HL Deb 10 February 1998 vol 585 c151WA
The Earl of Carlisle

asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many of the 222 British ambassadors and heads of mission, less those accredited to a nation where English is the main spoken language, speak the language of the nation to which they are accredited to the following standards:

  1. (a) beginner;
  2. (b) colloquial;
  3. (c) advanced;
  4. (d) interpreter;
and what organisational and administrative changes they are making at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure that designated ambassadors have longer to master the relevant language before they present their credentials. [HL316]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

Statistical information is not kept in the format which provides an explicit answer to the first part of this question. The FCO recognises the following levels of competence in a foreign language:

  1. (a) survival
  2. (b) functional
  3. (c) operational
  4. (d) extensive

There are 110 current heads of mission who speak the language of the post to which they are accredited. It has not been possible to break this number down by level.

Diplomatic Service Regulation (DSE) 28 requires all officers to learn the principal language of the country to which they are posted.

The Personnel and Security Command of the FCO have recently improved succession planning techniques and career management procedures in order to build in sufficient time for any necessary language training for ambassadors designate. Further, the FCO language training centre, known as the Diplomatic Service Language Centre, has in the last 12 months revised its training programme structures to allow, where necessary, significantly more intensive periods of language training than was previously the case.