HL Deb 01 April 2004 vol 659 cc1435-7

11.15 a.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will continue to subsidise the growing of tobacco within the European Union; and, if so, what that subsidy will cost the United Kingdom in 2004.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, proposals for further CAP reform, which include full decoupling of tobacco support, are before the Agriculture Council. If agreement is reached on the proposal as it stands, then direct subsidies for tobacco will be phased out completely by 2007.

Member states contribute to the EU budget as a whole and not to individual programmes. In 2004, the UK contribution is estimated to be around 13.3 per cent. To help the noble Lord, although the figures cannot be exact because of the global contribution, we estimate that the cost to the UK for the tobacco subsidy within the total budget is about £88 million.

Lord Renton

I thank the Minister for her full and helpful reply. Does it not reveal that there is a good deal of chaos in the European Union? This still considerable subsidy for growing tobacco is a contradiction when the European Union hopes to spend a much smaller sum to stop tobacco smoking. Does the Minister realise that this financial year's commitment of £642 million has to be compared with the much smaller total amount of food subsidies? The subsidy on wheat is only one-twentieth of the tobacco subsidy.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I share the obvious concern of the noble Lord, Lord Renton. We fully support the Commission's proposal for complete decoupling in the tobacco sector and welcome his support in that matter. The Government also support his comments about the deleterious effects of smoking tobacco.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this has become a scandal over the years? What conceivable moral difference is there between governments subsidising the growing of tobacco and governments all over Asia subsidising poppy growing to produce heroin?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, has come up with a question I did not contemplate in considering the questions that might be asked. At the moment, smoking tobacco is legal but the Government share his concern that we should not be subsidising tobacco growing. We must reach agreement on achieving what appears to be the united aim of noble Lords.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that, in the agricultural negotiations this year, the United Kingdom was outvoted? We took a positive view in relation to the abolition of agricultural subsidies, yet we failed to carry a majority. Therefore, will she not say in quite unequivocal terms that there is a most obtuse sense of priorities given that we have £642 million spent on tobacco subsidies when the European Union, at the Madrid Donors Conference, managed to donate only £200 million for the reconstruction of Iraq?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I cannot but agree with my noble friend. However, I would point out that, in terms of progress, the Commission has now put forward the proposal. It is anticipated under the Irish presidency that there will be a meeting at the end of April, and that the issue will be pursued with all vigour then.

Lord Addington

My Lords, have the Government considered that tobacco is actually a very unsuitable crop for the ground on which it is grown? It requires huge amounts of chemical intervention to produce it. Will the Government indicate how much thought they have given to choosing crops suitable to the ground in which they are grown, quite apart from the obvious health problems associated with the crop?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, it is very difficult for the Government to have a specific policy, because those countries within the EU, and the accession countries to the EU, have very different circumstances in terms of climate, soil and the alternatives. However, as part of our commitment and very successful achievements in terms of decoupling, we want to see the maximum amount of help and advice given to farmers who, were the decoupling agreed, would need an opportunity to look at alternative crops.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, although the reform of the CAP decouples the payment from production, as the Minister rightly says, it does not decouple the payment from the land. Is there any sign that the EU will work to subsume the tobacco payments into the general land payments, which would have the desirable effect of stopping tobacco production?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the noble Lord is exactly right; that would be the result of the policy that I have tried to outline.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the government tax on tobacco is sufficient to pay for what we contribute to the EU as a subsidy for tobacco growing and for what we use in advertising against smoking tobacco?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I do not have an answer for the noble Baroness in terms of the amount of money raised in tobacco taxation within the EU. I will write to her.

Lord Renton

My Lords—

Baroness Byford

My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, we should move on to the next Question.

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