Oral Answers to Questions — Diplomatic Service

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th April 1967.

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Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham North 12:00 am, 17th April 1967

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what proposals he has for the improvement of recruitment to the Diplomatic Service from universities other than Oxford and Cambridge.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

An extensive, vigorous and continuous campaign is being carried out at various levels by the Diplomatic Service to attract more recruits from the other universities.

Photo of Mr Roland Moyle Mr Roland Moyle , Lewisham North

Is my hon. Friend aware how pleased I am that the Government are taking an interest in this matter in view of the fact that the current figures show a recruitment disparity between the older universities and the newer universities and do not reveal the true spread of ability between the State education system and the public schools system?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I agree with my hon. Friend and I find the figures disappointing. This is partly a question of publicity. We send people round all the provincial universities and try to increase recruitment there. The kind of Question asked by my hon. Friend does attract the right kind of publicity and should lead to what we want.

Photo of Mr Tim Fortescue Mr Tim Fortescue , Liverpool, Garston

Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that he has the fullest confidence in the present members of the Diplomatic Service, most of whom are graduates from Oxford and Cambridge?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Yes, Sir, the present selection process is designed to produce people of the best ability to come before the Civil Service Commission, but my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Marquand) was absolutely right in saying that many people at provincial universities are well equipped to be good members of the Diplomatic Service.

Photo of Mr Stanley Henig Mr Stanley Henig , Lancaster

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the nature of the examination for the Diplomatic Service is such as to discriminate in favour of students from Oxford and Cambridge and the kind of training given at newer universities, while quite excellent, is not the kind of training to enable them to compete in this examination on equal terms? Will he do something about this?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

No, I cannot accept what my hon. Friend says about the examination itself. There is no evidence that it discriminates between universities. The fact is that many people do not come forward from the provincial universities because of a mistaken idea that the Diplomatic Service is not—to use a usual phrase "for the likes of them". That is what we have to contend with.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

Surely they do not come forward because they are not suitable?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

The hon. Member has shown how mistaken he is in his ideas. There are obviously substantial numbers of people at provincial universities who are well qualified to enter the Diplomatic Service, but in fact they give priority to other walks of life and we are not making our adequate claim on people coming from provincial universities.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rhodes Mr Geoffrey Rhodes , Newcastle upon Tyne East

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what are the powers and duties of the Diplomatic Service liaison officer.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

They are to seek out means of improving communication between the Diplomatic Service on the one hand, and Parliament, the Press and other public and academic bodies on the other.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rhodes Mr Geoffrey Rhodes , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Contrary to the impression given earlier to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), is not my right hon. Friend aware that over a ten-year period there were more than 2,000 applications to join the Diplomatic Service from people with good honours degrees at provincial universities? Will he find out why so few passed into the service?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I think, with respect, that my hon. Friend is on his next Question.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rhodes Mr Geoffrey Rhodes , Newcastle upon Tyne East

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what discussions he has had with the principals of provincial universities regarding the need for improvement of recruiting into the Diplomatic Service.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

In December, 1965, the Vice-Chancellors of eleven provincial universities, and the Director of the London School of Economics, discussed questions of recruitment with my predecessor. Both before and since then members of the Diplomatic Service have maintained extensive and regular contacts with the academic staff, appointments secretaries and undergraduates of practically all universities in the British Isles.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rhodes Mr Geoffrey Rhodes , Newcastle upon Tyne East

As my supplementary on this Question, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that what he has just said will be widely appreciated by those who are seeking to broaden the basis of recruitment to the Diplomatic Service? Will he bear in mind the need to keep up the pressure to tap the talent which exists in the provincial universities, especially in the north of England, not only in the interests of the universities themselves but of the Diplomatic Service?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Yes Sir. We are constantly seeking methods of broadening the basis of recruitment. Of the 180-odd undergraduates who have visited the Foreign Office and seen it for themselves in recent years, two-thirds have come from provincial universities and our attention is particularly directed there.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Surely the important thing is to recruit the best qualified people, irrespective of university, to the Foreign Office. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that graduates of the older universities will not be discriminated against as graduates from one of the famous public schools have been discriminated against in recent years?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman need have any fear in that direction. The present problem is that the number of entrants into the Diplomatic Service from Oxbridge and a fairly narrow sector of education is disproportionate. We are losing good candidates and are anxious not to do so, but the selection process is completely non-discriminatory and it selects the best people who come before us.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby South

What percentage of the present Foreign Office staff come from the eminent educational establishment on the banks of the Thames known as Eton College?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I cannot answer that without notice.

Photo of Sir Stephen McAdden Sir Stephen McAdden , Southend East

Why should it be considered necessary to adequate representation that the Diplomatic Service people should be recruited from universities? Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members have never been to university but would make a substantial contribution to the Diplomatic Service? Let us get rid of this nonsense.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

The hon. Gentleman has an important point there, and we try to take account of it by making special arrangements for what is known as mature entry into the Foreign Service.