HC Deb 06 April 1965 vol 710 cc239-40
Q7. Sir G. de Freitas

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware that in many newly independent Commonwealth countries the designation of the United Kingdom Government's representatives as High Commissioners often confuses British residents and citizens of the country to which they are accredited and leads to the belief that they have powers beyond those of the head of a diplomatic mission; and whether, at least in the case of those countries which are republics, he will discuss with their Heads of Government the possibility of describing the British High Commissioners and their High Commissioners as Ambassadors.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think that any confusion that may occur in the minds of British residents and others is due more to temporary problems in the first days of independence than to mistaken inferences from the title "High Commissioner".

Sir G. de Freitas

Will the Prime Minister look at this again? Is he aware that more than one former High Commissioner believes that the dignity attached to the title "High Commissioner" is bought at too high a cost in misunderstanding in the country? Further, as since 1st January we have had a combined diplomatic service, would not he consider that is relevant?

The Prime Minister

Quite apart from the difficulty of the juridical problem of ambassadors being accredited to a country with a different Head of State from ourselves, I should have thought that there was some advantage—as I think the whole House would feel—in maintaining the special title to mark the special relationship within the Commonwealth.

Mr. Braine

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not agree that there has always been and there should always remain a special intimate relationship between Commonwealth countries and ourselves and that in some ways a High Commissioner enjoys a superior status to an ambassador? For this reason is he aware that we on this side of the House would entirely agree that he should set his hand against deadly uniformity?

The Prime Minister

While agreeing with that, I do accept, as I said in answer to my hon. Friend, that there have been difficulties particularly in the early days. My hon. Friend, one of the few in this House who has had experience of being a High Commissioner, is aware of that. I still think that there is a case for keeping things as they are.