HC Deb 06 July 1988 vol 136 cc1055-6
11. Mr. Cran

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to ensure greater length and continuity of service among commercial officers deployed in Britain's embassies and consulates.

Mrs. Chalker

Continuity is important, but is only one of a number of factors which determine tour lengths for United Kingdom-based officers. Commercial officers work in tandem with locally engaged staff, who offer continuity. Together they provide an effective and valued service to British exporters.

Mr. Cran

In paying tribute to the importance that I know my right hon. Friend attaches to export promotion, which, if evidenced by nothing else, is evidenced by the size of the budget that she has contributed to it, may I ask whether she agrees that, while locally recruited staff are important, British industry places the highest possible importance on high-level commercial staff appointed by the FCO? Does she also agree that many companies feel that tours of duty, if that is the correct expression, for those staff are not long enough, and that consequently the continuity that companies expect is not there? Against that background, it is felt that an investigation should take place.

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to Foreign and Commonwealth service officers, but I must say to him that long stints in certain posts can give rise to problems.

Mr. Kaufman


Mrs. Chalker

That is why we have decided that four years is about the right length of time for second secretaries and above who are appointed to commercial posts abroad. Where conditions are difficult, and for certain staff, the time may have to be shorter. I can assure my hon. Friend that representatives of British industry who meet the permanent under-secretary and me on a regular basis to discuss commercial issues seem to be very satisfied with the combination of knowledgeable, locally engaged staff and commercial officers, with the emphasis on high-level staff, who normally do tours of duty of about three to four years.

Sir Ian Lloyd

In considering the whole question of length and continuity of service, will my right hon. Friend pay special attention to the position of scientific officers in our embassies, who render such distinguished and valuable service, not only to the scientific community, but to industry in Britain as a whole?

Mrs. Chalker

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. We hope that in the scientific field we shall get more interchanges with the private sector, because we can certainly gain from the knowledge of such people in commercial and scientific posts. There are exchanges at the moment, but there are not enough and we should like to see more.

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