HL Deb 22 June 1990 vol 520 cc1168-9

11.8 a.m.

Lord Auckland asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the current state of relations between the United Kingdom and Fiji.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, relations are good.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that commendably brief Answer. Is he aware that I was invited to meet the Prime Minister of Fiji during his recent visit to this country and that he is particularly anxious that the excellent relations between Great Britain and Fiji should continue? Can my noble friend say what is being done to promote more trade between Britain and Fiji? What is the situation as regards sugar and the interchange of students and technical personnel such as engineers?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as a result of the visit of the Prime Minister of Fiji to my right honourable friend Mrs. Thatcher in March 1988, British technical co-operation was increased from £1 million to £1.5 million in order to allow for extra help in the medical sector which had been depleted by the migration of trained Fiji-Indian doctors. The first members of the United Kingdom-recruited team arrived in Fiji in February 1989. My noble friend will be aware that the principal problem now confronting the Fijians is the agreement of their new constitution. I suspect that progress on most of the other issues to which he referred will depend upon the conclusion of that problem.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, the Minister will know that there have been great difficulties as regards Fiji and that they will continue. Can he say whether the Government are in touch with the Governments of India, Australia and New Zealand to ensure that there is not a recurrence so that in future Fiji can continue to play its proper part in the Commonwealth?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Indian authorities recently had to withdraw their diplomats from Fiji and that did not help the matter to which the noble Lord referred. We attach great importance to our relations with Fiji. However, as the noble Lord will know, its membership of the Commonwealth lapsed following the military coup in Fiji in 1987.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, what is the Government's attitude towards the present Government of Fiji, a military government who overthrew a democratically-elected government three years ago? Are we giving aid to Fiji? Have we offered to train its armed forces? Are we making representations to the Fijian Government to hold free elections so that once again Fiji can enjoy a democratic government? Is that not the heart of the matter? Is not the Minister giving the impression that we are seeking to be too friendly with a dictatorial government?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord is right in saying that that is the heart of the matter. There was a military coup in Fiji in 1987. Since then the military officer concerned has "returned to his barracks", to use the time-honoured phrase. There is now an interim civilian government who are moving to seek agreement on a new constitution which will, inter alia, provide for democratic elections. The United Kingdom is supporting that process. In the meantime Fiji's membership of the Commonwealth has lapsed because of the introduction of the military government. However, it will be entitled to re-apply once it has completed the proper democratic processes.