HC Deb 10 February 1998 vol 306 cc133-5
7. Mr. Hawkins

What plans he has to change the recruitment policies of his Department. [26436]

18. Mr. Ruffley

If he will make a statement on his Department's policy on the appointment of non-career civil servants. [26448]

Mr. Fatchett

Recruitment to civil service appointments must follow the civil service commissioners' recruitment code. We are working to make the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a more open and diverse organisation representative of modern Britain. We have appointed Mr. Linbert Spencer as an adviser on minority ethnic issues to help promote the FCO as an attractive career opportunity for members of minority ethnic groups. Separately, we have established a short-term business attachment scheme to strengthen our export promotion efforts by placing secondees from business into posts overseas.

Mr. Hawkins

The Minister and various other Labour Front-Bench spokesmen both before and after the election were fond of making portentous statements about the rights of women in the work force. In the light of those, will the Foreign Office now release the ban on Anne Bullen responding to the outrageous attacks on her by Labour Front-Bench spokesmen and their spin doctors? In the light of the Foreign Secretary's recent answer, is not it clear that to avoid religious holidays in the middle east, he probably needs yet another diary secretary?

Mr. Fatchett

Given what I have read in the newspapers, I am not sure that there is any ban on Anne Bullen—she seems to have been quite vocal. If anyone had been watching the response to my earlier answer, they would have seen one of the reasons why the modern Conservative party is unelectable. As soon as I mentioned the needs of the ethnic minority communities, all that Conservative Members could do was to find it amusing. It is a serious issue, and I do not treat that section of our community with contempt.

Mr. Ruffley

Does the Minister now accept that, if an individual from outside the civil service is being considered for a post within his Department, any personal involvement with any Minister should be declared at the first opportunity? If he accepts that principle, can he explain why the Foreign Secretary did not follow it in the case of Mrs. Gaynor Regan.

Mr. Fatchett

All those issues were explained in full last week. I find it wholly depressing that a modern opposition party—I understand why it is in opposition—cannot deal with important issues of state. Opposition Members stay in the gutter and they have got even lower than the gutter in some of their questions. I understand that the hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues were special advisers to previous Conservative Governments—I wonder how they were appointed.

Mr. Gerrard

Does my hon. Friend accept that, to those of us who represent constituencies with significant numbers of ethnic minority constituents, it is no laughing matter that people from those communities have been shut off for so long from jobs in the civil service, especially jobs at its higher levels? Will he tell us what his Department is doing to put that right and to ensure that at the top level, including that of ambassadors, we have people who are representative of the communities that we represent?

Mr. Fatchett

My hon. Friend asks a valid question. One of our reasons for appointing Linbert Spencer is so that we have help and advice on those issues. I look forward to the day when British ambassadors throughout the world truly reflect the multiracial and multi-ethnic nature of modern Britain.

Mr. Sheerman

I congratulate my hon. Friend on broadening the scope of recruitment, and especially on the temporary secondments from business. However, will he do more in terms of getting business acumen around the world to open up our embassies and make them more approachable and accessible? Will he also expand the policy to bring in senior local authority officers and academics, as adding such people to our permanent foreign service could bring nothing but gain?

Mr. Fatchett

The short-term business attachment scheme is working well. There has been substantial private sector interest, which shows the extent and depth of the partnership between private industry and the new Labour Government. We shall continue to develop the scheme. I agree with my hon. Friend that bringing in expertise and experience is extremely useful to the Foreign Office.

Sir Peter Tapsell

When I was a very young man, Anthony Eden said to me that he thought that attacks ad hominem in the House were nearly always a mistake. Would not the institution that we are proud to serve do itself far more credit if hon. Members on both sides of the House abandoned them?

Mr. Fatchett

I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman, who makes his point remarkably well. I suspect that he read the Hansard report of last Wednesday's Adjournment debate and realised that his party had shot itself in the foot on that occasion.