HL Deb 19 November 1969 vol 305 cc917-1055

2.56 p.m.


rose to call attention to the Report of the Review Committee on Overseas Representation 1968–69 (Cmnd. 4107); and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name. I think that anybody who looks at the Report on Overseas Representation will be immediately struck by two things. The first is the remarkable expedition with which the work has been completed. Even a most casual glance at the range of evidence and places visited will show the astonishing application with which the Committee have set about their work. Whether it was necessary to do it quite so quickly or not is, of course, another question altogether. The second point is that the Report bristles with new ideas. Nothing seems to escape the Committee's attention. Their eagle eyes noticed all sorts of things: electric typewriters, the shape of passports and the manning of various departments in the Board of Trade. I shall attempt to refer to only a few of the points which have been raised.

There is a third point we must remember, and that is that there was a review of the Overseas Service five years ago. Nobody would wish that a quinquennial review of our Overseas Service should become a routine matter in the machinery of government in this country. It would not serve any useful purpose at all Following that review there was a very substantial reorganisation, in which three departments were drawn together. That was conducted under the guidance of three noble Lords whom we are to have the great advantage of hearing speak to us this afternoon. I believe that that reorganisation went through very smoothly, and the only slightly indigestible morsel with regard to it was the continuance of the dependent territories.

This Report has received rather a mixed reception. Indeed, the Chairman felt constrained to write a rather long letter to The Times explaining some of the matters on which he thought comment had gone astray. He made two points in particular. The first was that the terms of reference tied the Review Committee to certain lines of thought. To me, I must say, the terms of reference look rather like a treaty of peace after a long guerrilla war conducted in the dark corridors of power. In any case, I think it speaks volumes for the sense of public duty of the Committee that they were prepared to continue under those terms. The second point which the Chairman made 'was that, with a relatively short Report on a very big subject, it was quite possible, by changing the emphasis, to draw different interpretations. That is true; but what really matters from the point of this Motion is what conclusions the Government draw from it and what they propose to do about it.

If I may shortly summarise what the Committee said, it is this. First of all, in dealing with overseas representation they found it necessary to include the overseas broadcasting service of the B.B.C., and the British Council, besides the Diplomatic Service itself; and the total cost of that to the country is …105 million, or roughly 1 per cent. of the national expenditure. Secondly, so far as the foreign currency element is concerned, it is believed roughly to balance with what foreign missions spend in this country. Thirdly, they have not been able to establish a yardstick by which cost effectiveness could properly be judged. That is inevitable. Much of diplomacy consists in trying to prevent things from happening. One may truly say, What's done we partly may compute. But know not what's resisted". Fourthly, they found that the condemnation of the cult of the generalist amateur, which was mentioned in the Fulton Report, has no place here at all. Finally, they are impressed with the quality of the Service and the dedication which those in the Service show to their work. They considered that if there were to be a reduction in numbers it must be accompanied by a reduction of the work to be carried out. They were a very businesslike Committee and they had a look at the arrangements in the Foreign Service. They quickly saw that there were quite a number of improvements which might very reasonably be made. They emphasised the need for more training—particularly on certain tasks connected with the Home Department—and said that there should be more telegrams rather than fewer. That is perhaps rather a formidable proposal, considering the number that are used at the present time. They emphasised that there should be more buildings, better adapted for the purpose for which they were intended. There should be a 10 per cent. manpower margin; improved conditions for retirement—particularly for those who may be forced to retire on pension—and improved conditions for retirement of local employees overseas. There should be an entertainment allowance for commercial counsellors, in particular. Also matters were to be dealt with frequently at a higher level, which meant a higher grade staff. A new Foreign Office was to be built, and there was to be possibly an increase in the British Council, and no change in the B.B.C. It is clear that if they are to get the 10 per cent. economic cut which I think they set out to get, the items I have mentioned—which I think are very desirable in themselves—do not make its achievement any easier.

The first matter to receive their attention was the Information Section, which they recommended should be cut in half. I would only say that, from reading the Report, the work of the Information Section does not seem to have been brought out very fully. The second matter to be considered was the Service attaches, and they were to be cut by a third. I have always found that Service attaches have not been very conspicuous until something has happened, but when something has happened, it is surprising how extremely useful their knowledge and contacts are.

However, there is one other point want to make; and this applies also to Commonwealth liaison officers. One of the strong points of the Commonwealth—I do not want to go into this problem of illusions of grandeur, which we are all said to be suffering from; I do not know who is particularly—is that when it comes to action between the Armed Forces of the Commonwealth, the common structure, the common command organisation, is of enormous advantage, for instance, in United Nations' operations. This is very clear of course in Cyprus, where it is happening at the present time. I hope therefore that this point will certainly be borne in mind. Liaison officers are a fountain-head but they play a very definite part.

But clearly these cuts did not go far enough and so we come to perhaps the major cut, which is rather the rub. This is the sharp division between what is called an "Area of Concentration" and the "Outer Area". The Outer Area consists of 3 billion people: about 1 billion Communist and about 2 billion outside. The catch phrase "Outer Area" is certainly unfortunate. One can overlook it, but the idea behind it runs right through this Report. It does not really matter whether one is dealing with the political side or the commercial side, the same idea is present; and it does not greatly matter if one makes it slightly more digestible by calling it a comprehensive mission or a selective mission.

I will not for one moment accuse the Committee of being worthy of the words of scorn which Kipling used about people who thought of Lesser breeds without the law I do not think that that was in their mind at all. Equally, I do not think it is quite fair to say that this represents the difference between someone playing centre forward and perhaps outside right. But what I do think is fair is to draw a comparison with the attitude of the Emperor of China to George III when he tried to set up an Embassy in Peking at the end of the 18th century. The answer that he received from the Emperor was: "No, it is against the law." His letter went on: Above all, upon you who live in a remote and inaccessible region, but have shown your submissive loyalty, we have heaped benefits far in excess of those accorded to other nations. This was just to tell the King that he ought to be thankful for the benefits he had already received. I think the attitude reflected there, and indeed reflected in the Report that we are discussing, is a selfish one, a self-centred one; and it is one which we are tending to fall into at the present time. It arouses every single form of emotional antagonism: the haves against the have-nots; the industrialists against the non-industrialists; the European races against the non-European races. This, in fairness, comes out of a document presented to Parliament by order of Her Majesty the Queen, and is said to be a lesson in diplomacy to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We have just had a Report from Lester Pearson, the Pearson Report, which deals with aid to developing countries. It is an encouraging Report and he emphasises the need for "developing relationship based on mutual understanding and self-respect." He says that this development of aid is not simply a moral question; it is a question of enlightened self-interest which will undoubtedly bring benefits of far-reaching character to the international trade of this country.

The Duncan Committee calculate that, as I said, about 2 billion people are increasing the gross national product by 5 per cent. a year. But I think it is a fair point to make that the Report, in saying that the biggest return of our export effort must come from the Area of Concentration—that is, Western Europe and North America—may be expressing only a short-term view, and that in due time the consumption of the Outer-Area—the 3 billion people—may be of the most far-reaching character.

There is another point that I must make to the Government. I hope that they will not take this Report as an excuse for sliding from the Statement they originally made on January 16, 1968, when they announced the withdrawal from East of Suez; because those areas to-day, according to this Report, do not fall in the area of special importance to this country. We therefore assume that, according to this Report, the Gulf, India, Malaysia and Singapore are not of special importance to this country. I do not know what investments there are, but they are said to be worth half a billion pounds in Malaysia and Singapore; and in the whole area there are probably well over a billion pounds of investments, of one kind and another, which are certainly of economic importance.

Nor has this any direct bearing on our entry into the European Economic Community, whether we go in or not. If we do go in, we hope that we shall be a force for broadening the outlook of the area, rather than making it more insular. Indeed, our value will be the contact we have all over the world which could enrich the European Economic Community. If we were to become insular in outlook, "small Europeans", half our value to Europe would, I believe, be destroyed.

The Duncan Report makes a great deal of the commercial side; indeed, the Committee were instructed to do so. I myself cannot help wondering whether they do not go rather too far in this direction, though it is true (and no one would question it) that a growth in our export promotion is the only way in which we can expand the economy in this country. The Report states that "Their primary purpose"—of the Service—" is export promotion." The Committee make reference to security, but then pass it by. The Report suggests that the Service should enter very deeply into what really is salesmanship: they must understand market research; they must be more aggressive, initiate business, persuade British businessmen to realise their opportunities. They do not actually sell the goods; they do almost anything else. I suppose that I have done some of these things myself once or twice, on special occasions, but I think the overlap here is carried too far. There are two distinct tasks: for the salesman, on the one hand, and for the official, on the other. There is a certain overlap, I agree; and within that overlap I believe more energy should be exercised by both sides. But I should not think it wise if that overlap were further extended.

It may be said to a firm, "Why don't you trade in this area?". The first time the reply is polite; the second time it is you are told, "Well, you know, I must less polite; and the third time you say it make profits, and my profits pay your salary." There is a limit to the extent to which officials can properly press other people to do work of this sort. In any case, I have always held the view that British businessmen in proper condition can conduct their work anywhere, provided that they have stability; provided that they have free movement of personnel, of goods and money. In those conditions British businessmen can do work anywhere in the world, and it is largely that work which the official Service have to handle.

My Lords, I should like to mention one or two things in this Report which I welcome. The first is the extension of regional travel from missions. At the present time, in most cases, an Ambassador can visit his neighbouring British Embassy only at his own expense. I believe that this is wholly wrong. More and more policy is lying in the regional character, and if one is to understand the policy of the region one must be able to visit neighbouring Embassies. This is extremely important. I suggest that all Ambassadors in neighbouring countries should, in one way or another, meet once a year. I do not think it is unreasonable and I think this is what the Duncan Report is recommending.

Another point is discretion in approving longer postings. and indeed promotion in postings. I am of course aware that a matter of this kind clashes with career structure, but there are many cases in which it is desirable that a person who is fitting in a post well should remain longer. I give the example of someone who is posted to a country of which he knows nothing. I will not give precise instances, but suppose that a man arrives there and finds no one on his staff who has been there for more than two years: it is difficult for him to know what happened three, four or five years ago, yet it may be very relevant indeed to what is happening at the present time.

One of the most interesting suggestions is in regard to the tenure of property overseas, and the Report brings out two powerful economic arguments for changing the basis of that tenure. The first is that we are spending nearly three times as much in renting property as we are in buying property. I believe that is quite wrong. The Report goes on to say that no one has an interest in selling property anywhere overseas. I had the experience of selling part of the dockyard in Hong Kong, and it ran into millions of pounds. I had hoped that that would have some effect on the Navy Estimates for that year, but no; the money disappeared completely into the great maw of the Treasury, and I never saw anything more of it. This means that, as the Report says, no one has the incentive to buy or sell well in growing capitals throughout the world. If we had an organisation doing that, according to this Report there is no reason why in due course it should not be self-financing. I think that is an important suggestion and I very much hope the Government will give it extremely close scrutiny. I am always surprised that the Foreign Office does not have a rather more flexible organisation for co-ordinating with Foreign Office requirements than it has at the present time.

There are many distinguished speakers on the list to-day and I do not wish to detain your Lordships any longer, but I would mention just two points, one on the British Council. I am glad that the Report has placed emphasis on the work of the British Council. I hesitate to deal with the question whether it is desirable to concentrate on Europe instead of on the areas of Africa and Asia; I think that that is a very doubtful move. I believe that the value of the British Council is far more in a wider field. In regard to the B.B.C., I agree entirely that the important thing is for us to be heard. That is the emphasis of the Report. I should like the B.B.C.'s overseas broadcasts—and they are now probably better than many of their home broadcasts—to be steered to the seven parts of the world, instead of having one broadcast for the whole world. What is interesting for Patagonia may not be quite so interesting to Vietnam or Cambodia.

There are many other subjects, but I will not refer to them. I should, however, say that I greatly appreciated what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in the course of the debate on the Address. He was perhaps allowing his mind to run a little freely, but he said that Britain had a great role to play in the affairs of the world—a role suggestive rather of persuasion than of power. We shall not play that role by retiring into the Area of Concentration. I think sometimes that we are worried as to what our role is, but it is not all that difficult to get a clear picture.

There is one point where we can help a great deal. In the 60-odd countries which have started life independently since the war there has been great difficulty in building up any form of reliable Diplomatic Service. One can never be sure that anything said to a new country's diplomat will be reported properly to his own country. I believe this is a field where, both by example and by persuasion, we can do a great service to fellow-nations in the world, most of them being heavily engaged in internal organisation. In helping the growth of this service I believe we shall be helping the world as a whole. I will go further and say this: if other countries could claim, as I believe we can claim, to have a Foreign Service which was efficient, sensitive and intelligent, this would be a safer world in which to live. I beg to move for Papers.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I think we can all agree that this Report is a remarkable piece of work, produced, by order, in absolutely record time and containing many quite admirable proposals for bringing our Foreign Service into line with modern realities, cutting unnecessary expenditure, eliminating much redundant work, and promoting greater efficiency generally. It appears, however, that even if all the proposals are agreed to—which I think would be doubtful— the net saving would only be about …5 to …10 million a year. This, comparatively speaking, is chicken feed. It is therefore hardly the cost of the Service that we are discussing, to-day, so much as the extent to which it represents a machine well adapted to further the interests of this country abroad. That is what we are really discussing.

On the whole, I would accept almost all the conclusions which are conveniently set forth at the end of the chapters, save only those of Chapter IV, which deals with political work, and Chapter VI, which deals with commercial work. If I may, I will come to those matters later but, broadly speaking, 1 sympathise to a large extent with what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said in this regard. Before going on to examine them I should like to make certain observations on certain suggestions on the Report which seem to go hardly far enough, and also to touch on others which may possibly have given rise to misapprehension on the part of some who may have read the Report only rather cursorily.

To start, let us look at Chapter II, which deals with career structure and redundancy. Here the Report rightly suggests that in future promotion should be more closely linked to talent than to seniority, it being possible for the best officers to reach Grade 4 by the mid-thirties, Grade 3 by the early forties and Grades 2 and 1 from the late forties onwards. All this would have to be dependent, of course, on inducing the Treasury, in the first place to agree to generous pensions for those members of the Service in their fifties who have not entirely made the grade, and in the second place to accept the principle that, there should be more flexibility about keeping on up to 65 those whose outstanding abilities show no signs of flagging". Here all I would say is that neither of these excellent proposals seems to have been pressed hard enough by Sir Val Duncan and his colleagues. One of them—that is the second—does not even appear in the Conclusions, and the other mentions "fair compensation" rather than "generous pensions"; and there is a considerable difference between these two conceptions.

There is a strong case for generous pensions. It is not as if present members of the Service, whether they were in the administrative or executive grades, had entered the Service knowing that, through no fault of their own, they were quite likely to be pensioned off in their fifties. Not at all. On the contrary, they believed that, like the home Civil Service, they would. if they did not blot their copy book, have security of tenure for life. That was the condition on which they entered the Service—or so they thought. Both these reforms are still the most important in the whole of the Report. Nevertheless, if you are to get this flexibility (as it is called nowadays) immense pressure will have to be brought on the Treasury. Indeed, I very much doubt whether this particular reform will go through at all unless the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the explicit approval and support of the Prime Minister, is prepared to overrule his own officials. Yet it is essential if we are to avoid situations in which, as like as not, the local representative of Her Majesty is a man, no doubt with an impeccable record, but yet past his prime, perhaps with a chip on his shoulder, incapable of taking real responsibility or decisions; in other words, unfit for the job.

As for the present rule of compulsory retirement at sixty, it has always seemed to me to be idiotic, and the fact that apparently we alone among all the nations in the world apply it makes it all the more indefensible. It is not, I hasten to say, that I consider myself to have been a martyr to this rule. Nearly seven years in a post, as I was in my last one, is quite long enough: and, after all, if one is thinking at all in terms of alternative employment in one's later years, as I was, it is no doubt a very good thing to retire at sixty. But to get rid of people who may be really outstanding and who actually want to stay on until they are sixty-five, or even, I should say, until seventy, is absurd and self-defeating. After all, Talleyrand, perhaps the best diplomatist who ever lived, was an excellent Ambassador at the age of eighty. I hope that all your Lordships who intervene to-day will strongly press this simple point.

There is another reason for proceeding with this all-important reform of pensioning off some blameless but not particularly effective Foreign Service members in their late forties or early fifties. On page 22 we see that there are no less than 400 officers in the Administrative Class serving at home, presumably for the most part in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—which I agree was outside the terms of reference of the Duncan Report—though some reports have nevertheless been able to deal with things outside their terms of reference. This goes with 700 abroad; that is to say, 1,100 in all, in the Administrative Class, and it is to be compared with the 2,600 required for the entire home Civil Service.

I cannot avoid the suspicion that a large number of these officials—that is Ito say, those in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—spend a good deal of their time writing letters to each other and to their colleagues abroad which are not absolutely necessary. In any case a good deal of their work could, I suggest, be properly undertaken now by the so-called Executive Grade. The Report itself suggests that a number of posts which came under the old Commonwealth Relations Office ate considerably over-staffed and will have to be reduced anyhow. Admittedly there must be some reserve to guard against unforeseeable contingencies, but here again the moral to be drawn is that pensioning off a very considerable number of members of the Service is the only satisfactory solution.

There is another direction in which the campaign against the Treasury, if I may so describe it, surely needs to be waged with great energy. On page 148 we read that nearly £6 million is still being spent in foreign exchange annually for renting accommodation overseas; and on page 152 that the most urgent requirement of all is to 'improve the management of accommodation for the overseas representational services; and, as a first step, to increase the proportion of owned to rented property. What the Report does not say, though it might well have said, is that had the Treasury allowed the Foreign Office to pursue this obviously sensible policy since the war, since 1945 let us say, we might be owning substantial and permanent overseas assets which by this time would have trebled or even quadrupled in value and the capital cost of which would have been much less than the price which we have paid out in rents over the years with nothing whatever to show for it. Indeed, it has been calculated, very roughly, I believe, that if we had embarked on a really energetic purchasing and building programme soon after the war, we might have saved the taxpayer something between £25 and £30 million in foreign exchange. Now that, as we are told, every penny we can spare of foreign exchange is of almost vital importance, it really is high time that we took the advice of the Report and proceeded to establish the Overseas Diplomatic Estate Board which it recommends. Here again I hope that your Lordships, all of you who speak this afternoon, will strongly urge the Government to get a move on without any further delay.

Then I turn to the chapter on civilian attachés of various sorts. Few impartial people, I think, who read this chapter with attention—and I speak with all deference to what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said—can arrive at any other conclusion than that a large number of these attaches ought to be abolished, their duties being taken on by members of the regular Foreign Service. In these days of quick travel, there seems no inherent reason why the Home Departments concerned should not normally collect all the information they require by depending on regulars in the Foreign Service, plus the occasional despatch, of course, of a specialist from London. On the face of it, it looks, from what the Report itself says, as if, given energetic action on the part of the Government, we could easily save here at least another half a million pounds a year in foreign exchange. But shall we in fact shortly arrive at such a saving? Most unlikely, I fear. For whenever a civilian attaché post is created it becomes a sort of perquisite of the Home Department concerned, which fights to the death for its preservation. Often when asked to advise, long ago now, on possible economies when I was in Paris, I recommended, among other things, the abolition of one or two civil and military attaches, and I never, of course, obtained the slightest satisfaction.

Having said all this, might I perhaps add, before coming to my major criticism, that while I entirely accept the conclusions of Chapters V and VIII relating to economic and information and cultural questions, I have a few reserves to make about Chapter VI, which deals with commercial matters. I think the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, also had such reserves. Of course, I recognise the great importance, as I am sure we all recognise the great importance, from the point of view of our still critical balance of payments, of having a machine which is as well adapted as it possibly can be to help in pushing British exports. But I think that there is a tendency in the Report to suggest that this is as it were more important than anything else. After all, what British salesmen abroad really want is not, perhaps, so much expert advice on the actual process of selling British goods, such as shall we say, motor cars, as hints from the commercial Minister, and indeed from the Ambassador himself, on the sort of way in which they ought to go about things, given the political set-up of the country concerned, the prospects of any change of government or régime, and indeed the general feeling about the United Kingdom.

If any real technical help is required, then I should have thought that there was something to be said for having, as it were, chamber of commerce experts, who would not necessarily be attached to the Mission itself but would work in close harmony with it. I do not say that the commercial Minister or the Counsellor and his staff should not learn as much as possible about the techniques of the actual marketing and selling operations; but I do think that local experts with lifelong experience of the country concerned might often be of greater use than diplomats in the conduct of day-to-day negotiations.

As for Chapter VIII, while repeating that I consider its conclusions are splendid, I would only add, as it were, a footnote on the alleged inaudibility of the B.B.C. When recently in Warsaw and Bucharest, I found that in spite of the fact that the Ambassadors there had the most powerful possible receivers, I was not myself able to get the news from England. Maybe this was due to exceptional conditions or to the sets not being completely in order—I do not know. I mention this fact in case it should be considered necessary to increase the power of the transmitter.

I turn now to the main criticism that I have of this intelligent Report. This relates to the "Role of Overseas representation", dealt with in Chapter I, and, to a lesser degree, to Chapter VI, which is headed "Aid Administration". It might be supposed that I, more perhaps than anybody else, would welcome the great stress laid by the Report on concentrating on Europe and, of course, accepting the fact that we must take account that we shall shortly not be present, in a military sense, East of Suez; and so, of course, I do—just as I welcome the courageous and realistic statement that nowadays Britain is a major Power, albeit of the second order, and must not attempt to become a Power of the first order.

But to draw from this premise the conclusion that all overseas countries should be divided up into two categories seems to me to be much too logical, and in any case the use of such terms as "Areas of Concentration", and so on, inevitably creates the impression that what we want to do is to cultivate the rich industrialised countries to the detriment of the poor developing countries.

I know that this is not the intention. Indeed, I have been assured by the authors of the Report that it is not the intention; that what is really meant to be implied is that there are, after all, certain countries—for instance, those recently formed, of virtually no political significance, whose aid is perhaps organised by another Power and where we might well be content with purely notional representation, or indeed with no representation at all. I would not know. But inevitably the theory, if it is rigidly applied, would give rise to misapprehensions.

Besides, is it really true that we shall for long want our Embassies in some minor Western European countries to be organised like miniature Washingtons? Surely, if we do come into the European Economic Community, co-ordination of foreign policies, at any rate, will tend more and more to take place in some European centre, of bodies coming directly under the control of the eventual Council of Foreign Ministers. And surely, too, in another direction, we may often want to reinforce our representation in certain developing countries to meet certain political emergencies and in any case to assist the whole process of aid which includes, of course, not only financial aid, but also help with such things as education, technical co-operation and industrial training.

I know that the Report is conscious of this important aspect, and I understand and accept what is said in Chapter VII, together with the disclaimer of any desire to accept "Eurocentric" notions, as they are called, which appears in Chapter I. Nevertheless, as I have said, the mere establishment of categories, which will inevitably be imagined to be "inner" or "outer", to say the least, gives rise to misunderstandings.

The House may recall that in February, 1967, I took the lead in contesting the action of the Government in raising the fees paid in this country by overseas students. Since then, I have been interested in this field, and my attention was recently drawn to a Board of Trade Report entitled, Exports and the Industrial Training of People from Overseas. The Report itself—I advise your Lordships to read it if you have time—is excellent, and it actually proposes something which should have been established long ago; namely, a large scale, direct exchange scheme for industrial trainees with Germany and France to begin with, which might then be extended to other industrialised countries.

The trouble here is that such proposals, excellent in themselves, may well now, in the light of the Duncan Report, be believed to be of general validity, and interpreted as determining our total policy in training overseas nationals. This would be wrong. It remains as urgent as ever not only to get European trainees into our industries, but also to get trainees into our industries from developing countries. For years, unforunate students from our ex-Empire have been unable to complete their studies here owing to their inability to acquire any practical training. That is a fact. And yet, as we all know, many of them would be very good ambassadors for British goods if they went back to the infant industries in their countries with the necessary know-how.

In our anxiety to develop trade in Western Europe we should not, therefore, forget the developing countries. Indeed, as I see it, one of the main advantages in our joining the European Economic Community would be the possibility of establishing some coherent and sensible policy for aid from the whole new entity to the developing countries as a whole. Clearly, for this purpose, we must maintain our links with our ex-Empire, and the French must maintain their links with their ex-Empire.

Let me just add that I think it is a bit of a libel on the Germans to suggest (as the Duncan Report does) that they are unduly Eurocentric. On the contrary, the Germans provide more aid than we do, and their system of industrial training for foreigners is far superior to ours.

But having said all this, let me end by congratulating most heartily all the authors of the Report on a splendid piece of work, which I believe should be of the greatest assistance to my old Service. Certainly we are entering into a dangerous period so far as our external relations are concerned, and we must, if we can, have a Service which both attracts the brightest and the most vigorous of our young men and women and gives them all the necessary inducements to stay in it. The pull of business, and even of politics, on such young men as they enter the thirties will be tremendous. This is, above all, a field in which any Government in this country should be able to recruit and retain the best talent available.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is time that we debated this important Report. and I am indebted, as we all are, to my noble friend Lord Selkirk for today making this debate possible, and indeed for his pungent comments. I must confess that I am not altogether happy at this particular moment. As a junior. defrocked ex-diplomat. I am only too conscious of that all-star cast, that plethora of Permanent Secretaries, which is perched around us this afternoon. Moreover, I find this Report rather a difficult one to discuss.

It is no mere polite figleaf of speech when I say that, like the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, we are all indebted to these three distinguished, perceptive and experienced men who produced the Report. As my noble friend Lord Selkirk remarked, it is really something of a miracle, that this mettlesome troika produced an agreed Report, and produced it with such astonishing speed. More important, their Report is a rich quarry. My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, have already excavated a great many of the good things, such as the need for our diplomats to stay longer en paste and the need to accelerate the advance, the present slow and most frustrating advance, which the real "flyers" have at the present time within the Service; the need for a more liberal attitude towards travel and so on. With that, and with a very great deal else, I cordially agree. More important, I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in all the majesty of his Civil Service purple, and having subdued the Treasury dragon, will be able to agree, too.

