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Diplomatic Network

Volume 522: debated on Tuesday 1 February 2011

Our global diplomatic network is essential to protect and promote our interests worldwide. That is why we must concentrate our resources where they are needed most, especially in the emerging powers, to increase our influence, promote our values and seize opportunities for prosperity. I will be taking and announcing decisions soon on what that will mean in practice.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that answer. Last week, in the European Union Bill Committee, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) recalled that when he was the Minister for Europe, in the previous Government, his German counterpart told him that

“he expected to close possibly half of all German embassies and consular services around the world over the next five years.”

The hon. Gentleman added:

“Other member states may well do the same.”—[Official Report, 25 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 196.]

Will my right hon. Friend please reassure me that we will not be closing any UK embassies and consular services?

The statement about Germany closing half its embassies might be an exaggeration. Far be it from the hon. Member for Rhondda to exaggerate on any issue, but I think that will turn out to be an exaggeration. Certainly, the UK will not be doing that. We will not, overall, be reducing the size of our diplomatic network. I think it would be absolutely wrong to do so, as it is part of the essential infrastructure of our economic recovery as well as of our influence in the world. I will be announcing decisions about this in the next couple of months, but that will not involve an overall reduction in our network.

The Foreign Secretary has spoken of the need to strengthen the UK’s diplomatic, strategic engagement with Syria—a point he reiterated a few moments ago. Will he take this opportunity to stress to the Syrians how important it is for them to butt out of the internal affairs of Lebanon? Does he agree that any new Lebanese Government who see Syrian-backed Hezbollah gain even greater importance will only further destabilise the middle east?

Yes, we will use our diplomatic network—to keep this relevant to the question—and I used our embassy in Damascus last week to do many of those things. We had some very frank discussions with Syrian leaders, as can be imagined, about a whole range of issues including Iran and human rights, in particular, and about the situation in Lebanon. The Government there should be formed by constitutional means. They should be a broad-based Government and should continue to support the work of the special tribunal for Lebanon so that the culture of impunity for assassinations in Lebanon comes to an end.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the alterations he has made to the mission and structure of the Foreign Office? Will he confirm that it is his intention to deploy diplomatic staff to those areas of the world where they are most needed to further Britain’s interests?

Yes, I will certainly do that. I think that what my hon. Friend is driving at is that that will require some changes because the patterns of economic, political and diplomatic power in the world are changing, so we will need to adjust our diplomatic weight. That is what I am weighing up at the moment and we will make announcements to the House within the next couple of months.