Draft Horticultural Development Council (Amendment) Order 2002

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Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): I shall not repeat all that has been said, and I am quite content with the technical alterations proposed. However, I do not want to let the moment pass without telling the Minister something that he already knows—horticulture is an extremely important activity for rural England, and indeed for Wales and for Scotland.

Horticulture has developed since 1986, when the levy came into force. Before that, the cost of research was provided by the Government and a significant number of research stations were closed. I remember that well, because I was engaged in the rural economy through banking, and there was a huge change. In the intervening period, horticulture has been able to sustain itself with regard to research and development in a way that it would not have done had the levy not been introduced.

The horticultural industry is a significant provider of employment, albeit not always full-time or all the year round. The availability of part-time seasonal work in horticulture makes a significant contribution to the household income of many families in rural areas. Regarding our increasing preference to ''buy local'', horticulture generates a very high proportion of the produce that goes into local shops and supermarkets.

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I hope that the Department will recognise the necessity of supporting not only horticulture in all its forms, including herbs and vegetables, but flowers, which are at the Cinderella end of agriculture despite being important in many parts of the country.

I also hope that in the coming months, when the Department is planning for farming in the future, its plans for horticulture are clear and progressive, and that they recognise the industry's place in agriculture as a whole. Having said that, I am content for the measures to go through.

10.44 am

Mr. Morley: I shall deal with those two problems. I welcome the Opposition's support for the proposals, and I can confirm that all herbs are covered by the levy under the heading ''Vegetables grown in the open'' under schedule 1 of the principal order, so there is no change for herb growers. I can also confirm that there will be no detrimental effects on cash flow. Indeed, as the levy will be staggered over six months there may even be a short-term benefit. The proposals contain no negatives.

I understand what the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) said about the move into near-market research in the 1980s—it was controversial at the time and it represented a fundamental shift. He

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rightly said that the situation is now established and there are logical arguments for near-market research, but it clearly had major consequences. DEFRA still has a significant research and development budget, and some of that work benefits the horticultural sector.

I was surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to the sector as a Cinderella industry. The horticulture industry is lightly supported; it does not seek state help. Nevertheless, it is innovative, and I have seen some impressive, large-scale horticultural operations in which large sums have been invested. I understand that pressures result from competition and imports, but some operations are successful even in difficult trading circumstances.

Research and development is important—indeed, essential—for any industry or business, and we support the good research and development work done by the HDC. This simple order clarifies the situation by making things easier in terms of the clear definitions that I have suggested in amendments and in relation to the accounting year.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Horticultural Development Council (Amendment) Order 2002.

Committee rose at thirteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Adams, Mrs. Irene (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Breed, Mr.
Caton, Mr.
Flynn, Paul
Gibson, Dr.
McNamara, Mr.
Morley, Mr.
Reed, Mr.
Sayeed, Mr.
Swayne, Mr.

 
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