It is also right that from time to time, perhaps not too frequently, we should examine the fundamental reasons for our representation abroad and look at the basic structure as a whole. No one can accuse the authors of this Report of having failed to get down to basic tacks. No one who knows them could have thought that they would fail to do so. But, my Lords—and here I should like to make my dissent plain—I frankly find the framework, the carriage, which the troika have constructed, too rigid. I do not—though I am doubtless completely wrong—consider myself completely square: I accept that we are not now a world Power, in the old sense, and that we are right to accord a very high priority in our scheme of things to our relations with Western Europe and within the Atlantic Alliance; and I agree that national power is meaningless unless it is underpinned by real economic strength. At the same time I cannot accept, any more than the two speakers who have spoken before me could, the rigid distinction, the almost doctrinal distinction, drawn in the Report between the Area of Concentration and the Outer Area. I also cannot accept the rigid differentiation which the Report draws out from this distinction between the comprehensive Mission suitable for the magic circle within, and the selective Mission, the model for the unfavourcd Outer Circle. Quite frankly, all this part of the Report strikes me as far too stark and too schematic. The rigid differentiation between the Area of Concentration and the rest is really pretty artificial. One sees this as one sees the Area changing shape within the pages of the Report itself. It is a differentiation, in my view, which ignores the fact that the world in which we live is increasingly small and increasingly interdependent; which makes far too little allowance for the endless variety in national postures within the world, for the element of unpredictability in international relations and, of course, for the vast potential of major countries outside the magic circle.

So far as representation is concerned, I find myself very much in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was suggesting about the trend of diplomatic representation within a more integrated Europe. I trust, therefore, that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will be able to confirm that the Government, in their approach to our representation abroad, will be more flexible than the Committee and will not seek to apply these general doctrinal rules of thumb. The essence of the matter, to my mind, is discrimination. The test in staffing should be what is required in any one place at any one time properly to reflect and meet the requirements of British interests. In this sense, of course, all posts, even the biggest, should be considered selective.

I have, I trust, made it clear that much though I agree with many of the practical recommendations in this thorough and thoughtful Report, I dissent from a lot of the theology (if I may so term it) embedded in it. I agree that the critics may have misrepresented and misread the Report, and I am very glad that Sir Val Duncan, in his letter to The Times last summer, has corrected the record. Equally, I readily concede that under their terms of reference the authors were working under twin restrictions—the need for speed and the need to produce economies—which gave them an almost impossibly difficult task.

The Report, of course, suggests certain economies, totalling at most some £10 million, and many of these—the proposed reductions in information staffs, in our Service representation, in certain civil attaché posts, in our security guards, and so on—I personally find pretty acceptable. I trust, however, that in this area the Government will retain a sense of proportion. Our total representation abroad totals only about one per cent. of our expenditure overseas. It amounts to only three-halfpence for every pound raised in taxation; and it is balanced by what we recoup from the expenditure of foreign missions in this country.

Economy is of course important, but it cannot be the sole, or indeed the most important, criterion here. A far more important reason for diplomatic slimming, in my view, is the need to keep our representation lean and muscular. This comment may come ill from me, but if we have too much fat on our Missions abroad they will not be as efficient or as responsive as they should be. Indeed, if economy is really our aim there is a spot or two on which the Report could have perhaps placed a sharper finger. I will mention only one; it is the one which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, mentioned—the Foreign Office itself. I am inclined to wonder whether, following the amalgama- tions, there may not be some real overstaffing at the centre. Do we need 65 separate departments? Do we need 26 Deputy and Assistant Under-Secretaries?

I offer that as a possible field for economy, free, to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. But I do so subject to certain provisos; we are as a nation more dependent to-day on our wits and we living on a narrower margin than we were in our more spacious days. We are, therefore, if anything, more dependent nowadays on first-class and efficient representation abroad. Accordingly, any economies that we may wring from our staffing at the centre or abroad must not be wrung at the price of the efficiency or the morale of the Service. That is why I hope that we may secure certain clear assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, this afternoon.

First, there is the reserve of manpower—the planning margin—for training, for travel, for leave, and so forth. The noble Lord, Lord Plowden, recommended 10 per cent. The Government accepted that. But we have still to get it. Indeed, in the critical ranks of First Secretary there is now not a surplus but a negative margin. I must ask for an assurance from the noble Lord that it is the intention of the Government to do everything possible to attain the 10 per cent. margin soon and then to retain it.

Next, there is the need, which was stressed in the Duncan Report and again this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn (he asked for support in this, and I will give it), to ensure that those officers who are obliged, through no fault of their own but as a result of reorganisation, to leave the Service prematurely are treated generously. That has not been the case with the 30 senior Foreign Service officers prematurely retired earlier this year. Further premature retirements are, I believe, inevitable if we are going to trim the Service to size and if the younger brighter people, many of whom are frustrated at the moment, are to be encouraged to break through. But the Report has emphasised that the morale of those on the way up will be crucially impaired if those on the way out are not fairly, indeed generously, treated. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us assurances here regarding the Government's intentions that the "golden bowlers", or the "silver bowlers", for the prematurely retired will not be delayed until the new general superannuation arrangements for the Civil Service are ready, and that any arrangements made for those retired prematurely in the future will also apply retrospectively to the unlucky 30.

The third proviso is the need for speed and stability. The present uncertainty is bad for decision-making, bad for efficiency, and bad for morale. I trust, therefore, that the Government will take, announce, and carry out their decisions on Duncan as quickly—but of course thoroughly—as possible. When they have done so, I trust that this public review, unlike Mr. Healey's non-stop Act, will not be the first of a continuing series. Duncan has stimulated thought and possible action, and that is no bad thing. But any further reviews—and I accept that in this sense it is a continuing process—should in my view be internal. It can properly be left to the buffed-up inspectorate recommended by Duncan.

My Lords, I turn now from the general to the commercial and economic side. Here, again, I readily admit that the troika have a great deal of value to say and there is a lot that an amateur like me would accept. But like those who have spoken before me, I find the authors' treatment too stark and too schematic. For example, in introducing their new model for the Diplomatic Service, the authors stress the "towering" importance of a balance of payments surplus, and few of us would dissent. But the reductio ad absurdum of that policy is that if we could only achieve a substantial and continuing surplus we might not require any representation abroad.

Here, again, I find the doctrinal distinction between the Area of Concentration and the Outer Area to be overdrawn. Most of us have noted the shift in our export pattern towards North America and Western Europe, but we must not allow ourselves to be mesmerised by our nearer industrial neighbours. Excluding oil, three-quarters of our investments at the present time lie outside the Area of Concentration, and many of the countries in the Outer Area—the Brazils, the Irans, the Indias and the Indonesias of this world—may well constitute some of our greatest markets in the future.

And surely all the activities, the initiative work, to which the Report refers and about which my noble friend Lord Selkirk was doubtful; this work of searching out for export trends and possibilities, and all the rest, are just as necessary for our missions in the Outer Areas—in Buenos Aires and Rio, in Cairo and Rabat, in Kuwait or Teheran, in Karachi or Djakarta—if the work is necessary at all, as for those within the magic circle, be it in Paris or in Prague, in Sydney or in San Francisco. Indeed, my Lords, when we come to staffing we must remember that it is in some of the places outside the Report's Area of Concentration where our exporters may need the most help. The noble Lord, Lord Stokes, for example, doubtless knows his way about Sweden. But Mr. Shanks may not know the right plugs to pull in South Korea.

That said, I should like to ask the noble Lord one question and to float a suggestion with him. The Report is clearly worried about the focus of our export effort at the centre in Whitehall and in and around the Board of Trade. We read in paragraph 47, on page 84, for example, that: Again and again we felt the lack of a meaningful dialogue on export policy. Again, in paragraph 55 the authors of the Report … detect a certain lack of central direction in the export effort commensurate with its importance to the future of Britain. The Report makes a number of suggestions for reorganisation within the Board of Trade and for the strengthening of its export side, and I shall be grateful to learn, either from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, or from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd—as, apparently, we cannot have the noble Lord, Lord Brown, to-day—what are the Government's views on those recommendations. I understand that the Board of Trade have been having a mini-Duncan of their own, under Sir Hector McNeil. Can the noble Lord tell us whether the recommendations of McNeil dovetail, for example, with those of Duncan?

Now for the suggestion. The Report pays a tribute to the work of the Export Credits Guarantee Department and I am glad to echo it. The E.C.G.D. does essential work. It does it well and its credit terms compare, I believe, well, or at least equally, with those of our competitors. If I am critical of anything in our set-up here, it is of delay—the delay which can mean in certain instances the loss of a precious export order. If there is sometimes delay here—and there is—it is due primarily, I believe, to staff shortages. Those shortages, in their turn, may very well stem from the difficulty of a Civil Service Department which needs to recruit just the sort of man or woman as the City is on the look out for.

I should like to suggest that the time may well have come for us to have a new look at the staffing policy to be followed in the E.C.G.D. It is, I believe, virtually self-supporting financially, and there might be a lot to be said for allowing it a far greater autonomy in certain spheres, including staffing. In short, what I suggest is that, since the E.C.G.D. operates in the commercial sphere, it should be able to recruit its staff on commercial terms rather than on a Civil Service basis. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will at least say that the Government are prepared to look at this possibility.

May I lean, in conclusion, on two points on which my noble friend Lord Selkirk and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, have already touched? First, the British Council. I was delighted to see that the Council got such a good chit in this Report. I believe its work to be well conceived and well directed, and the £12 million or £l3 million a year which the nation spends here—which is quite a lot less than the Germans spend, and a great deal less than the French spend—is a sound national investment, although, like forestry, it is a long-term one. I believe, indeed, that there is a case for increasing our expenditure in this general area.

That said, I trust that the noble Lord when he replies will be able to resolve a dichotomy in the Duncan Report. We read, for example, in paragraph 26 on page 106: As Britain turns from politico-military relations towards other ways of making her presence known to other countries, especially outside Western Europe and the North Atlantic area, it will be necessary to develop more fully the other forms of contact with governments and peoples. The Report goes on to express the hope that … the British Council … will be in the forefront of this approach. Personally, I share this view, and that being so it was rather surprising to me to read a few pages later, on page 114, the recommendation that There is now a strong case for shifting the balance of British Council activities towards Western Europe. I personally dissent from that view, although I recognise that some exchanges With Western Europe—for example, youth exchanges and scientific exchanges—could well be stepped up. There seem to be two possible interpretations here of the Duncan Report. I should like to know which of the two interpretations the Government accept.

Then there is the question of estate management abroad, the property question which I am glad has already been more than touched on in this debate. I entirely agree that it is really nonsensical for us to pour some £6 million a year down the drain and across the exchanges by renting properties which we could very well buy. What has not been mentioned in the debate so far this afternoon is that the Plowden Report emphasised the nonsense of this continuing practice in 1964, the Estimates Committee drew attention to the very same thing three years later in their Report in 1967, and, apparently, here we are in 1969 no further down this road.

I do not think we can properly expect the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to give us the Government's precise views on the precise mechanism which the Duncan Report has recommended. But can he at least tell us that the Government accept the main principles here—that purchase is the preferred course; that sensible incentives to buy and sell official property should be built into the system; and that all concerned should be encouraged to handle these transactions on a realistic commercial basis, so that we can take advantage of the opportunities which come up all the time for intelligent purchasing abroad?

I should like to conclude with a brief word about the Service to which I once belonged and for which I enjoyed working. I may have voiced some criticisms of this Report. If so, I should like to make it plain that, theology apart, there is a vast amount in it with which I personally agree. And there is nothing with which I agree more than the considered tribute which the Report pays to the Diplomatic Service: We have been impressed by the quality of the Diplomatic Service and by its team spirit". My Lords, it was that quality which impressed me when I saw much of the Service from within, and it is the quality of the Service, people and performance, which has impressed me since, when I have seen at least something of the Service from without. I personally believe that this country has a far better Diplomatic Service than it probably realises, possibly than it deserves. I am sure that it will be the aim of all of us—I know it was the aim of this Review Committee whose Report we are discussing this afternoon—to see that that quality is maintained.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I think it was that controversial but very great diplomat the late Lord Vansittart, no doubt quoting Voltaire or somebody else, who used to say, "I have no time to be short". To-day, I shall try to find the time to be as short as possible; and I should like first to thank the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, have both been interested in mounting this debate, which I think is peculiarly suitable for your Lordships' House. I think it would be a mistake for me to attempt to answer the various points already made, partly because the object of the debate is to enable the Government to hear what your Lordships have to say; but also because I want to set out, so far as we have gone, what the attitude of the Government is on a number of the major issues raised in the Duncan Report.

In this debate we are fortunate in a number of respects. The noble Viscount, Lord Hood, is to make his maiden speech (it sounds rather unfamiliar to refer to him as "the noble Viscount, Lord Hood"; certainly the Foreign Office would find it strange), and I am sure we all very much want to hear what he has to say now that he has been given his freedom. I notice, too, that we have, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said, a distinguished galaxy of mandarins (I think that is the right word) to advise us. Their knowledge, their experience, their involvement, their contribution, is enormous: but I hope they will not sound quite so heavyweight as the mandarins did in the debate on the Fulton Report. On that occasion, I remember, the cumulative effect of their authority was such as even to scare my own Treasury officials in the Box; and I remember the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, having to stand bravely up at the end. The fact remains that there is a certain similarity between Reports like the Duncan Report and the Fulton Report (and I shall point to certain analogies), and it is very easy, if I may say so, to pick on particular areas which the authors, perhaps with hindsight, might have written in a different way; and it is also sometimes easy to mistake the underlying meaning and purpose.

I should like to begin by setting this Report in the perspective of recent history. As the House knows, during the last few years, since the war, there has been a steady amalgamation of the instruments of government which Britain has evolved to meet her overseas requirements; and the same sort of progress has gone on with regard to the machinery of government at home. So far as overseas is concerned, these changes are directly related to the dramatic changes in the world at large and the increasing complexity of the management of our external relations. I need to mention only the extraordinary post-war revolution in communications—and I note what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, had to say about stepping up the power of communications; part of the answer is probably satellites—the increasing interaction and interdependence of international economic and political affairs, the process of decolonisation, and so on. I need not go through the list because we all know it, but it led to the inevitable decision that it was anomalous to maintain separate overseas services and separate Departments of State dealing with Foreign, Commonwealth and Colonial affairs. My Lords, I fully accept that these changes were of a painful kind, although I think most of us would agree that they were right and inevitable.

The Plowden reforms led to the creation of the new, unified Diplomatic Service, and this was one of the most important steps leading ultimately to the present position where we have one single Secretary of State responsible for our relations with all overseas territories. The Plowden reforms are, as noble Lords have indicated, a very important backcloth to this debate. They resulted in extremely important structural changes, and they have improved efficiency. Since 1965 the Diplomatic Service has been able to reduce its establishment by about 500, despite all sorts of increasing ranges of activity, including the reinforcement of our commercial staffs, the opening of new Missions in newly independent territories and new commitments such as immigration control. I believe the decision, following Plowden, to create the Diplomatic Service has fully justified itself, and the Duncan Committee once again have been able to confirm what I think those of us who are familiar with the Service would unquestionably accept: that the quality of the Service is very impressive. The Duncan Committee also found that it is well adapted to its present tasks and has the capacity to adapt to new roles.

But even as the new Service was being formed, Britain was undergoing a period of great economic stringency, and we all know the crucial importance of trade for Britain and her influence abroad. We are reminded now, as we have been so many times, that the economic, commercial and political motives in our overseas policies intertwine and interact.

The House will remember that it was the decisions taken by the Government on foreign and defence policy and announced in January, 1968, in conjunction with our balance of payments situation, which led the then Foreign Secretary to invite Sir Val Duncan, Sir Frank Roberts and Mr. Andrew Shonfield— "the troika" is perhaps the most convenient way to refer to them—to review urgently the functions and scale of our overseas representational effort. It would in any case have been worth while, notwithstanding the dangers of too many inquiries, to conduct an inquiry into the Diplomatic Service at this time as a practical testing of the efficacy of the Plowden reforms; but I think the Report shows that it was right to extend the inquiry to include the whole of our representational staff and the nature of their work overseas. In essence, the Committee were invited to report on the means of obtaining the best value for money from our official representation overseas in the light of the changing international role of the United Kingdom and the desirability of reducing costs and making economies where they could properly be made.

It is obviously right for me—and I am sure your Lordships would clearly agree with this—to express our gratitude to the troika for the very prompt and imaginative way in which they responded to the invitation. Not the least satisfactory part of it, if I may say so, in a Government Report—and there are other Government Reports which have been less bold—was their courage in setting out proposals, some of which were bold, some of which were controversial and some of which were clearly very open to misrepresentation. The misinterpretation, if I may say so, has not been predominantly the fault of the Duncan Committee. Certainly some of the Press comment—and this has not been echoed in this House, although I could have argued a little with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, on certain points—lost sight of the context in Which the Committee carried out their survey.

There have been allegations that the Duncan Committee were obsessed with economies. It was said that their horizons were limited to making money and that they envisaged our opting out of our responsibilities in the world in favour of "European isolationism". I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, that Sir Val Duncan's letter to The Times gave a comprehensive answer to some of the unfairer criticisms. We found the same thing with the Fulton Report. People will pick on particular areas and will criticise passages out of context.

It is impossible to expect any Report ultimately to solve every problem or to produce an answer on everything. All that Fulton did was to indicate, not only in a broad way but also in a great deal of detail, the way in which we should go on, or at least we might go on. I am bound to say that I think that Duncan, like Fulton, will be very largely fulfilled; but, none the less, there are certain qualifications that it is right to make. We have to-day the opportunity to look beyond the phraseology of the Report. The main issue is whether or not the Duncan Committee's view of Britain's role in the world over the next five or ten years is acceptable as a broad basis for organisational planning.

There are three broad principles upon which the Duncan Report stands or falls and upon which its series of interlocking recommendations must depend. These are, first, the importance of recognising that Britain, while still a powerful and influential member of the international community, no longer has any claim to the role of super-Power on the United States or Soviet model—indeed, it is arguable that that kind of super-Power is in fact a new development in history; secondly, the urgency of getting and keeping Britain's balance of payments right; and, thirdly, the fact that with some countries we are more engaged and have more interests at stake than with others.

I should like to say firmly that the Government believe that these principles are sound. The lesson that we should draw from them is that our overseas representational effort should be judged by its relevance to British interests in their widest sense—I stress "in their widest sense"—and not in a narrow sense. This is certainly not to say that Britain is opting out of its international responsibilities—which I regard themselves as a British interest. The British Government have no intention of abandoning their interests and responsibilities in the Commonwealth and in the world beyond Europe and North America.

Many commentators have noted that the Report makes no mention of this country's position on the Security Council of the United Nations. I am glad of this opportunity to put on record and to reaffirm that our position on the Security Council and in the United Nations is one of the key elements in the overseas policy of this Government. For this and for other reasons there will be clear limits beyond which it would not be prudent to cut back our overseas representational effort.

There has never been any suggestion that Britain's voice should cease to be heard in the councils of the world; and the honest description of this country as a "major power of the second order" in no way implies acceptance of a tame role in the world or any diminution of our contribution to the maintenance of international stability, peace and cooperation. Indeed, the opposite is the case. We have advantages which still make it possible for us to play a greater role in international affairs than our numbers, or even our gross national product, would by themselves suggest.

May I here take the opportunity to explode one of the theories that I have heard propounded in recent years; namely, the theory that because of the relative decline in Britain's power in the world a good Diplomatic Service is no longer so necessary for us. I believe the opposite is the case; and I think this is the view of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. The fact that we are not so powerful in relation to our neiehbours makes it all the more necessary for us to use our brains (or wits, as the noble Earl said), skill and experience. In this context our brains are to a large extent those of our diplomats.

Another factor which has in my view increased the importance of having competent diplomats is the simple fact that every year the extent to which our interests become interlocked with those of other countries increases. This is most obvious in the ever-increasing proportion of our economy which depends on international trade. But it is equally true in the political, social, scientific and technological fields; and this is not a trend which is likely to be reversed.

Much interest has been generated by the emphasis which the Duncan Committee gave to the commercial role of the Diplomatic Service. It is worth while recalling that the Plowden Report said that commercial and economic work must be regarded as "a first charge on the resources of the overseas services" and that it should be recognised by members of the Diplomatic Service as an important although not exclusive specialisation. It has been said that we are more than a nation of shopkeepers and that there are other national objectives besides making money. The Government entirely agree with those who make such remarks. Your Lordships also will agree that our whole international standing, and thereby all the rest of our foreign and defence policies, is compromised unless our economic strength is restored and maintained. Both the Plowden and Duncan Reports rightly argued that the problem of earning our living in the world was a major preoccupation influencing all our international actions and attitudes and that no matter how alert and efficient our Diplomatic Service and other services overseas are, they cannot operate effectively from a base of prolonged economic weakness. That was why the Plowden Committee made the statement to which I referred.

In this context, although it is not strictly speaking an aspect of the Duncan Report, I should like to mention what the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, called the "mini-Duncan" in the Board of Trade; that is, the plans which the Board of Trade have for strengthening their export promotion organisation following the Report which they commissioned from the Review Committee which I have always tended to call the Jacques Committee rather than the McNeil Committee. That is largely because I saw in it much of the managerial hand of my noble friend Lord Brown; and Elliot Jacques worked with him with great distinction at Glacier Metals before he went to Brunel University. The committee consisted of Sir Hector McNeil, Professor Jacques and a senior Board of Trade official —an anonymity which always seems to crop up in one's brief, although everyone knows that his name was Nichols.

In this context, the concentration of the Board of Trade, as a result of the recent machinery of Government changes, will, I think, be a further help. The Report of the Review Committee has been considered urgently by Board of Trade Ministers and is still under consideration by Ministers; and I understand that the President hopes to make an early announcement about a substantial strengthening of the staff at all levels, especially in the Regions, and a major reorganisation of the export side of the Department's work. The Duncan Report identified the need for "a meaningful dialogue" between Government and industry, and the new Board of Trade organisation will be designed to achieve this in the most speedy and effective way possible. So the essential prerequisite to the emphasis which the Duncan Report rightly places on commercial and economic work will, we hope, be firmly under way by the New Year; and it is very much a part of the general package of machinery of Government changes.

But, my Lords, this is not just a matter of commercial work in the narrow sense of export promotion. Important though this is—and here is the next general qualification; or, shall I say, correction in interpretation of Duncan that I should like to make—we do depend on sound assessments of commercial policy; and we need a thorough understanding of the economic interests of Governments; and, above all, we need from our Missions overseas the insight which they acquire into the political and economic circumstances generally in the world where they work. Clearly, political, commercial and economic work is indivisible or, at least, markedly inter-dependent.

I should like, therefore, to sum up my view, and the Government's view, of the Duncan Committee's main recommendations. These do not imply fundamental changes in the Government's objectives. Our overriding aim must be the preservation of peace and security, but, as I have said, our economic strength is a condition of this and consequently the Government accept the broad principles underlying the Duncan Report to which I have already referred.

My Lords, I should like to say something, as briefly as possible, about the manner in which we shall interpret the particular recommendations of the Report, and I start with the references to the Area of Concentration, and Outer Area in the Report. This is a rough rationalisation of a proposition which none of us would challenge; namely, that in some countries the range of British interests is wider than in others. But Her Majesty's Government believe that the division has been too sharply drawn. We do not underrate the political as well as the economic and commercial importance—and especially the potential growth importance—of very many countries outside the so-called Area of Concentration.

As I have already said, we propose to concentrate on the job to be done in pursuit of British interests, again in the widest sense, wherever it is to be done in any part of the world. It follows from this that some of our diplomatic Missions will have to be comprehensive in their activities. For others a more selective approach is appropriate. But here let me say that we intend to maintain and to do all that we can to consolidate the Commonwealth partnership, and there is no question of reducing our commitments towards the remaining dependent territories which are still part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's responsibility.

Although the terms "comprehensive" and "selective" provide a useful broad guide for a description of the activities of our Missions overseas, a much more refined scale will be required in practice. Any such refinement must, of course, go hand in hand with a continuous review both of the nature of specific British interests and of the Missions which are concerned with protecting them. Planning studies, if they are to be pursued realistically, will also need detailed inspection on the ground. It is already normal practice for inspections to be made at regular intervals of our Missions overseas and the Duncan principles will be an essential background to all future inspections.

The Government have every expectation that the continuous task of re-shaping the instrument of our overseas representation will result in due course in certain useful savings, and I should like to stress here that I distinguish between re-shaping the instrument of our overseas representation and the particular institutions of the Diplomatic Service itself, where I think stability, about which I shall have a word to say in a moment, is important.

My Lords, economies are a major aim in themselves and it is our policy to achieve them, though we have to beware of short and irresponsible cuts. This is particularly relevant to the question of immediate increases in expenditure arising from some of the Duncan Committee's proposals. The Report points to some reduction in out overseas representation, and I shall have a word to say about the fields in which the Duncan Committee thinks that this might be achieved. But the Report also strongly recommends that there should be a marked improvement in the generosity of the compensation terms available to those whose careers are prematurely ended through no fault of their own, and that there should be satisfactory superannua- tion arrangements for all locally engaged staff in countries overseas.

Officials are at present urgently reviewing the problem of compensation for redundant civil servants within the general framework of the revision of the superannuation legislation, and while I entirely accept that there is a special problem relating to the Diplomatic Service we ought not to ignore the fact that the Fulton Report is working through in the home Civil Service, and that there has to be a certain parallelism. None the less, this is a matter of great urgency for the Foreign Office and for the Diplomatic Service, and I realise that until this matter is satisfactorily resolved there will continue to be some anxiety on the part of members of the Diplomatic Service whose work, and indeed prospects of continued employment, may be affected over the next few years because of the manner in which the Government may carry out the recommendations of the Duncan Report.

I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, will forgive me if I do not go deeply into the question of compensation rates. I know something about it; it is a matter of great concern to the Government. It is a matter on which there are apt to be different points of view and in which any comparisons with industry can at times be somewhat misleading. I would just mention, however, without specifically forming a judgment as to whether it is right or wrong, that the treatment given to the officers whose careers are being terminated is as follows: they will, of course, receive the superannuation benefits to which they are entitled under the Superannuation Act 1965. Great care was taken to give the officers concerned as much notice as possible so that they had some opportunity of re-ordering their lives. In addition to at least a year's notice and the immediate pensions to which they would be entitled, arrangements have been made, irrespective of whether some of them have passed the notional retirement age, for boarding school allowances for children to be continued for a short time in cases where there would be disruption of a child's academic career at a particularly critical stage in his or her development. All those who are being retired from posts overseas, again irrespective of whether they have passed their notional retirement point, will benefit from six months' resettlement leave on full pay. My Lords, I would not wish to underestimate the difficulties facing a senior civil servant whose career is unexpectedly cut short. I can only say that the Government will continue to look at this matter as one of great urgency and importance and we shall certainly take note of what has been said in the House.

