HL Deb 23 May 1977 vol 383 cc1077-9

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when the CPRS report on diplomatic staffing is to be published.


My Lords, Sir Kenneth Berill will send his report to the Printers shortly. It covers all aspects of Britain's overseas representation. My right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary intends to publish as much of the report as possible as soon as he can. He cannot decide this until he has studied the report.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which is encouraging. Is he aware that there have been quite a number of leaks from this report? Would he agree, therefore, that the sooner it is published the better, and that, due perhaps to the now frequent meetings of the Heads of State, the leaks have given one an uneasy feeling that the Foreign Service and the Ambassador, who abroad is an immensely important person from our point of view, are now being pushed into the background?


My Lords, I entirely agree on the sooner the better. I repeat that it is the intention of my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to do this. Certainly anything that arouses speculation in this field is to be deplored. I agree with the noble Baroness that the sooner we publish the better.


My Lords, whether they be leaks to the Press at the end of last month or speculation on the part of the Press, would the Minister not agree that the fact is that this Sword of Damocles is hanging over the Diplomatic Service and is causing concern and worry? I know from a number of diplomats abroad that they are concerned. Do Her Majesty's Government not feel that a date should be given for publication and that the disquiet of the Foreign Service should be alleviated because it provides a fantastic service abroad and it is unreasonable that they should be put to this worry?


My Lords, I am glad of the opportunity of agreeing with the noble Lord, and indeed, with, I believe, practically all the Members of the House, about the excellence of our Diplomatic Service. I hope that note has been taken of what I have said; namely, that my right honourable friend will publish his report as soon as possible.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say when this report was completed? Is he aware that the general view is that, since several months have elapsed since the work was virtually completed, some of the report was not entirely commendable to those who were reporting? When the noble Lord says that the "bulk" of the report will be published, one is forced to wonder what parts will be left out. Would it not be better to say when the report reached the Government and when it is likely to be published?


My Lords, I cannot be more helpful than I have already been. I feel I have already been sufficiently helpful on this point. I agree that the shorter the delay the better. This has been an inquiry into a very complex and very important matter. I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, who reminded us the other day that it is better to have this matter right than to have it ahead of time. As to the speculations in which the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has tendentiously engaged, I refuse to be drawn on the content of a report which I have not yet seen.


My Lords, though the Diplomatic Service cannot remain immune to cuts in posts by all other Government Departments, may I ask whether the Minister agrees that while new initiatives are being taken in the field of human rights by President Carter, it is important that we should back them up and that our Diplomatic Service should contain officers to report hack to the Government on the human rights situation in every country overseas where we are represented?


My Lords, I entirely agree with the second part of the question of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. As to cuts, I believe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Diplomatic Service has given a very good example to all other Departments in Whitehall in being ready, over the past 10 years, to make very effective cuts.


My Lords, will the publication of all or part of this report include an explanation as to why the Government chose the Central Policy Review Staff to carry out this investigation in the first place?


I could not say, my Lords. It is an interesting point and I shall pass it on to the right quarter.


My Lords, may I, in conclusion, ask the noble Lord when the report was received? How long ago was it?


My Lords, the report, as is the case with major reports by the Central Policy Review Staff, is formally submitted in printed form to the Minister concerned. I could not say whether my right honourable friend has received drafts before now. I should imagine that he and one or two others, who are concerned with the necessary deletions arising from, for instance, security and clearance of certain records with other friendly Governments which we have consulted, may have. I think that the House must take it that when my right honourable friend receives the printed report, that is when that report is formally submitted to him.

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