HC Deb 15 June 1964 vol 696 cc1028-54

8.5 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)

I beg to move, That the Horticulture Improvement Scheme 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 13th May, be approved. I suggest that it might be convenient to the House to discuss, at the same time, the Small Horticultural Business Scheme, 1964.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

That would be the first two Schemes on the Order Paper.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

If we take this Scheme together with the Small Horticultural Business Scheme, that will be convenient. I would have thought that the Fertilisers (United Kingdom) Scheme was quite a different matter. It would be better to have a discussion on the first two Schemes and another discussion on the last.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I understood that that was the proposal of the Minister, if that is the wish of the House.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

That is what I suggested. I am sorry for not making myself clearer.

The House will recall that one of the major provisions of the Agriculture and Horticulture Act, 1964, was to provide powers for giving greater assistance to horticulturists and their marketing cooperatives. The two draft schemes now before the House mark a further step in implementing that policy. They are intended to come into force on 1st July.

One of these schemes—the Horticulture Improvement Scheme, 1964—is intended to replace the Horticulture Improvement Scheme, 1960, under which grants of one-third of the cost of specified facilities could be made to eligible growers and their co-operatives. The 1964 Act has empowered the Government to expand this assistance in three ways.

First, the Act provides for more money, so that a much wider range of facilities can be included in the new Scheme. Secondly, the Horticulture Act, 1960, makes 13th April, 1965, the closing date for applications under the existing Horticulture Improvement Scheme; but under the 1964 Act, any new scheme may provide for applications to be accepted in the next 10 years—that is, up to 14th April, 1974. Thirdly, Section 5 of the 1964 Act empowers Ministers to give grant-aid to growers' co-operatives in respect of facilities for conducting markets for selling horticultural produce by wholesale; this assistance could not be provided within the powers of the 1960 Act.

The second draft scheme—the Small Horticultural Production Business Scheme, 1964—is entirely new and it is fundamentally different from both Improvement Schemes. First of all, this scheme is for the smaller grower only. Anyone wanting to apply for grant must fulfil the same minimum conditions of eligibility as for the proposed Horticulture Improvement Scheme, but there are also maximum limits, whereas there are none for applications under the Horticulture Improvement Scheme.

Secondly, the assistance under the proposed Business Grant Scheme is not tied to the provision of any specific piece of equipment, nor is it related to actual expenditure by the grower. Its purpose, quite simply, is to give small growers grants over a period of three years to help them improve their businesses. The main condition of the grant will be that the grower concerned will undertake an approved programme to that end.

Before I go into the details of the two schemes, I should like to deal with one major point which affects both of them. The House will remember that, at various stages of the passage of the 1964 Act, considerable concern was expressed on both sides of the House about the minimum conditions of eligibility for both proposed schemes. The 1960 Horticulture Improvement Scheme provided that, to be eligible under the scheme, a holding should consist of a minmum of four "adjusted" acres—glass, rhubarb and mushroom sheds counting as twenty times their actual area, and lights, cloches and watercress beds counting as four times.

It was represented to us that this condition excluded many viable small growers from grant, and we undertook to consult the National Farmers' Unions about the problem. Those consultations have taken place. We have discussed with them all the possible alternatives to the present tests and we are convinced that there are insuperable objections to each and every one. It will probably be helpful if I tell the House of the investigations that we have made into the size of the problem. We are, of course, concerned with holdings which provide full-time employment for at least one man.

We took as the basis of our examination an analysis by the Ministry's economists of holdings in England and Wales producing any horticultural crops; many of the holdings were, of course, producing agricultural crops, too. We found that of these holdings, something over 23,000 gave full-time employment in horticulture to at least one man. But further examination enabled us to deduce that only about 700 of these holdings could possibly have less than four "adjusted" acres. And we are satisfied that a very large proportion of these holdings would fulfil the new minimum conditions of eligibility because they would have some part at least under glass or lights.

And the House will see from paragraph 3(2) of the draft Horticultural Improvement Scheme and paragraph 2(4) of the draft Small Horticultural Production Business Scheme that we now find it possible, in the light of modern practice, to provide that eligible land under lights, cloches and watercress beds will count six times instead of four times, as under the 1960 Scheme, its actual area. So some growers will more easily be able to fulfil the minimum conditions of the schemes.

I hope that the House will agree, therefore, that we have gone into this problem very thoroughly. I am glad to say that the unions are satisfied that the present method of determining minimum eligibility is the most fair and reasonable and practicable that can be devised.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether specific inquiries were made in Scotland in the same way as they were made in England?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

As far as I understand, specific inquiries were not made in Scotland into the exact number of holdings, but I will certainly write to the hon. Member on this matter. I can assure him that the Scottish unions, too, are quite satisfied that the method of determination is the most reasonable and satisfactory possible. They also agree that it would be unworkable to attempt to introduce minimum conditions of eligibility, either on the basis of a standard man-day test or of actual profitability of the holding, which were two of the other methods we looked into.

I turn, now, to the detail of the proposed Horticulture Improvement Scheme. This is basically on the same lines as the 1960 scheme, but I should draw attention to the major changes. Apart from the change in the multiplication factor for lights, and so on, which I have already mentioned, we have—on technical advice—relaxed the conditions of eligibility for land on which vegetables are grown. To be eligible, land of this sort must be used intensively; and this was interpreted under the 1960 scheme as meaning that at least one-half of the land must be double-cropped. We are now satisfied that it is sufficient for one-third of the land to be double-cropped. Paragraph 5(1,b) provides for grant-aiding facilities for the conducting of markets by growers' co-operatives and there are no further major points until we come to the Schedule.