The Duncan Report also recommends increased expenditure to provide, for example, for a larger manpower margin, for training for staff increases in certain areas and for an Overseas' Diplomatic Estate Board, as well as emphasising the question of our cultural representation overseas. All these suggestions for increased activity and increased expenditure form part of the same set of proposals and will have to be considered at the same time as the proposed savings. The Duncan Committee estimated that it should be possible to achieve savings of some 5 to 10 per cent. in expenditure over the whole range of our overseas representation. This was on the basis of rough estimates and also on the assumption that the Committee's recommendations would all be accepted. But we need to remember that the total sums are relatively small, compared with our commitments and expenditures on other Government activities both at home and abroad. They represent only about 1 per cent. of our total expenditure. I think that the noble Lord also quoted this figure. Although the foreign exchange element, at about £50 million, is about 10 per cent. of what the Government spend in foreign exchange, this is roughly balanced by the corresponding income from foreign and Commonwealth representation in Britain. I should say that these comparisons sometimes cause a certain amount of scepticism in my mind. I always feel there may be a snag in them somewhere. Nevertheless, I believe these figures to be broadly correct.

There are other important aspects of the Duncan Report with which I should have liked to deal. There are the questions of export promotion work, political reporting, the information services and consular activities. We share the Duncan Committee's view on the importance of export promotion. We envisage no major changes in our over seas representational service dealing with this aspect of the work. There may have to be some redeployment of staff, and we realise that there is a limit to what Government services can do in the export field. In the last resort, only British industry and its agents can actually sell British goods. Therefore, we support the Committee's view of the importance of developing a "meaningful dialogue" between industry and the Government services. The Duncan Report identifies the increasing volume of intergovernmental business which is dealt with in multilateral bodies. It is also true that there are certain countries with whom there is a spectrum of continuous interchange, in addition to the exchanges conducted by our resident Missions. These new dimensions of inter-governmental activity have been called the "new diplomacy". But the professional expertise found in the Diplomatic Service and the local knowledge that only resident diplomatic representation can provide remain an essential component both in the "new diplomacy" and in the conduct of our relations in the countries outside the so-called Area of Concentration.

The Duncan Committee has suggested that the amount of political reporting should be reduced. Those of us who have the pleasure of reading dispatches from Ambassadors—sometimes there are rather a lot and one wonders whether one ought to read them all—would agree with me, I am sure, in paying tribute to the excellent style, wit and scholarship which they display. They are a good indication of the quality and intellectual ability of those who do the reporting. It may be that some savings can be made in this field but whatever is done has to be of first-class order, and its importance will be no less than in the past. Our Missions overseas cannot be relieved of the task of acquiring expert and detailed political and economic information.

The Government will be considering what economies can be made in our overseas information services, but I am sure that there will continue to be a requirement for an official voice overseas to put the British point of view on matters of policy to local Press and broadcasting services. With regard to the B.B.C., I would not entirely agree with the Duncan Committee about certain aspects of their proposals for overseas broadcasting: for example, about the desirability or the feasibility either of trying to concentrate on an elite audience or of trying to improve broadcasts in English by cutting back those in vernacular languages. However, here again a review is being put in hand.

On the British Council, I should have liked to pay a much fuller tribute than I am able to do, had I the time. We are considering what steps should be taken to expand the Council's activities in Europe while not losing sight of the important role which the Council must continue to play in the rest of the world. I have not time to deal with the interesting problem of our consular work, except to point out that there is a vastly increasing number of British people travelling abroad and whatever we do, it is important that when services are supplied in a particular place, they should be adequate. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office are now reviewing the Duncan proposal in the consular field to determine the actual needs which must be met.

I should like to end on a personal note. There still seems to be too widespread a view that the job of a diplomat provides him with a rather cushy, idle life, with a surfeit of cocktail parties. It may be that there are too many cocktail parties, but I should not have thought that this was a particularly good incentive for joining the Foreign Service, from what I have heard about cocktail parties from members of the Service. Cushy or idle the life of our diplomats is not. Not only do they work, in many cases, exceptionally long office hours, as well as at weekends, but they are liable to be on duty practically all the time abroad. As a visiting fireman (so to speak) my own experience, as a Minister, of foreign posts is that in practically every case I received a quality of support and service of an ingenuity and personal involvement which is unsurpassed in the British public service, and that means to me unsurpassed anywhere in the world.

Nor are the lives of our diplomatic representatives abroad as comfortable in other respects as we sometimes imagine. I have had an opportunity of seeing some of the stresses and strains and actual dangers that confront members of the Diplomatic Service. I know no other body of men, other than the Armed Forces, who have had to carry a personal weapon for their own protection, as members of the Foreign Service had to do in Aden, where they maintained their high standards of responsibility in an atmosphere that reeked of impending disaster, where they were separated from their families, but where they were willing to accept the challenge—as the noble Lord, Lord Trevelyan, did, coming out of retirement to do so. The dangers are not always as great as in Aden but it is not nice either to be battered about by Red Guards or to have your Embassy burned down or to be expelled from a post at 24 hours' notice when diplomatic relations are broken. All this is slightly disturbing to family life!

There are, of course, great attractions and interests, and indeed rewards, in the life of a diplomat. But do not let anybody think that the rewards are more than adequate financially. It is no longer the position, as it was in my youth, that one had to have private means in order to go into the Foreign Service; and the life of a diplomat's family can be very difficult. It is often the wives who carry the brunt. They do not always have the interest and fascination of the work, but they do have the disruptions of family life and of children's education that are involved in pulling up roots and making new homes every three or four years. Although we are rather apt to pay many tributes in your Lordships' House, I cannot forbear to pay this tribute not only to our diplomats but also to their wives. I think we must face the fact that there are personal anxieties among many diplomats at the moment about their careers and their personal futures, and we do them and the Service no good by pretending that these do not exist. The various mergers and examinations that have taken place in the past five years or so have had a further disturbing effect, and I think it is important for the morale of the Service that it should be allowed to digest these changes with as few further upheavals as possible, and to preserve as much stability as possible. I hope, my Lords, that what I have been able to say about the attitude of the Government to the Duncan Report, though not answering many of the important points that have been made, will command the general acceptance of your Lordships' House.


Before the noble Lord finally resumes his seat, I should like to ask him whether he can say anything about the property point. I have less compunction than usual in pressing this because, not only has a troika of speakers alluded to it, Selkirk, Gladwyn and Jellicoe, but also a 'troika of reports, Plowden, Estimates Committee and Duncan.


I said at the beginning that I would not try to answer all the points made so far by noble Lords in detail, but would give what information I could in the areas where the Government have taken decisions. My noble friend Lord Shepherd may be able to say something more. I would only say that this matter is under urgent consideration—this is not just a form of words that I am using—and I am not able to announce anything now.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I crave the indulgence which your Lordships traditionally afford to a speaker addressing the House for the first time. And I say this with deep feeling, because I have been a Member of this House without speaking for over one-third of a century, and this has only magnified the terror of breaking silence. It is a tradition, too, that a first speech should be uncontroversial. In this I am helped by the subject we are discussing, because it is clear already that there is no controversy about the need for having an efficient Diplomatic Service. Certainly this is not a matter of Party dispute. Of the two Reports on the Foreign Service which have been undertaken in this decade, the first was commissioned by a Conservative Government and the second by a Labour Government.

As a member of the Foreign Service at that time, I shared in the deep gratitude felt by all the members of the Service for the work and findings of the Plowden Committee, and I am glad to have the chance of paying my tribute publicly to the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, and the members of his Committee, several of whom sit in this House. The Duncan Committee did not have the advantage of having any noble Lord as a member. Despite that handicap, I believe that they have produced a most interesting and impressive Report, and I should only like to echo the tributes which have already been paid to the members of that Committee.

I want this afternoon to touch on only one or two points in their Report. First, by way of general comment, it did not seem to me that the Report gave sufficient prominence to what I believe to be a basic task of diplomacy; that is, the cultivation of friendly relations. That phrase, which I think comes from the Plowden Report, is quoted at one point in the Duncan Report, and is there defined as: partly an aspect of inter-governmental relations and partly an aspect of public relations work. I believe that there is more to it than that. To my mind, it covers the whole range of human relations—the contacts and friendships which the diplomat builds up with the people of the country in which he has the honour to serve.

Many of these contacts certainly are in the official world; but there are even more outside—your neighbours in the city, the people you meet as you go around the country. It is those human relations which help to give the knowledge and the insight on which to base sound advice to the Government at home. And, of course, those friendly relations help enormously in the transaction of business and in the performance of one's daily task. The cultivation of friendly relations is a gradual but also a continuous process, and for that reason I believe that it can be more successfully done by someone living in the country rather than by a visitor. This fact needs to be weighed against the financial attractions, to which the Report draws attention, of relying more on visiting officials and less on residents.

Next, of what kind of officer should the Diplomatic Service consist? Here I find myself in full sympathy with the approach of the Duncan Report. I think he should be a professional generalist, but this should certainly be combined with judicious career planning, so that in the course of their career officers will come to be at least semi-specialists in a certain area or in a certain subject. If this approach is accepted, then I think there are other recommendations in the Report which should follow—for instance, the elimination of some of the civilian attachés. I should like to say a word about the recommendation for dividing the world into an Area of Concentration and an Outer Area, and dividing Missions into "comprehensive" and "selective"—what terms of art those words are becoming! This recommendation by its very clarity invites criticism in detail. I do not want to engage in that, and I would only say that I share the view expressed by previous speakers, that in practice there will have to be some blurring of the sharp dividing line suggested in the Report. The world cannot be divided into black and white; there are intermediate areas of varying degrees of grey.

But I hope that in determining the future organisation and deployment of the Diplomatic Service we shall hold fast to three propositions, which I think are well brought out in the Duncan Report. The first is that two central commitments of British foreign policy are the Atlantic Alliance and the development of an increasingly integrated Western Europe. Those two commitments will fall to be fulfilled increasingly through multilateral diplomacy. Secondly, the majority of our Missions round the world should not be reproductions in miniature of the Paris Embassy, let alone of our Embassy in Washington. Thirdly—and this point has been made by other speakers—if there are to be economies and streamlining, there must be the ability to reinforce readily; and that in effect means that the 10 per cent. manpower margin must become effective.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to say a word about accommodation. In the chapter on information work the Report speaks of the important role of the Foreign Office News Department, and suggests that it should be given extra facilities, including better accommodation. I yield to no one in my admiration of the Foreign Office News Department. I think they have done sterling work over the years under a succession of extremely able chiefs. If there is any way of enabling them to do even better in the future than they have done in the past, I am all in favour of it. But I would utter a word of warning about accommodation. I believe that one of the reasons for their success has been the central location of their rooms in the Office. They are close to the front door, so that they are readily accessible to their clients. They are at the foot of the main staircase, so that they themselves have easy and quick access to the seats of power. If, in order to get better accommodation, they have to leave their present premises, I believe that they will not be better off.

What goes for the Foreign Office News Department seems to me to be equally true of the Foreign Office itself. A new building would, I am sure, bring benefits and savings, but if it means moving it further away from No. 10 Downing Street I think the influence and effectiveness of the Foreign Office will suffer. This I think, is implicitly recognised in the Duncan Report, since their recommendation is that the Foreign Office should be reconstructed on its present site. But that is part of a wider problem, that of how to make the best use of this end of Whitehall and reconcile the conflicting claims of Government Departments, and even of Parliament. So I do not expect that Her Majesty's Government will be in a position to take a very quick decision on that particular recommendation.

But I would echo what has already been said, and say that I hope an early decision will be taken on the recommendations about accommodation overseas. I hope that the Government will take a hard look quickly at the proposals in the Report for remedying the present situation. If this should lead to the early establishment of an overseas diplomatic estate board, or something like that, I believe that it would be welcome in the Service, and very welcome to Sir Val Duncan and his colleagues as a sign that their Report is receiving the close attention which it deserves.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I know you will wish to join with me in offering congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, on his thoughtful and authoritative maiden speech. We have had, for obvious reasons, to wait a long time before we were able to listen to it. We can only hope that he will address us frequently in the future, and we know it will be with the same care and thought as he has spoken to-day. It was a welcome speech. I am happy for personal reasons that it falls to my lot to congratulate him. I wish particularly to invest in his good will, for he happens, by coincidence, to be my next-door neighbour. His flat is directly below mine in the block in which we live in North-West Pimlico, and if my bath overflows he gets it.

I am also grateful for the opportunity of following him because I wish to speak primarily about American affairs, and it was in America that the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, was last en poste. I should like to concentrate on the conclusions in the chapter on commercial work, and in particular on this passage: Subordinate posts have an important potential for promoting British exports, and they should be more actively used, especially in growth markets like the United States. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred briefly to these consular and consular general posts and to trade posts. I should like to expand this theme. I do so from the background of a three-year stint (now coming to the end) as chairman of the American Committee of the British National Export Council. In the course of that duty, I have visited nearly all of our 20 posts in the United States—most of them more than once—including two visits to Honolulu. This involved no particular hardship, although on our way back we experienced what the pilot rather charmingly described over the intercom. as a "considerable amount of slight turbulence." I was also happy to find in Honolulu a rare animal, a commercial officer there who made a practice of reading the Board of Trade Journal every week from cover to cover. He must be quite unique.

I am an exporter, and your Lordships may therefore be surprised to hear that I join with the distinguished diplomats who have already spoken—and I suspect will speak—in expressing doubts about the over-emphasis that the Report places upon the commercial aspect. One might expect a diplomat to take that view, but take it also as a businessman. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and others who have spoken, that there is a risk that too much concentration on commercial activity, to the detriment of political influence, may in the long run actually do damage to our commercial interests.

On the face of it, the consuls general in San Francisco and Los Angeles—and I mention those two particularly because they are going to be involved in the big Californian trade drive which we are now initiating—are obviously more important than, say, our Embassy in Ruritania. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, Ruritania may be behind the Iron Curtain, and intelligence brought back to us from that Embassy may be of great importance. There may also be economic interest suddenly developing to our advantage there; or they may be a sudden crisis. Consulates, moreover, do not talk as Government to Government; but Embassies do. Nevertheless, the consular posts in America are of great importance, both commercially and politically. It is the political side of consular work (and I believe this applies to other countries as well as to the United States) that the Duncan Report tends to underplay.

In America, business is politics—the two are the same. Therefore. a commercial officer in America must have a political nose, and he must have diplomatic experience. Think of the things with which he has to deal. Supposing he is consul general in Seattle or Atlanta, he must be constantly in touch with Boeing and Lockheed; and that it is a highly political job. Or he might be dealing with the safety regulations for motor-cars, or the fire regulations for ships. Those are political dynamite, and in them the whole problem of protectionism is wrapped up. Or he might be trying to sell the Chieftain tank, which is ten years in advance of its time but, for political reasons, will meet great difficulties in the market, particularly from Germany and America. All these of course require commercial acumen, but they call for a political nose as well.

May I now consider how the posts in America are doing? I say at once that they are doing a very good job—some of them an extremely good job indeed. With them politics is no longer a dirty word: they are very commercially minded, and becoming more so. They are also politically competent. This has not happened overnight. I should like to pay tribute to the work of Mr. Freeman, the present Ambassador; Sir Patrick Dean, his predecessor, and the many other predecessors whom I see sitting around me in the House this afternoon. This, as I say, has not happened overnight, and the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade are to be congratulated in having performed the difficult task of bringing these consular posts up to a high standard of commercial activity.

May I suggest one or two ways in which they could be enabled to do even better? First, there is a need for better communications; many businessmen simply do not know what the capabilities of consular posts are. The consul is not just there to retrieve your passport or your traveller's cheques if you have been stupid enough to lose them. Nor is he primarily there to get out of gaol a merchant seaman who might have misjudged the potential of some local striptease artist. This is how people usually think of a consul's work; but it is not so. In any case, much of this work can be more suitably clone by honorary consuls, and I am glad to see that the Duncan Report recommends this. Nor are the consuls and consuls-general merely providers of hospitality for visiting firemen—which is a tiresome chore. All the same, it is not a bad thing, solely from the point of view of manners, if you are at some far distant place to go and touch your hat to Her Majesty's representative and pay your respects.

Consuls should be commercially minded, of course, but they are not there to act as wet nurses for British exporters. They are not there to act as sale representatives for lazy businessmen who will not bother to visit the market themselves. In America you simply cannot carry out commercial negotiations at the end of the telephone, or by post. You must have what the Americans call an "interfacial involvement"—which is American for the meaningful dialogue to which Duncan refers. You have to go there yourself.

Nor is it any good sending the office boy: you should send the chairman. And if the chairman does not fancy himself as a salesman, then get a new chairman. Those are certainly not the functions of the consular posts. The functions of these posts are to be the door openers; to be the providers of information about potential growth markets; to provide, in case of trouble, an early warning system; and to tell commerce when opportunity may knock. This is the correct function. May I suggest one or two ways in which this function can be enhanced? I should like to see more home refresher courses: consular officers brought back more frequently; seconded to industry, to do tours of industry, and to find out what new thoughts and processes are about. And if they are to come back frequently, one way at least should be by sea.

I also think that in reverse more British businessmen should visit the consular posts. Frequently I have said to people with whom I have been in touch through B.N.E.C., "Are you going to call on the consul or the consul general?" They have replied, "No, of course not! I know my job." But I have said to them, "It is quite likely that he may have some piece of information about which you do not know which could be of use to you. It is equally possible that your presence there, up-to-date and authoritative, will help him to do his own job better. It will add to his authority if it is seen in the markets where he works that he is in constant touch with important British businessmen".

I should like also to see more cross-fertilisation between the consular posts, the Board of Trade, the Foreign Office and industry. I should like to see closer liaison with the overseas representatives of the British Broadcasting Corporation, British Travel Association, British Council, English Speaking Union, Central Office of Information—all these peripheral interests which could, working as a team with the consular post, make a more powerful contribution than they sometimes do. I cannot avoid the feeling that occasionally some little local jealousy occurs between them.

I am glad that several noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in particular—have emphasised the personal difficulties, the personal worries, particularly about children's education and housing. I cordially endorse everything that has been said about housing. I would add the request that the Treasury, or whichever Government Department is responsible, should be more generous and more broadminded in the loan of pictures and furniture from national collections for the proper furnishing of diplomatic homes abroad.

Too frequent postings is a difficult matter. A man is sent to Ruritania; Ruritanian is a difficult language but as soon as he becomes proficient in Ruritanian he is posted to Seattle. On the other hand, if he is not posted he fears he will be stuck in Ruritania all his life merely because he has taken the trouble to learn Ruritanian. It is indeed a difficult problem.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pay a tribute to wives. It is difficult to speak about this subject without sounding pompous and patronising. One runs into the same trouble with the vetting of candidates' wives at political elections. But we must not forget that often the wife in a consular post, particularly if it is a long way from home, is an acting, unpaid and very efficient ambassadress herself. We get a great deal of work out of wives for nothing. I therefore hope that the Government, and we the taxpayers, will be as generous as possible in this respect. I would also have been a little more generous with this 10 per cent. float. I personally do not think it is enough. I think it should be nearer 15 per cent.

As I have said, much has already been done. Posts are becoming increasingly effective, and I believe, although I am speaking specifically of the American posts, that the same applies to consular posts elsewhere. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, refer to the possibility of chambers of commerce taking over some of the commercial work of some of the posts. I do not think the Government share that view because they are about to withdraw the subsidy paid to the four British American chambers of commerce in America. This will happen within three years, because the Government believe that the posts are able to do this commercial work themselves. I will not refer further to this matter because it is sub judice at the moment and I am personally involved, but this decision has caused, as the noble Lord knows, a great deal of unhappiness. There has also been reorganisation of some posts in America: the post of New Orleans, for instance, has been closed down. If possible, I should like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to tell us whether in the foreseeable future any other reorganisation, other than that which has already been announced, is contemplated.

The basic question we must ask on reading the Duncan Report is: Are we getting proper value for our money? It is not, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said, the object of diplomacy merely to save money on diplomacy. If we are in any doubt whether we are getting good value for our money, we have only to ask the diplomats of other countries. I was in Tokyo a few weeks ago attending British Week. I had taken there several Americans from San Francisco to show them what a British Week looked like, so that they would be able to help us when the British Week comes to San Francisco in October, 1971. They were full of praise, and rightly so, for the efficiency with which the whole of our Embassy in Japan had joined with B.N.E.C. and thundered into action over this great project. And it was a tremendous success. Of course, everybody else worked hard, but the principal burden rested upon the British Ambassador and his staff; and I should like to pay them a tribute.

I think we have been a little harsh on Duncan. He has a large number of good recommendations, which I hope will be put into effect in the near future. We have all concentrated on the one or two questionable ones. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that we were more than just a nation of shopkeepers, and being a sort of tradesman myself I agree with him. Of course, commerce is of vital importance. Making ourselves financially viable is of paramount importance. But I hope I am not belabouring the point too much. The political side is equally important. Even so—and I say this, with respect, to all the distinguished ex-Ambassadors sitting round about me—I still think the best British Ambassador in the world is a punctual delivery date.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself very warmly with the noble Lord, Lord Man-croft, in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, upon his breach of silence. I can hardly bid him welcome here, but at least I can say that and I can also say, having heard the noble Viscount give advice and speak in many capacities, that I know he will bring to our deliberations that great knowledge and calm wisdom which he has always displayed in advising Her Majesty's Governments. This is a special occasion for another reason which has not yet been mentioned. In the last few days, and particularly at this very moment, some very new "new diplomacy" is being exercised a quarter of a million miles from here. I think our hearts and minds will be a little with those special envoys at that distance who are now practising this new art. Thirdly, it is a special moment because one of my oratorical nightmares has always been that one day I should have to speak immediately after that brilliant orator the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and your Lordships and I are now enduring that nightmare.

A great deal of what has to be said on this important subject has now been said, and my best contribution may be to supplement from personal experience certain of the points on which there is already very much in the way of consensus. Perhaps the best way of doing this is, with deference to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in what I might call a lightweight as opposed to a heavyweight manner.

In view of all the generous things that have been said, I do not need to go back to Chapter II, paragraph 5, the verdict on the Diplomatic Service. I would simply say that the Service must be particularly grateful for one word, "present". That paragraph says that the Service is "well adapted to its present tasks". Much of the misunderstanding about the Service has been derived from the rather lazy assumption that it was mainly suited to past tasks. We now know that that is not the case.

I should like to say a word first about the general problem which has already been much discussed—the question of comprehensive and others. Then I will go on very briefly to a few particular items in the chapters on "Administration" and the chapters on "Functions", by which I mean politics, commerce and information; and then perhaps suggest an idea of what this is all about, what we are really trying to do.

On the main subject of controversy, I would put in this word for the Duncan Committee. They produced a serious and very high quality Report in nine months, which then had to be published and to be commented on by a number of people in, at the most, nine hours. With great forethought they produced summaries to help these people; and of course when one produces summaries, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, said, one turns everything that is grey into black or white. This, unhappily, is what happened, and so many people who were generally favourably disposed to the Committee's doctrine in fact were much upset by the effects of the summarised accounts that were given. Now I think that everything is very much clearer.

But there was a mistake which added to the misfortune, and that was the use of the word "outer". Curiously, this does not seem to have happened in the first classic statement of the aims of the Committee; it crept in as a verbal convenience and a diplomatic disaster. Your Lordships will remember that when the European Free Trade Association, the EFTA, was created, the people writing about the EFTA would call the members the "Outer Seven". This had the awful consequence that the more success the EFTA gained, which it did, the more this had to be described as a disappointment because otherwise it was not consistent with "Outer". So may I, as a practical suggestion, suggest that Her Majesty's Government now bury the word "Outer" and simply do not use it at all in this context. This may be inconvenient, but I am sure it is diplomatically important that the word "Outer" should disappear.

May I now go on to the functions and speak for a moment about just one or two of the most important items, first in the chapter on "Administration" and then in the chapters on "Functions". Most of the administrative recommendations are clearly quite admirable and everything depends on their being implemented just as quickly as possible. The Committee criticise the Service for being over-administered, and I think that is right. The reason for it is that in rather less than seven years there have been two major investigations and three major mergers, and when you are implementing at that rate you do not have much time to inspect your own administration. I believe this inspection is now proceeding and I hope that in the process outside advice will be called in. It will not all prove applicable, but such calling in of outside advice as we were able to do during the last merger was both stimulating and extremely helpful. Everybody will endorse what the Committee say on training, even if it costs more money. As noble Lords have said, it will need a margin of 10 per cent. at least, but it is essential. If I may take one concrete instance, we were able, when I was in the Service, to achieve a rate of participation in the excellent Treasury administration course of nearly 50 per cent. of those going to do diplomatic jobs. My own view is that 100 per cent. of the members of the Diplomatic Service who are going to do diplomatic jobs ought to have a serious course in the economics and the economic machinery of this country, because if they do not understand it they cannot effectively help exports and the economic policy, whereas if they do, they can. It is unfortunate that there is a pause in this progress at the moment owing to the necessity arising out of the Fulton Report, but I hope that this will soon be changed.

I am truly delighted at the tributes which have been paid to wives by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. I should like to pursue the positive line on this. It is not only that wives have a difficult time in difficult posts but that it is very hard to measure the immense contribution that wives make, both as partners to members of the Service and in their contribution to the morale of individual posts and to the Service as a whole. I wish they could have had a little more equality of space in the Report, but this was perhaps not practicable.

In the matter of people, I then come to one question which has been considerably dealt with but which is of such importance that I feel I must refer to it again. It is the question of compensation and retirement. Perhaps I can add something a little new by insisting that this is a matter of principle. There are in fact two principles. The first is that the present system of retirement, while it is helpful, is in fact on a basis that is not wholly fair. That is because part of it depends on the 1949 Act, now collated into the 1965 Act, by which the choice of an official to retire depends to some extent on the posts which he has occupied. This is obviously not a fair basis for an instrument of management, though it has proved helpful. It has always had the feeling of unfairness. It is urgent that this should be rectified.

Then in the case of the 30 Ambassadors who have retired there is a very special point. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, made what has been done sound fairly good by adding a certain number of small things together, but there is a point of principle here. It is that the 30 people who have been made redundant this time, and others who may be made redundant in years to come, would not and could not have been retired under the existing legislation. They are something quite different, and anything which savours of giving them terms under the 1943 or 1949 Acts would be a failure to differentiate between cases. This would be extremely unfair. As noble Lords have said, the treatment of the people who will be so unfortunate as to have to retire at this time will affect beneficially or adversely those who remain.

