HL Deb 03 July 1979 vol 401 cc222-4

2.44 p.m.


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 is being made with the normalisation of our diplomatic representation with the Argentine.


My Lords, we are actively considering the level of our relations with Argentina. Our decision will be announced in due course.


My Lords, may I suggest to the noble Lord—

Several noble Lords: No!


My Lords, may I ask the Minister to consider that while there are certain differences between the Argentinians and ourselves, those difficulties would be much better handled and solved if we had an ambassador there who would give us a certain status which at the moment we do not have?


I think my noble friend is quite right, my Lords, and that is why we are actively reconsidering our policy in this matter.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister to accept from this side of the House—perhaps I might put this in an interrogatory form—the full support of the Opposition for the earliest possible resumption of normal diplomatic relations with a country with which we have had for some centuries ties of close friendship, both commercial and cultural? Perhaps from this House might go to our Argentinian friends, as proof of our desire to resume these relations, the fact that the ambassador designate in Buenos Aires is an officer of the highest credentials, of great experience of Latin America and of great personal friendship for the Argentine itself.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for that helpful observation. I think we are actually continuing the policy of the previous Administration in this matter.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister to be good enough to confirm that approaches were made by the Argentinian Government as long ago as February/March of this year, and would he further confirm that the reason for the delay can in no way be attributed either to the Argentinian Government or to Her Majesty's Government using the appointment of an ambassador as a bargaining counter?


My Lords, of course we already have diplomatic representation at a lower level in Buenos Aires, but the appointment of an ambassador is an important matter and not to be rushed.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 19th June Members of both Houses received a deputation of the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who were here to plead on behalf of the 15,000 persons who have disappeared in Argentina since the coup of March 1976 and whose relatives have been kept in ignorance as to what has happened to them? Would the Government, notwithstanding any change in the level of diplomatic representation in Buenos Aires, press for this matter to be laid before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights under the Article 1503 procedure as a gross and persistent violation of human rights? Will the Minister assert on behalf of the Government that the restoration of diplomatic representation at ambassadorial level is in no way to be taken as a derogation of the horror that the British people feel at the continued atrocities committed against the people of Argentina by the State?


My Lords, our approval or disapproval of human rights considerations in various countries of the world does not necessarily affect our decision to appoint or otherwise the ambassador. If we took that as a criterion we should have hardly any ambassadors anywhere.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that the fact that there are more than half a million citizens of British descent living in Argentina, who are all God-fearing citizens, and the fact that there is great opportunity for trade and investment in the revived economic climate, give added reason to have an ambassador at an early date?


That is certainly a special consideration, my Lords, but it is perhaps relevant and right for me to point out that the Argentine Government last year issued a decree calling on all religious organisations to register. Organisations which are considered a threat to public order, national security or Argentine morals or traditions may be refused registration and thus denied permission to practise. We are not very happy with that decision.