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Markov Inquiry: Russian Co-operation

Lord Bethell asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, the Russian Government remain aware of our concerns on this question. We are still pressing the Russians for a reply to the Metropolitan Police's most recent request for information. The Metropolitan Police have no plans to visit Russia while this request remains outstanding.

Lord Bethell: My Lords, does my noble friend remember saying in reply to a similar Question on 26th January 1994 that the Russian Government had promised to co-operate over the investigation and had indicated that they would allow Metropolitan Police officers to interview witnesses in Moscow under their supervision? Can my noble friend say where this leaves us now? Does she feel that the Russian Government have gone back on the indications that they gave a year

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ago or is it her impression that the Russians simply want to sweep the matter under the carpet? What is she now considering doing about it?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, only the Russians can answer my noble friend's question. We have asked them for an explanation of why it is taking so long. In August 1994 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow circulated our questions and representations to all government departments. We made further representations to the Russians again last month, just as we did throughout the whole of last year. I cannot tell my noble friend for certain at the moment whether the Russians are seeking to avoid responding, but unless a positive response to the requests that we have been making is soon forthcoming, we may have to raise the level at which we make representations.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, can the Minister tell us on what date the Metropolitan Police asked for that information from the Russians?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, as far as I can recall, it was in January or February of last year. When I answered my noble friend's Question at the beginning of the year we were confident that the Russians were going to respond. We cannot now be so confident despite the fact that further representations have been made and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has circulated the request of the Metropolitan Police to other government departments.

Lord Bethell: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in the meantime the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist squad has compiled a list of 15 names of previous, and some present, KGB agents in Russia they would like to interview on this question?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am aware that the Metropolitan Police have compiled a list of such people. We have asked the Russians to establish the whereabouts of those persons and whether or not they will willingly talk to the police.

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European Community: Tobacco Subsidy

2.40 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the total cost in the current year to the European Community of the subsidy to the production of tobacco in the Community, and what is the projected expenditure on advice to the populations of the countries to avoid smoking.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the provisional outturn for Community expenditure on tobacco for 1994 is 1,057 million ecu, which is about £816 million. The European Commission has proposed for Council consideration Community expenditure of 64 million ecu, which is about £50 million, in 1995 through its Europe Against Cancer programme on health promotion measures designed to help to prevent cancer generally. A significant part of that money will be spent on anti-smoking advice.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but can he tell the House whether there is any other activity where an official body subsidises the production of something at the same time as subsidising propaganda against its use?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I imagine that the same general principle applies in the case of drink manufactured from grain, which is supported by the common agricultural policy, while public money is spent on initiatives to combat excessive drinking.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Greece has the highest consumption of tobacco in Europe but that males in that country have the second lowest rate of all cancers while women there have the lowest rate of all cancers and that both sexes have the lowest rate of respiratory disease in almost the whole world? Does not that indicate that if you have a proper diet, there is no harm whatsoever in smoking?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, not being medically qualified, I do not feel myself confident to enter into the medical aspects of the debate but, as the noble Lord says, that information tells us something about Greece and the Greeks.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the figure that he has given for the European Community budgetary provision for tobacco for 1995 represents a contribution by the United Kingdom of more than £100 billion? Is he further aware that expenditure under this heading is riddled from top to bottom with fraud, waste, financial irregularity and mismanagement?

Will the Minister confirm that as recently as a couple of years ago the Commission, on the ground of its territorial exclusivity, refused access to the Belgian police to investigate the misdemeanours and fraud that had taken place within the Community?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the figure that the noble Lord gave relating to the cost to this country of the tobacco element of the CAP is misleading because one

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cannot hypothecate expenditure in the EC budget in the manner described. However, if there were no tobacco regime, on the basis of the way in which the European Community budget is composed, one could say how much less the United Kingdom's contribution would be. By virtue of the nature of the rebate mechanism, it would be of the order of £50 million.

The noble Lord is right in saying that the tobacco regime has been one of the principal instruments of fraud as regards EC money. That is why, as regards Community expenditure, the Government have been in the forefront of ensuring that the procedures in place to ensure financial probity and rectitude are ratcheted up to a higher degree. We have thus far been successful but we do not consider that we have gone far enough.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, one recognises that apart from the issue of fraud, which is most important, the Mediterranean countries have a long tradition of growing tobacco. Therefore, is it not time that we began to exert our influence, which is not inconsiderable, to try to persuade the governments of such countries to find alternative crops to support their agriculture?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my noble and learned friend is right. Part of the Government's approach to the problem is their belief not merely that it is an undesirable phenomenon that we should be supporting tobacco but that the right way to deal with the problem in the medium-term is to endeavour to find other activities for the tobacco-growing farmers to enable them to survive economically. We believe that that is the best way to bring forward a reduction in the growing of tobacco within the Community.

Lord Carter: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the European Commission has recently licensed a new tobacco produced by genetic engineering? In the light of all that could be done as regards crops for food, fuel and fibre, is it not a curious sense of priority to licence scarce research resources to produce a transgenic tobacco plant?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question. I am not aware of the details of what he has described. However, under the post-1992 tobacco regime, 1 per cent. of the premiums is devoted to conversion programmes and to research and development. It may well be that the money to which he referred has come out of that pocket. In that case, it would appear to be consistent with the policies that have been adopted.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, further to the suggestion made by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, now that set-aside is the future of the CAP can my noble friend say whether land used for growing tobacco qualifies as set-aside land and, if not, whether it should?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as regards the tobacco policy, I understand that set-aside is not applicable. The set-aside policies relate to commodities which are in surplus, which is not the case as regards tobacco. The crucial point is to appreciate that the policy has been put

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in place in order to try to sustain the viability of agriculture for a number of member states in the Mediterranean. If such land is put into set-aside, inevitably the standard of living will rapidly decline or, alternatively, the premiums must be increased to a high level as a result of the value added to the tobacco crop.

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