May I now add a word of comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has said? He advocated very strongly retirement at 65 for some members of the Service and early promotion for "flyers". It will be obvious that if you are going to do both you will have some difficult and complicated mathematics to do to see how you can keep some people on for longer than before and promote the younger ones more quickly. I am sure this matter will have to be studied, but it is not as easy as all that. Indeed, if I may say so, I think the noble Lord tended to over-simplify these personal questions. Personal questions are never simple; and if the noble Lord really thought it was simple to slash £5 million or £10 million out of the Budget and call it chicken-feed, I must suggest that there would be an awful lot of "dead" chickens coming home with nowhere to roost.

There are two things, as opposed to people, on which I might say a word. They have both been mentioned before and I need not spend time over them. The first is that I would join with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and other noble Lords in strongly advocating action of some kind to change the present system for handling our purchases and rents of properties overseas. Under the present system our purchases are based on two principles: one is the annual Budget, which is rigidly observed, and the other is that you cannot use local funds as it were inter-dependently. You sell something and, as the noble Lord has said, the money disappears, or you buy something and that is a single transaction. These two together are the perfect recipe for missing opportunities. Therefore I am sure it is urgently necessary to do something such as is suggested in the Report, such as setting up an Overseas Diplomatic Estates Board. The difficulties will speak for themselves and there will be vested official interests opposing this idea. But I hope that on this matter the Government will show courage and imagination.

There is an even more urgent case, which was referred to in, I thought, very conciliatory terms, as was no doubt appropriate to the occasion, by the noble Viscount, Lord Hood. I refer to the case of the Downing Street site. The Committee say there could "scarcely be a more compelling case" for re-developing that site. These are strong words, my Lords, but they are not nearly as strong as you will hear anywhere round that building any day. It will be argued that there are other things to do, there are competing priorities, and so on. But I must put it on record that next year this will have been a most urgent matter for a quarter of a century. It was known in 1945 that there would need to be a new office. There has been one proposal, which was, I think rightly, shot down with the utmost brilliance by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft; and I believe that everybody has been so scared of the noble Lord ever since that no further scheme has been produced. Governments have announced repeatedly the right policy, but still nothing has happened, and the penalty for that is that the Diplomatic Service in London work in 17 different obsolete or obsolescent buildings, and those buildings are, if I may say so, a monument to parsimony and procrastination. The Service is constantly urged to think modern, be modern and act modern, and it goes round and round the Monte Carlo Rally course in Lord Palmerston's slightly improved and very dignified horse and buggy. I hope soon the Government will be able to state not only a policy but also a date for doing something about this very urgent matter.

Perhaps I may now go briefly into functions. On the political work the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, has said already what needed to be said, namely, that a great part of the political work is the question of cultivating personal relationships. Indeed, it is the matter of "representing", which is what the Report is all about. I think that if the Committee had put that category into its list in Chapter I, it would not have allowed itself to get quite so obsessed with this self-generating obsession about political reporting. Political reporting for its own sake stopped in 1939 and has never been resumed. Longwinded-ness will probably continue for ever, but it can be controlled and is controlled as far as possible.

But one thing of which I am quite sure is that political information does not come in carefully ordered, tidy categories at carefully designed periods which can be classified. It comes by good work, by seizing opportunities, by an accidental remark. It comes in all sorts of ways, and no two heads of post treat it the same, though in the end they will convey it to where it should go. So while I am sure that we need to take very seriously the rationing of information coming to London and also the priorities which different countries and regions have to this country, we should not seek to tidy the whole thing up into too exact classifications or we shall lose the personal richness and thoughtfulness which comes from individual diplomatic representatives. It is possible that this would have been better understood if the Committee had had opportunities to inspect the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as the overseas posts, because I think there they would have been able to see that the planning section of the Office keeps a very careful eye on the proportions of policy in different directions. But I think the Committee's idea of a policy inspector who would have the continuous job of relating postings to policy is an interesting and good one which could well be followed up.

I come to information. There are some good suggestions here, too, particularly audibility for the B.B.C., which I regard as the culmination of a thirty-year crusade. There is also the very good suggestion of expanding the new department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and also of course the commendation of the work of the British Council. But I have a feeling that in one way the Committee did not really understand about public relations, and I speak here not as a dignified official but as an ex-public relations officer. I would make the same point as made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. It is possible that the B.B.C. and the serious newspapers may be more, as the Committee says, credible, but what any mission, even a secondary mission, needs is not what Her Majesty's Government are said to have said and are said to mean; what they want is what Her Majesty's Government did say and what they do mean; and you can only do this through an official channel. It means that at the other end you must have the human resources and machinery available to pass that information on, because there are still plenty of people who are interested in it. I think that this outlook perhaps unbalanced the recommendation on information. There is room for some economies, but the philosophy must be right first, which is that the evaluation and dissemination of information is in some degree a professional job, even if you acquire it on the job.

On commercial matters, there is no dispute about the great importance of this activity. I wish that the long and informative chapter on this subject had made it clear that this is not something which has been discovered overnight. There has been a conscious effort over a dozen or fifteen years inside the Overseas Services to turn the attention of the members more towards the importance of this sort of work and to the degree of interest which must be taken in at all levels. This was much encouraged by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Plowden; and this process has been going on, so that now we have a fair degree of skill in this matter throughout the Service. Of course, it can be increased even further and no doubt will be.

I also think that there was one ingredient lacking—and it is one which has been supplied in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft—and that is that we are, as a country, very greatly indebted to the work of many people from business who have sacrificed time from their duties to their companies to take part in leading our export drive. Several Members of your Lordships' House have taken part in this, including the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. What they have done is not only to teach the Service what it can do for industry, but, exactly as the noble Lord said, to teach industry that the Service can help it and how the Service can help it; and that is a very beneficial mutual activity.

I need not labour the point which many noble Lords have made about the nature of ambassadors. There is a passage in the Report about trade ambassadors. Anyone who has been a head of post knows that when the chairman of a company or the chairman of one of the great industrial or commercial organisations visits you at the post, he does not ask you how to sell an automobile or sanitary ware. He says, "Is this country stable? And is Doctor X, the Minister of Trade whom I am seeing tomorrow, on the way up or on the way out?". If you are a trade ambassador and not a political ambassador in some degree as well, you are precious little use to British trade.

So we have a Report which has great force on the administrative side, has a little unbalance on the political side, but none the less contains the elements of the way in which our diplomatic affairs and organisation are moving, and it contains the material for a degree of economy. The terms of reference say, inconsequentially, that we must get the best value for British representation overseas and there is a "consequent" desirability for less expenditure on British representation abroad. The word "consequent", of course, means nothing. None the less, I think we can get as good value for somewhat less in the way of expenditure on things, and by cutting down somewhat, but not too desperately, on people, always remembering that some of the good things suggested in the Report are going to cost more and not less, and they should, because they will give value.

So, finally, as one must, one stands back and says, "What is this all for?". The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that we still have certain advantages in the world which we should use this diplomatic machine to maintain and promote. We take the Committee's slogan, if I may call it that, which they have recommended on information: We are a trading partner. Yes, certainly, we shall still remain that. Perhaps the balance of payments will not tower over us for ever in the way it does now; but it will always be there, and we shall always have to work to beat it. We have a great culture, said the Committee. Yes indeed, and we must meet the demand for it as best we can. The Committee say that we have a democratic tradition. My Lords, I suppose we here are a tradition, but we are also very much alive. I think the thing that is missing in our objective as set out in the Report is that we must in some way, if only modestly, satisfy the interest all round the world in the ability of this country, which I hope will continue for ever, to run itself with government by consent, with an honest Administration and an independent judiciary. That still remains a fundamental British contribution to the world, and in a world where these basic things are having a difficult time. I am sure that if we can go on exemplifying that, the Diplomatic Service, which will be at your service, will not fail in any new tasks the country may ask it to do.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to be the first from these Benches to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, on his maiden speech. I first met the noble Viscount some 50 years ago, when I remember going to a tea party at his house and among the entertainments provided were certain sports, including a race. The noble Viscount won the race, but such was his politeness that he gave up the prize to the runner-up—myself. It was a fine penknife, with corkscrews and all sorts of exciting things. I think that episode shows that, even at that early age, the noble Viscount was already imbued both with skill and with success. In the intervening years he has given ample proof of both those two qualities. Two other qualities also, he showed on that occasion, those of modesty and of generosity, and his speech to-day has once more shown exactly those same qualities. We have had to wait a long time for his speech, but it was worth waiting for.

I hesitated for a long time before deciding to take part in this debate, be cause I knew that there would be a large number of highly qualified people who would be able to contribute far more than I could possibly hope to contribute. But I finally decided to take part because during the fairly recent past I have been a Minister, at the Foreign Office and at the Board of Trade, and therefore concerned both with what is called normal diplomacy and with exports. Moreover, I have since the war visited partly in a private capacity and partly officially, something like a hundred different countries, having the opportunity in the great majority of them of visiting our Missions and of talking not only with the heads of Missions but with junior people there, too.

I studied the Duncan Report with a great deal of care and interest and, in common with other noble Lords who have spoken, I was enormously impressed with the amount of information which has been acquired by the three gentlemen concerned in such a short space of time; by the clarity with which they have expressed it and, in many cases, with the extremely reasonable and sensible views and recommendations that they put forward. So when I come now to points on which I disagree with the Committee's recommendation I hope that it will not be taken as meaning that I disregard the whole Report. I believe that the majority of it is of enormous value, and I hope that its recommendations will be speedily followed.

I disagree principally on two important points. The first is what has been called in the Report itself, and also in this debate, the division of the world into Areas of Concentration and Outer Areas. It is not with the fact of the division of the world into two areas that I disagree. One can divide the world into any number of areas, and I think it is quite useful for the purposes of this Report so to divide it into these two areas. I disagree, as does the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, with the actual naming of the Outer Areas—but that, although important, is perhaps a detail. But the two reasons why I disagree with the thesis which stems from this division is. first of all, that it tends to stratify the division of the world into these two areas, whereas in fact the division is bound to be extremely fluid, changing from year to year, from decade to decade. If we think too much in terms of the two areas (which for the sake of convenience I will continue to call "Areas of Concentration" and "Outer Areas") it will be much harder for us to recognise the changes which take place. That is one reason why I disagree with the Report as it now stands. The second reason is in regard to the different methods of treatment of these two areas defined as they are at present. In that connection, there is between the authors of the Report and myself a fundamental disagreement.

Then, again in common with other noble Lords who have spoken, I disagree with the emphasis which is placed in the Report on the commercial as opposed to the political activities of our Missions overseas, and the implication that these two activities can he conveniently divided and kept, if not in watertight compartments, at least to a large extent separate from each other. To take this latter point first, none of us would deny that trade is of paramount importance; and to-day it is of far more importance than such matters as military treaties or defence bases—the sort of things with which often in the past our overseas Missions had to concern themselves. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, say so forcefully that trade must be primarily the responsibility of the traders themselves. Diplomats, whether they come from the Board of Trade or from the Foreign Office, whether they have had refresher courses at home, whether they have been seconded to businesses or to banks, can never do the job of the trader for the trader. But they can, and do, do a most important job.

The type of help which they can give, and are giving, is, in the first place, to have such contacts with Governments (and by "Governments" I mean not only central Governments but also governments at local and at municipal level) so as to know when big contracts are coming up, what municipality wants a new fleet of buses, when a new dam is to be built in a certain area, and matters of that sort, so that they can give advance warning to our potential exporters of what is afoot. Secondly, they must be able to advise the businessmen who come to their "country" as to the likely legislation concerning foreign investments, the treatment of foreigners, tariffs and so on; who are the influential people at the present time, and who they are likely to be in the next ten years; whom the businessmen should approach, and in what manner they should be approached; and, in many countries, what are the prospects of Government stability: whether the particular Government will remain or is likely to be replaced by another Government of a slightly different complexion, or of a fundamentally different complexion, and having an entirely different attitude towards foreign countries and foreign traders.

Thirdly—and this is one of the important points which the noble Viscount made—the diplomats themselves must be on sufficiently friendly terms with the key people in their district, so as to predispose those people in favour of British businessmen; so as to give a general impression of this country that is favourable and fertilises the ground for business contacts. This is something which our Embassies in the past have done most effectively.

I would refer your Lordships to a letter in the Business Section of The Times to-day from Mr. Bond-Williams, President of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry. There he writes: No one in industry would quarrel with the Report's overall view that our diplomats overseas should give increased assistance to exporters in the future, but it is difficult to see how this aim can be reconciled with the Report's recommendation that the information work of our Embassies and High Commissions should be cut by 50 per cent. This Chamber has benefited greatly from this public relations service overseas, both from the publicity obtained for our outwards missions and from publicity for our member firms' products. We have ample evidence of the effectiveness of this service. … He goes on: Nor should sight be lost of the need for a continuous effort to get across an overall picture of Britain as a successful industrial nation. This is an essential background to the selling efforts of individual firms. I think these are very important words, and those activities are something which can best be done by the general service officer, by the general service diplomat, particularly with some experience of public relations in its widest sense.

Fourthly, and the fourth job. to my mind, of the diplomat in the business sphere, is to decide when the services of some Government expert or specialist would be useful, so that then—and here I think the Duncan Report makes a very sound and useful suggestion—the specialist based in the United Kingdom can fly out and deal with that particular matter, rather than to have a large number of such specialists permanently in the country itself. All these things can best be done by the general service officers. The specialist should be home-based, and I believe that there there could be a considerable saving in cost.

In smaller countries, and in countries which are highly centralised, this work can be done mainly in the capital city, but in larger countries, such as the United States, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, pointed out, our consuls and our consuls-general play a vital role. The personal contact of the consul with local officials, with local politicians and businessmen, is of paramount importance, not only for gaining the big contracts, not only for selling the large quantities of capital goods, but also for the promotion of retail trade and the British Weeks which, in so many provincial centres, do so very much to help our general export effort.

On top of that, the consul in many countries can play a vital role in political reporting. We know only too well that there are some countries where Governments can be overthrown by movements which have started in distant provinces. To have political reporting from our consulates in those provincial areas is of very great political help, quite apart from the commercial help.

These are jobs which have to be done throughout the whole world, whether in the Areas of Concentration or in the Outer Areas. But in the Areas of Concentration, as defined by Duncan, it is often easier to get the information that is needed without any missions at all, and it is often less important to get it. After all, businessmen already visit the United States and France; they have their contacts there and their Government policy changes slowly. Our newspapers are full of what goes on there, and our broadcasts tell us the latest news from those countries. We, as ordinary citizens or as businessmen interested in those areas, do not need diplomats to tell us what is happening and what is likely to happen.

However, there are few business visitors to—shall we say?—Indonesia or to Bolivia, and there are few newspaper reporters. Little space is given in our newspapers to what is going on in those countries. But those are the countries where Governments and their policies may change very rapidly, and we shall know nothing about them at all because they are of no interest to the general readers of the newspapers. It is only from our diplomats that the Government here, and the businessmen, can possibly know what is going on in such countries. It is in those areas, too, that personal contact with the head of State, or with individual leaders of Government, counts for so much more than it does in the larger countries.

We could, if we are honest, send a monkey to Moscow or Washington; we could send a chimpanzee to Copenhagen or to the Hague; we could send a baboon to Bonn or to Paris, and it would not make the slightest difference to our relations with those countries. We shall continue to be friendly with them if they wish to be friendly with us and if our interests bring us that way, and we shall continue to know what is going on there through the Reuters correspondents, The Times correspondents, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian correspondents, and so on. But the quality of our ambassador in Cambodia, in Cuba or in Iran makes all the difference in the world, not only to our trade and our relations with that country in general but to their political attitude and outlook and actions towards us, and to the actions and attitudes that they may take in the United Nations and in matters of world importance.

Let me give an example from a specific country—not from Barataria or from Ruritania, but from Ethiopia. Great change has taken place in that country in the last two decades, and still greater change will undoubtedly occur when the Emperor, Haile Selassie, dies—which I hope will not be for many years. He is a very great man and a very great friend of this country, but there is no blinking the fact that those changes will take place within the foreseeable future. There is great scope in Ethiopia for business. Already some progressive firms have started there. It has a large and growing population and a growing standard of living. Politically it is one of the most important countries in Africa. But it is essential for a new businessman who is thinking of going out to Ethiopia to know what is likely to happen not only next year but in the next five or ten years. After all, businessmen are being asked to make a considerable effort, a considerable investment, in that country, so they must be informed about the prospects there. We, as a Government, must be informed about the prospects there, and we must be informed not only about the thinking in the highest ranks of to-day's Government but also about the thinking and the activities among the students and intellectuals, among the middle ranks of the Army, among the hereditary leaders, among the provincial governors. This can be done only with a fully staffed Embassy and with several consulates throughout the country, and it can be done only if the men at all levels there are of the highest calibre.

Contrast this with the position in the United States. I think it is safe to say that whoever is the next President of the United States makes little difference to our trade. In any case, the newspapers will give us plenty of warning and information and forecasts as to who he will be, and, with no disrespect to our mission in the United States, I do not believe that those forecasts will be any less accurate. That does not in any way mean that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, about the political importance of what is going on in the United States when it comes to business contracts, but this information can be given primarily by the political officers in the Embassy and by our consulates in different cities.

To sum up, I believe that we could well reduce some of our numbers in the Areas of Concentration and rely to an increasing extent on home-based experts visiting those countries as required. We should increase the numbers and the quality in the Outer Areas. Above all, we should ensure that the people who go out to these rather more remote countries, which in terms of population, though not of area, are often relatively small countries, should be of the highest calibre and the best men in the Service for that job. Those are the ones who should be sent there, rather than sent to what at the present time they and others may think they deserve—the more prestigious posts.

We must not use such countries, as is sometimes done at the present time—and I say this with thought, for I believe it to be true—as the dumping grounds for decent chaps who have got towards the end of their career, who are not quite up to the higher grade posts but are not down enough to be made of no more use. Those are not the people we need in those vital countries in the Outer Areas. We need the best the Service can provide, which does not by any means, automatically mean the oldest—


My Lords, while I have much sympathy with what the noble Lord has said about the posts around the world, especially the smaller posts, does he really feel that selection for a big post need not depend on the quality of our Ambassador? Even if the noble Lord feels that a good Ambassador cannot advance matters very much, would he not agree that a bad Ambassador could make them very much worse?


No, my Lords; I do not think I would. Thinking back, I find it very hard to recall any of these main countries where there has been a bad Ambassador. It is therefore hard to give a completely clear-cut answer. But had it been the case that in the last twenty years there had been a bad Ambassador in Bonn, in Paris or in Washington, I do not believe our relations with those countries to-day would have been any worse than they are at the present time. I would make a plea, coupled with the second point in my summing-up, that we should consider increasing the trend, as I am happy is now being done, of sending to the more remote countries relatively young men who are not normally considered to be at this stage of ambassadorial status, and who may well come back to a more junior post later. So long as they are good they do not have to be senior in the hierarchy, but they must have the quality which is needed for these posts.

The third point in my summing-up is that we should increase our consular representation, both in the Areas of Concentration and in the Outer Areas. Fourthly, and only in certain areas, we should consider the desirability of increasing specialist resident attachés. I have in mind here some of the Central American countries, and the countries of Latin America in general, where the army is a very important factor in governing the country. What we want to know is not who is governing the country to-day, but who is going to govern it in five or ten years' time.

If we can make good contacts with such people, we shall be doing our own country a very great service, politically, economically and in terms of trade. To have the right type of military attaché with membership of the officers' clubs, mixing in friendship among the people, can pay very great dividends. Similarly, we want to have one or two general service officers who are specially interested in, or have even received special training in, the educational aspects of the countries to which they are attached, so that they can mix with the student body and the young intellectuals who, in many countries, are also vital for future political development.

Finally, in spite of the difficulties to which other noble Lords have referred, I believe that we should be far more prepared to leave people longer in posts where they are being successful, where they have gained personal contacts, where they have gained a knowledge not only of the language but also of the way of thinking and of the political setup of the country. We should have no hesitation at all, as the Report so rightly suggests, in giving promotion in the post itself, rather than making people wait for transfer to another post before promotion can be achieved. I believe that in this way our Diplomatic Service will be able to continue to serve the needs of the country; that at the same time, as it has always done in the past, it will attract the most suitable people for this job; and—what it is not always doing at the present time—retain them for the full length of their service. We shall therefore avoid the somewhat disturbing disappearance from the Service of the 35-year-olds and 40-year-olds who show so much promise, because they feel that their prospects are better elsewhere.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that many of your Lordships will be most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for introducing this discussion, which has been a very far-ranging one and, still more important, if I judge it aright, has led to a pretty broad consensus of opinion in all parts of the House. Some trepidation was expressed earlier at the sheer numbers of the alleged galaxy of talent that was to address this House. I cannot believe that any words of mine are likely to alarm the noble Lord, Lord Shack leton, and his advisers, and I should be sorry to think that they would do so. But I assure your Lordships that I intend to be brief because, making a mathematical calculation, I saw that at least eight former members of the Diplomatic Service will be addressing your Lordships. As one of them—the only one, incidentally, who spent most of his life in the Commonwealth Service—I propose to confine my remarks to one topic; namely, the third word in that rather cumbersome title "Foreign and Commonwealth Office".

Before I do so, may I say a word about the Report itself, although I think that I am merely echoing what has already been said by many speakers. I should like to pay my tribute to the troika, as they have been described. They carried out an extremely thorough investigation; they brought a very fresh mind to bear on the problems, and their Report will, I believe, prove to be a great stimulus to the Diplomatic Service as a whole. Certainly in all their comments on management, on conditions of service and on staffing they showed an extremely sure touch; and I thought, from a good deal of experience of these problems in the past, that their recommendations were extremely valuable.

More broadly, many of your Lordships have cast doubt on the wider policy implications of some of the comments in the Report; notably the by now, no doubt, notorious areas and what has been talked of as the undue concentration on Britain's role as a shopkeeper. I share some of these reservations, and take the view that they apply with special force to our handling of Commonwealth relations. Of course the concept of the Commonwealth has changed a good deal in recent years, and it will no doubt continue to change. The creation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is itself a manifestation of that change, and it poses the question of what Britain's future posture should be in the handling of Commonwealth relations.

Of course the Commonwealth will not stay put. We all know that many regard its future with a good deal of disillusionment. I suppose, if one is frank, that there are two broad alternative courses lying ahead. There are, on the one hand, the pessimists who would argue that we should not strive officially to keep alive something that is a heritage of the past, and that we should concentrate on our other objectives. On the other hand, the more optimistic and, as I would think, more positive and constructive view is that we should build on the very remarkable achievement of international co-operation which has developed over the years, believing that the association can be of value to us all and, above all, can sustain, and need in fact in no way impede, the achievement of Britain's interests, whether in Europe or elsewhere.

But, precisely dealing with the Commonwealth, the Duncan Report seems to speak with more than one voice. In the opening chapter it says quite firmly: We shall continue to be concerned in the welfare of the Commonwealth…. Later on, it includes, within "broad aims", … the sustaining of Commonwealth links in a form appropriate to contemporary requirements …". But there is little elaboration of this in the rest of the Report, and virtually no guidance on how the newly-merged Department, which was in fact in the course of being set up while the mission was in progress, should handle the specific problem. Indeed, some comments imply that the Committee would perhaps not be unduly distressed if the more pessimistic view which I mentioned earlier were to be followed. For example, although this is a quotation that may perhaps unfairly be taken a little out of context, they express the view: … outside the Area of Concentration and Eastern Europe … the long-term prospects for exercising political influence … by this means"— namely, political propaganda— are poor and the need is slight". I think it would be very difficult to sustain a case that in most Commonwealth countries, at least, the chances of exercis- ing influence were poor and, still more, that the need was slight.

Later on, they assume that the size of British Missions in Commonwealth countries should be equated to the size of those in foreign countries. No one is opposed to reductions where this is reasonable and advisable, and it may very well be that some Commonwealth Missions can be reduced. But why should Britain's relations with a country with whom she has had perhaps the closest connections for two centuries, with a country with whom to-day she is associated in the Commonwealth, with all the myriad links that that implies, be equated with her relations with any other country, however friendly, to whom none of that applies? Because the truth is that for a host of reasons—history, language, personal contacts, professional links—our relations (and not only at Government level; it runs right through) with people in Commonwealth countries are different in kind and greater in depth than those with almost any other country in the world excepting, of course, the United States, where the dimension is totally different.

In discussing political work the Committee, when talking of selective posts—and, by definition, posts in most Commonwealth countries would undoubtedly be selective—say: Selective Posts, … should not normally have much if any intergovernmental work outside their specialised fields … It is significant, perhaps, that in the Report there is very little reference to the massive apparatus of Commonwealth machinery that exists. The Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meetings, for example; the regular meetings of the Commonwealth Finance Ministers, Education Ministers and so on; the whole range of other committees and bodies; and, of course, the Commonwealth Secretariat, which was recently established in London. All these involve Her Majesty's Government in considerable diplomatic activity, and call for constant consultation between Governments at a high level. If I may quote outside the Government sphere—and I mention this example only because I am familiar with it—the Commonwealth Scholarship Plan provides for over 1,000 scholars, scattered throughout all the Commonwealth countries, to be receiving further education, of whom we have well over 600 in this country alone.

Now it seems to be, broadly, that the Committee were so tied down by their terms of reference (and I personally would very readily recognise the limiting nature of those terms) that they do not seem to have explored the intangible, for by nature intangible things cannot be quantified—and, of course, this covers a good many of the best and most valuable things in life. For example, my Lords, I suppose that if someone were to carry out an analysis of the cost-effectiveness of marriage it could produce some very misleading results, and probably none of us would embark upon so highly expensive a venture on the basis of such an analysis. Similar considerations are true of education, the arts and, of course, diplomacy.

I was very much impressed by what the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, had to say in his remarks about the importance of human relations in diplomacy, and I should like to take this opportunity to pay my tribute to what I think all your Lordships will agree was a most thoughtful contribution in his maiden speech. But the Commonwealth experience certainly is very widely made up of intangibles. I think the Commonwealth can continue to play a healing role in the world; not in any sentimental hankering after a past that has gone, but in practical application to contemporary problems by men of good will, able and ready to work together in partnership and not in strife. But this will continue to call both for a distinctive political basis and for leadership from Britain—and I was delighted to hear from Lord Shackleton's remarks earlier in the debate that, in acting on the Duncan Report, it is indeed Her Majesty's Government's intention to act on this basis.

