HL Deb 12 December 1990 vol 524 cc502-4

3.2 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will now negotiate for the elimination of the United Kingdom's £47 million per annum contribution to the cost of producing tobacco under the CAP.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, the United Kingdom contributes to the EC budget as a whole, not towards individual elements of CAP expenditure such as the tobacco regime. The figure which my noble friend mentions is therefore notional. The Government have consistently sought to reform the CAP regime for tobacco and to reduce expenditure on it. We will continue to do so.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. However, is he aware that the figure of £47 million mentioned in the Question was given to me by another member of the Government? Further, can he say why British taxpayers should subsidise the production of tobacco, which is one of the main causes of lung cancer?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, so far as I understand it, the figure of £47 million is correct. On the second issue my noble friend raised, he made a good point. When we joined the EC in 1973 we accepted the CAP, of which the tobacco regime was a part. One of the principal aims of the CAP is to protect farm income, including the income of tobacco farmers. Our contribution is to the EC as a whole. However, that is abated to take account of the fact that most agricultural expenditure occurs elsewhere. Under that mechanism we get back two-thirds of our net EC expenditure.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that this is one of the fields which has attracted considerable criticism from the European Court of Auditors over the past three years on the grounds of fraud and irregularity occurring within this sphere of operations of the CAP? Will he therefore undertake to ask his right honourable friend the Prime Minister whether it would be possible, on all future occasions when the agricultural Ministers meet together for the purpose of determining what aid is to be given to tobacco, for a Treasury representative to sit alongside our Minister and to concur in what is agreed? That would be better than seeking to escape any responsibility for what is done by the Minister of Agriculture.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I can only reiterate to the noble Lord what I said on previous occasions. The Government treat fraud very seriously. However, I shall endeavour to pass on his comments to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many British taxpayers enormously resent their money being used to subsidise the production of a commodity which brings death and disease to a considerable number of people, especially in the third world, to which the tobacco is exported? Will he also make it perfectly clear to his European friends that we are not prepared to continue with what many of us regard as an immoral act?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, my noble friend makes an extremely good point. About 10 per cent. of Community tobacco production is exported to developing countries. World trade in unmanufactured tobacco is highly competitive with most exporting countries aiding export sales by means of subsidies. Nevertheless, we are concerned about the detrimental effect on health resulting from tobacco consumption. Therefore, we shall continue to press for reductions in all forms of support in order to remove the incentive to produce surplus tobacco, especially the higher tar varieties, and to reduce subsidised exports.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that millions of people all over the country would welcome a complete renegotiation of the common agricultural policy to eliminate the £2,200 million subsidy which we pay and also the £18 per week that every family in this country pays towards this ridiculous and absurd system?

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord has made that point on previous occasions. All I can say is that it is somewhat wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, in the light of what has been said on many occasions in this House, will the noble Earl invite his right honourable friend the Minister to consider pressing the Community to wind up the tobacco regime? Apart from other points which have been made today, it is a fact that most of the product is of such low quality that it is unusable and, as has been said, that which is usable constitutes a real danger to public health.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, tobacco is an agricultural crop and therefore eligible for CAP support. In criticising the regime we are one member state among 12 and alone in seeking a fundamental change. There is strong support for it, especially from producers. Although I have previously given the statistics to your Lordships I shall do so again in order to back up what I have just said. About 200,000 holdings are involved in tobacco cultivation, employing almost 800,000 people mostly in the poorer southern member states. In Greece, up to one-third of the agricultural labour force is involved in the cultivation of tobacco.

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