HL Deb 10 July 1996 vol 574 cc292-3

2.47 p.m.

The Earl of Shannon asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the British Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia, will be in a position to issue visas for visitors to this country.

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

My Lords, we hope to be able to start issuing visas in Yerevan for Armenian nationals this autumn. We are currently working on putting into place the necessary administrative arrangements.

The Earl of Shannon

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Minister for that helpful and constructive reply. I hope that her department has always borne in mind that to ask someone to travel over 1,000 miles to obtain a visa is not helpful to that person or to us if we intend to trade with that country.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Earl. We have had to work out how to provide this service because, as I believe the noble Earl knows, the embassy has been established for only about a year. It is a very small post. However, between perhaps 600 and 1,000 Armenian nationals may want to come to this country. I fully agree with him that it is sensible to issue that limited number of visas in Yerevan.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether there is an Armenian Embassy in London?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, yes. I am fairly certain that there is.

Baroness Cox:

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Armenia is among the most stable politically of all the countries of the former Soviet Union? It is also beginning to thrive economically despite the continuing blockades by Azerbaijan and Turkey. I hope that her answer will give some comfort to the Armenian people. They have felt immensely hurt by the inconvenience of having to travel to Moscow. They have seen it as a rather dilatory policy of initiating visas and there has been some anti-British feeling. Does she agree that her answer may give some comfort and reassurance?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I certainly hope that it will make it easier for the Armenian people who want to come to Britain to obtain those visas. That is why we are making the necessary arrangements. Perhaps I may underline that although at present commercial opportunities for British companies in Armenia are somewhat limited because of the state of the economy, there are now increases in exports to Armenia and in Armenian exports to the United Kingdom. Far more needs to be done to build that up and then perhaps there will be even more visitors. However, we are making a good start.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many nationals of other former Soviet Union countries have to go to Moscow to get visas?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I cannot be sure of the figures as I do not have them in my file. I apologise to the noble Lord and will let him know.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me if my question is a little wider. Can she tell the House what steps the Government are taking, either through the European Union or with any other international agencies, to encourage new forms of co-operation in areas such as transport and communications between Armenia and its neighbours, Azerbaijan and Georgia? Does she agree that it is important to secure lasting peace in the region and that now would be a good time to start co-operation?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am all for co-operation if the parties are also willing to discuss the issues in a sensible way. I hope that it will be achieved. The OSCE has been making efforts in the region and a good deal can be done. We have always regarded the Minsk group as the main forum for achieving progress towards peaceful settlements of the dispute in the area. It has created much more contact than there used to be, but everyone needs to work at it—all the countries in the region and not only members of the European Union. That includes Mother Russia.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, would my noble friend be too shocked to receive my heartfelt thanks for the answer she has given to the noble Earl, Lord Shannon? It will come as great comfort to many of us who wish to trade with Armenia and have Armenians here for training in know-how.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am absolutely overwhelmed.