My Lords, before I sit down, may I add two further things? We have heard a good deal of misunderstanding about the implications of sotne of the remarks in the Report by the Duncan Committee. May I make two personal statements, lest there be any misunderstanding about my personal attitude on all this? In the first place, nothing that I have said or feel is in any way opposed to the merger which has taken place of the Common wealth and Foreign Office, or indicates any regret at the disappearance of the Commonwealth Office, over which I presided for so long, as having a separate existence. I suppose I can claim that I worked as hard as anybody for the success of the Diplomatic Service in the early days, and in preparing for the eventual merger of the two Departments; and my conscience and my record on this point are quite clear. Before I retired I advised Ministers, and I told the Commonwealth Office staff, that it was my firm view that merger should take place and that it would be right that it should do so. Of course, I did not know at that time that it was going to take place, owing to the political decision, in a matter of weeks, in fact, after I left. So far from criticising, I am supporting the merged Department. All I am asking is that the identity of the Commonwealth is not lost sight of, and that the merged Department, as I am sure they will, should continue to draw on the fund of good will and experience that permeates the Commonwealth relationship.

My second point is that I should like to make it clear that, in urging a place for consideration of the Commonwealth, I am not in any way starry-eyed or ignorant of many of the Commonwealth problems. Indeed, when I sat at my desk in Whitehall for some six years I suppose I was as aware as anyone else of the strains and frustrations in that very difficult period; but I hope that some of these agonies are beginning to pass already and may prove to be no more than temporary. Certainly the more tolerant and more constructive meeting of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers held earlier this year seems to point in this direction. But in any case the Commonwealth rests on far firmer foundations than can be upset by temporary quarrels. I suppose that, above all, it rests on the fundamental fact that the old Commonwealth is composed largely of our own people and that in the new Commonwealth we have left an imprint of British influence as surely as Rome has left its mark on our civilisation. The Commonwealth association is respected and supported by the United States; one can only guess that it is the envy of the Communists who might well give their eye teeth to have, ready made, such built-in advantages as we enjoy in so many countries round the world. My sole point is that we simply cannot afford to neglect this very valuable asset.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise if I am unable to stay to the end of this debate on my old Service, since I and a number of other noble Lords will be participating in an official engagement to-night solely by virtue of the dates of our retirement from the Diplomatic Service. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, on his impressive and civilised first contribution to our debates. I feel that we should pay our respects to the hereditary principle for having provided so able a reinforcement to your Lordships' House. I would also take the opportunity now to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for what he said during his speech about my staff in Aden. I should like particularly to commend those members of the staff, of all ranks, who, after British troops had left, volunteered to stay behind in circumstances which could he described only as highly uncertain.

I shall try to confine myself to a few practical points from a non-Mandarin point of view, as one who has served outside this country almost the entire time he spent in the Service. First, however, I wish to make one comment on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Walston, about the qualities required of an Ambassador. As an ex-Ambassador in Moscow, I would not in any way wish to counter his statement that a chimpanzee could do the job very well: I believe that the chimpanzee is a very intelligent animal. But I should like to inform your Lordships of the most authoritative statement on the qualities required of a British Ambassador. M. Francois Poncet told me that the Foreign Office was so well organised that a man of moderate intellectual qualities could be a good British Ambassador; but that the Quai d'Orsai, on the other hand, was so badly organised that it needed a man of really superior intellect to become a good French Ambassador.

My Lords, in listening to the debate this afternoon I have been reminded of the old saying that one can find a quotation from Lenin for any possible point of view. I think that perhaps the Duncan Report qualifies in this way. There are obviously many very good and practical proposals in it, but none of us agrees with all the proposals. Nevertheless, I believe that the Report will be generally helpful to those who are shaping the future of the Service. It is possible to criticise the Committee's terms of reference, but there is no ground for criticising the Committee for doing what they were asked to do.

On the important point of reviewing the functions and scale of our representation overseas, I think that we cannot get away from the following two principles. First, we should make sure that the work which an Embassy is required to do is necessary to support British interests. I do not believe that any principle can usefully be laid down in general terms as to what British interests are: they will vary from time to time and from place to place. Commercial interests, obviously, are of increasing interest; but, as the Report says, the security of the country is a paramount interest, and I was glad to hear the noble Lord the Leader of the House to-day make it clear that, while the power situation has radically altered, there is no intention that we should opt out of international discussions which will decide the sort of world that we are going to live in. What is important, since the Report is really about mechanics and not about policy, is to establish the necessary machinery to review on a continuing basis what our essential interests are from time to time and from place to place. The Committee have suggested the means of doing this, and I am glad to hear that their proposals in this respect are already taking shape in new machinery for this purpose in the Foreign Office.

Secondly, we should make sure that each Embassy has the staff of the right number and quality to do the work which we want it to do. To say that country "A" is an area of special interest, and that therefore we should have a full-scale Embassy in it, and that country "B" is of less importance to us, and that our representation should therefore be reduced to two men and a boy, may turn out to be right. But I doubt whether it helps to generalise in this way. It does not necessarily follow that the size of an Embassy should be directly related to our interests. It is desirable that it should be related to the job which the Embassy has to do.

We cart take two examples. A great deal of trade may pass between this country and a Western European country without the Embassy knowing anything about it; but it will take a lot of hard work by the Embassy to sell capital goods to the public sector of developing a country. In another country our commercial and political interests may not be of the greatest importance, but for half of the year the country may be full of British tourists, a proportion of whom will have to be got out of the clutches of the local police. I am doubtful about the wisdom of the proposals in the Report to cut down consular functions of this nature. But the Committee are of course perfectly right in saying that we should not have a rigid Embassy pattern in each country, and that we can cut down in many places. Many Ambassadors have speculated at times whether to do this to their Embassies would really harm British interests; and every Ambassador should know that the recipe for a happy Embassy is that everybody in it should feel that he is a little overworked.

I accept that there is a new diplomacy in Europe; but, as the Report itself states, this diplomacy will be carried out largely by teams of Home civil servants from various Departments guided by inter-Departmental committees. The more closely we become integrated in Europe, the more our links will be by direct participation in European government and the old Embassies may have a diminishing role. Here again the second principle to which I have referred applies.

My Lords, the Report concentrates, as it is required to do, on the commercial functions of an Embassy. It is of course important to be objective about the way in which an Embassy can help our export trade. We do not want to exaggerate an Embassy's commercial functions from an unconscious desire to compensate for loss of political power. As we all know, the Embassy is engaged on trade promotion. It cannot sell the goods; that is for the commercial salesman. Its operations in trade promotion have been described, perhaps not unfairly, as marginal but essential. The commercial staff can help to put the businessman on the right track; they can keep him from making mistakes through lack of local knowledge; they can provide a useful check on candidates for agencies—all the kind of work described by the report as "responsive". I believe that the great majority of British business men will testify to the help they have received from Embassies in this way.

I am more doubtful about the scope for what the Report describes as "initiative" commercial work; that is to say, bringing to the notice of businessmen opportunities for investment or a new market for his goods. I would not absolutely exclude this, but the Embassy staff cannot know most of the financial and technical considerations which govern a company's decision in these matters. Nor am I convinced of the desirability (to quote the Report) of: an effective dialogue about export strategy between Posts abroad and Departments at home", since from my superficial experience in British industry I am not sure that the concept of "export strategy" has any practical meaning.

But there are two aspects of commercial work, which are perhaps covered by this phrase, in which the Embassy has an important part to play. First, nowadays in the capital goods field the businessman with the right goods at the right price cannot sell them unless his efforts are supported by a credit structure, often a credit-aid combination, which will match the financial terms offered by his overseas competitors. In such cases the Embassy must try to ensure that the Home Department realises in time what terms are necessary to secure the contract, and must support the businessman in his efforts to get the necessary financial conditions from the Government at home. Secondly, the C.B.I. seems to me to be quite right in its memorandum to Government, in which it stresses the importance of the Embassy's work in dealing with the Governmental aspects of British investments overseas: advice, guidance and help at the time the investment is made; protection against arbitrary and discriminatory action by foreign Governments, and the securing of prompt and adequate compensation in the event of expropriation—though I must add that the best Embassy in the world cannot in these days be blamed if it is unable to protect British firms against arbitrary action or expropriation without adequate compensation.

The Embassy is also sometimes required to protect British businessmen from arbitrary expulsion or even physical violence. I recall being rung up in the early morning and hearing a voice saying, "I am surrounded by my workmen with crowbars and ropes to hang me—please help!". It may also have to undertake most frustrating negotiations lasting often for many years, to settle the claims of British businessmen whose personal property has been expropriated, as will have been clear to the six noble Lords present at a recent discussion in your Lordships' House on the continuing plight of British subjects formerly resident in Egypt. These functions, which are essential and by no means marginal to those affected, are in the category of the main work of an Embassy dealing with Governments and are likely to be required principally in the developing world, outside the Report's main Area of Concentration. British exports will not flourish if the British businessman cannot carry on his business without risk to person or property.

On the trade promotion side one word of caution seems to be necessary. Embassies, full of zeal in their commercial work, sometimes go too far in complaining of British firms' decisions on local representation, or in supporting foreign firms' complaints of late deliveries or inadequacies in quality or service, without a full knowledge of the facts. Diplomacy has to be exercised by an Embassy in its contacts with British business as much as in its contacts with foreign Governments.

I believe that the proposals in the Report on information are generally on the right lines. Here, too, we have to beware of the well-known tendency of Governments to increase information work as a substitute for power. I particularly welcome the importance placed on the News Department's connection with the London correspondents of foreign newspapers, since it is their reports which influence opinion abroad on our policies. I also welcome the value placed by the Report on the B.B.C. Overseas Services and I know from personal experience what a great effect they have. But I also, as well as the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, have doubts in one particular. I do not think that we should adopt as a general principle that foreign language broadcasts should have a lower priority than English language broadcasts. The requirement will vary from place to place and from time to time. A decision should be taken in the light of a continuous examination of the B.B.C.'s experience in each individual case. But I know also from experience that whereas the principle of the B.B.C.'s independence must he rigorously maintained if it is to have real influence abroad, general political considerations in the matter of where the effort should be directed must sometimes override the views of the broadcasters, since they can be influenced by the legacy of the past and by the administrative difficulty of a change in priorities.

I have also, like the noble Lord the Leader of the House, some doubts about the proposal for a change in British Council policy. My own experience is that in the last ten years the Council has become a much more efficient organisation based on sensible and practical policies, particularly on the educational side, giving people what they want and not what it is thought they ought to want. The Report concludes that the proportion of effort directed towards cultural manifestations is rather low, and suggests the change, which has been referred to, in the balance of activities towards Western Europe. I am not clear what is the basis of the argument. Is it that because Western Europe is important to our interests, we should subsidise large doses of British culture for Europeans? I do not think that this will help us to increase our trade or to get into the Common Market. I should have thought that an improvement in our hotels and standard of cooking would have done more in that direction. But I do think that it will affect our trade if people throughout the developing world regard English as the universal language which they must know and the qualification of a British examination as the best avenue to a career. I suggest that we want to be very sure of what we are doing before we alter the direction of an institution which has made a great deal of sense in recent years. There is doubtless some untidiness which needs shaking out, particularly in the overlapping of aid administration in the educational field, but in general Council has been doing a sensible and practical job in the right places.

Some of the fiercest criticism of the Report has come from those concerned with overseas aid. I think that much of this criticism is misdirected. I doubt whether our aid will be more effective if we greatly increase the staff engaged in administering it. Nor do I believe that it is desirable to build up a specialist cadre of aid administrators. I believe, as we all do, in the importance of aid and of its being properly used, but I suggest that the results would be better if aid administration is regarded as an important part of the Embassy's normal responsibilities.

Over a wide field the Committee's recommendations should surely be welcomed as being on the right lines, especially those on management of the Diplomatic Service, commercial policy and economic work, civilian and Service attachées, accommodation and political reporting. I note that the Committee expect the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to be progressively reduced in size —a tactful way of presenting a recommendation outside their terms of reference and from which not everyone will dissent. The Report will stimulate argument and action. I have no doubt that it will be used constructively to make the Service more efficient and that any tendency towards over-rigid schematisation will be converted into a flexible instrument for the modernisation of our diplomatic missions abroad.

One practical conclusion may be drawn from the Report. We can streamline the Service to some extent, but the Treasury will not be able to look upon it as a milch cow. It is more practical to regard it as essential animal feeding-stuff for British interests of all kinds. We do not want to waste the stuff; we want to be sure that it has the right nutritional value which will enable us to reduce the bulk; but there is a point beyond which further reduction in quantity or quality would be bad animal husbandry.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, I was born into the Diplomatic Service and though never officially belong ing to it, my long connection with it perhaps justifies my intervention which will, as usual, be a very short one. I want to make three short points. My first is that I think there is an omission in the Report, in that there is not one word about the employment of women in the Diplomatic Service. This may be due to the fact that non-discrimination has reached such a stage that it is not necessary to mention it—although somehow I do not think that is the case—or it may be that because the question raises such problems it has therefore been avoided. However, I think it much more likely to have been the usual reason, that of the question of the employment of women having been totally overlooked.

I would never question that there is a great problem in the employment of women in the Diplomatic Service. It presents great difficulties. There are, of course, single women who have sacrificed a home life for their career, which cannot be very satisfactory for them. Unfortunately, there is not an adequate supply of widows of the proper age who might fill the bill extremely well, and a happily married woman may not be able to find a suitable "prince consort"; indeed, she must, of course, always consider her husband's position, and therefore it is a very great problem. What is to be done? I am persuaded that a feminine element in the Service is of value. After all, the Service is there to strengthen the understanding between countries, and especially as the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, so rightly said, to cultivate friendly relations —and I would congratulate the noble Viscount very heartily on his maiden speech. The population of a country is, after all, 50 per cent. women, some of them in highly responsible positions in these days. I think there are some helpful suggestions in the Report which might be followed in this respect.

The Report talks a great deal of flexibility; of short appointments of specialists; and I think one may take the United Nations as an example of where there have been very successful short-term appointments of women who have done remarkably good work. Perhaps the British Council could also consider this question of short-term appointments as could the B.B.C. and the C.O.I. These organisations have been given great importance in the Report. There is also the suggestion that wives of diplomats might be economically used in certain countries. One suggestion that struck me as of great importance was the employment of local people in certain directions. This is valuable, because it seems to me that we could find women who are socially suitable to help in making contacts and receiving visitors from abroad. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will look at these points, and I recommend them strongly to the Minister who is to reply to the debate.

My second point is this. Like other speakers, I deprecate this division into what sounds like inner and outer space and the derogation, especially of South America, as it were, to the moon. It is mentioned only once in the whole Report. The world, after all, is one. And how do we know that the status quo is going to last and where our trade is next going to develop in this very technical age. I should have thought, like the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and others, that Europe could be largely served from London by telephone and that our Embassies there should become largely staging points and record offices. Is it really necessary or wise to have three Ambassadors in Paris —I suppose that they have now migrated to Brussels—and none in Chile and Mexico? If those countries we cut out then cut out their embassies to us, there would be no connection at all. I think that the Report gives the impression of setting up an industrial organisation and not a service to humanity. Even then, is it wise to concentrate on what we have got instead of expanding where there are new opportunities?

I read in the Daily Telegraph this morning a report on the Argentine, which says that our influence there has declined to the extent that our share in the Argentine market is now only 6 per cent., or rather less, instead of 30 per cent., which was the case a few years ago. There are distinct signs, the article adds, that an official attempt is going to be made to stage a "come back". I should like to remind your Lordships that there is to be a British exhibition and British Week in Buenos Aires next October, which I hope the Government will do their best to support.

My last point is that I strongly deprecate this reiteration that we are no longer a first-class Power, especially in a Government Paper. Instead of being proud of the old Pax Britannica and what we have given to the development of backward countries in the past, we have been injected with a colonial guilt complex. I think that here history will judge us more fairly than we do ourselves. Now we are to look upon ourselves as a second-class nation. I cannot see what encouragement this will be for our younger generation.

After all, what makes a first-class nation? Is it the number of bombs it has and the number of people it is able to kill? Or is it a nation that has courage, strength of character, industry, uprightness, humanity and imagination? I think that we must really get rid of this inferiority complex and this running ourselves down in public, otherwise the public will begin to believe what we say. I should like to see our young people going out again to conquer the world, with honest trade, art, music and all that makes life worth living, and our Embassies abroad, especially those labelled in this Report as in "outer space", being missionaries of the greatness of our people.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, I must start with an apology for not being here at the beginning of the debate, for reasons which I explained to the noble Lord the Leader of the House and to the noble Lord who initiated the debate: reasons which involved an engagement made many months ago involving other people which could not be altered. Indeed, I should not have intervened even now (because the voice of my old Department has already been raised and is going to he raised again), were it not for the fact that Mr. Bevin, when Foreign Secretary, appointed me as his chief administrative officer to carry out the so-called Eden-Bevin reforms and at a later stage, when I was Principal Under-Secretary, the Plowden Committee was sitting and reporting and it was my first duty to see those reforms brought into effect. So I felt some obligation to say something.

Now we have another Report, from a Committee under a most distingushed Chairman, and one can but congratulate the Government on persuading anyone so deeply involved in the exports of this country and its economic and financial welfare to undertake this job, assisted by two such able coadjutors. Having said that, and I shall come later in what I say to plead for many of the administrative things which the Report recommends, I have one plea to make, which I think has already been met by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. My plea is please do not throw out the baby with the bilge water; because there is a lot of bilge water in this. This has been referred to already by many speakers, but I should like to pick out one or two points.

I would start with the phrase, "A national Power of the second order" to which the noble Baroness has not referred. This is repeated more than once. It is one of two things: it is either a blinding statement of the obvious or misleading. If your base is an island, and the number of people on the island is only 50 million, plus a few, and your resources are as restricted as they must be on this island, then you cannot say that you are the same kind of major Power as one based on a population of 200 million and occupying a continent. This is just saying something that is obvious. So what! Alternatively, are you saying that there was some moment in our history when this was quite different? If so, when was that? When we were finding it almost as difficult, and in the end impossible, to discipline a few distant American colonists, just as they are now finding it difficult in Vietnam? Or, at a later period in our history what should we infer from the difficulty we had in dealing with the Boers in South Africa at the end of the last century and the beginning of this. So, to my mind, either this phrasing is something blindingly obvious or it asks us to infer something which I do not think to be either true or helpful, particularly when we are thinking against that background of organising a Service to protect and further the interests of this country.

There are other phrases which have been picked up by previous speakers. The one about "comprehensve and progressive missions" and about, "Areas of Concentration" and "Outer" darkness. Of course it is perfectly true that we have areas of concentration. The noble Baroness referred to the fact that we have three Ambassadors in Brussels or Paris—or both. But that is just a statement of fact. Our interests compel us to belong to NATO, to have a Mission to the European Community and an Ambassador to the Belgians, and we keep these people there for these purposes. It is a statement of fact, if that is what it is meant to be. But if it is meant to be more than that; if from this we are to derive the basis for setting up a whole new structure of the Service, then I think that it is greatly misleading.

Again, we find the authors of this Report getting into this kind of difficulty when they get on to our information and consular work. They say, on page 98, that: …the overseas information services … should … project Britain as a trading nation with a great culture and democratic traditions, rather than as a world power of the first order. Then I go back and find a little earlier, on page 96, that the Report says that the information services should not merely explain British policy overseas, but should also: project as actively as possible Britain's culture, language and achievements. What were these achievements—that we were not a power of the first order? Or what? Once again the Committee are using phrases which lead to a great muddle. So I was not the least surprised to find that at the end of the first month after the Report was published the Chairman had to write a three-column letter to The Times saying that when he was accused of saying one thing, he had not meant that at all, and that if you looked at the fine print and the notes you would see that something else had been said.

In the irreverent days of the early part of my service, when Sir John Simon was Foreign Secretary, this is what we used to call "doing a Simon". That meant that this extremely learned and powerful man would say something about foreign affairs, and later, when questioned, would then have to say, "when I said this, what I really meant was that". But that did not help very much, because after a few days he had to say again that when he had said the other thing it was really a combination of the two. So I think that the authors of this Report, by creating a number of catch-phrases, have really confused their own arguments. I hope, therefore, that the one thing that I was going to ask for may be granted; namely, that the baby should not be thrown out with the bilge water.

There are, I would suggest, three main things to which anyone who administers the Foreign Service in this country must always pay attention. The first is the unpredictability of future events. We are a very exposed country. We depend on our trade to keep our industries going and to feed ourselves. These are straightforward and well-known facts. Therefore, if in the administration of your Foreign Service you were to concentrate too single-mindedly on the objectives of one epoch, you might find yourself in great trouble in a later epoch. The recruits of 1969 are the Ambassadors of 2000.

How do you set about this? What is the next principle? The second requirement is adaptability. You must for this purpose, I suggest, be able to attract high quality candidates, whether men or, as the Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, argued, women to this Service. Here, of course, the Foreign Service gets it both ways. Sometimes it is accused of having nothing but dumbbells in high places, and at another time the attack is that it gets far too many of the first-class honours candidates from the major universities. I do not know what the figures are like now, but I used to know, because it was my duty to do so. I think the figure then (and I imagine that to-day it might be something of the same order) was just over 0.6 per cent. of the first-class graduates of the universities of this country in arts and social sciences. If you take the other subjects, which are not arts and social sciences, the figure is well down below 0.6 per cent., and probably even below 0.2 per cent. So I would reject that argument, and say again that in order to achieve adaptability you must be able to recruit high quality staff.

How are you going to do that?—and that is the third requirement. The terms of service must be right. Here again I come to the point that has been made by other speakers: that service abroad for men and their wives is not the same as service at home. It is a different kind of career, and this was well understood by those who were involved in the Eden-Bevin reforms, and of course by the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, when he came to make his Report. As I say, I think the third point is that you must always keep in mind—and see it is protected—that the terms are right to attract the right kind of people to do the job you want. When you come to what those terms are, I am bound to say that I think many of the recommendations of this Report have a solid basis and sound reason behind them, and I merely hope that the Government, and succeeding Governments, will carry them through. The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, mentioned training. This is an essential. It began as a result of the Eden-Bevin reforms; it was carried a further stage by the Plowden Report; and I am only too glad to hear that the prospect is that it will be carried still further.

We have all had our say in earlier debates about the inadequacy of the present Foreign Office building, and we stand by what we said, although I know that many noble Lords will regret that the vista from the bridge in St. James's Park may not be quite the same as it was in the past. Similarly, I would particularly support the recommendations made on accommodation abroad. Successive Governments are always telling industry that they ought to run their businesses with regard to economy and cost effectiveness. Anybody who reads this Report can see what has happened as a result of our not purchasing properties in time, but continuing to lease, and so forth. They will see at once that the board of any business would have to resign if it went before its annual general meeting and was submitted to questioning on this score.

It is the most appalling story of waste of money over the years. Whether this Report's suggestion is the way to change the policy, or whether there is another method to carry out these reforms under the Ministry of Works, I do not know. But that it needs to be done, in the general interests not only of the service, but of saving money for this country, is unanswerable; and in coming years I hope that this may be possible.

Those are the three main points that I wish to make, my Lords. But I would add one last comment on the subject of political reporting. I do not think this Report makes the position over this, or over reporting as a whole, clear. The noble Lord, Lord Plowden, and his Committee got on to that very quickly. What has happened over the period of our own lives is the arrival of the typewriter, the stenographer and the wireless on the roof. When it was a case of writing a despatch in your own hand with no more than ten lines on any one page, in a good round hand, of course people were costive in what they wrote down. But if all you have to do is to press a bell, and a stenographer comes in and you just pour out your memoirs to her, and you have a wireless on the roof which can send it all off, it is irrelevant whether you send a newspaper or a two-line telegram. Then you arc in for trouble, and it is difficult to get back to another age when these facilities were not available. I am all for the Report insisting that Missions should know what is happening without necessarily reporting it. It is, of course, important that they should know.

Perhaps your Lordships will allow me, even at this hour, to detain you with a story that will illustrate this aspect of the Diplomatic Service as it was at the end of the 'twenties. In those days, in small posts in Latin America there were not always these facilities available, and certainly not a wireless on the roof. We had a remarkable Ambassador, who was more concerned with developing a deciphering machine than with most other things. He happened to live in a dictatorship, and the New York newspapers came out with a story that in their country, where oil was important, there had been a strike at the oilfields, with all production brought to an end, and foreign nationals in great danger. We looked to find what the latest reports from this post were, and we discovered that the Head of Mission had not reported on the political situation for a year. So we mildly remonstrated on the basis of this newspaper report. His reply was that the general who was the dictator of the country was in complete control of the situation a year ago; he was still in complete control; there was no truth whatever in the report, and he would report again when it looked as if he was ceasing to be in control. That degree of constraint is all very well. My Lords, if in London it can be accepted, and if Ministers can accept, that they need not always be informed in detail about every country so as to answer Parliamentary Questions, then it is possible to cut down reporting a great deal. In conclusion, I must ask the Government again to assure us that they will not throw away the whole of the Report for these catch-phrases, which I am sure mislead rather than guide.

6.51 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for introducing this debate and giving us the opportunity of discussing this matter. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, for he has disembarrassed me of a very heavy weight that I was carrying, as I recognise that as a maverick member of the Foreign Office during the War I certainly did not have enough diplomacy to be polite. He gave me a very good lesson about how forthright I could be with regard to this Report. I have no axes to grind, except to look at it fairly and squarely as something which has done a great deal of damage. I do not agree with what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said about the damage having been undone by Sir Val Duncan and his lengthy letter.

I read the Report before there was any newspaper reaction. If I had been a journalist working on it my reaction would have been precisely what was said to be the misunderstanding of this Report. This went all over the world, and it reduced our status, without any question. I have had reactions from my sympathetic friends in many countries overseas. Nobody here is going to suggest for one moment that I go around in my life waving a large Union Jack, but I think it is a bit hard when the lion is struggling for at least dignity in its old age that it is turned into a doormat, as it was by definition in this situation.

I cannot think of anything more deplorable from my point of view, as one concerned with international relations, than trying to promote—as we are all trying to do—the future of this country, particularly in terms of responsibilities to what is now described as the Outer Area. This is really a quite disastrous concept. If anybody says that this was a misinterpretation, all I can say is that it was a Freudian slip, and they gave away in this Report all that was latent in their thinking. They were writing us off. I must blame them as individuals; but the error was in the original remit, because over the past few years we have learned the dangerous mistake of confusing the balance-of-payments situation with something we are trying in diplomacy to correct. I know that we are obsessed by it; but the mere fact that you say you are looking at this subject in order to secure economies, instead of looking at it and saying that you are wanting to achieve efficiency, means that you are bound to get this cheeseparing attitude which will reflect itself in this kind of view of the diminished instead of the genuine and important future and moral influence of this country.

