andrew Beaumont, the lorry driver currently
in jail in France, who is again a constituent of mine, and drugs
were found in the back of his lorry. Is it easier to deal with
the French Government because we have a much closer contact with
them and we know their legal systems perhaps better?
(Sir Michael Jay) Yes, I think it probably is easier
to work with governments whose systems we are closer to and working
with day by day. Certainly from my time in France, I know that
we had very close co-operation from the French authorities over,
sadly, the very large number of British citizens that there are
in jails in France, particularly in Lille. It is more difficult
elsewhere but that does not mean it is less important or that
we give it less priority, rather the reverse; I think the more
difficult the relationship, the harder we try.
149. The annual report says that we do not try
and make judgements as to the guilt or innocence of the British
citizen abroad, but surely in some cases where there is a clear
miscarriage of justice do we not make that point to the government
(Sir Michael Jay) We would certainly make the point
if we believed that there had been a miscarriage of justice. If
we believed that the process was in some way flawed or unfair
we would certainly make that point and we would work through the
lawyers of the person concerned to try and do our best to ensure
that justice was done.
150. So do you think that Stephen Jakobi was
wrong in saying that we have let down the people that are languishing
in jails abroad?
(Sir Michael Jay) I can understand why he says that
and I can understand why the people themselves feel that we are
not doing enough. They will always feel that we are not doing
enough as long as they remain in prison; I understand that. All
I can say is that from my point of view and that of ministers
and that of my colleagues overseas, this is something which is
really very high up our list of priorities and that will continue
to be so. There are very tragic cases and Ian Stillman is in some
ways one of the most difficult and one of the most tragic we face.
151. I also have a constituent who is currently
in jail but in Australia on a drugs charge which seems to have
been a slightly difficult case which I have raised with the Foreign
Office. It brings to mind that there is also the case of the young
back-packer murdered in Australia, the disappearance of Peter
Falconio. A lot of these are related to the back-packing route
through places like Thailand with the drugs influences there.
It just occurred to me whether the Foreign Office is doing anything
to try and draw people's attention to the dangers of that back-packing/drugs
route, the back-packing adventurers who go to Australia because
of the obvious attractions there. Does the Foreign office do anything
to try and educate these people or try and keep them away from
this obvious temptation to smuggle drugs?
(Sir Michael Jay) It does that through the travel
advice which is put out through our web site on every country
in the world which gives quite full advice on where to go, where
not to go, what precautions to take, what risks you are running.
I do not know whether there is anything specific about the back-packing
trail; I would like to look into that, but it is precisely this
sort of risk that people are running that we are trying to warn
them off beforehand and the programme that we have got, "Know
Before You Go", which is a consular public diplomacy effort
which we launched a little while ago, is designed to make people
to think before they go about the risks that they are running
and, in so far as they can, to minimise those. I think this is
going to become probably more rather than less an issue for us
because more and more people have a spirit of adventure, they
want to go to places where the tours are not going, they are going
on their own or sometimes in small groups, they are more likely
to get into trouble, and they are more likely to call on our services.
We have identified this as one of the management and policy issues
for the future and it is something which is high up on our list
Sir Patrick Cormack
152. I try in my own constituency to encourage
people to let me know if they are going abroad and then I in turn
inform the Foreign Office and even supply constituents with a
letter, "To Whom It May Concern", which they can give
to an embassy official and so on. What you have just said about
"Know Before You Go" makes me wonder whether you should
not be even more proactive. What steps do you take to ensure that
posters and information of this sort are on university campuses,
in public libraries and so on around the country, because the
aim ought to be to try and reach out to wherever these frequently
very intelligent as well as adventurous young people tend to go?
(Sir Michael Jay) The judgement we have reached is
that the best way of getting through to the largest number of
people is through our web site and that is very widely looked
at. It gets an extraordinary number of hits each day. There is
one new feature which has started recently which is called "Travellers'
Tips" which is a country advice page. Let us consider whether
we can do more through universities. Even if universities say,
"Before you go look at the web site", that is one way
through, but I think that that generation does tend to look pretty
automatically now, much more automatically than in the past, at
web sites where there is information available.
153. I accept that, but I am a member of St
Anthony's Oxford, and the notice boards are still plastered with
things and I think that you probably ought not to neglect slightly
more ancient forms of communication as well as the more advanced
(Mr Collecott) May I make one additional point, which
is that the "Know Before You Go" campaign is not just
something we are doing on our own. It is actually a joint venture
between us and the travel industry. They have very large numbers
of outlets through which we are disseminating that kind of material
but we will take on board your suggestion.
154. You launched a new web site I think in
(Mr Collecott) Yes.
