Overseas Staff

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th December 2000.

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Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Chair, Social Security Committee, Chair, Social Security Committee 12:00 am, 12th December 2000

When he will next review the level of salaries available to his Department's staff serving overseas; and if he will make a statement. [141969]

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

Salaries of all United Kingdom-based Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, whether serving at home or overseas, are reviewed annually. There is a common settlement date for all staff of 1 April.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Chair, Social Security Committee, Chair, Social Security Committee

The Minister will know that Members of Parliament, when travelling overseas, receive very good support from staff of all grades at missions and embassies throughout the world. Some lower administrative grades have to be filled by United Kingdom nationals because they involve sensitive work such as translating messages, telexes and telegrams. However, is the Minister aware that those grades attract salaries that leave the postholder entitled to the working families tax credit and other social security benefits? Surely, if those UK nationals are being asked to do such sensitive work in such important positions overseas, they should not have to rely on the social security system for top-ups to their wages.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

We are well aware of the problem of low-paid staff in the Foreign Office—a problem that we inherited from the Tory Government. [Interruption.] I will come to the hon. Gentleman's specific point. Our awareness of the problem explains why the Foreign Secretary authorised a pay settlement in agreement with the Treasury that was particularly beneficial to the lowest-paid staff, who received up to 9 to 10 per cent. compared with an average of 4.5 per cent. this year. I think that about six members of the Foreign Office staff would be entitled to receive the working families tax credit, and receive ex gratia payments by agreement with the Inland Revenue because they cannot attract the credit under the rules. We do not want that situation to be perpetuated and we are keeping it under review. I join the hon. Gentleman in acknowledging and paying tribute to the service that our overseas staff, both locally engaged staff and British nationals, provide.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Could we not link the pay of overseas staff to their efforts in promoting British products overseas? Does the Minister agree that it is wrong, for example, that the consul-general in Sydney has equipped his offices there with crockery not from Australia, not from Taiwan, not even from Japan, but all the way from Italy? This matter could be linked with the next question. Does the Minister agree that the Italian embassy in Canberra is probably equipped with Italian crockery, rather than British crockery? Should not the crockery and glasses in British embassies overseas be home-grown products?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

I am tempted to think that that question comes from an old crock, but that would be very unfair.

Perhaps the explanation of the hon. Gentleman's observation is that Foreign Office staff travel round the world and bring with them their own crockery, which they have collected on previous postings. I do not know whether that applies in this case. The hon. Gentleman should raise important, serious issues rather than matters such as this.