HC Deb 24 March 1987 vol 113 cc152-3
8. Mr. Meadowcroft

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he last met the French Defence Minister; and what was discussed.

Mr. Stanley

My right hon. Friend visited France on 9 and 10 March. He discussed a range of issues of mutual defence interest with M. Giraud. I have placed in the Library a copy of my right hon. Friend's opening statement at the press conference he held with M. Giraud.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Government's wavering attitude towards the INF talks the result of the French Government's influence, or are we seeking to influence the French Government in favour of a zero-zero option? Surely that would be a good price to pay to remove all intermediate nuclear weapons from Europe? How far does co-operation with the French have a serious influence upon our attitude towards those talks?

Mr. Stanley

The policy of the British Government has been entirely consistent—as has been the policy of the other NATO countries—towards the INF agreement. We are seeking to foster co-operation with the French in a variety of ways.

With regard to wavering, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not addressed himself to the problem that he faces. Previously he has been campaigning enthusiastically against nuclear weapons, partly as a member of the national executive of CND, but now, presumably, he will be doing much more than wavering by campaigning enthusiastically for the Liberal-SDP Eurobomb.

Mr. Conway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Government were to accept the Liberal party's advice to purchase the French M4 and M5 missiles the cancellation costs of Trident would be in excess of £3 billion? Given the present vogue for massage, would that be a gross massage of public expenditure?

Mr. Stanley

I agree with my hon. Friend that that is one of the many unrealistic and impractical options that the Liberal-SDP alliance has put forward as an alternative to Trident. It is our assessment that if we were to take that route the time scale would not meet our needs and the costs would be substantially greater.

Mr. Soames

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a source of particular pleasure that so much excellent progress has been made with the French Government in the recent talks? Does he agree also that this progress is suitable as a further platform for strengthening European security?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend is right. We are encouraged by the progress that we have made with our French allies. We hope to deepen the dialogue that we have had with them.

Mr. Marlow

Is it not the case that the French would be happy and content to have a European nuclear deterrent provided that there was only one finger on the trigger, and that finger happened to be French? If that is what the Liberal-SDP alliance wants, why does it not tell us that loud and clear?

Mr. Stanley

I agree with my hon. Friend that the command and control arrangements that are implicit in what the Liberal-SDP alliance puts forward are completely incompatible with our own requirements. The French prize highly the independence of their own deterrent, as we do ours.