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Diplomatic Service: Personnel

Volume 431: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1982

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2.41 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many members of the ethnic minorities and how many women are being trained for the Diplomatic Service.

My Lords, it is not our practice nor has it been that of previous Governments, to keep records of ethnic minorities within the Diplomatic Service. There are 1,251 women currently working in the Diplomatic Service, rather less than one-third of the total staff.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that Answer, may I ask him two supplementaries. First, would he agree that it would be of great benefit to the reputation of this country as a multi-racial nation to be seen to appoint members of the ethnic minorities, black or brown, as ambassadors and high commissioners to represent Britain in the world? Secondly, would it not reinforce the nation's anti-sexist development if there were women in similar positions? Can the Minister say how many women, for example, are either high commissioners or ambassadors representing this country?

My Lords, to take the noble Lord's supplementary questions in order, I would say, first, that I think that the House will accept that diplomats must be seen to represent Britain, and because of that fact in some countries neither women nor the ethnic minorities would be acceptable as ambassadors or high commissioners; the Moslem world, for example, readily springs to mind. With regard to women in senior positions in the Diplomatic Service, to the best of my knowledge there are no women high commissioners, and currently there are three women ambassadors in post, in Oslo, Copenhagen, and Montevideo.

My Lords, will not the noble Lord agree that some of the best diplomats in our service have in fact come from the ethnic minority represented by the nation of Scotland?

My Lords, the Government believe in integration of all sorts, and I would not accept that the Scottish nation is an ethnic minority.

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister aware that while we should all like to see more women in higher positions, those of us who have worked in the Foreign Service would not have wanted our appointments on the basis of statutory women, on grounds of sex. We look forward to many more opportunities. I hope that the noble Lord agrees that that is the most constructive approach.

Yes, my Lords, I quite agree. I do not approve of statutory women in any activity.

My Lords, will the Minister say whether the promotion and career prospects of a female member of a Diplomatic Service are affected by her marriage?

My Lords, recently the position in the Diplomatic Service has changed and there is now no restriction at all on married women. So I would say, no, her prospects are not now affected.

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, for the purpose of answering this Question what definition do Her Majesty's Government use of the term "ethnic minority"?

My Lords, it would include any member of society who is of a creed and a racial origin different from that of the general population.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the first part of the answer that he gave to my supplementary question is quite unsatisfactory? I appreciate that he has a point in suggesting that women ambassadors might not be acceptable in all parts of the Moslem world, but it is certainly not the case that any part of the Moslem world would refuse an ambassador or a high commissioner from the ethnic minorities. May I ask the noble Lord whether he will bring to the attention of his right honourable friend the importance for the reputation of this country over the years of bringing forward members of the ethnic minorities as representatives in our Diplomatic Service?

My Lords, the noble Lord took my point. Perhaps I may give him a further illustration in that it would not, at any rate in my view, be appropriate to have a senior diplomat of the Jewish faith in a Moslem country, or indeed perhaps vice versa—in Israel a diplomat of the Moslem faith, whether the diplomat be a man or woman; and that I would include, as I told my noble friend, among the ethnic minorities. Further to that, I can say with authority that there is absolutely no discrimination of any kind within the Diplomatic Service.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people would be very sad if the criteria for these appointments were anything other than ability and experience?