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French Minister Of Defence

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 10 November 1987

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8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next plans to meet the French Minister of Defence.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the inter-service co-operation that has flowed from the talks is warmly to be welcomed? What are the ultimate objectives of his talks with the French?

Certainly, co-operation on the level of exercising and liaison between British and French forces is developing well and is increasing every year. The ultimate objective is to have closer defence relations with our friends across the Channel, in the hope that we can have mutual equipment collaboration with them and, of course, have close liaison with their forces.

Now that President Reagan has called for a more equal relationship between the United States and Europe within NATO, is it clear that the United States would welcome greater Anglo-French co-operation on nuclear matters and, in particular, would not impair our entering into a joint collaborative project to extend the range of the ASMP—air sol moyenne portée—to 400 km or beyond?

Certainly our friends in the United States would greatly welcome closer relations between ourselves and the French and between ourselves and other NATO allies. We should be glad to discuss a French air-launch missile in case there is any way in which we and France can collaborate in this important matter.

When my right hon. Friend meets the French Minister, will he point out to him that there is still a chance for France to join in our plans for the European fighter aircraft? Will he bear in mind also the fact that, years ago, the French not only refused to join in plans for this modern aircraft, which is the most advanced in the world, but did their best to torpedo the scheme?

The French fighter aircraft Rafale is a matter for the French Government to deal with as they consider best from their point of view. As we have made clear, the European fighter aircraft is being considered by ourselves and our partners—not including the French—and I am glad to say that discussions of the next stage are proceeding well.

While on the subject of collaborative projects, will the Minister confirm that his discussions with the French have included the NFR-90? Will he confirm that the project, which seems to be the best hope for the warship building industry in this country, will go ahead and that yesterday's report in the Daily Mail, maintaining that Britain is about to back out of the project, is wrong?

I have seen the reports and I confirm that at my next meeting with the French Minister—as at my last meeting with him—I expect the NFR-90 to be one of the matters for discussion. The Government's concern about the programme has been related to the method by which to address the next stage, and we are still negotiating with our allies about that. There is no truth in any suggestion that we have pulled out of the project.

In his discussions with Mr. Giraud, will my right hon. Friend resist the blandishments of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) in suggesting that there should be co-operation over nuclear deterrence? Does he agree that if that happened it would mean that the Trident submarine deterrent was deployed at a much later date, with the result that the United Kingdom would be undefended once Polaris became obsolete?

I should make it clear that although I have discussed a whole range of defence subjects with my French colleague, there is no proposal for any joining together of the French and British deterrents, which operate separately. At the moment I cannot envisage circumstances in which it would make sense for only one deterrent to be operated or for the other to be expected to operate on our behalf. Further co-operation is a very good idea, but it falls short of amalgamating the two systems.