HL Deb 27 May 1976 vol 371 cc346-9

11.10 a.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 when it is expected that the Central Policy Review Staff will complete their review of the priorities and requirements of our overseas representation; and

  1. (a)whether they will carefully look into the question of over-staffing in some of our larger posts with a view to opening or re-opening smaller posts; and
  2. (b)whether they will pay particular attention to the opening or reopening of smaller posts in the light of any existing economic potential or political desirability.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

My Lords, we hope that the review will be completed early next year. In considering the most suitable, effective and economic means of representing and promoting our interests overseas the CPRS will have regard to all relevant factors, including those mentioned by the noble Lord in his Question.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his Answer. Could the review body look very carefully into the desirability, particularly on political grounds, of reopening our Embassy in Madagascar? For in spite of a politique d'ouverture tous azimuts on the part of the Government there, there has been an increase in Russian influence and less Chinese influence, and a very recent anti-Western Powers and anticapitalist States campaign throughout the Press, the television, and radio. Furthermore, would the noble Lord not agree that due to a switch from an Embassy to an honorary consulate we have lost influence there, and possibly status too?


My Lords, as with a number of Questions that have been asked of this House in recent weeks, this concerns public expenditure. Savings have to be made, and therefore we have to look very seriously at our representation overseas, but we have clearly too to bear in mind the disadvantages of any particular saving. The noble Lord has expressed his view on many occasions. He may be aware that Sir Kenneth Berrill, the head of CPRS, invited members of the public to make representations to this inquiry, and I understand that over 100 companies and individuals have already done so. I suggest to the noble Lord that he might like to make his own submissions direct to Sir Kenneth Berrill.


My Lords, the conclusions of the Duncan and Plowden inquiries into our overseas representation were published. Will the report of the Central Policy Review Staff be published?


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, when he was Foreign Secretary, said that this was under consideration, but that a report would be given to Parliament. As I say, whether the full report is published is still subject to consideration, and I suppose must depend on the way in which the report is written and what can be disclosed and what should not be disclosed.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the sooner we abandon this folie de grandeur of our great imperial past and realise the limitations of our power in the world today, the sooner we would solve our home economic problems?


My Lords, the purpose of overseas representation is not only to show the flag, it is also to provide political and economic information, and to be of service particularly to those who are exporters. That is why I believe that we should look very carefully not only at our representation but at the type and class of it.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the help that business finds from our various representatives in Government service has improved so much over recent years that it would be a pity to give any sort of impression that we are dissatisfied with it on any great scale?


My Lords, I do not think that my noble friend was in any way suggesting that. I am glad that the noble Lord has paid tribute to what our Embassies and High Commissions do, often under very difficult circumstances.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord—I wonder whether this is a matter for the Government or for the Review Body—if there are not implications for this country of not having an Embassy in, for example, Gabon, despite the fact that the Government of Gabon have one here? Are there not certain repercussions from the fact that we do not have one? I feel that this is a matter which should be considered by the Government because it has political implications.


This is clearly a matter for the Government, my Lords, but at the moment we are awaiting the report of the CPRS and, on the basis of that report, we shall make a judgment. I hope the noble Lord and his noble friends will remember the pleas that they are making about public expenditure; there is not a day when we do not get pleas from the other side of the House for increased public expenditure, which flies contrary to their public posture.