My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state the amount of Britain's net contribution to the EEC they expect to receive by 31st March 1981, and give particulars of the arrangements made to ensure that the agreements made by the nine member states as regards repayment are carried into effect.
My Lords, according to the Commission's estimates, the total refunds due to the United Kingdom in respect of the 1980 budget amount to some £710 million. The precise arrangements for payment of these refunds, and the timing, are currently under negotiation with other member states. But my noble friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary is pressing at today's Foreign Affairs Council for the earliest possible agreement on the regulations governing these refunds. The Government expect to receive the bulk of the sums due by 31st March.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the House will receive that assurance with some satisfaction? Is he also aware that it has been widely reported in the press that the French Prime Minister has stipulated that there must be a settlement of the forthcoming price review before France, for her part, can concur in the refund of the £710 million to which the noble Lord refers? Will the noble Lord give the House the specific assurance that the repayment to the United Kingdom of £710 million will not in any way be made conditional on our advance agreement to any increases that the French may desire in the price review that takes place some time afterwards?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the support in the first part of his supplementary question. He and I are of course entirely on the same side in desiring to see a satisfactory settlement of the budgetary problem. The difference between the Government which had the honour to receive his support and the present Administration is that while the previous Administration talked a great deal about these matters the present Government have arrived at a satisfactory solution. I think we can leave these matters safely in the hands of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary who is currently pursuing these negotiations at the meeting today.
My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that this £710 million is money to which Her Majesty's Government are entitled; that apparently until March somebody else is having the use of that money; that the use of money at the present moment is an extremely expensive item; and can he assure us that we will be paid for that use at the appropriate rate of interest?
My Lords, there was clear agreement at the meeting on 30th May as to the refunds to be made to the British Government in respect of their contributions to the EEC. We ourselves adhere to that agreement in the terms in which it was negotiated. We expect other people to do the same. The noble Lord is trying now to introduce a new factor into the negotiations which I should hardly think appropriate at this stage.
My Lords, may I ask once again that we receive the assurance of the noble Lord that the payment of the sums due to the United Kingdom, or its timing, will not be conditional on any negotiations over the annual price review? Since he has seen fit to introduce the party political atmosphere into this question, will the noble Lord note that, at a time when most of us representing the United Kingdom were creating quite a row in the European Parliament about this deficit to which he has referred, his Conservative colleagues in the European Parliament, in another place and here were pretending that the deficit did not exist at all?
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord should take offence at the fact that the present Administration have been so much more successful in conducting their affairs than the previous Administration. So far as his earlier point is concerned, there was a clear and specific agreement at the meeting of Foreign Ministers on 30th May about the refund due to the United Kingdom. At the same time there was also an agreement that member states should make their best endeavours to ensure that the prices for agricultural products were fixed in time for the 1981 marketing season. There is no formal connection between these two matters, and Her Majesty's Government do not accept that there should be any formal connection between them.