I do not believe that in this Report, apart from the housekeeping details, we have anything except a regrettable Report. I hope the Government will make it quite clear that the implicit weakness of this Report is reflected in attitudes and not in details. The noble Lord, the Leader of the House, has made it quite clear that this is not a Government pronouncement. I sincerely hope that that will be made as abundantly clear as the original "misapprehension" in the first instance.

There is one point on which I feel some responsibility to speak and it is something which has not been fully ventilated. I am referring to the information services. I may appear to have a vested interest, for I am a card-carrying journalist and have been deeply concerned with information services. The one thing in this Report—as in most of the approaches to information—that the Committee have not understood is the true significance of an information service. Even in the Report there is a confusion in what one would call "intelligence" (I do not mean secret intelligence) that is, information which is required and reported back, in the political reporting process, which is very important indeed. It does not have to be an avalanche of paper, and you do not need a transmitter on the roof. From my point of view the extrovert function of policy is more important. What is it that you are trying to explain, and why are you trying to explain it? If it is simply an operation in which you are trying to hand over information to somebody else for them to use as they see fit, then that is one thing.

I hope your Lordships will not misunderstand what I am going to say, and call it, invidiously, propaganda, but information has to work for its living. Facts have to work for their living. You have to make it quite clear that what you are distributing is reflecting an attitude and the policy of the country without indeed boasting the policy of the country. In fact, you are making the point by doing what you are doing, and not necessarily by the content of the case you are making.

I deplore the Report's suggestion about the information service. If I looked at the information service in this case I might find a great deal wrong with it, but you cannot say you are going to cut it by 50 per cent. That is absolute nonsense.

I was called in by a United Nations Agency's Director-General once to look at the information services to see what was wrong. I will tell you what was wrong. The information services had been underestimated originally, and had been under financed. The first report on the service said that it was bad and therefore the information service should be cut. The next year they said that the service was worse and so it should be again cut. The next year they said that the information service stank, and they recommended that it should be got rid of. The reason why the information service was bad, why it stank, was that every time they looked at it they cut it. They themselves were destroying it.

I have been on three newspapers which have died—I do not know how far I was responsible for this high mortality—and the first sign of morbidity on a newspaper is the fact that it starts closing down its foreign bureaux. That is the first economy. The moment you start doing that you are on the skids. That is the first admission that you can no longer afford to fulfill the job that a newspaper should do. The functions of the bureaux, wherever they may be, are to keep the newspaper not merely supplied with something which appears in the paper, but intelligently informed of the background of what is going on. Then the newspaper is in a position to cope with a crisis when it happens. The alternative is implicit in some of the things that have been said to-day: that you should have a strategic reserve, a Scotland Yard flying squad, and that you are going to send people out to meet the situation when it arises. Newspapers have done that. You will notice that if any high-powered newspaper correspondents—and they are extremely intelligent people—move into a situation, they can get the situation completely wrong because they are dealing with the crisis without knowing any of the circumstances why it developed. They are not able to put the matter in balance, and they are simply caught by their own headlines. That is what is going to happen in the Diplomatic Service if we begin to look upon it simply as a modern, streamlined slimming down or cutting down for the sake of economy, when in point of fact the situation which is developing over the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, has very properly pointed out, is a changing one.

The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, has reminded us that to-day there is a new diplomatic service on the moon. I do not know what treaty they are negotiating with H. G. Wells' selenites but at any rate they are there. This is what I have been lecturing about in the London School of Economics this session—I survived it, by the way. I have been lecturing in part on something which I call "satellite diplomacy". This is not just communication. It is the fact that diplomacy has moved into a new dimension, a new orbit. Once you get this idea, which might be called quantum diplomacy, where the jump is made from one electronic orbit to another in terms of orbits of magnitude, you have the new diplomacy. That is to say, you are moving into a situation in which you must be prepared to accept and recognise the nature of the opportunities, say, of communication, of using your wireless on the roof to get there by Telstar. But it is not just that. New factors are altering the whole pattern.

I have a great amount of sympathy for those who have been practising the old diplomacy; the change requires a lot of adjustment. But the point is that it does not excuse one from getting down into the grass roots of the problems. It certainly does not entitle us to throw into outer darkness the developing areas of the world. I have insisted many times, and I keep on insisting, that those areas which we now call the developing areas, the areas of Duncan Report darkness, are the areas where the future of this coun- try will lie. It is not, as has been pointed out here, simply in gaining access to markets with which we are entirely familiar, even if we cannot get there; it is not in producing mini-cars to sell to buy Mercedes' cars. We are not going to find the answer in taking in each other's washing in the advanced countries. The answer must be in the opportunities that are opening up, and must open up, in the whole of the developing world; and that is where our listening posts, our early warning posts, and the whole of our influence for good must lie —in the areas which in this Report have been called the Outer Areas. We need to understand that this is the age where we bring enlightenment, and we are in this Report dimming the lights.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I really must apologise for being one more of the mandarins or phalanxes, as I think we were called by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. My only excuse for speaking is that I had a certain amount to do with the administration of the Diplomatic Service, both before the War and for the last five years when I was Permanent Under-Secretary. Also, I had the privilege of being a member of the Committee under the noble Lord, Lord Plowden. In many ways I should have much preferred not to speak tonight, because practically all the points I should have liked to make have been made already much more eloquently than I can hope to make them. But it gives me the opportunity of adding my tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, on his maiden speech. All of us who have worked with him before knew that we should hear a thoughtful and constructive contribution from him; and we were not disappointed. I am only glad to think that now that he has managed to shake off the shackles of Government service we can count on some more contributions from him.

I hope your Lordships will agree from the speeches from my former colleagues which you have heard this afternoon that we are not all dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries or arch-Conservatives, as we are sometimes accused of being; that, on the contrary, we are fully aware that times have changed, and are still changing, and that the Diplomatic Service has to alter and bring itself up to date in order to meet the challenge with which it is now faced. Just for that reason, I would certainly welcome the Report of the Duncan Committee. I should like respectfully to add my congratulations to its authors, who contrived in a remarkably short space of time to produce not only a series of very far-reaching and well-thought-out conclusions, but also a great number of recommendations on points which look of minor importance but are in fact of very great value to the day-to-day working of the Service and which will, if they are adopted, as I hope most of them will be, materially affect the manner in which the individual members of the Service can function.

I am bound to say, having said that about the Report, that I must admit I have serious reservations about some of its more general conclusions. I will not go into any detail about them because they have been voiced—ad nauseam, I was almost going to say—this afternoon. But I think that in that part of the Report the authors were really seeing things too much in black and white and were much too definite in their conclusions. They tried to systematise and simplify everything to far too great an extent without making nearly enough allowance for the intangible factors and the necessity for treating all these problems flexibly and empirically.

However, I will not repeat all the arguments about the two areas; the impossibility of treating countries in the Outer Area as all of equal or little importance, or indeed of treating all the countries inside the Area of Concentration as of the same importance. I think that that is a non-starter. On the other hand, there is a great deal of value in the Report in what it says about the new diplomacy; the importance of making fuller use of inter-Governmental exchanges other than through the Foreign Office and diplomatic channels, and the growing importance of the multilateral agencies. I felt, however, that the Report, for the reasons which other noble Lords have given this evening, rather overstressed the importance of the commercial and economic factors. We have lived with the problem of the balance of payments for many years now and we have always realised that if we are going to have an effective foreign policy we must have a sound economic base at home, which means that we must have a flourishing export trade. Mr. Bevin used to emphasise that point repeatedly when he was our Chief in the Foreign Office twenty years ago.

The corollary, however, is not necessarily true. It does not follow that, even if we have a sound economic base and are exporting to the maximum, we shall then necessarily have an effective or an influential foreign policy. Many other factors are involved. I will not repeat them now; the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, referred to them in his speech. But I rather think the authors of the Report forget these intangibles and concentrate too much on purely material and promotional aspects.

My other reservation about the Report in general was that, no doubt owing to the way in which the Committee's terms of reference were drafted, rather too much emphasis was paid to the economy side of things and the cost effectiveness of everything. After all, it does not necessarily follow that, because something can be done slightly cheaper one way, that is really the most efficient way of doing it—and by "efficient" I mean efficient in its wider term; not only the actual end result of the operation but the effect it has on the morale of the staff concerned and, very often, of the local governments concerned.

There is one particular example in the Report I would find it difficult to agree with; namely, where it is suggested that an official coming out from Whitehall once a month and staying for a week or so in a place could be as effective and as useful as an individual permanently based in the capital concerned. I find that very hard to take, because it seems to run quite contrary to what the Report says in another passage, that one must always remember that the average diplomat has to work practically round the clock and much of his work is done out of office hours. As the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, said, a great deal depends on personal relations. One cannot expect someone coming out from London for a few days to get to know the local personalities and to understand the different peculiarities of the local papers. I can only say, from personal experience of the years I have been in Washington, that much the most useful work I did was outside the office altogether, at the Metropolitan Club or on the golf course. One cannot expect people coming out from London for a few days to be able to do anything like that.

My last criticism of the Report in general is that it rather gives the impression, perhaps unwittingly, that the Diplomatic Service has been a completely static organisation for the past fifty years. That is really quite untrue. There have been enormous changes since I joined it 46 years ago, and there have been very great changes, too, in the last twenty years. One has only to think of the great developments in the information work, the commercial work and on the economic side. But it is quite true that things are changing now, and changing fast, and clearly the Diplomatic Service must be able to accommodate itself to these changes and fit itself to meet the new task before it, and for that I believe the Report gives valuable guidance. But I would hope that in considering or implementing the Report, the Government will regard it as providing general guidelines and not as laying down hard and fast rules or a blue print which must be followed at all costs, or a straitjacket into which the Diplomatic Service must be fitted. It seems most important that the recommendations in the Report should be treated flexibly and with full understanding of the extraneous circumstances involved. From what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, I was encouraged to believe that that is the way in which the Government are approaching the matter.

If I may now for a moment turn to some of the more detailed recommendations in the Report, I would support nearly all of them wholeheartedly. However, there is one point on which I feel some doubt—in fact a good deal of doubt —and that is on the question of political reporting. I will not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, said about it, but it seems to me quite wrong for the Report to suggest that there is no need for any further political reporting from any of the countries in the Outer Area, because, after all, some of these countries are of enormous size, with enormous British investments and highly important potential markets for British exports—to put it at its lowest. The average British investor, before putting money into one of these countries, or the average trader before deciding whether or not it is worth his while to try to establish an export outlet there, is bound to want to know what the political situation is, what the probabilities of the next few years are likely to be and the chances of stability, and so on. I think a certain amount of political reporting must go on from practically every country except some of those in which we have virtually no interest, and I do not think that we can draw anything like the hard and fast line between the inner and outer circles that the Report suggests.

One point I should like to bring particularly to the attention of the Government is one which has already been mentioned several times; namely, the importance of providing adequate retirement allowances for the individuals who will have to be retired prematurely if the recommendations of the Report are accepted. I have no doubt that a decision on these lines will be accepted loyally by the Service as a whole, but inevitably it is bound to weigh heavily on the individuals concerned. Most of them, I imagine, will be in their late forties or perhaps fifties; many of them with very little private means who have made all their plans for their future and the future of their families on the assumption that they will continue to be employed for several years to come; and being that sort of age they will probably find it difficult to obtain outside employment. It seems that here there is a strong case for special treatment being given to these people, even if it creates a precedent for the other Services. I think they can be treated as special cases.

Here I might perhaps just add that some thought ought to be given to the situation which will arise a little later on after the retirements consequent upon the adoption of the Report have been effected; that is to say, in five or six years' time. As several noble Lords have pointed out, if we are going to allow people to stay on rather longer than the age of 60—as I think we certainly should —and if at the same time we are going to select and give early promotion to the "flyers", we really ought to find some way of making it easy for what I might call the "non-flyers", that is to say, the people who, through obviously no fault of their own, are never likely to get to the top. We ought to find some way to make it possible for them to retire at a reasonably early age, say between 40 and 50, rather than keeping them on, as now happens, until they are nearly 60. I should think it is much kinder to allow a man to go when he is about 40, when he has a reasonable chance of getting a good job in civil life, than to let him carry on until he is nearly 60, when he will find it difficult to get proper alternative employment. That is a point which has always worried me because there is no proper facility, as there is, I think, in the Armed Forces, for retiring people with reasonable and proper superannuation allowances about the age of 40 when it is obvious that they are not going to get to the top.

Another point which is rather connected, which I would like to emphasise and which is brought out strongly in the Report, is the importance of doing something generous for locally employed members of our missions abroad. There are large numbers of such persons who perform really very valuable work. Many of them are in quite responsible positions. Many of those individuals are working on the information side, and if the proposals in the Duncan Report are adopted many of them will have to retire prematurely. Here again I would urge that as generous as possible treatment should be given to these locally employed people who have to be retired prematurely.

It is not only those who have to retire who require a considerate treatment. I am sorry to see in the Report that the recommendations which the Plowden Committee made about proper pension schemes for locally employed employees being worked out has got only part of the way. It seems desirable that proper schemes for pensioning all categories of local employees would be worked out as soon as possible. This seems only common sense, because not only do we not want to get a reputation abroad for being a bad employer but, if we do not take care, we shall find it increasingly difficult to get local employees to work for us.

ft is quite clear from what is said in the Report that there will be a growing need for local employees, in commercial work particularly, and therefore it is really in our own selfish interests to treat these people properly, not only in pay, but also doing what we can to improve their status. There is always bound to be a gap between U.K.-based staff and locally engaged ones, but it is very important that the gap should be as small as possible. I noticed in the Report several references to the fact that commercial representatives who had given evidence attached importance to the raising of the status of these local employees, and I hope, therefore, that it will be possible to do it fairly soon.

I was glad to see what was said about administration. I think it is true that there is a considerable amount of over-administration, both in London and at our missions abroad. I have seen it in operation really only at our missions abroad. I think it is a pity that in the comfortable, easy posts abroad people are not left to fend for themselves a little more. Under the present system, where they are practically hand-fed by the administrative officers at the Embassy, they do not make as many contacts as they should with the local inhabitants. But much the most important recommendation about administration was, I think, that there should be more devolution of authority. The Report suggested that this was particularly desirable as between Whitehall and missions abroad. I am not myself quite so sure whether it is not between the Treasury and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London that more devolution and more delegation of authority are required. Certainly that used to be the case. We in the Foreign Office always felt that we could have been allowed a little more discretion by the Treasury in the matter of administration and such problems.

I will not say anything about the question of information, except that I would agree that a good deal of the work could be cut down in some posts. But it must be looked at post by post, and not treated generally, because the problems are different in different parts of the world. I believe that there has been a tendency to scatter or to try to put out our information too broadly, and that we should do better to concentrate on those people in the different countries who have some influence over local opinion rather than on broadcasting information to the general public.

As regards attachés, I certainly agree that there might be some reduction in both civilian and Service attachés. But I would point out that these attachés very often serve a very useful purpose, quite apart from their particular job, in broadening the contacts between Embassy and various sections of opinion in the country in which they are serving. Certainly I know that in Germany, for example, the labour attaché was invaluable in establishing contacts not only with the trade union leaders but also with various sections of the business community. Again, I think I am right in saying that in Washington the admirable labour attaché there at the time was the only member of the whole staff who gave the result of the 1948 Presidential Election correctly, which shows that he had rather better contacts than the Ambassador.

I should like to say one thing about the accommodation. I would certainly endorse everything that has been said about the importance of buying accommodation rather than renting it. I do not think I need emphasise that point. I agree, too, that there is a lot to be said for selling many of the existing offices and buying or building more modern ones. Some of our existing offices are either in the wrong part of the city or very out of date. On the other hand, I am rather disturbed—perhaps it may have been an unfair suspicion on my part—that there is a sort of suggestion in the Report that some of our historic and perhaps architecturally rather splendid old Embassy houses should be sold just because they would fetch a good price. I hope that is not the case.

On the subject of accommodation, I cannot resist endorsing what has already been said about the Foreign Office building. I suppose that I should not say that, because I ended up in what I suppose is the best office in Whitehall; but I have spent most of my working life in that Office. I am probably one of the few Members of your Lordships' House who actually lived in it, because I was Resident Clerk for some time, and I am very fond of the building. But it really is the most terrible place to work in; it is a scandal. It is all right for the "top brass", but it is absolutely terrible for the juniors, and particularly for the clerks and typists. In fact I cannot understand why any girl ever goes to work in the Office it is so bad. However, I will not go on about this point because it is, I know, a very painful subject.

There is one thing that struck me. There is rather an odd omission from the Report. There is very little reference to the clerks, what we used to call the Second Division clerks. I should have thought it fairly clear that they are going to be an even more important part of the whole machine in the future than they are now, and that some arrangements ought to be made to provide for their training, so that the good ones can be selected. I am glad to see that it is recommended that promotion in the Second Division should be by merit rather than by seniority, as it has been. But certainly it seems very important that proper attention should be paid to the training of these Second Division clerks, merely from the point of view of recruitment, because many of them (perhaps I should not say many; but there is a growing tendency in this direction) are now university graduates; and if you want to get them you have to provide them with a useful career. I am glad to think that the discrimination between the "A" and "B" branches of the Foreign Service is gradually being abolished, and I should like to think that the prospects of promotion for the clerical officers to the senior ranks will be increased.

I would say one last word, my Lords. I was glad to see that the Report staled that the Committee saw no reason why the existing arrangements whereby the Diplomatic Service is quite separate from the Home Civil Service should be altered. But for some reason the Report described the present system as being an administrative convenience. It is really much more than that: not only do the members of the Diplomatic Service do work which is very different from that done by the average civil servant at home, but they—and their families—have to do it in quite different conditions. Really they are quite a different—I will not say animal, but a different species, and it is not just for administrative reasons that they are separate.

Finally, I would make one plea. I would urge the Government, in whatever they do to implement the Report, to pay every attention to the morale of the Diplomatic Service. Those in the Service have been going through a very difficult time lately. They had, first of all, the merger with the Commonwealth Service; now they have had the two Offices brought together, and they feel that they are saddled with the responsibility for some of the outlying parts of the British overseas territories. They have had this inquiry coming on top of Plowden. Some of them are threatened with premature retirement, and life in missions abroad is no longer nearly so pleasant as it used to be. Much of the glamour has gone out of the Diplomatic Service. In spite of all that, they do a jolly good job and they deserve all the help they can get. I hope that in implementing this Report everything will be done to maintain the morale of the Service and, if possible, not to subject them to yet another Report, at least in our lifetime.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I do not wish to detain your Lordships for long with what I have to say. May I first pay my tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hood. I hope there will be many occasions in future on which your Lordships will have the pleasure of hearing him. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Selkirk for introducing this debate. The subject we are discussing is of immense importance. I have never forgotten from my service overseas that the decisions that we in this House and Parliament take affect not only ourselves but people resident in many areas all over the world; and in my opinion, our abiding concern in the speeches that have been made tonight is for the overseas individual.

This is an extensive Report on overseas representation, covering many aspects of the Service. I will confine my remarks to our representation overseas in the area of South East Asia, which I know fairly well. I feel that a lack of importance has been accorded to our Commonwealth connection in that area. In general terms, the lack of attention given to the Commonwealth area was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Garner, to whose speech I listened with the greatest of interest.

I am critical of the Report in that it is lacking in consideration of our Commonwealth connections. I am aware of the ability of the distinguished members of the Committee who produced this Report. Therefore, though critical, this criticism is intended to be constructive. In general terms, the Report cuts down on our overseas representation, or alters it. Judging by its recommendations, it seems to have assumed, albeit tacitly, that imperial rule was an exercise in noninvolvement. Of course, the reverse was the case. By concentrating its recommendations for the future on an Area of Concentration—that is to say, about a dozen countries in Europe plus North America—and segregating countries such as Malaysia to the Outer Area, it is, in my view, deserting friends within the Commonwealth.

Trade seems to have been the motivating force behind the Committee's recommendations. Trade is important, but it can never be the sole arbiter. We are dealing with people as well as with goods. Our accumulated overseas experience, stretching back over decades into the past, is obviously quite unrivalled. Whether we like it or not, we are involved in sustaining the world order; and, with this experience, I would say, in all humility, that our duty is to shoulder that responsibility. Therefore, we should not cut down upon our overseas representation anywhere. In due course we shall probably have to increase it.

The tendency to-day is for bigness, if I may put it in that way. Takeover bids are an example of it. If we enter Europe, or join up with some other association, it seems certain that we shall increase our power to trade and our technological base. We shall need a strong and efficient Overseas Service in order to maximise the opportunities that will be open to us. We shall also need new friends. We have a ready-made association in the Commonwealth, powerful if used correctly, to sustain a world order, of benefit to Europe if we go in, and of ultimate and immense benefit to the Commonwealth itself. If this conception ever crossed the minds of the Committee, no mention of the fact appears anywhere in the Report. In fact, the Commonwealth receives scant consideration. If I understand the position correctly from Annex N, at page 197 of the Report, in an area of Malaya which I know well, the High Commission in Singapore is to be abolished. If I correctly understand the position envisaged in the Report, Kuala Lumpur in the Federation is to have a visiting officer from the Foreign Office here, who will fly out occasionally to the Kuala Lumpur mission overseas. Of what value can this possibly be, as compared with a resident officer living on the spot in Malaya? He would be in a far better position, if instructed to make any report required of him to London. In that situation, being resident on the spot, he is far more likely to be cognisant of all the relevant local facts. That could be of great importance.

The poignancy of the situation beocmes more apparent in part of a speech made by the Malayan Prime Minister at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London, in January of this year. At the end of his speech he said: Without effective leadership in the Commonwealth it follows there can be no real feeling of togetherness and common loyalty to a cause. I am fully aware that we have fallen over backwards to avoid leadership and to respect the individuality of individual nations; but I think that sometimes people who live and work overseas expect us to take more positive action in connection with the Commonwealth. That speech by the Malayan Prime Minister was made in January, and the Committee published its Report in July. The words of the Malayan Prime Minister would appear to have had little consideration in the minds of the Committee when they made their Report.

Before I go on to consider whether we are wanted anywhere, or whether there is a value to ourselves in an overseas presence, let me for once explode the idea that imperial rule was one of dominance and non-involvement. Administrators from this country lived for years in the countries they served. They studied the language, customs and cultures, and became absorbed in the lives of the people where they lived. That is of importance, even at the present day. That accumulated experience must not be lost. It is an experience which has not received the recognition so necessary if we are to be of any worthwhile influence in the world, and it can be exercised only by increased overseas representatives living overseas. It is my submission that that representation must be maintained.

On this point may I quote the Singapore Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Incidentally, as I stated, if what is suggested in the Report is accepted, he is to lose the Singapore High Commission. Speaking to the Royal Commonwealth Society in London in January, he had this to say: It is difficult to take an optimistic view of the future of the Commonwealth if we look only at the immediate present. But let us look forward a few decades and perhaps backwards a few centuries, to see what indiciation they can give from past performance of future expectations. The last 400 years provide a picture of the capacity and quality of a unique island civilisation. This is not an exercise in nostalgia; I have no desire in recounting these events to try and revive a sensation of past grandeur. The fact remains that no island-nation has ever before in history created an Empire oveseas so vast and so powerful. At the end of Empire, there were centres of civilisation in North America—United States and Canada combined—five to six times bigger in population than Britain, six to seven times larger in industrial capacity; in Australia and New Zealand there were civilisations which could grow as big. Surely, my Lords, in face of that, it is quite wrong to withdraw into ourselves in these Islands. We have an expertise and knowledge which it is our duty to use, and even more so in the Commonwealth if we go into Europe, as I have already stated.

Then Mr. Lee Kuan Yew continued. Talking of the Commonwealth ties he had this to say: There is a more sober assessment of the value of these ties. It is not just sentimental values. One advantage is that of not being overwhelmed in an unequal partnership or association with Americans or Russians. Commonwealth members may find it less stifling if, despite their proximity to the gravitational pulls of these countries with very big gross national products, they have at the same time some connections with the British in their economic, educational, and social fields. But the danger is that by the time this realisation sinks in it may be too late, because Britain may have dropped out of the top technological lead, or because, disgusted with the excesses of language and postures of Commonwealth members, she may have allowed her special knowledge and expertise of former administrators, merchants, bankers, technicians, to be lost as they age and pass away. Yes, my Lords, all I can say is that I hope that those words of the Prime Minister of Singapore are not lost on your Lordships in this debate to-night.

The final words Mr. Lee Kuan Yew had to say were as follows: The moral, both for Commonwealth members and for Britain, is that whatever the present disputes and quarrels, in the end the former dependencies may find the British and their technological and industrial power the most valuable and the most comfortable to make use of, provided, as the Russians and the Americans race to the Moon and Mars and beyond, Britain is able to keep abreast with the new frontiers of science and technology. It would be a great pity if and when the moment of truth arrives Britain has already dismantled the organisations and lost the expert knowledge and skills acquired through decades, and sometimes centuries, of association. Many people will be that much the poorer off if the knowledge and expertise now in the files of the Colonial Office, in the memories of former colonial administrators, in the engineers, technicians, merchants and bankers, are allowed to be lost. My Lords, you have been patient, and I have spoken with the utmost sincerity. Somehow in the political sense this Report for me failed to rise to the occasion. I ask Her Majesty's Government, whatever the outcome of the debate this evening, to give careful consideration to this aspect of our Commonwealth affairs and to the words that have been spoken in what I consider to be a most inspiring speech, by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. There are many countries overseas who greatly value the British connection, and if other Prime Ministers perhaps could have been as articulate as Mr. Lee Kuan Yew I am quite convinced that they would have expressed similar sentiments. I say that there is nothing incompatible with a strong and united Commonwealth and our entry into Europe. In my view both are desirable, but in that event it would probably be necessary to strengthen our representation overseas and increase the manning of the posts in these areas.

7.44 p.m.


My Lords, as the ninth ex-Excellency to address your Lordships this evening I shall try to be brief and also not to be repetitive, though the last may be a little difficult. As has been said, there are two aspects to this Report; the framework in which the recommendations are placed, and the recommendations themselves. The frame work was at least partly conditioned by restrictive terms of reference. I agree with those who have criticised the theme of the Area of Concentration, but I do not propose to enlarge on it because I was reassured by the interpretation which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, put on this theme on behalf of the Government.

I also agree with those who consider that too much emphasis has been laid on the role which the Foreign Office service officer should play in overseas trade and export promotion. That the Foreign Office should support, as one of its prime functions, British trade and investments overseas is a truism. But, first, politics and trade are still inseparable in most countries; and, secondly—and I think this does bear repetition—it is essential not to lose sight of the fact that, whatever else the Foreign Service can do, it cannot sell British goods. Only the manufacturer can do that, and it is undesirable that any other impression should get around, or that the British Foreign Service should be expected to substitute for British business.

