HL Deb 17 January 1984 vol 446 cc926-7

2.53 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to upgrade British diplomatic representation in Conakry, the Republic of Guinea.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we have no present plans to do so.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the present diplomatic representation so far as Guinea is concerned is based on Dakar and Senegal and that that embassy covers Senegal, Mali, Upper Volta and Niger, none of which countries has substantial, if any, trading relations with this country, whereas Guinea is one of the richest countries in Africa and many business interests from various countries are represented there? Would it not be sensible and profitable for this country to have such diplomatic representation in Conakry as would assist the development of British business interests in that country?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not think that one wants to overstress the trade relationship between the United Kingdom and Guinea. We constitute only 1.5 per cent. of their supplies and take only about 2 per cent. of their exports.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the dictatorship of President Sékou Touré is probably the most appalling of all the régimes under which the unfortunate population of Africa is suffering, and that, according to the United Nations, he has 2 million exiles outside his small country? Is he also aware that the human rights record is quite deplorable, that Sékou Touré has reduced the GNP of what my noble friend described as a rich country almost to its bottom level, that of less than 270 dollars per head; and that it is quite deplorable that we should recognise such a régime at all?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as the noble Lord will recall, before today I have answered questions about the criteria that we apply in these considerations. It is not for me, today at any event, to pass judgment one way or another on President Sékou Touré's régime; although of course we seek to condemn breaches of human rights wherever they may occur.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, if the noble Lord has told the House that there is such a small percentage of Guinea trade connected with this country, is this not a condemnation of this country rather of Guinea in view of the fact that many other industrial countries in the world are highly represented diplomatically and commercially in this developing country? Could the noble Lord tell the House something about the position which he has mentioned in answer to previous questions of mine about the debt situation between Guinea and this country? Have the Government had any thoughts about the barter system which, I understand, other European countries are conducting for the removal of debts with the Government of Guinea?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as the noble Lord may recall from earlier exchanges that he and I have had on this subject, the Guinean debt was rescheduled, I think in 1976—the debt amounting then, I think, to about £6 million—since which time we have received only one payment under the rescheduling arrangements. They are now substantially in arrears therefore not only with ourselves but with the world at large.