Horticulture Improvement Scheme

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th July 1966.

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Photo of Mr Stephen Hastings Mr Stephen Hastings , Mid Bedfordshire 12:00 am, 11th July 1966

Having listened to most of the previous debate and all of this one, I would say that it is a good thing that there are not many lawyers in horticulture. I have one general and one particular point to make.

When we were discussing the 1964 scheme, Mr. Scott-Hopkins, then the Member for Cornwall, North, drew attention to the strength of the N.A.A.S. In this scheme we are concerned with a wide range of new equipment, much of it highly technical. At that time Mr. Scott-Hopkins hoped that there would be an increase, which is very necessary, of 15 to 16 per cent. overall and about 10 per cent. in experts in glasshouse equipment, which is a subject with which we are concerned this evening. If the scheme is to work it is vital that the strength of N.A.A.S. and the knowledge and expertise required should be provided. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would tell us how this campaign for recruiting has progressed and how it is matched in with the Scheme.

That is the particular point. I come to the general point. I second what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells). I welcome the scheme as the logical extension of the 1960 and 1964 schemes—and it is an important extension. It means a definite intention to continue to expand support for horticulture and if it works it will result in increased production, which is the first important general point.

Valuable and useful as it can be, it seems to me that its value, if we accept that there will be increased production, can be largely affected by other legislation somewhere in the pipeline or by what I term the other half of a strong horticultural policy. I do not want to go into other legislation at depth, because I should be out of order to do so, but it is in order to mention three particular Measures which, granted the effectiveness of this Order, should be seen alongside it.

The first is the withdrawal of investment allowances. I know about the 5 per cent. supplement, but this will be valid only to those paying a low rate of tax, and therefore less likely to apply for grants. The second is the Capital Gains Tax. Anyone proposing to invest must surely have regard to the rate of inflation and to the knowledge that he will be faced with a 30 per cent. tax on his investment or his holding or on his wealth when he sells or passes it on. The third is the Selective Employment Tax, with particular reference to marketing organisations. I hope that very soon we shall have the chance to say a great deal more about this. It must run counter to the purpose of this Scheme.

Finally, I turn to the strong horticultural policy. The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) mentioned this—and, like my hon. Friend, I welcome him to the band of supporters of horticulture in the House. I refer to a realistic view about imports, for if we are to encourage increased production that is looking at only half the problem, if there is not at the same time a clear and intelligible view about imports. This does not exist in the Government's policy. Are we to continue to rely on tariffs and, if so, how can they be improved both in timing and extent, or are we to turn to the minimum price system, which is quite possible under the terms of the last Conservative Acts dealing with agriculture and horticulture? I have always felt that, with Europe ahead of us in some form or another, we are working this way whether we like it or not, and in a chronic balance-of-payments crisis which which we permanently live, it is crazy not to make provision for this in agriculture. Nowhere is it more applicable and relevant than in horticulture. It therefore seems to me that the question of tariffs versus minimum prices ought to pay a much more important role in the Government's thinking than it appears to have played in the two years for which they have been responsible. I hope to hear more about that in the context of the scheme.