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Volume 469: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on what date the decision to close his Department's Diplomatic Service Language Centre was made; and if he will make a statement. (170323)

I am committed to maintaining the excellent language skills of Diplomatic Service staff and to modernising the ways in which those skills are acquired. Following a review of the provision of language training, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Services concluded in 2006 that its language teaching services cost between 15 and 40 per cent. more than comparable providers and that it should no longer provide language teaching services to the FCO.

At the same time, the FCO conducted a policy review of language training which recommended a number of reforms, including more group and in-country teaching. These changes would further increase the cost of in-house teaching. The FCO therefore concluded that it would be a better use of public money to outsource the language teaching requirement. A key element in the new arrangements was a strict quality control and monitoring component to ensure that the quality of teaching was maintained. My right hon. Friend the then Foreign Secretary (Margaret Beckett) approved the decision to close the Language Centre on 9 March 2007. Since then we have taken a number of further actions to implement this decision, culminating in the closure of the Language Centre in October 2007.