HL Deb 29 June 2004 vol 663 cc5-8WS
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean):

In my Written Answer of 16 December 2003 to my noble friend Lord Berkeley (Official Report, cols. WA131–133), I announced an independent internal review to look at the balance between security and operational effectiveness in the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) overseas. The review has now been completed. A summary of the reviewer's report is appended.


1. The review was set up following the attack on the British Consulate General in Istanbul in November 2003. The terms of reference were: "To review the basis for the FCO's security strategy. In particular to re-examine the balance between security and operational effectiveness". The review looked at the range of security threats facing the FCO's posts over the next five to 10 years but focused mainly on terrorism. The aim is to ensure that the FCO's security strategy is on a consistently sound long-term basis that minimises the risks, while enabling posts to function effectively in line with government policies.


2. The reviewer, Stuart Jack, consulted widely in the FCO and Whitehall, including withh the trade union side; visited several overseas posts; met with a number of companies; and looked at the practice of some other governments, in particular the United States.


3. The FCO's security measures are designed to protect most importantly its staff and their families, and also information, the integrity of IT systems, buildings, operations, and reputation. The FCO owes a legal duty of care to all its staff, UK-based and locally-engaged.

4. The policy framework and therefore the operating context within which the FCO must seek to secure its security overseas is set out in the FCO strategy (UK International Priorities. A Strategy for the FCO, published on 2 December 2003). British foreign policy is to be "active and engaged around the world", with eight strategic policy priorities, including efforts against terrorism. Importance is attached to providing high-quality public services, including consular and visa.

5. For the foreseeable future the greatest threat will be from terrorism, particularly but not exclusively from Al'Qaeda and like-minded groups. The threat is global and dynamic. The vehicle-borne bomb will continue to be a weapon of choice for many terrorists. But the FCO must be prepared for other methods of attack, other locations and sources. There is a serious risk of threat displacement to British targets if they appear much softer targets than the Americans in particular.

6. There also remains a serious espionage threat. Particular care is needed over IT security. Crime is the most immediate threat for most staff overseas.

Findings and recommendations

7. The review's main conclusion is that, while the FCO's existing security strategy does not need a fundamental overhaul, there is more that could be done to enhance security worldwide. The security strategy needs to be forward-looking, flexible, professional; with clear criteria and consistent standards, robust decision-making, audit trails, and good communication with staff; and adequately resourced.

8. The safety of staff and families comes first. Security should continue to be a factor when deciding what posts are tasked to do, and how and where.

9. Total risk avoidance—absolute security—is unrealistic. Overseas posts have an important job to do in protecting and furthering British interests, including in insecure countries. Risk management is fundamental to striking a balance between security and operational effectiveness and to the prioritisation of security resources. Better methods are needed to assess the vulnerabilities and threats facing each post. The FCO's Security Strategy Unit (SSU) has been developing a risk management matrix to inform security decisions along the lines suggested in the review.

10. The security awareness of FCO staff is generally good. The culture and resources dedicated to security understandably adapted to the lessening of some threats since the end of the Cold War and the easing of the IRA threat. There is strong commitment from FCO senior management to security, and since Istanbul security efforts have been accelerated. But, in the light of the new and ever-changing threats, the FCO needs to devote more resources to security.

11. Final responsibility for security lies with the centre: the FCO board and Ministers must remain regularly apprised of security issues. Heads of post and geographical directors in the FCO are responsible for individual posts, working closely with the Security Strategy Unit (SSU). All staff share responsibility for their own and others' security.

12. All posts already have post security committees and designated post security officers. Lines of responsibility at each post, including heads of post, must be clear and well understood. There should be more formal mechanisms for resolving any conflicts between professional security advice and operational or other requirements.

13. Security needs to be factored into decisions on the estate in an effective and consistent way. The review does not recommend a wholesale shift to "fortresses" or "bunkers", which would involve operational drawbacks, considerable resources and many years. Physical defences need to be considered within a more robust and objective framework, and all posts should undergo a "vulnerability audit". In some cases, this might result in a decision to relocate a post. Standards (for stand-off, glazing, etc) for new builds and acquisitions of offices and other accommodation should be readily understood. Enhanced standards should be applied to the highest risk posts. Decisions should be based on risk management.

14. The human dimension is as important as physical measures. The FCO needs more overseas security managers or locally engaged equivalents, in some cases possibly more armed guards. There should also be a small increase in the numbers of overseas security advisers and SSU staff and more done to plug into outside expertise.

15. The FCO has already increased its capacity to deliver security training and awareness to its staff. Formal security training should be mandatory. New staff at post should always be given a local security briefing on arrival in the job. Some staff with security responsibilities, such as management officers, need more comprehensive training before taking up their jobs and more time to carry out their security responsibilities when overseas.

16. The review makes almost 50 recommendations covering the areas mentioned above, many of them procedural or organisational and some related to resources, including buildings, security staff and training.


17. As the UK remains engaged across an uncertain world we must be prepared for considerable security challenges. On terrorism we are in for the long haul. To meet these challenges the FCO will need to continue to put a strong emphasis on security and ensure that the current efforts to enhance security can be fully implemented.