HC Deb 06 July 1995 vol 263 cc501-2
4. Mr. Etherington

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what will be the cost of the common agricultural policy tobacco regime in 1995. [31164]

Mr. Boswell

The latest estimate is around £900 million.

Mr. Etherington

I congratulate the Minister and his Front-Bench colleagues on their appointments and wish them well. The Minister confirms that some £2.6 million per day is squandered on supporting an industry which leads to the death of people. Will he assure the House that the Government will make every endeavour possible within the EU to ensure the complete elimination of subsidies to this nefarious industry which is well known to be full of fraud? Will he also assure the House that more efforts will be made to have such funding put into something which conserves and improves life rather than destroys it?

Mr. Boswell

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I share his view that the present cost of the tobacco regime is excessive. We wish to reduce that cost, and we shall take every opportunity that we can to do so. We have had some success in cutting the subsidised tonnage by an eighth and we shall continue to press that.

On the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the health implications, in a former capacity earlier this week I had the privilege to be on the platform with my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), then Secretary of State for Health, in connection with "The Health of the Nation". I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is a message that we should get across, particularly to our young people.

Mrs. Lait

Are any studies being conducted into alternative crops to which tobacco farmers could move, so that we can bring an end to this unpleasant subsidy?

Mr. Boswell

My hon. Friend makes a characteristically helpful and constructive comment. It is clearly the case that fanners in all parts of the Community, especially in difficult areas, who are used to growing tobacco, will need alternatives. We need to look at the matter constructively. The danger is that those will simply add to the cost of other commodity regimes within the common agricultural policy.