My Lords, a number of noble Lords have been powerful advocates in this debate for various aspects of our national life. I will concentrate on another that so far has not received a single mention. I will give a few clues in the hope that at least a few Members of this House may recognise what I am about to speak about. This industry employs 300,000 people. It is worth about £10 billion to the economy annually, it has a very important role in bringing in tourists, including from within the UK, and it has a very important role to play in the health and well-being of people generally. I refer to horticulture. It comes under the aegis of Defra, but I fear that in tshe past it has always been a poor relation. I was therefore disappointed, but not in the least surprised, that it did not get so much as a mention in the gracious Speech. Nor has it been referred to so far in this debate, save when my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe mentioned homes and gardens and my spirits rose slightly, but that was all.
I want to insist that this is a very important aspect of our national life. Leaders in the horticultural industry have got together, and they have a number of organisations, one of which, a horticultural round table, has regular meetings with Ministers, and I hope these are still going on. I am making this point right now because it is very important that that continues to take place. They are not just whining and moaning; they are seeking to work with the Government on sensible policies that will be of benefit to both government and the industry. Sadly, it has not packed the punch of the big battalions because it is very disparate and that is one of its problems. There is gardening proper, nursery production, garden designers and landscape architects. On the scientific side there are botanists, those who look at pests and diseases and R&D. In many cases, the organisations are small: family firms, partnerships and so forth. It does not have that big punch, but I sincerely hope that the Government will take this on board now and in the future.
In the very short time that I have, I will touch on one or two of the myriad topics that I could mention if I had half an hour. First, there is a skills shortage. There are many organisations, including the National Trust, and many big contractors who have to turn down possible work because they do not have sufficient skilled people. We need to give far more attention to apprenticeships and right the way up to degree and post-graduate work. I hope the Government will take that on board. My other beef is that very often the careers service and schools pay little attention to horticulture as a multifaceted career. To use rather vulgar parlance, the general attitude seems to be, “You only do gardening if you are so thick you cannot do anything else”. This absolutely enrages me, because it is so unfair.
My second point is the issue of import substitution. We import numbers of trees and other plants, and cut flowers, when we could be doing far more to produce our own in this country. But, of course, when it comes to trees, you have to get them going, and that might take up to five years. In those circumstances, the people who will buy the trees have to give the tree producers sufficient warning. I refer particularly to HS2, where an immense number of plants will need to be planted to help the environment around the railway line. I hope that will be considered very important. We also need to import less because of the fear of pests and diseases. However, that is an issue for another day, since I see that my time is up.