HC Deb 15 June 1977 vol 933 cc365-6
5. Sir Anthony Royle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the CPRS Report on the Diplomatic Service.

Dr. Owen

I hope to have a printed copy of the Report shortly. After discussions with my colleagues I hope to be able to publish the Report to allow for public discussion.

Sir A. Royle

But what action will the right hon. Gentleman take to restore the morale of the Diplomatic Service, which has been affected by the strange attitude of some members of the CPRS team as they have gone round our missions abroad? Is he aware that we on the Opposition Benches trust that he will support the Diplomatic Service against those who seek to undermine this important British interest through either envy or malice?

Dr. Owen

This country has been extremely well served by its Diplomatic Service over many generations and we owe it to the service to ensure that any examination of what are only recommendations to the Government should be carried out seriously. That is what its members want. When I go around talking to diplomats in many parts of the world I find that they are not reluctant to see the service examined. They realise that it must change with changing circumstances, but they want an unprejudiced look at their service, and a recognition that they have played an important rôle in the past and will continue to do so in future.

Mr. Grocott

But is it not a fact that the Diplomatic Service is overmanned and overprivileged? Can my right hon. Friend explain why it is necessary, for example, to keep the same level of representation at European capitals, when, so far as one can discover, planeloads of Ministers and civil servants make constant trips to and from European capitals—Brussels in particular?

Dr. Owen

I do not want to prejudge the discussions that will take place on the CPRS Report, but on the question whether the service is overmanned I must tell the House frankly that I think that there are some places in the world where one needs to consider whether there could not be some judicious slimming of the service.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Washington, for example.

Dr. Owen

I do not object at all to what my hon. Friend says. However, there are also places where the Diplomatic Service is understaffed and is doing a difficult job in adverse circumstances. In such places I should like to increase the representation to support our trade efforts.

Mr. Paul Dean

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that remarks like that made by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) damage the morale of the Diplomatic Service? Does he agree that Britain still has an important rôle to play in the Commonwealth, in Europe and in the world, and that to achieve that effectively we must be effectively represented abroad by those who feel confident in the service which they serve?

Dr. Owen

Yes, I agree with that. We need to be effectively represented throughout the world. I am not a believer in sectoral withdrawal in any aspect of our life. I think that we need to draw the lesson that, in our obsession, naturally, with the arguments about our entry into Europe, we may have got too orientated towards Europe. At the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, I was struck by the number of people who asked us to remember that we still had major trading interests all over the world. We need to look after those trading interests and ensure that our representation still covers all aspects of our trading and diplomatic activity world-wide.

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