Not long ago I visited a consul-general in the United States. He told me that he had received instructions to visit one of the most advanced electronics companies in the United States with the object of interesting them in some printed circuits of British manufacture. I begged him to do no such thing, but to wait until the manufacturer's representative came out and then to bring him together with the managing director of the firm; otherwise the attempt, difficult enough in any case, would lose all credibility. Now this may be an exceptional case, but if the Committee's recommendations are taken too literally the practice could spread. As regards the United States, I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, had to say; and for some of the reasons that he gave I am myself very dubious about the proposal to transform some of our consulates-general in the United States into trade commissions.

Having made these two general comments on the frame of reference of the Report I find myself in agreement with the great majority of the specific recommendations which are made in it. Here I will confine myself to one series of recommendations, those in Chapter 12, on Accommodation, and especially to the conclusion that the proportion of owned to rented property is too small and that an overseas development estate board should be set up to own, administer and manage overseas diplomatic accommodation. This subject has been more than touched on in this debate, but I make no apology for stressing it, and I gave notice of my intention to do so.

The policy of renting accommodation has always been favoured by the Treasury, partly because it causes less noticeable fluctuations in the Estimates than capital expenditures, and partly because, though expensive, it is riskless in the sense that there is no danger of being stuck with a capital asset overseas. It also creates less administrative trouble, and is free from possible errors in purchase, or political and other changes in overseas countries. To be fair, there is a case to be made on these lines, but I often wonder what this country has lost on balance by this policy. Let me give one example from my own experience.

Those of your Lordships who have been to the Embassy in Washington will know that its land ends in a peninsula between Massachusetts Avenue and Observatory Circle. The plot at the extremity of this peninsula was once owned by the Government of Panama. When I first went to Washington, in 1931, our Embassy was negotiating with the Panamanians for the purchase of this plot, but the negotiations broke down because the Treasury said that 20,000 dollars was an absurd price to pay for a plot of land in North West Washington.

When I returned to the Embassy towards the end of the war, I found that negotiations had been reopened with the Panamanians for the purchase of this plot, but they broke down again because the Treasury said that 80,000 dollars was an absurd price to pay for a plot of land in North-West Washington. When I went back for a third time in 1953, six years and one sterling devaluation later, I found that negotiations had again been resumed with the Panamanians for the purchase of their plot. And it was a case of third time lucky! I had the pleasure of personally signing a contract in the sum of 180,000 dollars. I do not vouch for the exact figures; only for their relativity. But this is only one example of the many opportunities that the British Government have missed in Washington alone in the last forty years.

The Plowden Report, in paragraph 541, specifically recommended six years ago that Her Majesty's Government should own a far higher proportion of the living and working accommodation occupied by members of the Diplomatic Service overseas. The fact that the Duncan Committee have now repeated this recommendation, with rather stronger emphasis, seems to me to suggest that not too much has been done to implement the Plowden recommendations. I do not know whether this is a fair inference, although the inability of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to say anything on the point aroused some suspicion in my mind. I have indeed little doubt that the Treasury will oppose the recommendations of the Duncan Report as resolutely as they have opposed similar recommendations in the past, and I hope that on this occasion my old Department will have no success.

Arising from this is the need, stressed by both the Plowden and the Duncan Reports, to give adequate allowances for proper accommodation to officers serving overseas. The belief that diplomats live "the life of Reilly" and should have their standard reduced is an old one and dies hard. It was repudiated by the Plowden Report. I am encouraged by what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said on this subject to think that the Duncan Report has finally given it its quietus.

I should like to stress very briefly a couple of broad points to which the Committee referred but with which they were not able to deal at length, and which have been touched on very little in the course of the debate this afternoon. The Committee rightly draw attention to the changed, the diminished, role of British foreign policy in the contemporary world, and to the consequential change in the requirements of our representation. Our diplomacy—the Committee refer to the "new diplomacy"—now and in the future will be increasingly deployed in international negotiations and in comprehensive questions involving a wide range of departmental interests. Obvious examples are the Common Market and EFTA, Space, the Seabed and environmental problems. These questions require a very high degree of interdepartmental co-operation.

There is nothing new in the concept of a member or members of the Foreign Office leading a team of departmental officials in international negotiations: I did it myself many times in different fields. The idea that members of the Foreign Service are incapable of understanding, and therefore of negotiating, technical subjects is often held but is quite unjustified. There is a technique of negotiations which stands in its own right, and the most technical subject gets entangled in politics once it is internationalised. Until recently this type of problem has been dealt with in part by specialist attachés under the general guidance of the head of a mission. The Duncan Committee—quite rightly, in my opinion —recommend that most of these specialist attachés should be suppressed and their functions brought within the general work of the chancery. For example, the labour attachés have been sacred cows for some years now and it would be much better if Foreign Service officers were required to perform their duties in the future as the Committee recommend.

I am sure that the method of dealing with these comprehensive subjects needs more attention than the Duncan Committee were able to give to it. It particularly involves the relationship of the Foreign Service to the rest of the bureaucracy, and demands a very close understanding between them. The fact that the Home Service is now being "Fultonised" makes this even more important. This understanding could be fostered, as the Committee indeed recommend, by the interchange of personnel between Departments. But it also requires acceptance by other Departments of the idea that the Foreign Office should take the lead in international negotiations, and puts a corresponding duty on the members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to study and understand the problems and the points of view of other Departments.

In addition to the normal process of intercommunication, some special steps probably need to be taken to provide for an emerging negotiation—for example, on the sea-bed—through some kind of interdepartmental task force under Foreign Office leadership. That would be nothing new. It was the pattern of the negotiations for setting up and running the O.E.E.C. in its early days, as the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, will remember. But perhaps now it needs to be further systematised. My Lords, the "new diplomacy" as defined by the Committee is not so very new, but it is right that the changed requirements of our representation abroad should have been spelled out in the specific recommendations of the Committee, and in general I welcome them.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to join in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for making this opportunity available to us for discussing the Duncan Committee's Report. The Committee dealt with the Foreign Service in the large, it dealt with the British Council, and it dealt with the Overseas Services of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The Addison rules inhibit any Governor of the B.B.C. who is a Member of your Lordships' House from speaking on the Corporation's affairs. Therefore, I can assure the House that it will hear nothing from me at this late hour on that subject. But no such obstacle is put in my way as Chairman of the British Council. Having declared my interest, I am glad that I am free in that capacity to say that we are grateful to the members of the Duncan Committee for their labours, and welcome what they have had to say about the British Council's work and future.

The noble Earl in opening the debate, and other noble Lords who have followed him, expressed doubt about the phrase, Shifting the balance of the Council's activities towards Western Europe. I think we read this at the Council in the context that the present ratio of activity in Western Europe, as opposed to the Council's work in the rest of the world, is between one to three and one to four. We did not suppose that they were suggesting the substitution of one share for the other, but that more should be done in Western Europe than is the case now; and that they were proposing to restore some of the work which suffered in Europe by the Drogheda Committee's recommendations—very much welcomed at the time—to increase the weight of the Council's work in the developing countries, as a result of which a cut-back took place in Europe.

We noted with satisfaction the recognition in the Duncan Report that to increase what is done in Europe might involve increasing the Council's resources to enable them to do it. As I see it, there is a strong case for doing more in Europe without losing momentum elsewhere. We cannot, as it seems to me, he fully credible as a nation offering itself for membership of the European Economic Community so long as our young people—I take this as only one illustrative example—turn their eyes, when they plan their post-graduate intellectual pilgrimages, so overwhelmingly across the Atlantic. Much more could be done to build cultural bridges to Europe, so long as it does not impair the work which the Council does in the rest of the world.

We greatly welcomed the Committee's recognition that the work of the Council is long-term. It is, in the broadest sense of the word, educational. Such work, if it is to be effective, has to be seen (and carried out) on a long time-scale. Thus "stop and go", taking away in lean years in the hope of giving back when times are better, could not be otherwise than a wasteful way of doing the Council's work. It would be bad education and, as your Lordships will realise, bad politics, too.

We welcome the acceptance by the Committee of the Council's need for independence. The Council is grateful for the encouragement and assistance it receives in London from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Overseas Development, as it is for the generosity of the help and co-operation given overseas by Ambassadors and High Commissioners and their staffs. These debts are wholeheartedly acknowledged. Yet it remains one of the greatest assets of the Council that its officers in the overseas field stand outside the inevitable ups and downs which must from time to time affect the relationships between States and Governments. The career of the young man or woman who joins the British Council offers a splendid opportunity to win overseas what so many of them have achieved—a unique measure of trust and the privilege of being consulted on many of the matters most closely touching the future wellbeing of the countries in which they serve.

It is, my Lords, one of the pleasant duties which are laid upon the Chairman of the British Council to travel to some of the 70 countries where the Council is represented. It was very heartening to have heard in all those countries which I have been privileged to visit, from Heads of State, Ministers, heads of Government Departments, Vice-Chancellors of Universities and leading professional men and women of every kind, their testimony to the kind of special relationship that the Council (as they see it, in large part as a consequence of its independence) enjoys.

One final point at this late hour—and I hope it will not be thought to be special pleading. There are everywhere great numbers of unsatisfied potential customers of the Council, if I may be permitted to use that word. What do they want? They want our help with the language: most of them, of course, not as a first language but in the harder and complex task of teaching and learning English as a second language. I have no doubt that fifty years on, or even less, the English language will be even more dominant that it is to-day as a vehicle of communication, across the barriers of oceans, race, religion and nationalism between groups of like-minded people who share together concerns and interests vital to the survival and progress of humanity. We cannot refuse the right sort of help which it is in our power to give, as the creators of the language and so much of the literature which sprang from it, to so many people who have chosen it to be their window on the world. They want, too, a selection of their young people—the future leaders of their countries—to have a chance to share our educational experience and expertise; to absorb some of our talent in science and technology and our skills in public and industrial administration and organisation.

The longer I have been privileged to watch the work of the Council from my point of vantage the more I am convinced that, whatever may have been the case when Empire and Colonial responsibilities were being shed, a great opportunity awaits this country now. We are a people who have shown over a long history a polhical stability unequalled in the history of the world; we have been able to innovate without laying waste what has gone before; we can create new solutions from our differences and differ without fracturing the basis of our common life; and we have handled with some success what appeared to be, and what have been proved by others to be, intractable social and economic problems. In short, we have, perhaps, a gift for the highest forms of social engineering which is not guaranteed even to those who possess material resources far larger than our own. The origins of our virtues, if we may call them so, lie deep in our history. If there are those overseas who wish to understand what lies behind them and what lies behind their questions, our biggest single task is to help to enlighten them.

I wish to thank those noble Lords, from every part of the House, who have spoken with such insight about the Council's work, and have given such a welcome encouragement to those whose careers are being devoted to its objects overseas.

8.5 p.m.


My Lords, I have been daunted during this debate by so much diplomatic talent and experience that I shall be briefer than usual, especially as the hour is now late. First of all, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to and to concentrate my microscope on a small part of the Duncan Report—that part which concerns the external services of the B.B.C. In doing so, I am hoping that many of my remarks will prove to be superfluous, because I was very encouraged when the noble Lord the Leader of the House said in his speech that he personally did not agree with many of the conclusions of Sir Val Duncan and his troika. But I must add my voice to what I hope is the Government's, and argue against cuts in the foreign language broadcasts of the B.B.C., which seem to be suggested by Sir Val Duncan. He seems to have had a brief to improve the audibility of the B.B.C., which is thoroughly necessary, by providing a larger sum of money which would be obtained from cuts in the foreign language services of the B.B.C.

In that part of the Report which deals with this matter, I find a sentence which contains so many doubtful statements that I must refer to it in particular. It is on page 103, and it reads: It seems fair to predict that in many countries the B.B.C.'s external services will have the greatest effect upon the educated and professional classes, for whom English will often be the main lingua franca … This is true, of course, but I am disturbed by the use of words like "many" and "often", because this does not really draw one to a logical conclusion. It rather implies the idea of, "All right, but what about the others?" What about North Africa, where English is not the lingua franca; what about South Africa, where English is not the lingua franca; what about South-East Asia, Central and Eastern Europe? These parts of the world also deserve our attention and the attention of the B.B.C. These parts of the world also have educated and professional classes, and it would be a terrible mistake to neglect them.

The Report goes on to say, in the same paragraph: We consider that the long-term advantage lies with broadcasting in the English language, and that broadcasting in foreign languages is of lower priority. We have the impression that a broadcast in the vernacular makes the educated listener, with whom we are dealing here, feel that it is being specially slanted to him, and that he is therefore likely to be that much less receptive. I really see very little logic in that sentence. In the first place, why should an educated professional man feel, simply because a broadcast is in his own language, that it is being specially slanted to him? I really do not see much merit in that argument. But, even if it were true, why should he therefore be that much less receptive to a broadcast which is being specially slanted to him? These are several of the many points in this paragraph which have puzzled me and which I hope puzzle the Government as well.

The Report goes on to speak on two or three occasions about the influential few who, to judge by the main gist of the Report, one assumes speak English, and to whom we should direct the bulk of our information and the bulk of our broadcasts. I really do not know whether this is a good idea. So often the influential few are a doubtful commodity. Who decides who are the influential few? Who knows who they are? And how often, my Lords, do the influential few turn, through some drastic turn of events, into the extremely uninfluential few, into the imprisoned few or the dead few? These things happen in countries with which we are very closely concerned the whole time and I do not see any point in concentrating too much on it.

Having said that, I must confess that I agree with the Report when it emphasises the need to improve audibility. A friend of mine who was recently employed in the High Commission in Delhi had as part of his job to listen to the overseas service of the B.B.C. For this, he had to provide himself with an extremely expensive wireless set which cost £150. I do not know whether he paid for it or whether the High Commission paid for it; but he had to have such a set. Even so, and getting up at 8 o'clock in the morning, he found great difficulty in hearing the news in English. One would imagine that Delhi was an important town from the British Information point of view. The audibility in India in general is clearly very poor and needs improvement.

But in my submission this does not mean that audibility should be provided for by money raised from cutting the foreign language service. I am hopeful that this Report has been overtaken by events and I am encouraged in this hope not only by what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said to-day but also by what he said on May 21 in the debate on broadcasting, when in reply to pleas that I made for better facilities for the B.B.C. external services he was good enough to say that I need not assume that my remarks would pass entirely unnoticed. More than that, he went on to say that it may well be that in this area circumstances will demand further increases. He used the word "increases". Now that is an entirely different kettle of fish from the Duncan Report where we seemed to be reading about cuts. Still I am glad to say that it is the Government's voice which counts, and I am confident that the Government will do what they think to be right. I look forward with eagerness to the increases to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred on May 21. I know that these things take time, but I hope that the Government will not postpone matters too much.

Now, my Lords, to relinquish the microscope and return to the Report in general, I must say that I am disturbed by the problem of recruiting and keeping the most talented graduates of our major universities in the Diplomatic Service. I recall that when I graduated from university in 1961 very many of the most talented undergraduates applied to join the Service. I do not know the exact figures; there might be 1,000 applicants and 20 would be selected. So the Diplomatic Service really got the pick of the bunch. The trouble is that those people, now in their early 30s, are faced with a very difficult situation. Large numbers of them are either thinking of leaving the Service or have left the Service.

This is a very serious matter. It is all the more serious because I have the impression that it is the best people who are leaving the Service. In the nature of their duties they come into contact with prospective employers in other lines of business in the City and in foreign trade. They meet businessmen who consult them while in foreign missions; and these senior businessmen are quick to spot talent and quick to take out their cheque books and take them on—especially when they may be young men in their early 30s, perhaps married and with young children. A man of that age may have just reached the rank of First Secretary. He knows that there is a long haul ahead, perhaps as much as 15 years, before any further promotion can be considered, and he is very susceptible to a lucrative offer from a commercial! concern. That is why I am encouraged by the suggestion in the Report—and I hope that the Government will take it seriously —that the most talented of the younger diplomats should be promoted on merit and that there should not be the rigid promotional structure which seems to have been a facet of the Diplomatic Service till now.

The main deficiency in this Report, it seems to me, is the implication that cuts can be made without reducing the effectiveness of the Foreign Service. In consular work, for example, it seems obvious that the work will increase in future years —that the number of tourists will increase. They have their problems when they are abroad and they will need more help and attention from our consular representatives as they travel abroad in greater numbers. Of course, Parliament is only too ready to take up the matter of British subjects who have not received the proper consular treatment when they have got into difficulties abroad—and rightly so, because this is one of the services which the taxpayer expects as part of the return on the taxes he pays.

A number of noble Lords have, rightly, corrected the widespread image that there seems to be abroad of the Foreign Service as a sort of cocktail-party set of aristocrats, men who buy their whisky at 8s. the bottle and their cigarettes at 9d. for 20, and who lead a social, gay, Lord Curzon type of life. That is nonsense, and I am delighted that it has been corrected by so many Members of this House who have addressed your Lordships to-day. The fact is that members of the Foreign Service have for a number of months felt "got at", pinched and harassed. They have the feeling that it is always their Service which is the subject of inquiries—two in five years—and that they are the ones who are going to be hit; that it is they who are going to be contracted if contraction happens—which the Report says should happen.

That brings me to my final point, which is a basic one and concerns the relevance of this Report in general. I know that it was commissioned in August, 1968, and that the three compilers of the Report were asked by the Foreign Secretary to bear in mind, in the light of the current need for the strictest economy, the importance of obtaining the maximum value for all British Government expenditure and the consequent desirability of providing British overseas representation at lesser cost:". Here, again, I see a certain non sequitur. Does it mean that if we provide British overseas representation at lesser cost we get better value for British Government expenditure? Not necessarily. That is one of the things which is the most doubtful about this Report. But again I am hoping that the Report has been overtaken by events. It was commissioned nearly 15 months ago and I wonder whether it is now so urgent that we should save £5 million or £10 million. Maybe it is not, Certainly, to judge by what the leaders of the Government have told us, our position is much better.

We are in a very optimistic state of mind, so do we need to make these savings? I should like to believe the Government's optimism and to make the logical assumption that these savings are no longer needed. If that is so, no one will be mere pleased than I. The trouble with this Report, objectively, is that it recommends cuts in real terms in two of our institutions which are most admired abroad, the Diplomatic Service and the external services of the B.B.C. To dismantle them is easy and it could be done very quickly. To build is so much harder and takes so much longer.

8.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, on his constructive maiden speech. I hope it means that he will speak often in your Lordships' House. Perhaps I ought to declare an interest, as Chairman of a former Committee of Inquiry into the Foreign Service. If I am somewhat critical of some parts of the Duncan Report, I can assure your Lordships that it is in no sense of rivalry.

I want to begin by paying a tribute to the work of the Committee. They covered a great deal of ground, both physically and metaphorically, in a very short time and they produced a most concise and constructive Report. It is an example to all Committees, though I suspect that few will be able to achieve the same rate of working. In Chapter II of their Report the Committee, after describing some of their recommendations, go on to say in paragraph 12: The methods and manner of applying these principles should be so far as possible left to the Diplomatic Service itself to devise. … Once the necessary adjustments have been achieved, we hope it will be possible to allow the Service an adequate 'settling down' period undisturbed by further major changes or enquiries. Then they go on to say: No plant can be expected to be healthy if its roots are constantly being pulled up to see how they are growing. The expressions set out in that paragraph, I submit, applied before the Committee was set up; indeed, what I am suggesting is that the Committee should never have been set up—there should have been no Committee. After the traumatic experience of amalgamating the Commonwealth Relations Service with the Foreign Service, the Service should have been given an adequate settling-down period and should not have been subjected to another inquiry, no matter how friendly and how constructive. Any organisation, if it is constantly being looked at, and "pulled up by the roots", to use the Committee's expression, is bound to have its morale affected. I fear that this is another example of how Governments—all Governments; it is not a Party matter—when they do not know quite what to do, set up a Committee and hope that something may happen, or at least that they need not do anything for a time.

But, having said that, I would go on to say that, if there had to be a Committee, one could not have asked for a better one. I feel that the Committee have been unfairly criticised in two respects. First, there is their suggestion of dividing the world into two areas, the Area of Concentration and the Outer Area. Of course, the choice of words was unfortunate, and I think it may have even done some harm. But, my Lords, the division is only the recognition of a fact. Even when we were the centre of a great Empire there were some areas of the world which were of greater interest to us than others; and to-day, of course, the situation has changed again.

I welcomed the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord the Leader of the House, in saying that discrimination was needed but that the difference was drawn too sharply. For these reasons I welcome the recommendation of the Committee that we should be represented in all countries, and that they did not allow themselves to be seduced into saying that we should be represented in only one country and that the Embassy there should cover a number of other countries; because that, I submit, is quite a false idea. It cannot be done.

The other matter about which I think the Committee have been unfairly criticised is the emphasis they have laid on commercial work. Any of us who have had to deal with the balance of payments since the war know how important it is that we should pay our way—indeed, all our interests, diplomatic, military or anything else, depend on that. Although the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, said that we all understood that, I think it is an over-simplification. I think that the country at large, and indeed some parts of Whitehall, have in the last 25 years been willing to take risks on the balance of payments, thinking that it would all come right in the end. Well, my Lords, it does not always come right in the end. Therefore, I think it is right to emphasise the commercial side of the work. None the less, there is a great danger in trying to differentiate between commercial and political work. Various noble Lords have already made this point this afternoon.

In many countries of the so-called Outer Area what industrialists most want to know is the political state of the country. How stable is the country? Who is going to form the next Government? What is going to happen? They can assess the commercial risks for themselves, but the political information they can get only from our representatives in the country itself. For that reason I do not think that one can draw this distinction between commercial and political work. Again, in various countries of the so-called Outer Area there are vast British investments, some dating perhaps from before the war and others since the war. In those countries we need the Embassies and High Commissions to be adequately staffed so that they are able to give advice and guidance to industrialists about what they should do to protect those investments; to advise and help when discriminatory action is taken by Governments against the investments, and indeed, in the worst case, when expropriation comes, to be able to take quick and appropriate action.

There are a great many subjects touched on in the Report which were touched on by the Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman. There is the perennial subject of reporting. As some noble Lords have said, the amount of reporting you can do is limited only by the facilities which you have for doing it. That means, I think, that there must be some kind of mechanism for controlling it. Both Committees recommended machinery for doing this. Whether such machinery exists or not, I do not know. I suspect not. One of the first things Ministers have to accept is that they cannot have reports on everything whenever they want them; and if they will ration themselves in this respect we shall get some economy in the amount of reporting done from overseas posts.

Both Committees recommended that there should be a 10 per cent. margin of staff to allow for travel, training, sickness and so on. I think I am right in saving that the Government accepted only 7½ per cent. on the recommendation of our Committee, but I doubt whether even now they have as much as that. I urge the Government to accept that this is a sensible thing to do. It is not a waste of resources; it is an effort to get the best out of existing resources.

Then, my Lords, there is the question to which the noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, referred, of accommodation. This is a perennial question; it is something that everyone has "had a go" at, and still nothing seems to happen. I think that the recommendation of the Duncan Committee to set up a Crown Corporation—I wish that we had been able to think of something like that—offers some way of starting to do something. And remember the amount of money which has been wasted through renting accommodation which could have been bought for a fraction of what we paid in rent.

There is also the question of travel. Both Committees recommended that there should be greater liberality in travel on official business. I do not think it is any secret that at the present time it is extremely difficult for officers in the Foreign Service in London to get permission to travel to the countries for which they are responsible in London. This is absolute folly. No business of any worth would put an embargo on its people from head office going to visit people in subsidiary companies overseas. This is absurd. Yet this happens with our Overseas Service operating from here in London.

I should like to come to the question of conditions of service. This is a subject on which our Committee spent a great deal of time. We found that this was an extremely vexed (if that is the right word) question. Morale was low in the Service. Various noble Lords have referred to the burden that falls on wives. They are unpaid; they have a job to do which goes on all the time. We found among officers who had no private means that many of them were in financial difficulties. Mothers of young children were unable to afford to have their children out to see them more than once a year, which was the regulation. It was said that in the days of the Indian Empire people did not see their children for a very long time. But we are not living now in the days of the Indian Empire. Aeroplanes exist; and it is difficult when those in Embassies overseas see the families of commercial people able to come out and see them.

Because of this state of affairs, these difficulties, we made comprehensive recommendations about the conditions of service. As noble Lords will understand, families of diplomats inevitably feel, during the course of their service, strain, frustration, upheaval, and even danger. Everything must be done to try to get them as normal a family life as possible. Parents must be able to see their children; and the children must have a normal education, which usually means going to a boarding school in England.

Over and above that there is the question of specialisation. Many of the specialisations mean that the diplomats and their families have to live in areas which are either politically or climatically difficult; that is to say, behind the Iron Curtain or in South-East Asia. This can be made more bearable only by making the conditions of service reasonable. I stress this point because I fear that attempts will always be made to cut back on this kind of service. In Chapter II of their Report the Duncan Committee say: The conditions of service prescribed for the Diplomatic Service in the Plowden Report represent a kind of charter which has established confidence and set the standards necessary for an efficient Service. These standards should be preserved as an essential basis for the future well-being of the Service. I warmly endorse that paragraph, and I hope that the Government will pay great attention to it.

In conclusion, my Lords, I would say that, although I do not think a further Committee should have been set up, the results of the Committee's inquiry show that we have a really good Foreign Service; and the Committee have pointed the way to various modifications which will better enable it to adapt itself to a changing world.

8.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset of my remarks to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, on his excellent maiden speech. He is an old friend of mine. It was a great delight to listen to him, and I hope that we shall have the pleasure of hearing from him often in the future. We have been debating the Duncan Report for something like six hours, and in my opinion it has been a debate which has shown your Lordships' House at its very best, fulfilling a function which it is best fitted to fulfil. We have had a series of speeches from men of vast experience: heads of the Foreign Office, heads of the Commonwealth Office, a colonial officer, businessmen, ambassadors and Ministers who have been at the Foreign Office and at the Commonwealth Office, and all have had important contributions to make.

I am particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, should have immediately preceded me, for I am entirely of the same view that he expressed in his opening remarks; namely, that this Committee should never have been set up. Only one noble Lord has referred in detail to the terms of reference which were accepted by Sir Val Duncan and his two courageous colleagues. The noble Lord in question was Lord Bethell, and I should like to congratulate him on an excellent speech. The noble Lord reminded us of the circumstances when this review was called for, and if your Lordships will bear with me for a moment, I will just go over the ground. It was called for seven months after Her Majesty's Government had devalued the pound, at a time when our economic difficulties were very severe indeed, and when our balance of payments troubles were appalling. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has said, times are better now.

