HL Deb 13 April 1978 vol 390 cc779-82

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in reestablishing the normal foreign affairs representation of an ambassador between the United Kingdom and the Argentine.


My Lords, there are no immediate plans to restore our representation to ambassadorial level but the position is kept under review. Meanwhile, our embassy conducts its full range of duties under a Chargé d'Affaires.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply which is similar to one he gave me quite a long while ago, and I am wondering how long the review will go on. Is he aware that the Argentine is pulling out of its inflation, that its trade is increasing and that we have very great interests there? However good our Chargé d'Affaires is—and he is excellent —would it not be much more sensible to restore our ambassador and return to normal relations, which would improve the co-operation of the country on difficult questions?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her tribute to my consistency. I entirely agree with her about the quality of the representation which we now have in Buenos Aires. We have, indeed, an excellent Chargé d'Affaires in that capital. As to trade, I entirely agree. I am glad to inform the House that trade with the Argentine has improved in the last year or so. In 1976 we exported £63 million to the Argentine; in 1977 that amount had risen to £130 million. In that year our imports from the Argentine amounted to £120 million. Therefore, we are £10 million to the good on a rising curve of mutual trade.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, would the Minister be good enough to explain why there is no ambassador in the Argentine? If it is on the grounds of human rights, in how many countries would we have diplomatic representation? Is the noble Lord also aware that during the year a football match might take place in the Argentine and that several thousand Scots might go there to see it? Therefore, will he consider stopping them as well?


My Lords, I hope that whatever the noble Baroness has to say about the Argentine, she will be very careful indeed about what she says about the Scots, especially at Cup-tie times. As the noble Baroness knows, towards the end of 1975, unfortunately, relations deteriorated between the two countries and Argentina then removed her ambassador. In reply we could do nothing but respond to her request that we should remove our ambassador from Buenos Aires, which reluctantly we did. As I have said, we constantly review the position. Indeed, if a mutually satisfactory basis for ambassadorial exchange was apparent, I am quite sure that we should be very willing indeed to engage in discussions.


My Lords, is it not precisely when relations are difficult between two countries that ambassadors are at their most useful and not at their least useful? Is it not simply since the war that countries have thought it clever to insult one another by breaking off diplomatic relations without declaring war?


My Lords, I entirely agree. There are points at issue between the two countries and I entirely agree that, in those circumstances, the stronger and the fuller our relationships are, the better. In my experience, at least, relations are never improved by breaking them off.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, I should like to follow up what my noble friends have said. The noble Lord has had to answer questions in this manner for some time now; we have been waiting for a good many months. Could he not recognise that trade is increasing and that it is very important to us? Also, it is important that we should be on good relations with the Argentine so far as the Falkland Islands are concerned. Is it not impossible to see any excuse for further delay?


My Lords, before my noble friend answers that question could he make the position crystal clear? As I understand it, the initiative for withdrawing ambassadorial representation was taken by the Argentinians, and it is not us who desire this. Therefore, these questions really need to be addressed to the Argentinians rather than to my noble friend.


My Lords, I consider that the question has been addressed to at least one of the proper quarters in that very cogent intervention by my noble friend. Of course, we are very anxious to improve and, if at all possible, have more comprehensive relations at ambassadorial level with the Argentine. However, it is a two-way matter and, as my noble friend Lord George-Brown has reminded us, the initiative for reducing the level of representation lay not with this country.


My Lords, whatever the reasons were for the ambassador being withdrawn originally, is the Minister aware that the restoration of ambassadorial representation now would be construed as approval by Great Britain of the human rights policies followed by the Argentine Government? As this has not shown any improvement in recent months, will the noble Lord make it clear that there is no question of restoring our ambassador in Buenos Aires until there has been a marked improvement in the human rights situation there?


My Lords, no, I do not think so. I take the view that our interests in all these matters—including the matters referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—are best served by having the fullest possible representation in such countries.


My Lords, if the test was human rights, in how many countries would we have ambassadors? I leave the list of countries to noble Lords' imaginations.


My Lords, when the Government consider this matter will my noble friend also give full thought to the people of the Falkland Islands and ask Argentina to give up any claim to those islands?


My Lords, the last two observations point to the need to take a very comprehensive and constant reviewing attitude to this position. Basically we wish to see the restoration, on a mutually satisfactory basis, of the most comprehensive relations between the two countries. Things are moving in an encouraging way. Trade is a good pointer. We make representations on other matters, including those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I think that matters are slowly moving in the right direction, and we might prejudice their ultimate success if we take perhaps precipitate initiatives.


My Lords, being perhaps the only Member of your Lordships' House who had a brother, and a Scot, as Chargé d'Affaires in the Argentine not so long ago, may I ask whether the noble Lord will do his best to return an ambassador there again?— because most of the work that an ambassador now has to do concerns trade and, as the noble Lord said, trade with the Argentine is improving. Will the noble Lord do everything he can to return an ambassador to the Argentine as soon as possible?


My Lords, I think that I have said enough to indicate the willingness of the United Kingdom on the proper basis to restore full relations with the Argentine.

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