Sir: Polly Toynbee's report ( 7 February) on Dame Pauline Neville-Jones and the Diplomatic Service is fanciful and, factually, wrong. I cannot comment on confidential employer-employee relationships, but I reject the insinuation that Diplomatic Service appointments are based on anything but fair and open competition.
I am strongly committed to trying to secure a better balance between men and women in the Diplomatic Service. I personally vet and approve our Equal Opportunities Action Plans, keep in direct touch with our Equal Opportunities Section and arrange for them to brief regularly our Management Board. We have put in place schemes to make it easier for women to continue their careers during periods when family commitments may make this difficult.
I would like to see more women in the senior grades of the service (though we have never before had as many as eight female heads of post). The explanation for the present position is largely historical and has much to do with social attitudes prevailing in now distant periods of recruitment.
It is also a fact that it can be difficult to combine family life with our worldwide mobility requirement. In the past, this has contributed to the low numbers of senior women officials. But there are more positive developments. I am encouraged by the fact that last year, for the first time, fast-stream women entrants to the Diplomatic Service (our future senior grade potential) outnumbered men and did so entirely on merit.
I should be disturbed if female members of our service, present and prospective, were discouraged by Polly Toynbee's allegations. They do not need to be.
Permanent Under Secretary
Foreign and Commonwealth