My Lords, as I want to talk about the plight of horticulture, I must first declare my interest as the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group. The closing of garden centres came at the worst possible time because it was the peak time for sales and for the growing of plants. That has had a terrible impact on garden centres and all the nurseries that supply them. On the other hand, we need to sustain a stronger sector, not a weaker one, if we are to grow more of our own and so avoid the pernicious impact of pests and diseases from imported plants. We also need to sustain the Government’s ambitious plans for the environment, in particular the tree-planting project.
Unfortunately, the government support that is available does not fit well with the needs of horticulture. I will not go into that because there is no time to do so, but I want to commend the principle of the Dutch Government of providing 70% compensation for lost sales. A similar scheme in this country would do an immense amount to aid our struggling nursery and horticulture sector. I know that the Horticultural Trades Association is in negotiation with Defra for a similar stock compensation scheme, but it fears that that will founder because the UK has signed up to the EU restrictions on state aid. Why, one wonders, were the Netherlands able to get away with it? They have done so simply by invoking Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which allows Governments to give aid free of any restrictions in exceptional circumstances. Why cannot this Government do the same?