HC Deb 26 November 1979 vol 974 cc862-4
8. Sir Anthony Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will hold discussions with the French Minister of Energy in order to examine the possibility of closer Franco-British co-operation on energy policy, particularly in the nuclear field.

Mr. David Howell

I met M. Giraud, the French Minister of Industry whose responsibilities include energy, on 19 November, and we discussed the possibility of Franco-British co-operation in the energy field including nuclear power.

Sir A. Meyer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that with our vast reserves of energy we have much to contribute on this subject and are therefore in a position of strength in our negotiations with the French in particular and the European Community in general? Does he agree that we should be prepared to use that position in order to further positive co-operation?

Mr. Howell

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. We are in a position of strength. We should be careful, however, not to entangle the position in which we have a clear case that stands on its merits with the particular aspects of energy that my hon. Friend mentioned and which should be pursued on the basis of their merits where collaboration pays off.

Mr. Palmer

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that about three years ago it was intended to proceed with the commercial fast breeder reactor, subject to public inquiry? Is that policy now altered, and is it the intention to proceed with commercial fast breeder development in collaboration with the French?

Mr. Howell

I certainly believe that the fast breeder reactor has a place in the nuclear future. The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and other parties have explored the possibilities of collaboration with the French on future developments in this area. I expect to receive a report from the Authority before Christmas. I shall then be considering that issue.

Mr. Grieve

Does my right hon. Friend agree that on energy we have not only much to give but, where France is concerned, probably much to receive, particularly on nuclear matters? Will he bear that in mind in his future discussions with his French opposite number?

Mr. Howell

Yes, I will bear that in mind both in respect of thermal reactor co-operation, should we go along that particular path, and, as I have already said, on the fast breeder reactor as well.

Dr. Owen

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he has an option of collaboration not just with France but with West Germany, on the fast breeder reactor, and with the United States? Will he give an assurance that there would be no question of entering into a partnership with France in which Britain was clearly seen to be a junior partner?

Mr. Howell

There is no need to see this issue in exclusively bilateral terms. One can imagine arrangements for tripartite co-operation. The French still have their links on the pressure water system with Westinghouse, of which I believe they will not be free until 1982. If we decide to go along that path there will be certain time constraints to be considered. However, co-operation need not be exclusively on a bilateral basis.

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