HL Deb 22 May 1997 vol 580 cc495-7

11.15 a.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have had any discussions with the Government of France about the external condition of the French Embassy in Knightsbridge, SW1.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, officials have been in contact with the French Embassy since October 1996 and have relayed the concern of Westminster City Council and the Knightsbridge Association. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, will be pleased to learn that the French Ambassador recently informed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that restoration work, estimated to cost £530,000, will commence in June and take several months to complete.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am delighted with that Answer and I thank the noble Baroness very much for it. I hope that all her replies from the Dispatch Box will be as encouraging as that. Will the Minister agree that in its present condition, with the paint peeling off the walls and filthy dirty, it is a disgrace both to France, which is of course their business, and to London, which is ours?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am pleased with the noble Lord's delight. I cannot promise always to delight him quite that much. The condition of the French Embassy has obviously caused widespread concern, as he remarked, and we are all very pleased to learn that the French Embassy will be taking steps to ameliorate it as quickly as possible.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, will the Minister accept that her announcement will be warmly welcomed by many people, including the Royal Fine Art Commission which has been concerned with this problem for even longer than the Government? As the site is a premier part of London, can the noble Baroness obtain assurances from the French Ambassador, who is a good friend to this country and understands the situation well, that this work is carried out regularly in future so that the listed building will be as fine in appearance as its twin, the Kuwaiti Embassy, which is just opposite?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the French Government, like our own, have had to face some pretty tough public expenditure cuts and the project has had to take its place in their list of priorities. However, diplomatic missions are expected to comply with the terms of their leases, with local planning regulations and the like, and with what we would expect.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this unhappy state of affairs stands in marked contrast to the state of the British Embassy in Paris, which is one of the greatest ornaments of that fair city?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that the external conditions of the buildings speak for themselves and I am happy that the noble Lord is so pleased about our embassy in Paris.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, will the Minister agree that even though the French Embassy is starting repairs in June, it has already faced very heavy costs with the total refurbishment of the residence and the French Institute, which have only recently been carried out?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, indeed, I would agree and also reiterate what I said a few moments ago. While we have been pressing the French Embassy on this point, it has had difficulties over its public expenditure. That is not a difficulty unrecognised by the Government and we are pleased to learn that it is commencing the work and we hope that it will be finished quickly.