I am fully aware of the problems facing glasshouse growers and I am in close contact with representatives of the industry. I am hopeful that this year will see some upturn in the fortunes of the industry.
Has anyone in the glasshouse sector had a 45 per cent. increase in income during the last 12 months? If not, when will there be some good news that I can pass on to the hundreds of my constituents in the glasshouse sector who insist that their returns are declining?
I am sure that my hon. Friend has told his glasshouse growers about the substantial increases in subsidies on fuel that the Government have provided. I am sure that he is aware of the continuing advantage, which is being taken up, of the special subsidies to convert to coal-fired heating, if required. It is a scheme that I hope will be further extended at the request of glasshouse growers. My hon. Friend will also be aware that the Government have negotiated the ending of the Dutch fuel subsidy, which was such a disadvantage to our growers and which finishes at the end of this month. The currency exchange rates, which have been to Holland's benefit during the past couple of years, are now moving to this country's benefit. I hope that he will retail all those facts to his growers.
There has been some progress as a result of the equalisation of fuel prices and the fall in the parity of sterling. However, does the Minister recognise that, after so many bad years, British glasshouse growers do not have the capital, and will not have it for several years, for the necessary investment to make their industry fully competitive? Therefore, will he study the grant system, because the Dutch taxation system is better than ours?
I have already made a number of changes to the grant system to benefit the industry. One of the important benefits, of which increasing advantage is being taken, is the possible conversion to coal. I hope that that will continue after the expiry date, 31 March. We shall certainly study these matters. I hope that Food from Britain, which has just come into operation. will be of considerable help to the marketing side of the industry.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the anomaly by which third parties which carry out promotional activities on behalf of the horticulture industry—I give Food from Britain and the Apple and Pear Development Council as examples—are charged VAT on their activities, whereas if the farmers and growers did it themselves they could claim back the VAT? A third party doing it on their behalf cannot do so. That is mad.