HL Deb 06 November 1975 vol 365 cc1374-6

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the estimated cost, for the most convenient forthcoming yearly period, of: (a) hotel accommodation and entertainment expenses for a nonresident Ambassador in Tananarive including visiting supporting staff and (b) maintaining Villa Elizabeth, at Ivandry, Tananarive, with a limited Residence staff, for a similar purpose.


My Lords, it is estimated that the average local cost of a two-week visit by an Ambassador would be about £475 and of a three-day visit by a commercial or consular officer about £80. Running costs for the Villa Elizabeth, including resident staff, extra help during such a visit and other costs, are estimated at not less than £2,500 a year.


My Lords, I thank the Minsiter for that reply. Are not these extremely small figures, and would not the Minister agree that it is highly unlikely that the Residence in Tananarive, with which I am particularly concerned, will fetch a price in excess of £54,500, which is the cost to date? Therefore, would it not be preferable to retain this Residence for accommodation purposes, with entertainment facilities, too, for a non-resident Ambassador? Would not the Minister also agree that it would be most appropriate for the accommodation and offices of a resident, United Kingdom-based career Consul should such an appointment prove desirable, as I believe it to be at the moment?


My Lords, having gone into this very carefully the decision, most reluctantly taken, is to substitute an Honorary Consul, as the noble Lord knows, at least for some time to come, when we might have another look at the question of a Consul. On the question of price, I cannot accept the noble Lord's view. It would seem that we shall not make any loss by selling the Residence and other properties, and that, indeed, we may make a considerable gain even allowing for inflation. As to the point he made about the figures that I have given being small, I cannot agree. After all, £2,500 to maintain the Residence on a caretaker basis for the larger part of the year is a very large sum to pay: and to leave it on such a caretaker basis might lead to its dilapidation and deterioration and to a lowering of the price, which the noble Lord and I would think very bad for the taxpayers of this country.


My Lords, in order that most of us can understand the full import of the Question, would my noble friend kindly inform us where Tananarive is?


My Lords, the Island of Madagascar, the Malagasy Republic.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister this question? In view of the strategic importance of Madagascar, lying between Southern Africa and Mauritius, and its large uninhabited States, is it not very important that Her Majesty's Government should be represented there?


My Lords, we shall be represented by accreditation. Every country has double accreditation: not every country is represented by a full Embassy in every other country. We have gone into this very carefully. Most reluctantly, of course, we have decided to close this Embassy and, indeed, three others, and to close a number of Consulates. This is inevitable in the economic situation in which we find ourselves and in view of the need to reduce public expenditure. Everybody is in favour of a reduction in public expenditure in general, but never specifically.


My Lords, surely the Minister would agree that a limited staff—I know these people; they are devoted to Her Majesty's Government's representatives—could be retained at this residence? In the past, with a full complement of staff, when an Ambassador was en poste the cost was £1,600 per year, including social insurance contributions. Surely, my Lords, Her Majesty's Government could afford that, especially if there was only a limited staff. On the point about getting the right price for the Residence, is the noble Lord aware that it was offered to the Indonesian Government for £35,000, which is below the figure I quoted, and that the Residence was turned down as being too small? If Indonesia could afford it, surely Her Majesty's Government can.


My Lords, as this is not a debate on an Unstarred Question, I must ask the House to allow me to ask for notice of all 17 Questions that the noble Lord has put.