155. There is a link on the home page marked
"FCO e-Services". Last time I looked it produced a blank
page saying, "Sorry: this page cannot be displayed".
I just wondered whether you had sorted that out yet and what the
e-services will comprise and when you will begin to deliver them.
(Mr Collecott) I do not know the answer to the first
of your questions, whether it is now still a blank page.
Mr Hamilton: I will check when I leave here.
Sir John Stanley
156. Could we have an answer as to why it was
blank, a note afterwards, please?
(Mr Collecott) I suspect that the reason
it was blank is that, as you know, the going live of the new web
page was somewhat delayed and was some months later than we had
hoped. I will give you a written note on that. The e-services
that we are intending to deliver are set out in the e-governance
strategy which is a public document and is also on the web site.
I might just draw your attention to the particular things that
we are doing at the moment, in particular in the big public service
areas of consular protection and of the visa operation. Just taking
an example from the latter, we are at the moment in the first
few months of pioneering a web based system of applying for visas
in the US and just yesterday I was told that something like 40
per cent of applicants are now using that. There are still issues
over quite how far one can go and we still are not yet at the
stage of being able to have identification on the web. One needs
a certain amount of iris recognition or some kind of technology
which we are already looking at, but this is very much the direction
in which we are going. We wish to go relatively quickly but in
a measured way to make sure that we get it right in a country
like the US, where access to the web is very ubiquitous, before
spreading it much more widely.
(Sir Michael Jay) I sent a note round to all heads
of departments in the Foreign Office last week stressing the importance
of keeping the web site for which they are responsible absolutely
up to date because it does seem to me that there is nothing more
frustrating than a web site with a blank page or a web site which
is out of date. We will continue to put particular emphasis on
157. Can I move on to your "Bricks to Bytes"
policy, in other words, move from real estate to information and
technology? I think one of the concerns that many of us might
have is that obviously estates, buildings, are appreciating assets
in most countries in the world. However, information technology
is not and therefore are we using a appreciating asset, or often
appreciating asset, to fund something that depreciates pretty
rapidly? Would you like to comment on that?
(Sir Michael Jay) I have two comments and I would
like to ask one of my colleagues to say a bit more. First, our
experience is that our bricks overseas are not appreciating; they
are depreciating, which is hence one of our problems with impairment
and so on. Secondly, I do not think we have any choice but to
work increasingly electronically and to continue with our IT modernisation
programme. If I can just say a word about the IT modernisation
programme, we describe that in the report. It is very important.
It is using up a lot of our funds, but I think that the aim of
being a global on-line organisation and not just a hub and spoke
organisation is hugely important. Mentally we are still too hub
and spoke and we need to become much more lateral in sharing best
practice with posts who are doing a good thing in one country
teaching others and sharing knowledge more laterally as well as
back to London. I think that the combination of IT programmes
that we are putting in place, the FTN, the worldwide communications
electronic network, the standard IT system, Firecrest, which is
extremely popular, the knowledge management system which we call
Focus, which will provide a single global registry and an FCO
intranet which will link into the Whitehall Government secure
intranet, will enable us to be far more effectively joined up
than we have been in the past. I do myself attach a great deal
of importance to this programme of IT modernisation.
158. Is there any risk that you will feel obliged
to sell valuable real estate to fund the continuing development
of what sounds like a very exciting IT project?
(Sir Michael Jay) We are, as we discussed earlier
on, obliged to look for and want to look for properties that are
not performing well, and I think it makes sense to use some of
the proceeds of that for funding IT, which is essential if we
are going to become a modern 21st century diplomatic service.
I wish it were true that all our properties overseas were appreciating.
159. One final thing is on page 143 of the annual
report regarding the Prism programme, basically the integrated
processes and management information systems that you are introducing.
How crucial is the success of Prism do you think in meeting the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office's objectives?
(Sir Michael Jay) Absolutely fundamental. We do not
yet have the management information system which enables us to
meet all our objectives and when the Prism system comes on line
in the first half of next year it is going to make it possible
for us, I believe for the first time, to meet many of our objectives
fully. I am conscious myself, having spent a certain amount of
time talking about Prism and talking to the people who are designing
it now, that we must not think of this as just a piece of kit
that comes into operation on 1 April and then everything is fine.
We are going to need to have quite a mental adaptation in the
office, at home and abroad, to ensure that we do make full use
of it when it comes on stream. I think it is a very important
programme indeed. It lies at the heart of a lot of what we want
to do in the next few years.
11 Note by Witness: The FCO has a total of
five advisers at posts-Manila (appointed in 1998), Kathmandu (2001),
Caracas (2002), Kuala Lumpur (2002) and Kiev (2001). Back