HL Deb 21 June 1993 vol 547 cc1-3

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy on British diplomatic representation to Albania.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and Albania were restored on 29th May 1991. The British Ambassador to Albania is resident in Rome; a chargé d'affaires is resident in Tirana.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Mindful of Albania's need for assistance, both financial and diplomatic, in adjusting to the outside world and to democracy, will she reconsider their offer to provide a building in settlement of our claim arising from the destruction of the British legation which has so far been rejected on the grounds of cost?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever for that question. We are in discussion with the Albanian Government over compensation for the 1939–40 legation building. Our handling of this matter necessarily has to take into account the capital costs which might be involved in accepting a building for our embassy since that would be likely to be more expensive than renting space at the French Embassy, which we do currently.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is an excellent example where a small mission—indeed, a mini-mission—might be appropriate with a relatively junior but talented young member of the diplomatic service as our ambassador?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for that question. We do have a mini-mission there already, albeit with a chargé d'affaires. The first chargé d'affaires there was indeed a young man—a former assistant private secretary of mine who ran it very well from the beginning and who has been recognised for doing so. We now have two young people there, both doing an excellent job in support of British political and commercial interests.

We are mindful of the need to provide assistance. We shall seek to do so through the know-how funds which we extended to Albania last July. Bilateral aid now goes through that route. We are helping quite considerably, although in a small way as yet.

Lord Amery of Lustleigh

My Lords, am I right in thinking that one of the main objectives of government policy is to prevent the war in Bosnia from sliding into a conflict in Kosovo or Macedonia? In view of the fact that Albania is both geographically and ethnically closely connected with both, is it really wise not to have a listening post nearer than Rome, at a rather critical period in Balkan international history? Does it really make sense for British representation to be limited to accommodation in the basement of the French Embassy, albeit that it is a friendly power?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I understand what my noble friend Lord Amery of Lustleigh says very well indeed. We have more than a listening post in the French Embassy, albeit in a small way. We listen and have good contact also with members of the Albanian Government. But we must do this in a way in which we can both fund and use it to the fullest extent. We are seeking to do that at present. We are in close touch with President Berisha whom I met in Ankara last month. The Foreign Secretary is very much in touch with him. I too hope that President Berisha will soon be able to visit Britain. So our contacts are in place and our listening is good. We, together with our European partners, will do all that we can to make sure that we use all available information to prevent any spreading of the Balkan crisis.

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