HC Deb 20 May 1968 vol 765 cc20-1
24. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what estimate he has made of the likely percentage change in the number of United Kingdom-based personnel serving in British missions overseas during the course of the current financial year.

Mr. Mulley

The current United Kingdom-based establishment overseas is more than 2 per cent. below that in the last financial year. During the current financial year, there will be further redeployments of United Kingdom-based staff to meet our changing tasks, for example, in giving increased attention to work to promote British exports.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Has the right hon. Gentleman noted that the foreign exchange cost of these services has increased 12 times since before the war? Does he suggest that our responsibilities and influence have increased proportionately over that period? Second, has he noticed that the United States Government are able to announce a 10 per cent. cut in the foreign exchange cost of their foreign service in the course of a single year? Why cannot we do the same?

Mr. Mulley

On the first point, although there has been a large increase in costs since the period to which I referred in my Written Answer on 17th May to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), to which I assume the hon. Gentleman is referring, he will recall that in that Answer I showed that there are more than double the number of countries in which we have representatives, in addition to the development of big missions at the United Nations and elsewhere.

The broad question of how much one can cut depends on how much waste there is to start with, and I should not like to make an observation about the size of United States overseas representation, but the fact remains, as the hon. Gentleman knows, having been a member of the Service, that our overseas representation is inspected regularly every three years. While we are seeking and shall obtain further reductions in these establishments, we have been primarily engaged in the last year or two in changing people from political to commercial work. I think that that is the wish of the House. It is certainly the wish of British industry that we should do it.