HL Deb 02 March 1993 vol 543 cc532-4

2.51 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have now reconsidered their decision to withdraw consular representation from Alberta; and whether they have considered arranging for a suitable person to be appointed as honorary consular representative.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we have no plans to reverse the decision to close our consulate-general in Edmonton; nor do we propose to appoint an honorary consul.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the offence which that decision gives to people in Alberta who, on the whole, are extremely warmly disposed towards this country? Is she aware also of the importance of Alberta, the most powerful economic province in Canada? Is it not singularly unhelpful to refuse even to consider appointing an honorary consular representative? What is the reason for that?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we cherish our excellent relations with Alberta. There was disappointment at the time we closed our consulate but there has been a welcome degree of understanding of the resource problems which we faced in reorganising our consular coverage. The federal authorities, which closed all offices in the United Kingdom save the High Commission in London, also understood our resource problems.

We are not appointing an honorary consul because, although we keep the situation under review, we are satisfied that our interests in Alberta, including consular assistance to British citizens transiting Alberta, are adequately covered from Vancouver. Under a Commonwealth convention, British residents in Canada are the responsibility of the Canadian authorities. Therefore we are not contemplating appointing an honorary consul.

Lord Parry

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that there is strong support on all sides of the House for the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, on this issue? Will she accept that it is rather a long way from Vancouver to the point of influence? Are we not in danger of insulting our friends and loyal supporters by withdrawing diplomatic representation while maintaining it in areas where we are obviously not welcome or supported?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I understand the depth of feeling in the House. I should point out that there are flights at least every two hours between Vancouver and Edmonton and the flight time is about two hours. There are telephone links—the telephone was invented by a Canadian—and fax facilities are excellent. The matter was not raised by the then deputy Premier of Alberta when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr. Lennox-Boyd, paid an official visit to Alberta last September. Moreover, the deputy Premier did not mention the closure when he visited the UK in November.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, when the Government made the decision about Alberta, did they take into account the substantial energy resources of that province and the fact that over the years British firms have contributed to the exploitation of those resources with a great deal of expertise? British engineers have gone to Alberta to assist. Will not that development, so highly desirable in our present situation, be prejudiced by the Government's decision?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, two Questions were raised on this matter in 1991 which covered it fully. I am merely giving a re-run of those two Questions. We visit our oil and gas industry interests in Calgary as regularly as we did before the closure of the consulate in Edmonton.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, has the Minister said that an honorary consul will be appointed or will it in no way be considered?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have answered that question.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I am a member of the Anglo-Canadian parliamentary group. I believe, as do many others, that the potential for trade with Canada is considerable. Is my noble friend aware that there are honorary consuls in a number of other Commonwealth countries and in Scandinavia? Why should there not be an honorary consul in Alberta?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am aware of the level of trade. The most recent Canadian figures indicate that our exports to Alberta were worth about £46.2 million in 1991 and imports were worth about £5.45 million. That represents about 2.5 per cent. of our overall trade with Canada. Our own statistics deal only with countries, not with regions. The Albertans have an office in London but the Government have closed all the other offices. They feel the need to do so. We do not in this case.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell us how much it would cost per annum to maintain a consul in Alberta?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, no overall figures are maintained for the running costs of honorary consuls in Canada. I have the running costs and staffing levels of British posts in Canada for the financial year 1991–92. The total amounts to £6,610,629. I cannot split that down into honorary consuls.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the noble Baroness tells the House that the reason for abandoning the consulate in Edmonton was the necessity for economies. At the same time, she tells us that she does not know what economies have been effected. Is she aware that as regards economies, many of us can name posts nearer to home and nearer to the Foreign Office where economies could be exercised?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, that is another matter. Financial pressures forced the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to cut a number of its operations. Reluctantly, it took the decision to close the Edmonton consulate and other posts. At the time that the Edmonton consulate closed, an annual saving of £231,000 was generated but that was partly offset by additional costs of £50,000 incurred in Vancouver where three additional local staff were recruited to cope with the larger consular district.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it takes rather a lot to make the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, indignant about this Government? I sense that he is extremely indignant, and rightly so, on this occasion. Is the Minister aware that the French, the Germans and the Americans all maintain consular services in Alberta? Does it not seem to be rather derisory for the Government to have behaved as they have in this matter?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord eventually reached his question. Other countries continually review their overseas representation, as we do. They currently perceive sufficient demand for their services to justify the present offices.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, is not the normal cost of an honorary consul an honorary MBE?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, there are certain expenses involved.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm, as we were told at the time, that the consul-general was withdrawn from Alberta in order to find someone to be appointed consul-general in Kiev? Is it really thought that representation in Kiev is of greater importance to this country than in the great province of Alberta?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, our consul-general in Vancouver assumed the responsibility for covering Alberta when Edmonton closed. The specific task of the consul-general in Vancouver is to give high priority to our interests in Alberta. He and his staff paid frequent visits to Alberta in 1992. Those visits totalled 29. We keep the matter under constant review.