Is the Minister aware that the latest report of the "Little Neddy" makes the point that confidence remains crucial for the future of horticulture? When costs are soaring but the prices which growers are receiving for their produce are static, how can confidence be what it should be?
It is true that certain costs have gone up, but it is just as true that some major costs—oil, fuel and fertilisers—have come down. I hope that we all want an absolutely efficient industry, and I remind the hon. Gentleman of the special assistance which the industry receives from the horticultural improvement scheme.
What my hon. Friend has said is correct. Anyone who cares to look at the matter impartially will see that the present Government have given considerable help to horticulture with grants running at 38⅓ per cent., as a consequence of which tremendous building is taking place, especially of glass houses, which are of such importance to the industry.
Cost changes for agriculture and horticulture together were estimated for the Annual Review. The approximate percentage changes for the main expenses of horticulture were:—
|Item of Expense||Approximate per cent. change over last 12 months|
|Wages and Insurance||+6½|
|Packaging materials||+6 to 12|
About £10 million of the total cost change on all products as estimated for the recent Annual Review may be attributed to horticulture. Prices of horticultural crops are not guaranteed but growers will benefit from the increases in the subsidies on fertilisers and lime and in the grants for field drainage and water supply.
Does this not make absolute nonsense of the Government's express desire to save imports of things that could be grown at home? Is the right hon. Gentleman not making this quite impossible by inflicting these additional costs? Has he taken any account yet of the way in which the Transport Act will bite into horticulture?
I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman. He exaggerates when he talks in such a way. I do not dispute that there have been increasing costs, just as in two cases I gave earlier there have been decreases in costs. I would remind him again that the rate of grant under the horticultural improvement scheme is 38½ per cent. He ought to agree that this is fairly substantial progress and assistance given to the industry which has never been given before.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has given, in answer to horticultural questions, some optimistic and complacent answers and that he has then gone on to say he cannot confirm figures? Is he aware that this industry feels that it is being thrown to the wolves? Does he appreciate that in the Vale of Evesham and other horticultural areas income is less than it has been for a number of years?
I do not agree with a single word uttered by the hon. Gentleman. As a result of these substantial grants, the industry is fairly sound. I did not say, and I do not want the hon. Gentleman to impute that I said, that I was complacent. I am never complacent. This is a first-class industry and with the assistance that we give it, it can build itself up. The worst thing that could happen is that an attempt should be made to knock it down.
Would my right hon. Friend say whether grants are given to those growers who refuse to submit accounts? Can he say what proportion of the growers refuse to submit accounts, and why they do so?
We do not have power to compel the growers to send in accounts. We meet the industry regularly and make assessments as far as possible, but we have no power to cancel grants because the growers will not supply information.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the impression in this House is one of complacency, whether he likes it or not? Is he aware that this industry feels that it is being neglected? It cannot have the benefits of the Price Review like others. Does he realise that for him to take all the credit for the horticultural improvement scheme is somewhat unfair since we introduced it? The present Government may have extended it, but does he agree that that can help only with capital grant and not with income?
The right hon. Gentleman is making a mistake. There has been a very big increase in grants in the industry. There is an increasing acreage. These two things mean that progress is being made. The right hon. Gentleman must not say that I am complacent about this. I spend a considerable time dealing with this section of the industry, and I am willing to stand by the results.