HL Deb 31 October 1994 vol 558 cc691-2

The Lord Bishop of Oxford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether steps are being taken to establish a British diplomatic mission in Tbilisi in the near future.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are at present no plans to establish a resident British mission in Tbilisi. Her Majesty's Ambassador in Moscow is accredited to Tbilisi. He and his staff visit Georgia regularly. The pattern of our overseas representation is kept under review.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Does she not agree that there is a special case for a diplomatic mission in Tbilisi, first, because of the potential expansion of British interests in Georgia, particularly British trade interests, and, secondly, because of the instability of the region? When I was in Georgia on an official visit with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury we were touched, but surprised, by how much the visit meant to the whole country, not just to the Church. That was a measure of its sense of isolation. Should we not be doing more to strengthen our links, bringing support and influence, in such an unstable area?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can assure the right reverend Prelate that we are doing a considerable amount of work in Tbilisi and in the area in general. However, we cannot possibly open up embassies in all the places that we would like to. Therefore, we must manage them from nearby centres. We have certainly done a good deal in setting up new diplomatic representation in many of the former Soviet republics and the Baltic states but simply because there is not a resident mission in Tbilisi does not mean that we do not note with pleasure the improvement in the balance of trade and do not have a continuing interest in hoping that the stability which has come to Georgia in recent months will continue. We back what is going on in terms of peacemaking with humanitarian relief, which has reached more than £3 million since March 1993.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Minister say what progress is being made with the peace negotiations and the negotiations on the final political settlement of the dispute between Georgia and Abkhazia? Can she also tell the House whether the repatriation of refugees to Abkhazia, which was supposed to begin on 1st October, did in fact take place?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I understand that a few refugees have been repatriated, but no great numbers. I can tell the noble Lord that the UN observer mission in Georgia is monitoring the cease-fire which has been in place since 14th May. The peacekeeping operation seems to be going on reasonably well in Abkhazia and the parties involved seem to be satisfied with what is going on. So if one says that conditions for progress towards peace are in place, one can only go on working at it in order to achieve the desired end.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I accept that the extent of British interests does not justify a separate British mission in all the former Soviet republics, but has any consideration been given to a joint European Union mission in Georgia; and if not, might consideration be given to that in the future?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it has not been thought desirable to have a joint mission at the present time. The other members of the European Union represented in Tbilisi are France and Germany. We have joint missions in other places and the position is kept under review.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, can my noble friend say to how many countries of the former Soviet Union our Ambassador in Moscow is accredited?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, our Ambassador in Moscow is accredited to Turkmenistan, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova.