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Consular Services

Volume 591: debated on Friday 23 January 2015

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) welcomes the scrutiny of its consular services by the Foreign Affairs Committee. The Command Paper laid today sets out the Government’s response to the Committee’s report of 23 November 2014 into the FCO’s consular services.

The Government welcome the Committee’s endorsement of how the FCO has prioritised the provision of consular services to British nationals overseas, as one of our three foreign policy priorities. The Committee recognises the high level of service the FCO’s consular staff provide to thousands of British nationals every year, often in distressing circumstances. It also commends our consular services in many areas, including our focus on supporting the most vulnerable British nationals abroad, the improvements we have made to our preparation for and response to large-scale crises, the support we provide in cases of kidnap, death penalty and forced marriage, and our innovations in service delivery such as our consular contact centres.

We also welcome the Committee’s recognition of the challenges we face around managing the public’s expectations of our services, and the importance of British nationals taking responsibility for their own safety and security when travelling and living abroad.

We are committed to continuing to improve the services we provide to British nationals, and recognise many of the areas where the Committee has suggested improvement may be required. This includes our support to families of British nationals who have died abroad, in particular victims of murder and manslaughter, our handling of allegations of torture and mistreatment of British Nationals travelling overseas, and our complaints handling procedures.

This Command Paper sets out the specific commitments we have made to address the Committee’s recommendations across all our consular services.

We take all allegations of torture or mistreatment extremely seriously. We will be reviewing the specific cases raised in the Committee’s report where it is alleged that we failed adequately to protect and support British nationals who said that they had been the victim of torture or mistreatment. We will also be developing new training for our staff for dealing with these difficult cases.

We have also committed to improving the consistency and quality of the service we offer to the families of British nationals who have died abroad, in particular victims of murder and manslaughter, Official Report, 22 January 2015, col. 10WS; HCWS 218. We also agree with the Committee’s recommendation to create a central unit to help us provide an improved level of service in murder and manslaughter cases - our new Access to Justice Unit will start working in January 2015 to lead this.

I am tremendously proud of our consular staff and the work that they do. I also welcome the Committee’s conclusion that the FCO provides a “lifeline” to British nationals, often in difficult circumstances and when they are most in need, and “should rightly be proud of its work”.