Foreign Affairs

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 3rd November 1983.

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Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking 6:21 pm, 3rd November 1983

First, I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Robinson) on his informed, sensitive and sensible speech. We look forward to hearing from him again in the future. He brings useful experience to the House, although I am sure that he will understand when I say that I suspect that his constituents will wish him to follow more in the path of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Stradling Thomas) than in that of his other predecessor. He is most welcome to the House and I sincerely congratulate him. I was especially impressed by what he said about the relationships between this country and the United States — a subject on which I should have liked to follow the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), but time does not permit.

When I told the Prime Minister after the last general election that I should prefer not to continue as a Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it was not because I had lost interest in foreign affairs but because I thought that my remaining would be taken to mean that I believed that my right hon. Friend the previous Foreign Secretary had been properly treated. As that was not my view, the right course seemed to me to be to return to the Back Benches where I can continue to take an interest in foreign affairs and other matters.

Today I shall confine myself to just one of the many subjects that one is always tempted to raise in debates such as this—the Caribbean. First, however, following the right hon. Member for Hillhead, I wish to say something in defence of the Foreign Office. Hon. Members may have seen the report in the Daily Telegraph on 28 October entitled Falklands ghosts in corridors of Foreign Office". That article set out at length a very curious view of the way in which the Foreign Office works, how it disseminates information and how its officials conduct their business. By implication, it sought also to attribute blame to one or two named members of the service. I thought that it was an extraordinary article to have been written by such an experienced diplomatic correspondent as Mr. John Miller, so I rang him up and told him so.

It does no good to anyone to suggest that the Foreign Office was taking a battering and that the familiar questions were being asked as to who were the guilty men. It is pointless to suggest that the Foreign Office does not use telegrams, that messages are passed from desk to desk by cleft stick and that the information coming in does not reach Ministers. The Foreign Office does not work in the way suggested in that article. It certainly did not work like that when I was there and I am sure that it does not work like that now. The head of the news department at the FCO will perform a useful service if he will take Mr. Miller aside and explain to him how the Foreign Office really works.

The House should be in no doubt that whatever reports came in about the situation in the Caribbean would be seen very quickly by Ministers at the Foreign Office and by the Prime Minister, as I am sure that she would confirm. The responsibility for what happens rests with Ministers and not with officials. It is wholly unfair to blame officials and I hope that there will be less of that in the future. It is equally unfair to heap blame on my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary because he sometimes has to stonewall at the Dispatch Box. That has certainly happened before. Indeed, from time to time mumbling has been hailed as the height of statesmanship. Members of other parties have had to do their share of it, too, but it is not particularly desirable and I am sure that the House agrees that it should happen very rarely.

When I first took on responsibilities at the Foreign Office in response to the Prime Minister's invitation after the Falklands crisis, I asked whether there was in general circulation throughout the Department a concise and clear statement of British foreign policy on one sheet of paper. My admirable private secretary replied, "Minister, there certainly ought to be." The question was oversimplified, of course, because the variations and complexities of our foreign policy in different parts of the world would make it impossible to get it all on to one sheet of paper.