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Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

5. What progress has been made on the accreditation of the non-resident British ambassador to, and the honorary consul in, Madagascar. (87871)

Mr. Speaker, I must warn you that in this answer I shall have to speak French on two occasions. I have been practising.

Our requests for agrément in respect of the British high commissioner to Mauritius to be our non-resident ambassador to Madagascar, and for authority to appoint an honorary consul in Antananarivo, remain with the Malagasy authorities. We continue to push for swift accreditation. My Department has discussed the matter with the Malagasy chargé d’affaires in London twice since March, most recently on 29 June 2006. We currently have no intention of reopening our embassy in Madagascar. I think that is five out of 10.

Given that Africa has recently been our focus of attention, that the President of Madagascar is a prime example of good governance, that the 28 non-governmental organisations based there are now developing trade and investment interests and want an embassy there, and that the Malagasy have recently opened an embassy in London, would it not be best to avoid the past mistake of closing the embassy and then having to reopen it? Would it not be better to stop the accreditation of a non-resident ambassador and honorary consul and to reopen the embassy forthwith?

Africa is obviously a main priority for the Government, and that means that we need to modernise our network. We need to ensure that our network is placed in the most effective areas, to maximise our ability to represent the interests of this country. That has meant that posts have been closed in some areas, and enlarged in others, such as Pretoria, Kinshasa, Khartoum, Kigali and Addis Ababa. We are putting the investment in, but it must be appropriate investment in appropriate places. The appropriate investment in this case involves the appointment of the non-resident ambassador and the honorary consul, as I have explained, and I hope that we can reach an agreement on this matter pretty quickly so that we get on with the job that we want to do in that area.