The terms of reference are rather extraordinary. It starts with the words, "To review urgently". It is almost as though the Treasury had imposed this review in a state of panic; and I believe it would not be too much to say that this review was called for in a state of panic and was produced prematurely. Her Majesty's Government insisted that, if possible, it should be produced in six months. I think the remarkable thing is that it is as good a Report as it is. My impression on reading the Report, as I have many times, is that the authors all the time had real distaste for what they found them. selves engaged upon. For whenever they were putting forward suggestions, in accordance with the request of Her Majesty's Government, to curtail the costs, they always qualified them; they went towards the thing, put forward their suggestions, and they quickly recoiled, realising, I think, that many of the suggestions were just cheeseparing and were things that would do harm to a great Service.

At the end of the day what were we going to gain out of this?—a saving of perhaps £5 million or £10 million. I submit to your Lordships that this is not the way to correct the problem of our balance of payments. I believe that there are many directions in which Her Majesty's Government could turn their attention far more profitably than by tinkering about with a great Service that does not need to have its functions and its skill curtailed. Your Lordships will allow me to remind you of the terms of reference of the Plowden Committee. They were: To review the purpose, structure and operation of the services responsible for representing the interests of the United Kingdom Government overseas, both in Commonwealth and in foreign countries; and to make recommendations, having regard to changes in political, social and economic circumstances in this country and overseas. Broadly speaking, the terms of reference are similar, but where there is the greatest dissimilarity is that in the terms of reference for the Duncan Review tile emphasis is all on lesser cost and, to report within six months in order that the benefit of any savings may accrue as rapidly as possible. Surely, there is an element of panic in this. There has been criticism of the emphasis put on the commercial side. This was called for, this was enjoined upon the Committee, particularly on the furtherance of British commercial and economic interests overseas. So naturally the authors of this Report had to give emphasis to the commercial interests overseas, because that is what they were asked to do.

I have noticed throughout the debate a tendency to assume that this Report is going to be implemented. Why should this be so? We have had many other Reports. We have had the Plowden Report, and that has not been implemented. We go on having Reports. They are not all implemented, so why in pity's name should this one he implemented? I believe there are many sensible things in this Report, but I must say that I find the central theme of it utterly wrong utterly misdirected and terribly shortsighted.

We have built up over the years a great Service to which this country owes so much. One of the great assets we possess is a grasp of world affairs. If I may use a German expression, we have a weltanschaulich in this country. This is something which is special to the British people. If we are eventually accepted into the European Economic Community I believe that this will be one of the principal assets that we can bring to that Organisation. I think there is a tendency for them to be a little inward-looking. Perhaps it will be a good thing if we get into the European Economic Community if, through the know-how and experience we have, we can bring to them a sense of the world and not just of Europe. This seems to me to be a priceless asset. If I have understood the Report, the suggestion is that we should reduce our activities in many parts of the globe and concentrate on what they call this Area of Concentration—I do not say let the rest of the world go hang, but have less information about it than we have at present. This is a very grave error.

I was considerably encouraged by the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the House. He assured us that Her Majesty's Government felt (and I made a note of his words) that the divisions had been too sharply drawn between what the Report describes as the Area of Concentration, and the Outer Area. Here I so much agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth. For heaven's sake! let us bury once and for all this expression "Outer Area". It is utterly distasteful. Let it be forgotten and never used again.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, although he was able to reassure us on this point, was disappointingly vague on another point which a large number of your Lordships referred to, and all agreed upon. I made a note—which is possibly incomplete—of all those noble Lords supporting the Overseas Diplomatic Estates Board. First, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, to whom we owe such a debt of gratitude for introducing this Motion. I should say in fairness that the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary, when he announced the laying of this Report before Parliament, invited comment and discussion. One must be honest and fair about that. He did not just accept it; he said that it needed a great deal of discussion and thought. I am very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, took up his invitation.

Noble Lords who supported O.D.E.B. (as I think it might be called) were Lord Selkirk, Lord Jellicoe, Lord Gladwyn, Lord Hood, Lord Gore-Booth, Lord Caccia, Lord Inchyra, Lord Sherfield, Lord Plowden and probably some other noble Lords whom I did not note. That is a pretty formidable forum of opinion in favour of some idea of this sort. I think some noble Lords qualified the matter a little, but they thought that an idea of this type was valuable. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was able to give us only a rather vague reply. He said that if the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who is to reply, was able to give any more information, he would do so. I hope that the noble Lord is in a position to give more information on this point. If he is not, I hope at least he will faithfully report to his superiors the weight of support in favour of this idea.

I did not feel at all happy about Lord Shackleton's observations concerning superannuation and premature retirement. He said that Her Majesty's Government looked upon this as a matter of importance and urgency, but he did not give us any idea about what Her Majesty's Government intended to do. We have heard what the 30 senior officers of the Service, who have already been prematurely retired, are going to get. I must say that I am far from satisfied by what I have heard. What is to follow for the others? This is a very important matter: it is not only a question of being fair to people who have served their country, it is also a question of not discouraging young men who are going into the Services. It is a very important question of morale, and I beg Her Majesty's Government to think seriously about it, to think quickly and act. This seems to be a matter of absolutely cardinal importance.

There is another aspect of the Report which I find utterly distasteful. I have the feeling—I hope wrongly—that its authors really have lost faith in the value of being British. This is something which I say with great diffidence, because I have the greatest respect for the authories of this Report, but somehow there seems to me to run through this Report a devaluation of the currency of Britishness. I hope I am wrong, but that is the impression which I drew from the Report. There is nothing very frightening or alarming about facing up to the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, said, that this country is now no longer in the first line. We know that perfectly well. It is perfectly true, but we still have an influence. From the Report, it seems to me that there is a misconception—I think a very serious one—that if you do not have power you do not have influence. This seems to me to be a very old-fashioned idea. The power that the British people have is in their welldeserved—I think I know what the noble Lord is saying to his noble friend: that I have contradicted myself. But I am not speaking about the power of guns, or about the power of money; I am speaking about the power of persuasion, the power of influence and the power of a high reputation in the world. We still have this. The noble Lord will have ample opportunity to reply when I sit down, and I will sit down very soon. As I say, this power is something we still possess.

I believe that we still have a vital contribution to make in the councils of the world. I was so pleased to hear the noble Lord the Leader of the House assure us that, in so far as the Security Council is concerned, there is no question of curtailment or cheeseparing there. If we cut down on our services overseas, if we cut down on our political reporting, we are going to throw away one of our great assets; we are going to throw away our knowledge and understanding of the whole world. When we go to the conference table, whether it be in European conferences, in international conferences or supranational conferences, we should be, and remain, well informed so that we can make fair comment and so that our observations are respected because those present understand that we know what we are talking about. If we follow some of the advice which seems to me to be in this Duncan Report, I should have thought there would be a very grave risk that this great asset will be thrown away. I hope that, now that we have achieved a better economic situation, many of the ideas contained in this Report, which are there solely to save money, will be reconsidered very carefully.

Like many other noble Lords who have spoken, I agree with a great many of what I may call the "nuts and bolts" suggestions in this Report. Noble Lords with far more knowledge and experience than I have welcomed them and congratulated the authors on putting them into this Report. I have nothing to say on that score, but I hope that when it comes to cutting down on the scale, cutting down on the activities of the Foreign Service, we shall not think that this is the right way to correct our imbalance of payments. I do not believe this to be so.

One or two points came out in the course of the debate to which I should like to refer before I sit down. One very important point, I thought, was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hood; and it was repeated by two of his former colleagues. It is the question of friendly personal relationships. I am sure that one cannot exaggerate their importance. Friendly personal relationships are not achieved, in my submission, by just getting into an aeroplane and flying over to foreign capitals for short visits. This is not the way in which these friendly relationships are achieved. One of the functions of Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service is of course to establish these friendly relationships, to get on terms with the people in the country concerned, so that they know what is going on; so that when the commercial gentlemen come out they are able to give them a clear picture of the political situation in the country, and the businessmen can then take the necessary steps and necessary decisions.

It will not have escaped your Lordships that we had two very interesting speeches one after the other: one from the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, speaking as a businessman, immediately followed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, speaking as a former professional diplomat. So far as I could see, they were in complete agreement that the function of a diplomat is not to be a trade; that his function is to explain to the trade, the businessman, the situation and the political background, and then to let the businessman get on with it. I am convinced that this is right. I have a little experience of it myself. I have travelled extensively throughout the world, at the taxpayers' expense, and this was the impression I most certainly drew. Although the Overseas Service can help very much in this respect, it is not the job of the Overseas Service to try to act as travelling salesmen. Indeed, I think what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said was perfectly true: that they might even hinder the export drive.

I do not want to detain your Lordships, but there is one other point upon which perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, could give us reassurance. There was the question of the 10 per cent. margin. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is able to help us over this. I did not think that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was able to give us absolute assurance that it would be the determination of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the 10 per cent. margin is achieved and maintained. I should like the noble Lord's help on that point.

One other point has hardly been touched on this evening, and that is the question of overseas investments. I think the noble Lord, Lord Trevelyan, mentioned it, and also the noble Lord, Lord Plowden; but not very much has been said about this subject. It seems to me that we must take into account the very considerable investments that we have in those areas which are not in the Area of Concentration. It is essential that the posts in those areas should be adequately and properly staffed so as to take care of these investments. I have a great many figures here; I am not going to read them to noble Lords, who are aware of the very large volume of investments in this area, which will increase.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said in his interesting speech, it is surely desperately short-sighted to think only in terms of those areas which are shown in this Report as being the areas to which at present we export most. Nobody denies that what is in these diagrams is perfectly true. But this is what is going on to-day. Surely we must look ahead. The tempo of development in South-East Asia will accelerate very considerably in the next thirty years; the tempo of development in Latin America will accelerate very considerably. Yet we are urged to concentrate on those parts of the world where at present we are able to have our biggest exports. My Lords, we have got to go out and get others; we have to look ahead for the future. On this point, I am entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder.

I have spoken at greater length than I intended. Perhaps the words of the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, encouraged me to be a little more aggressive than I should have been. I regret that this Report was ever called for. I think it is a thousand pities, because what was needed was already set out in the Plowden Report. This Report has been called for only in order to make economies where economies should not be made.

8.58 p.m.


My Lords, we have had what I think will be generally accepted as a stimulating and, from the Government's point of view, a very useful debate. It has certainly been an excellent opportunity of hearing the views of your Lordships' House, which the Government will be taking into account in their further detailed consideration of the problems connected with the Duncan Report. I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, on a very notable maiden speech. My first experience of the noble Viscount was as a new Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when I came across his very acute mind and great knowledge of a special Board which dealt with promotions; and from that I had a greater understanding of the problems within the Service.

I very much took the point of the noble Viscount. There are some of us who think of the Diplomatic Service as though it is some machine that ticks; it needs a little priming but it ticks—a kind of computer producing the information that Ministers or other diplomats may need. The Diplomatic Service is really based in the main on the men and the women who staff it. I have found it one of my great privileges during the last two and a half years of travelling in many parts of the world, to see many Embassies and many High Commissions of varying sizes, but I have always come away with the dominating thought of the great service that those men and women, particularly the wives (to whom credit has rightly been given) give to this country. I do not think my friends in the Diplomatic Service would wish it to be thought that their service overseas was a bed of nails. In some stations life is difficult, but in many stations life is good. It is good for this reason: that they are meeting men and women of a different service but in the same profession. They are also being involved in the life of the country, and I think that is a stimulating and satisfying experience for them. Therefore, my Lords, if I were asked to give one of the greatest qualities of a diplomat, I should reply that it would not be how he explains our case to another country but how he understands the other country and conveys that understanding to us.

My noble friend the Leader of the House has already dealt with the broad principles underlying the Duncan Report: the nature and the importance of commercial work, the Area of Concentration —comprehensive and selective—as well as the difficult but important problems of compensation for premature retirement. At this late hour I will not ask the House to let me go over all that ground again. Rather, if I may, I will pick up some of the points made during the debate which perhaps were not covered by my noble friend. I must say I did not agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, when he complained about the setting up of this Committee and this Report. I was given a note by my noble friend Lord Brown, and therefore I cannot take credit for it, but I think it is worth reading to the noble Marquess. My noble friend wrote this: Organisation is a function of the work which it is set up to do. If the work changes, then the organisation requires adaptation. Does anyone suggest that the world is not undergoing increasingly rapid change? If this is accepted, then there is need for constant adaptation of the organisation. Yes, even in the Diplomatic Service. It is therefore nonsense to suggest that it is wrong to examine the need for adaptation of the organisation at frequent intervals. My Lords, perhaps one of the curses of British industry to-day is that it did not adapt itself with the movement of time.


My Lords, does the noble Lord then reject the suggestion of the Duncan Committee that from now on the Service itself could investigate its own organisation and adapt itself to a changing world?


My Lords, I will certainly come to that point, but I would not accept that at all. I believe that as we have been doing in the past we shall continue, but perhaps with greater expertise the re-examination, within the Service, as to the changes that are necessary.


My Lords, does the noble Lord think it is a good idea to go on pulling up the potatoes to see whether they are growing? There are too many damned inquiries—I beg your Lordships' pardon; that is not Parliamentary language. I believe that in fact we have overdone this.


The noble Lord may think so, but there are others who feel that we should look at all our life on a continuing basis to see whether it can be adapted.

My Lords, may I repeat that Her Majesty's Government are determined to ensure that the country gets full value for its money that is spent on our services overseas. The important thing is to look at what needs to be done first, and I am grateful for the various suggestions that have been made by noble Lords in this debate. I think it is true that if we decide that a task needs to be done, we must do it properly. I am sure the House would agree that, once the right levels of activity of our overseas representation have been decided upon, we should not be niggardly in making provision for it. We shall therefore be looking carefully at the objectives of our policy throughout the world to decide what are the proper scales and priorities. I believe it is a cardinal principle in establishing a system of overseas representation that it must be flexible enough to meet not only detailed changes in the tasks at particular posts overseas, but also more fundamental and lasting changes in the priorities of British policy and the style which it is appropriate for our representatives to assume in any particular period of our history.

At present Sir Val Duncan and his colleagues have rightly emphasised that the balance of payments must be the first priority of our foreign policy and our overseas representational services must be designed to make every possible contribution towards the solution of that problem. We have every confidence that this country is now set on a course which will enable us to strengthen our economy and to repay our debts accumulated over many years. We shall then have reached the position where anxieties about the exact state of our overseas payments in any period are no longer, in the words of the Report, "of towering importance".

We should not assume, however, that our overseas services could then afford to relax the efforts they are making to help our trade figures. It is noteworthy that overseas competitors, like Germany and Japan, attach great importance to the role of their diplomats overseas in the field of trade. But the resolution of our present difficulties will enable us to regain some of the flexibility which necessarily is denied to our external policies to-day. This, in turn, will enable our overseas services to give other objectives the importance they merit.

My Lords, we hear much of the new diplomacy: the expertise of the Diplomatic Service and their local knowledge and contacts overseas are an essential element in the conduct of intergovernmental business, described in the Duncan Report as "the new diplomacy". The growth of the multilateral context, to which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn referred, will certainly continue in the economic field, and it will assume even greater importance for us if Britain joins the European Economic Community. At that stage commercial policy and economic work will acquire a new dimension for the United Kingdom.

It would, however, be wrong to assume that the new diplomacy will leave no room for the traditional diplomacy. Multilateral discussions and negotiations do not obviate the need for close bilateral relations. The new and often technical problems must be handled in the context of our general political relations with the country concerned and our wider international commitments. Thus the new diplomacy does not diminish, and may well increase, the positive role which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must continue to play in all matters affecting external relations.

As the Duncan Committee pointed out, the speed of modern communications is very relevant to the way in which we conduct international relations. It is now possible for Ministers and experts from London to participate in international meetings and bilateral discussions. These should reduce the need for resident representation, staffed and equipped overseas, to handle these aspects of our international business. But I do not believe that the full value can be obtained by these visits of Ministers or experts unless the ground is properly prepared and their discussions are properly followed up. The Government will therefore be examining how far efficiency and economy can be served by making the maximum use of modern communication for face-to-face diplomacy while at the same time preserving essential continuity. We are also examining ways and means of decreasing the stringent restriction on travel by members of the Diplomatic Service to which the Duncan Committee drew attention.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Garner, drew attention to the continuing importance, both politically and economically, of the Commonwealth. The British Government will continue to play its full part in maintaining the Commonwealth relationship. I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, took from the Report, or thought that the Government was giving any support to it, the closing of the High Commission in Singapore. I can assure the noble Lord that that is not so. In this connection, and perhaps in view of my particular responsibility in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I should repeat that the Government have no intention of reducing our commitments towards the remaining dependent territories, for which we have special responsibilities to enable them to take their rightful place in the world community.

In discharging our responsibilities towards those territories with whom we still have close links we are not unmindful of the poorer two-thirds of the world whose living standards are in such sharp contrast to those of Britain and the rest of the richer one-third. As regards the administration of aid, we accept the Duncan Committee's view that this is a generalist function and that the present level of work and the existing number of staff dealing with it is about right for a programme of the present size. In many ways, I think that some of our best diplomats (if I can bring it in at this particular moment) are those young Voluntary Service Overseas officers, those young graduates who go overseas, earn very little money, but do a tremendous credit to us in this country, apart from giving great help in the countries in which they serve.

I should now like to say one or two words about accommodation, both at home and abroad. Several noble Lords raised the question of the Overseas Diplomatic Estate Board, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, rather chided my noble friend. It is certainly true that the offices, houses and flats occupied by our representatives abroad together constitute a very considerable estate and its proper management is an important subject. The proposal for setting up this Board raises a number of difficult and technical issues, and, as my noble friend indicated, we shall need to consider it further before deciding whether this or some other variation of our present arrangements would be the best practical method of achieving both efficiency and economy. It is perhaps open to question whether it would be wise at this time to increase capital expenditure abroad, although we certainly accept the economic justification in the long run of building or buying more of our accommodation instead of renting it. As far as the subject of accommodation required for our representatives abroad is concerned, we shall ensure that where there is representational work to be done the means to do it properly will be provided.

Some noble Lords, particularly those who have served in the Foreign Office, have drawn attention to the conditions in the present Foreign and Common wealth Office, and to the manner in which our staff is spread over some 17 different buildings. A new building would bring very great advantages indeed. In fact, I wonder, if the Shops, Offices and Railway Premises Act were applied to Government buildings, which person would have to accept the summons. But the House is aware that account has to be taken not only of economy and efficiency but also of the important problems of design and general amenity. I hope that some step might be taken towards rectifying the conditions in the Foreign Office to-day, but I think we shall have to discuss this on another occasion, in the context of the Whitehall Redevelopment Plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, had some thoughtful and pertinent comments on commercial and consular work in the United States. In particular, he referred to the conversion of some posts from consular into commercial offices. Following an inspection which took place two years ago, measures are being taken to reorganise the commercial work which is the main task of our consular posts in the United States. On the other hand, we are making arrangements adequately to meet the need for other traditional consular services in the areas concerned. The bulk of the adjustments have already been completed, but there may be some further measures in the course of 1970. I have no precise details with me, but I will write to the noble Lord about them.

Much has been said about export promotion work, and I entirely agree with those noble Lords who have said that it is not for the Diplomatic Service to replace the chairman, the director or the salesman of the firm concerned. But undoubtedly, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, the Diplomatic Service and the Consular Service can provide important information which can make or break a contract. But there is also a time when the Consular Service can help the manufacturer or salesman, when he is perhaps in some difficulty in terms of export credits. We pay special attention lomatic Estate Board, and the noble to this particular side of the Diplomatic Service. I am glad that there is recognition among your Lordships (because I fear that among manufacturers it is not so) that it is not the job of the diplomat to be a salesman.

Some noble Lords have referred to the importance of ensuring that our missions are so adequately staffed that they can effectively protect Britain's overseas investments. With this I entirely agree. This applies equally to the protection of all other commercial interests, including such services as banking, insurance, shipping, aviation and so on, upon which we depend so much for our investment income from abroad. Our standing instructions to posts stress the part which they are required to play in being alert for any indications of discrimination, and for doing everything possible to protect British interests. That this is, and will continue to be, reflected in our staffing policy was implicit in what my noble friend the Leader of the House said at the beginning of this debate.

We do not accept a sharp division between "Areas of Concentration" and the "Outer Area", between the comprehensive posts and the selective posts. We need a more refined scale, and in working this out we shall be reviewing the nature and the extent of all British interests in the countries concerned, including the level of British investments. In this connection, we agree with the Duncan Committee that our posts have an important supporting role to play in the protection and the promotion of invisible exports. We are consulting with the Committee on Invisible Exports, on the further help which our posts can give in the promotion of these invisible exports where promotion is appropriate and help is needed. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, suggested that there might be a new look, in commercial terms, at the recruiting policy of E.C.G.D. I am not in a position to make any comment on this situation, but I take note of it and, if I can, I will write to the noble Earl.

The noble Lords, Lord Inchyra and Lord Gore-Booth, and several others, have drawn attention to the structural problems of the Diplomatic Service. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who complained that it was wrong that those who reach 60 or 65, who are still hale and hearty and have great service to give, should be retired. On the other hand, there were other noble Lords who wanted to see the "flyers" promoted. This is a highly complicated matter; it gets down to a stage when even the computers baulk at the problem. But we are very conscious that these young men or women who have great prospects in the Service should go forward as quickly as possible and should not be held back.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that, however complicated and difficult, the keeping on of certain people up to 65, or even to 70, is a problem that has been solved by every other nation in the world except us?


My Lords, those nations may not have the problem of bodies that we have at the present moment within the Foreign and Commonwealth Service.

The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and others referred to the need for longer postings overseas of members of the Diplomatic Service. The Diplomatic Service seeks to ensure a proper balance between the need for continuity and the management considerations affecting the Service as a whole. It is right that all members of the Service should get the right degree of specialisation, and that they should spend a sufficient time at a post to develop and make use of contacts, and to exploit the depth of experience which they acquired. Against this, however, there is a real need for officers to have a variety of experience, especially during their early years of service. This applies particularly to those destined for posts of the highest responsibility. In any world-wide service, unexpected factors, such as a political crisis, or sickness, will arise which may cause the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to remove officers before they have completed a full tour. This is normally somewhere between three and five years, though the time may be shorter in countries which are climatically trying or for other reasons particularly difficult.

Various noble Lords have drawn our attention to the recommendation for an adequate manpower margin. As the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, pointed out, the position is not straightforward. Within its current overall margin of 7½ per cent. the Diplomatic Service suffers from an imbalance in its margin in the various grades. The Plowden Committee recommended not 7½ per cent. but 10 per cent. There is no margin at all at the level of Grade 5A, or First Secretary, a grade at which the brunt of the work tends to be borne.

In considering the future margin the Diplomatic Service must bear in mind the general career structure. It will be necessary first to determine where the most effective levels of activity are and then to achieve an adequate manpower reserve in the grades where it is most needed. I can, however, assure the House that we shall not neglect in our further studies the most important points which have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Inchyra (he is not now here), raised the question of local staff. We have now some 7,000 local staff in our Service, and I would pay a great tribute to them for what they do for us in our overseas missions. Since the Duncan Report was written we have made further progress in the introduction of local pensions schemes in individual posts. We are also looking into the possibility of making some improvement in the terms offered on premature retirement for reasons of redundancy.

My noble friend Lord Walston referred to the specialist attachés. The future need for the employment of these specialists will be determined again on a post-by-post basis, in consultation with all the Whitehall Departments involved. We shall look carefully at the whole range of work of each post to see whether against the wider background a particular specialism is required. Having said that, I would add that I am conscious of the good work done by the specialist attachés at our posts abroad. With the increasing complexity and the great expansion of exchanges—for example, in the scientific field—the contributions made by specialist attachés to the effectiveness of our representation abroad is very real.

The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, touched on the question of women in our Diplomatic Service. Today, I think 3 per cent. of the Administrative Branch are women. I assure the noble Baroness that the Diplomatic Service welcomes women among its new recruits and there is no inherent bar to advancement on merit. I think that one of the main reasons why we do not see women at the very highest reaches is that when they come in as girls they are bright and attractive and they get married; although we have a number who give great service in the counsellor grade. Perhaps there is another reason for the shortage. It was only in 1945—and I hope the noble Baroness will give a Labour Government credit for this—that for the first time we introduced women into the Administrative Grades of the Diplomatic Service. It may be that women are taking a little longer to get to their rightful position in this Service.

My Lords, there are a number of points which I clearly have not touched on, but it has been a very wide-ranging debate. We in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, particularly those who hold high positions in the Diplomatic Service, will be examining in the course of the next weeks and months—and, I expect, over the years—on a post-to-post basis how best the Service can continue to render high service to this country. I do not think this does harm to the Service. I think that those who have seen the inspectors at work in an overseas post know that from time to time their inquiries cause a little bit of a shock. On the other hand, a lot of gains come from it because not only is greater knowledge and expertise brought in, but on occasions standards have even been raised within a post.

Finally, may I thank the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for initiating this debate. We in the Government will carefully consider every point that has been made, and perhaps we shall have another look at this problem at a later date.

9.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add a word of congratulation to the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, on a maiden speech of real quality which gave the House great pleasure and will, I know, be remembered. I should also like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I do not remember many debates in which there has been a score of speakers none of whom has retired, and every one of whose speeches has been well worth while making. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for saying that the Government found the debate useful. I hardly know of anywhere where they are likely to get so much high-grade advice in so short a time, and with such a very substantial measure of agreement. I agree with the dictum of the noble Lord, Lord Brown, that you must have constant adaptation: but does that not happen without Reports made on behalf of the Government? Of course it does. The only result of this Report of which I know—and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has not been able to tell us one result that has flowed from this Report—is that Mr. Wade-Gery, a Joint Secretary, now has a job with the Bank of England. I take it that that is one of the forms of secondment which directly flows from this Report. The Report has one value in that it gives a justification to the Treasury to provide a "golden bowler". I am sorry that we have net been able to get information on that subject. Ten years ago we had the Grigg Report about the Armed Services. That Report formed a perfectly good model for a basis on which to proceed. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that he leaves the House with anxiety on this subject. I hope he continues to have anxiety, because there are officers whose position is uncertain and may remain uncertain for an unlimited period. I hope that the noble Lord's anxiety will also extend to the thirty or so who have been rustled out of the Foreign Office for exactly the reason for which the Duncan Report recommends a reduction of services. I will not trespass further on your Lordships' time I am delighted to know that there will be an opportunity to discuss some of these points in the future. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.