Work experience at Britain's Foreign Office? Not if you’re a middle class white male
William Hague was last night plunged into a row over new Foreign Office rules which ban white males from gaining work experience at his department. The Foreign Secretary was challenged to explain why his official work placement schemes specifically ban white, middle-class males from applying for the £367-a-week positions.
Under the tightly-drawn rules, only women, people from ethnic minorities and the disabled are entitled to apply for a chance to work at one of the great offices of state.
The placements give students a head start in the battle to win coveted jobs in the diplomatic service and possibly rise through the ranks to become an ambassador.Only one category of non-minority male applicants stand a chance – those whose families are poor enough to entitle them to qualify for a full student maintenance grant.
The bizarre ‘middle-class male’ ban came to light after Tory MP Dominic Raab was contacted by an irate constituent who tried to obtain work experience at the department.
Esher MP Mr Raab, an international lawyer who worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for six years, said last night: ‘I am raising this issue on behalf of a disappointed constituent barred from even applying for Foreign Office work experience because he did not fit the social quota criteria.
‘We surely need to scale back the unfair political correctness of the last Government. But we will not end discrimination in our society by introducing it through the back door, which is what positive discrimination like this does.’ Mr Raab has now written to Mr Hague asking him to intervene and review the work placement rules.
The Foreign Office, which employs 20,000 staff in the UK and around the world, operates three work placement schemes:
* A summer development programme open to ‘talented individuals’ from black or ethnic minority backgrounds;
* A summer placement scheme for ‘talented students’ with a registered disability; and
* A university placement scheme open to female students, students from an ethnic minority background and students who come from a household with an income of £25,000 or lower.
Westminster sources last night said the programmes came about after Robin Cook, the former Labour Foreign Secretary, arrived at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s headquarters in Whitehall and was horrified to see so many former public schoolboys working there.
Last night, the FCO insisted the schemes were legal and were designed to appeal to students who might not normally consider a career in the FCO. A spokeswoman said: ‘This includes students from an ethnic minority background and those with a disability, as well as students who are in receipt of a full maintenance grant.’
The spokeswoman added: ‘People from these backgrounds are currently under-represented in the FCO. 'We believe that by having a more diverse and multicultural workforce the FCO is better able to represent British interests around the world.’
There was ‘absolutely no discrimination’ in the department’s normal job recruitment process, she insisted. But in a later statement, the FCO said the work experience schemes would now ‘be placed under review’.