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Thu, 9 July 2020

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To properly scrutinise the Foreign Office, we must take crucial steps to understand the department better

To properly scrutinise the Foreign Office, we must take crucial steps to understand the department better
3 min read

The Foreign Affairs Committee needs to be more free-thinking. As chair, I would share responsibility and work with other committee chairs on our work abroad, writes Bob Seeley 


I am running to chair the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which oversees the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), one of the major departments of government.

What difference would I make and how can we do our work better?  Here are my answers to some key questions:

What’s my style of leadership?

I will champion the Foreign Affairs Committee as a vehicle for independent, collegiate inquiry into foreign policy. I will encourage a free-thinking approach that focuses on problem solving. We need to question conventional wisdom, rather than just accept it.

My suggested focus for the committee?

Scrutiny, scrutiny, scrutiny. Whilst it is important to study our relationships with other countries, we need to fulfil our bread and butter job of scrutinising the FCO. We do not spend enough time in the FCO itself. We need to know the department better. When I am chair, my first task will be to write to the foreign secretary to find out how we can engage with the department better and ensure MPs on the committee understand it more.

How will I support fellow committee members?

First, under my plans to reform the committee, everyone will be given the opportunity to chair evidence sessions, giving everyone ‘senior’ committee experience, regardless of rank.

Second, I will share media responsibilities to encourage all members of the team to speak on behalf of the committee.

Third, I want everyone on the committee to be a foreign policy expert, regardless of their base of knowledge when join.

How will the committee engage with the Foreign and Security Review?

The committee must be engaged in this critical debate. It needs to ensure that Parliament and the views of Parliamentarians are listened to.

Leaving the EU should mean more democracy and clearer accountability, not less.

How will I work with other committee chairs?

Several government departments are engaged in overseas policy. We need to find a way of working with others to ensure that we understand better the coordinated overseas work that government does.

So why me?

I was a foreign correspondent from 1990 to 1994, covering the collapse of the USSR (and occasionally Yugoslavia), after which I lived in the USA for year before returning to the UK.

For the decade prior to becoming an MP, I served in the UK Armed Forces in full time reserve service. I served in four campaigns in the past decade.

For many years I have written academically on hybrid war, and specifically its Russian and Chinese versions. In the last Parliament I produced four reports on: defining hybrid warfare, on Huawei and Chinese high-tech in our critical national infrastructure, on Russian non-conventional warfare in Ukraine and my lead report on Global Britain. This is why I believe it is so important to have in-depth, well-researched reports.

The committee is working well but we can do better. I will offer expert, collegiate leadership to ensure that our Committee serves both its practical purposes of overseeing Government and its ethical purpose of serving Parliament and our people.

Bob Seely is Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight

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Foreign affairs