HL Deb 29 March 1993 vol 544 cc591-3

2.43 p.m.

Lord Auckland asked Her Majesty's Government:

What criteria they use for the appointment of honorary consuls and for the selection of countries in which they serve.

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

My Lords, candidates for honorary consular appointments should be people of sound standing in the local community with good access to useful contacts. Our policy is to strengthen the honorary consular network. Each head of mission throughout the world may consider whether or not a particular area under his or her jurisdiction would benefit from the appointment of an honorary consul.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her customary courteous and comprehensive Answer. Is she aware of the great debt we owe to our consuls, whether paid or unpaid, in our diplomatic service the world over? However, does my noble friend not agree that there is an anomaly? In Canada, for example, one can travel for 4,000 miles without having access to a consul. In Finland, which is a country I know and love well, there are 10 honorary consuls; in Norway there are 14. Is that not an anomaly? Consuls carry out excellent work. Will my noble friend consider the matter?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I agree that we owe a great debt to all consuls, whether honorary or in the diplomatic service. Many consuls who reside in holiday resorts work way beyond their normal hours. I realise that in large countries where long distances are involved there may be a case for appointing more consuls if the diplomatic service and Ministers think that that is right. However, I am told that travelling is easy in Canada and that telecommunications there are good: the facilities are better than those that exist in Finland and perhaps in Norway. Canada constitutes a special case in this regard. The High Commissioner in Ottawa keeps the matter under continual review. I gather that in Finland the large number of honorary consuls is a matter of historic significance. The consuls perform little work but, for historical reasons, are not paid, as other honorary consuls are.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, what is the Government's argument against establishing an honorary consulate in Alberta?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the situation in Alberta has been special. We have not continued the appointment because of the low amount of work that was being done by the consulate general there. As my noble friend made clear on 2nd March, we are satisfied that consular assistance to British citizens transiting Alberta is adequately covered from Vancouver. The office in Vancouver covers export promotion work. That work could not be undertaken by an honorary consul. However, as I told my noble friend earlier, we are keeping the situation under review, although at the present time there does not seem to be the work for an honorary consul there.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the High Commissioner in Ottawa is considering the situation in Alberta? Vancouver may help a little but it is a considerable distance from Alberta where there was formerly a full-blown consular office.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am well aware of the matter my noble friend refers to. In the past year or so few inquiries were made to the paid consul in Alberta. We are asking the High Commissioner in Ottawa to keep the matter under close consideration. I can assure my noble friend that Ministers are keeping the situation in Alberta under review and are also reviewing the opportunities that might be afforded by honorary consuls elsewhere.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, will my noble friend consider appointing a consul general in Krakow as Poland has requested?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I note what my noble friend says. I shall look into the matter.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, does the Minister agree that when subordinate posts have to be closed, as they are likely to have to be closed following the cuts in the Autumn Statement, there is a case for examining them post by post to see whether it would be appropriate for an honorary consul to be appointed in place of a full-time consulate? Will the Government also consider a recommendation made by the Central Policy Review Staff in its review of overseas representation some years ago that British trade representatives should be drawn from local businessmen based abroad? The recommendation appears in chapter 6, paragraphs 118 to 120.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Baroness knows the paragraphs so well. Most of us who have read the report also know them. Foreign governments can turn down requests to have honorary consuls either from the visiting nation or their own nation. Sometimes, if a post is closed for any reason, the government concerned do not wish to have an honorary consul there instead of a full diplomatic post. The position is not always quite as easy as the noble Baroness indicated. It is clear that while honorary consuls can represent extremely good value for money, one should not think that honorary consuls who occupy their posts in the name of the British people and the British Government should have an additional ability to pursue their own trade interests.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, in view of my noble friend's support for the concept of honorary consuls, especially in remote cities, can she support the notion of increasing the number in Latin America where the distances are even greater than in Canada and the countries are diverse?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can tell my noble friend that we are perfectly prepared to look at such matters in the light of the work which is asked of us. We know from our annual records what is asked of us. Where there is a case for having them, then I believe that honorary consuls can represent not only good value for money but also good publicity for the United Kingdom abroad.