Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Hazel Blears MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health

  Your Explanatory Memorandum of 4 July 2002 and the Commission's proposed Recommendation have been considered by Sub-Committee D. We have already informed DEFRA of the Sub-Committee's intention to revisit next autumn the policy of EU support for tobacco growing under the Common Agricultural Policy (which was the subject of a report by the European Communities Committee in 1997). That report drew attention to the absurdity of the EU on the one hand promoting measures to discourage smoking (such as the proposals in this document, which seem generally sensible) whilst on the other hand subsidising EU tobacco growers.

  We are therefore retaining these proposals under scrutiny, for further consideration when the Sub-Committee looks again at the EU tobacco regime. From the EM it would appear that the dossier is not likely to make rapid progress through the Council, but should that prove to be otherwise, please alert us in good time to any critical Council meeting so that scrutiny can if necessary be brought forward.

17 July 2002

Letter from the Chairman to Hazel Blears MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health

  Thank your for your Explanatory Memorandum dated 4 July 2002 which Sub-Committee D considered at its meeting on 16 October.

  We agree with the aims of this Recommendation and we therefore lift the scrutiny reserve on this document.

  However, I have to re-iterate the point I made in my letter dated 17 July: it is a nonsense to seek to take measures to reduce smoking while at the same time we subsidise EU tobacco growers who produce a particularly noxious tobacco. I should be grateful to learn where the Government's priorities lie.

23 October 2002

Letter from Hazel Blears MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 23 October in which you notified me of scrutiny clearance of the Council Recommendation on Tobacco Control. I am pleased the Scrutiny Committee is supportive of the aims of this document.

  I have noted and agree with your concerns that the EU's tobacco policy would appear inconsistent as Member States are working to reduce tobacco consumption while providing financial support to tobacco growers. The UK Government's view on the matter is that it does not support tobacco agricultural assistance and we would welcome an end to such subsidies. During negotiations on tobacco control, both in a European context and in the context of wider World Health Organisation initiatives, officials have been instructed to support measures to end such subsidies. However, although most Northern EU Member States agree with this view, there is not cross-EU support for an end to tobacco subsidies and tobacco producing countries are keen to defend the status quo.

  We have already made clear our strong support for the Commission's declared view in its Communication on Sustainable Development that tobacco support should be phased out, and were in agreement with the Commission on reducing aid and changing the emphasis of the Tobacco Fund. We are therefore fully behind Commissioner Franz Fischler's statement at the March 2002 Agriculture Council to the effect that it is important to give tobacco growers early warning of the medium term phasing out of the regime. Health Commissioner Byrne summed up our position well when he intervened to say that it was unacceptable and at odds with the Treaty provisions on health to subsidise a regime so damaging to the health of EU citizens.

  The Commission's report on the common organisation of the market for tobacco (expected soon) will feed into the on-going evaluation of the regime. The evaluation report is expected at the end of the year and will form the basis of Commission proposals on the future of the regime. This will present the UK with the opportunity to press for tobacco subsidies to be phased out although we do, of course, recognise the need to find alternative crops/economic activities for tobacco growers.

  As you are no doubt aware, the UK position on agricultural subsidies more generally is that we need to see a shift away from direct production support towards wider agri-environment and rural development measures. We have therefore supported the broad direction of the Commission's proposals for reform of the CAP set out in their communication of 10 July. In particular, we welcome the proposed shift in support as well as that to "decouple" support from production. This is a brave but necessary move which would at a stroke remove one of the perverse incentives to over-production present in the current system. The domestic and international pressures on the CAP are growing and it is important that we take this opportunity to reform the CAP, on our terms, towards a more sustainable model.

  In the meantime, we are keen to maintain good working relations with Member States and the Commission to agree effective tobacco control policies, such as on tobacco advertising for example, to meet our objectives to reduce tobacco consumption.

25 November 2002

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