HC Deb 01 April 1968 vol 762 cc6-10
7. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the offer of resignation by Sir Con O'Neill, Deputy Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office.

46. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why he has appointed Mr. Christopher Soames as Ambassador in Paris and accepted the resignation of Sir Con O'Neill at the Foreign Office.

50. Mr. Emrys Hughes

askew ale Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why Mr. Christopher Soames was appointed to be British Ambassador in Paris.

55. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why Sir Con O'Neill resigned from the Foreign Office.

56. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has a statement to make about the resignation of Sir Con O'Neill.

59. Mr. Roebuck

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why there is a shortage in Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service of persons suitable for appointment to such a post as Her Britannic Majesty's Ambassador to Paris; and if he will make a statement.

62. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why he accepted the resignation of Sir Con O'Neill, Deputy Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office; and why he appointed Mr. Christopher Soames as Ambassador in Paris.

64. Sir Knox Cunningham

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will state the reasons for the resignation from the Foreign Service of Sir Con O'Neill; and when such resignation will take effect.

Mr. M. Stewart

Sir Con O'Neill's reasons for resigning were set out in a personal statement issued, with my predecessor's consent, to the Press. As he then said he will leave the Foreign Office in the middle of April. I share my right hon. Friend's regret that the Diplomatic Service should be losing such an able and devoted officer.

My right hon. Friend recommended Mr. Soames' appointment as Her Majesty's Ambassador at Paris in the confident belief that he would fill the rôle with distinction. I share that view.

Appointments of distinguished public figures to senior diplomatic posts are not infrequent. They do not imply a shortage of career diplomats qualified to fill these posts, but simply that a particular person outside the Service may be especially well qualified to fill a particular post at a particular time.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

With regard to Question No. 7, I accept that the right hon. Gentleman has no personal responsibility for what happened, but is it not indicative of an unhappy state of affairs in the Foreign Office when a public servant of this high intellectual quality and all but unique knowledge of Europe is lost to the Service at a time of particular difficulty?

Mr. Stewart

No. If we study the terms of Sir Con O'Neill's statement we see that there is no ground for what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Sir G. Nabarro

But is not the appointment of a career and professional politician to a post traditionally occupied by a career and professional diplomat calculated to discourage men of the highest calibre from entering the Corps Diplomatique?

Mr. Stewart

This might be true if it were the regular practice, but it is not the regular practice; it is done in certain circumstances, such as I outlined in my Answer.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether Mr. Soames has now definitely severed his connection with the Conservative Party? Is comrade Soames now supposed loyally and patriotically to carry out the duties imposed on him by a Labour Government?

Mr. Stewart

The answer to the second part of that supplementary question is, "Yes, Sir"—and I believe to the first part, too.

Mr. Fisher

As the former Foreign Secretary, whose attitude was no doubt the real cause of Sir Con O'Neill's resignation, has now resigned, will not the right hon. Gentleman invite Sir Con to reconsider his decision, so that we do not lose from the national service such an outstandingly able public servant?

Mr. Stewart

If we want to know the real reason for Sir Con O'Neill's resignation the sensible thing is to consult his own statement, and not the speculations of others. His statement does not bear out what the hon. Member has said.

Mr. Cronin

Will my right hon. Friend continue. vigorous policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) and make it clear that all decisions are made by the Foreign Secretary and are not unduly influenced by the Establishment—in the Foreign Office? On the question of the Paris appointment, as Mr. Soames' appointment will obviously be a popular one in France, was not my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper's bipartisan approach meritorious, especially as Mr. Soames himself is such a partisan person that he probably would not appoint a cook who was not a Conservative?

Mr. Stewart

I am not sure that I follow all of that question, but I have made it clear that I share my predecessor's view of Mr. Soames' suitability for this post. On the first part of the supplementary question, Sir Con O'Neill's statement itself makes it clear that there is no question but that the appointment of an ambassador to a particular post is the responsibility of the Foreign Secretary.

Sir Knox Cunningham

But since this resignation took place on a question of personality rather than of policy, and now that the Foreign Secretary has himself resigned, although it might previously have been a question of one or the other, by now should both have to go?

Mr. Stewart

We have had that supplementary question already, from another hon. Member. The reason given by Sir Con O'Neill for his resignation is not the one that the hon. and learned Member has just suggested. He gave it because hi: was not appointed to a particular post and felt that in all the circumstances the best course for him personally was to leave the Service. I very much regret that decision but that was his decision and the reason for which he took it.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The Foreign Secretary must obviously keep postings of civil servants in his own hands—that almost goes without saying—but is it not undesirable that there should be encounters of such a kind, between Ministers and civil servants, as it is common knowledge took place preceding the retirement of Sir Con O'Neill? Does not this do nothing but damage to a Service with a very high record?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that there is justification for what the right hon. Gentleman says. I must ask the House to notice what Sir Con O'Neill said, and what he gave as the reasons for his own resignation. He is the best authority on that subject.