HC Deb 08 March 1989 vol 148 cc885-7
10. Mr. Gow

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on current Anglo-French relations.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had useful talks with President Mitterrand at the Anglo-French summit meeting in Paris on 27 February. The two Governments consult closely on a wide range of issues. There are numerous ministerial and other contacts between the two countries.

Mr. Gow

Was it not General de Gaulle who described the proper structure of the European Community as "Europe des patries"? Would not the general have approved warmly of the Prime Minister's speech at Bruges? Is my right hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the Bruges speech matched by that of the present President of France?

Mrs. Chalker

I note the comparison that my hon. Friend makes, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it quite clear at Bruges that Britain's destiny is in Europe. I am not quite sure whether General de Gaulle always saw things in quite the same way. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that we must concentrate on practical matters, working for greater unity but avoiding restrictive uniformity. Perhaps President. Mitterrand might agree with that rather more than President de Gaulle did.

Mr. Ron Brown

Did the Minister raise the question of France's soaring rates bill, running into thousands of pounds for property owned in London? Did she mention that debt, bearing in mind that in Scotland individuals who refuse to pay the poll tax receive threats to seize their property and arrest their wages? Does she intend to have a warrant sale at the French embassy?

Mrs. Chalker

I am quite sure that if the French Government owe the British Government any money it will be paid. We shall ensure that it is.

Mr. Curry

While I welcome the recent agreement for the exchange of officials between Britain and France, does my right hon. Friend recognise that the degree of co-operation between Britain and France and Britain and Germany is a shadow of the co-operation between France and Germany? Will she take all possible steps to improve the quality and extent of that co-operation?

Mrs. Chalker

Indeed, Sir. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that an exchange of diplomats at first secretary level is starting in the autumn. I hope that that will be increased and that we shall have not only diplomatic exchanges between the two countries but business exchanges, scholarly exchanges, which already exist, and exchanges between schoolchildren.

Mr. Kaufman

The right hon. Lady described the Prime Minister's talks with President Mitterrand as useful. Was it not indeed useful that President Mitterrand sent the Prime Minister away with a flea in her ear when she tried to enlist him in her dangerous cause to modernise short-range nuclear weapons to circumvent the INF treaty? Is it not equally satisfactory that Chancellor Kohl has given the Prime Minister the same unceremonious brush-off? Why is Britain's the only Government in NATO or the Warsaw pact who are actively planning to increase the world's stock of nuclear weapons?

Mrs. Chalker

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman has been concentrating so much on the middle east recently that he has missed something. France is currently modernising her own short-range nuclear missiles. Like us, she understands that obsolete weapons do not deter, and President Mitterrand said at the summit that NATO should modernise if the Soviets are doing so. The Soviet Union has conducted a massive modernisation of nuclear forces during the past decade and I have absolutely no doubt that France is pursuing her policy of deterrence in a sensible way, just as we are.