Orders of the Day — Horticulture (Special Payments) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1973.

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Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough 12:00 am, 16th November 1973

I, too, welcome this Bill, which is first class. One or two amendments may be necessary. I am sorry my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler) has left the Chamber. He quoted the famous distinguished Cambridge economist who spoke in his constituency recently about growers being tempted to chop down their timber for firewood. My hon. Friend should remember that there is a growing fuel crisis. Despite such feelings he should bear in mind that there may have to be a re-assessment of the value of fruit trees.

The Minister of State referred to conditions laid down in Clause 1 relating to improvement schemes. Will a grower qualify for a grant if the grubbing-up of unsuitable types of fruit trees leads to replacement by a more suitable type? I understand that the intention is to get rid of some of the species of apples and pears which are not very competitive with foreign varieties that are coming in, and I welcome this. But I should like to ask whether there will be a grant available for, say, an orchard owner who has an acreage down to one variety of out-dated apples or pears, which he wants to grub up and replace with a new and more sophisticated variety of fruit.

Of course, the Bill has yet to be considered in Committee, but it appears to me that the intention of the Government is that a grower must release his land entirely from all tree fruit growing before he qualifies for the grant. If that is the case, and if the Bill is not amended in Committee, how will this scheme be operated? Is it envisaged that the land in question will have a permanent embargo placed upon it to forbid the planting thereon of all forms of tree fruit? If that is the case, and if, for climatic or economic reasons, it is found over a fairly short period that one variety of tree fruit or another would be viable, will the embargo on the land be rescinded and will the orchard owner be allowed to plant a new and more profitable variety?

I am most grateful to the Minister for saying that he will listen to representations in relation to the old Horticulture Improvement Scheme which terminates at the end of this year. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) made one or two points in this connection. As my right hon. Friend knows, he and I have been in correspondence for some time about this scheme, the money for which ran out in July. I should like to ask how the provisions in this Bill will tie in with the recently announced Farm and Horticulture Development Scheme and with the scheme to cover horticulture capital grant. The old scheme did a very good job, but it was unfortunate, and it has caused a good deal of concern in the industry, that the money to operate it ran out in July this year.

I have received very satisfactory reassurances from my right hon. Friend, as a result of correspondence which he and I have entered into, about a large mushroom growing firm in my constituency—Country Kitchen Foods Limited—and the difficulty in which it thought it was placed by the expiration of funds under the old Horticulture Improvement Scheme. Can my right hon. Friend say whether this Bill is quite separate from the two new schemes which have been announced to replace the older scheme? Can he also say whether the two new schemes can be varied when this House is asked to approve them, in order to meet criticisms which may be raised?

I think my right hon. Friend said the other day that, within a couple of weeks or so, these two new schemes will be considered by the House. I take it that, as they will be debated in the form which takes place when a statutory instrument is tabled, we shall not have the power of variation. Moreover, I assume that as these schemes derive from an EEC directive our power of variation will be very limited. I therefore take this opportunity of calling my right hon. Friend's attention to one or two criticisms which have already been made about these two schemes. I hope that these criticisms can be noted and, if possible, corrected before the relevant orders are placed before the House for debate.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the EEC directive—which I believe is No. 159—was drawn up by the Community before this country became a member. Therefore, there may be characteristics in the two schemes which are not in the best interests of some farm and horticulture producers in this country, which might not have been included if Directive No. 159 had been drawn up after we became a member. For example, the Country Landowners' Association is very concerned, because it appears that a large number of farms will be excluded from these two schemes for various reasons, such as profitability per labour unit and whether or not a farmer has interests outside agriculture which occupy more than 50 per cent. of his time.

The National Farmers' Union also has criticisms about the position in which egg, poultry and pig producers will find themselves. I am quite sure that before these two schemes are debated in the House my right hon. Friend will receive representations direct from the bodies concerned. All I would ask him to do, knowing that the House cannot amend the orders and can only accept or reject them, is to meet the organisations concerned, listen to their fears and do his best, within the bounds of EEC Directive No. 159, to meet their justified complaints.

Finally, I welcome what the Minister said about the export of our horticultural produce. He mentioned Cox's and Bramleys being exported to the EEC, and hoped that that trade would continue after the compensatory levies had been phased out by 1978. I call his attention to one aspect of horticultural exports which serves the country very well, which, so far as I am aware, has never been mentioned in this House, and which is engaged in many strong land parts of the country; namely, the export of different types of nursery plants, especially roses. It is a not insignificant trade. A number of rose growers in the Midlands have found a great potential on the continent for our roses and rose plants. It is a remunerative trade for the Exchequer, and I hope that the problems which these rose growers meet will be viewed sympathetically by his Department.

The problems which have been put to me by rose growers in my constituency often relate to transport difficulties, and getting their roses from Britain to the continent in a reasonably fresh condition. Their fears for the future relate to how some out-of-date EEC regulations relating to plant health will affect their exports. That is a cloud on the horizon which rose growers and others engaged in nursery produce in this country can see. Before that cloud prevents the continued export of British nursery produce, I hope that my right hon. Friend will do his best to help growers meet the necessary regulations. Having said those few words, I once again warmly welcome the Bill.