WOULD you buy a wine in a top restaurant for $1,070 a bottle? Apparently Britain's ambassador to France, Sir Christopher Mallaby, did just that when entertaining local worthies at a restaurant near the provincial city of Dijon earlier this year. It was 1987 Vosgne Romanee, one of the great Burgundies. Sounds delightful and no doubt was exceptional by even Sir Christopher's standards. But hold on - Labour MPs are growing increasingly suspicious of the spending in Britain's embassies, high commissions and even trade commissions. ''We don't need any of that thank you very much,'' say the MPs for whom any move away from a pint of bitter smacks of deviation. They are worried about spending everywhere from Moscow to Washington, Hong Kong to Paris. Personally I would have thought a bottle of $1,070 wine a night would be the minimum required to make a sojourn in the Russian capital bearable. But no, certain Labour MPs, led it seems by Steven Byers, a new man from Tyneside, would like to see such spending curtailed. He appears furious that the Paris embassy, with 17 domestic staff, has an annual budget of about $192 million and an entertainment bill of $4.1 million. Paris is arguably one of Britain's most influential embassies, given that most of its trade is with the European Union. If the ambassador arranges dinner parties for people of importance, ministers, the royals - and even those accursed MPs on their jollies - then it is to be expected of him. If he served up dried-out sandwiches there would be questions to be asked. Washington costs about $158.7 million a year and has 16 domestic staff, Tokyo costs about $170.2 million - not much compared to the figures major corporations pay in terms of keeping their contacts sweet and influencing the right people. But people like Mr Byers will have none of it; they are not happy either about spending in the Hong Kong and Bermudan government houses. Batting nicely, the Foreign Office told Mr Byers that was a matter for the governments of Hong Kong and Bermuda - absolutely nothing to do with the British taxpayer. The Treasury already wants to cut about $667 million from Foreign Office expenditure and for years there have been suggestions - some taken up - that embassies should be shared. Britain shares premises with the French in Tirana, Albania, and with the Germans in Minsk, Belarus. But think what China would make of it if we ran down the Beijing operation to but a few men and a fax? How would our standing rate in Moscow or Madrid if the British packed up their distinguished premises and took a couple of rooms in the suburbs? How indeed would Hong Kong feel, Chris Patten's presence notwithstanding, if the trade commission planned for post-1997 was to comprise a couple of offices on the 17th floor of a block in Wan Chai. The Foreign Office only spends around half of one per cent of total British Government spending. In 1993 that was about $14.72 billion out of the total Treasury budget of $2.8 trillion billion. And even within that, $1.03 billion went on the British Council, $1.9 billion) on the BBC World Service and $2.09 billion on UN peace-keeping operations. And of that Foreign Office budget less than one per cent actually goes on entertaining. Surely it is perfectly valid that the British ambassador to France should be able to spend what the society he lives in demands in terms of maintaining a presence of the required standard. This doesn't mean squander - Sir Christopher freely admits he orders his domestics to buy from the cheapest suppliers. If it means that the opinion formers, the decision makers and big players who attend embassy functions think the better of and act the better towards Britain and its remaining territories overseas then that must be for the good. If Britain wants to remain a major player, a member of the permanent five on the UN Security Council, then that influence must be paid for and is worth every penny. There is nothing so myopic as the small-minded, perhaps even jealous MP who would have us throw in the towel. Let's keep the Rolls-Royces, the good wine and good properties and not forget the importance a good impression makes.