HL Deb 09 May 1988 vol 496 cc823-4

2.42 p.m.

Lord Merrivale asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their current review of British diplomatic accommodation in Madagascar is considering taking up the offer of the London Missionary Society site near the Queen's Palace in Antananarivo.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, our embassy at Antananarivo is making enquiries about both the availability of suitable houses to purchase and of sites on which to build a new residence for the ambassador. The site owned by the London Missionary Society is one of the sites under consideration.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is the Minister aware that in effect this is a Malagasy offer and does not come from the London Missionary Society, which is conscious of the strong historical links that exist between our two countries? Does she agree that this site would be very appropriate for a British ambassadorial residence, bearing in mind the very important part played by British missionaries in creating the close ties that now exist?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, as my noble friend suggests, this may well be a very suitable site. However, as I have said, it is one of several sites that are now being considered. I believe that my right honourable friend the Minister of State has written to the chairman of the Anglo-Malagasy Society informing him that the Foreign Office at present has no plans to build on that site.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is it the case, or can the House assume, that the reason Her Majesty's Government are looking for a new site is that the present accommodation is unsatisfactory? Can the Minister say whether this situation bears any relationship to our trade with Madagascar? Can she give some estimate of the present export and import position?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the second question asked by the noble Lord goes rather beyond the original Question on the Order Paper. If he cares to table a Question on that point I shall be most happy to try to answer it. Certainly there are some deficiencies in the present residence. Its lease is coming up for renewal. Foreign Office policy is to replace leased accommodation overseas with owned properties whenever it is cost-effective to do so and when the building has all the advantages required by security.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, as I have been president of the Anglo-Malagasy Society for 27 years perhaps I may ask the Minister to convey to her right honourable friend the need for Mr. M. E. Cook of the Overseas Estate Department to look particularly at this site when he visits Madagascar later this year. Apart from that point, does she agree that in effect the residence is unsuitable, as is the embassy in the "Ny Havana" building?

Baroness Hooper

Certainly, my Lords, I shall make sure that when the Overseas Estate Department representative visits Madagascar later this year he is aware of my noble friend's thoughts on the matter. I can confirm that one of the problems about the present residence is the poorly arranged circulation between public and private areas of the house. There are also other features which render it perhaps not as suitable as it might be as an ambassadorial residence.