The Schedule incorporates all the facilities which were eligible for grant-aid under the 1960 scheme; but it also adds very considerably to the range, especially on the production side. In preparing this list we have gone to considerable lengths to ensure that we have covered the ground adequately. We have consulted all our C.A.E.C.S, representatives of the growers, our advisory staff and, through them, research and other organisations in the country that are concerned with the development of equipment for horticulture; and, of course, we have closely examined all the suggestions that have been put to us by hon. Members. In general, we have taken the line that only worth-while specialist equipment which is not quickly expendable or easily diverted to some other use should be included in the Schedule.

These new facilities are very extensive indeed. Paragraph 1, for example, provides for the replacement, reconstruction and improvement of glasshouses, mushroom and rhubarb sheds; paragraph 4 for the supply of new heating systems as well as the improvement of such systems; paragraph 8 for the improvement of watercress beds. Paragraphs 9 and 10 are completely new, and embrace a very wide range indeed of equipment and machinery for production. There is also a number of additions to Part II of the Schedule, and Part III is extended to provide for facilities for conducting markets.

The list does not include a number of items such as fork lift trucks and non-specialist machinery for packing and pre-packing. These, I am afraid, present exceptional difficulty because they could be easily diverted to activities in no way connected with horticulture. To the extent that this might happen the scheme would be brought into disrepute. Not could we effectively guard against this by any means. Indeed, any attempt at policing the very complicated arrangements we should have to introduce would divert to this unproductive purpose staff badly needed to forward the progress of the scheme. I may add that we have discussed this with the representatives of the industry, and that they fully accept the reasons which have led us to the conclusion that equipment liable to diversion to other industries should not be grant-aided under the scheme.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

Can the hon. Gentleman explain how packing tables can be prevented from being used for any other purpose?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, a packing table is specialist equipment; it is not just a table such as we have in the house. There are a great many attachments on it. Of course, if one carries the principle too far, one could imagine all sorts of equipment being adapted with a fair amount of work. But this is specialist equipment, and not moveable items like fork lift trucks. We have tried to include all types of equipment in all the ranges we can where we think that it is specialist enough, with its attachments and so on, to be used solely in the horticultural business.

As to the proposed Small Horticultural Production Business Scheme, the basic conditions of eligibility are similar to those for the proposed Horticulture Improvement Scheme, except that a maximum size as well as a minimum size is laid down. Paragraph 2(3) of the scheme provides that there must be not more than 15 "adjusted" eligible acres in the holding, and that the total area of the holding—including any agricultural land—is not more than 30 statute acres. This latter provision is designed to exclude the grower who is primarily a farmer.

Paragraph 3 provides that grant will be at the rate of £50 for each "adjusted" acre up to a maximum of £500 and that the grant will be payable in four equal instalments—two in the first year of the approved programme, and the other two at the end of the second and third years of the programme. The grower will be able to use this money as he thinks fit—always provided, of course, that he carries out the approved programme or that he gets prior approval to any change that he wants to make in it. The grant should make it easier for a small man to switch from one crop to another—for example, by helping to tide him over any period when his income may be reduced in consequence of the switch. Or he will be able to use the grant to buy new equipment or new stock.

In general, we intend to be as flexible as we can, and encourage the grower to use the business management advice that is freely available to him from the N.A.A.S. and the equivalent advisory services in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Sir Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

Can my hon. Friend say whether estimates have been made of how many people will be likely to apply for the scheme?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I am sure that my hon. Friend is asking this in connection with whether we have a sufficiency of staff to cover the scheme. If he will bear with me, I will come to that point in a minute. He will realise that as things now stand a worthwhile estimate cannot yet be made of the total that will be spent on the scheme.

I hope that I have demonstrated that the Government have fulfilled their undertakings in preparing these proposals. We have worked in the closest co-operation with representatives of the industry, and I pay a tribute to the co-operation which we have at all times had from them.

I come now to the point about staffing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Sir Douglas Marshall) raised a moment or two ago. I know that there has been anxiety about whether the N.A.A.S. will be able to cope with the calls upon its time in dealing with applications under the schemes. We are recruiting as fast as we can with the aim of increasing the number of horticultural advisers in the advisory service by 15 or 16 per cent. Also, we are aiming at a 10 per cent. increase in the number of specialist officers dealing with such matters as glasshouse heating and machinery.

But, of course, suitably qualified recruits are not easy to find, as the House will appreciate, and we must not allow the high standards of our advisory service and staff to be lowered. We must, therefore, make sure that the skill and knowledge of our advisory officers is used to the full. With this aim in view—my hon. Friend will be glad to know this—we are recruiting 30 or 40 field assistants who will undertake work which does not require the qualifications demanded of the fully qualified advisory officers.

I assure the House that we are doing everything possible to strengthen the advisory service and that, in any event, its staff will be able to meet the demands which will come upon them as a result of these two schemes.

With this explanation, I commend these two very important schemes to the House. They represent a considerable advance in the Government's assistance to the horticultural industry.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

These schemes are important, and we support them. We have pressed for legislation of this kind, and we sought to improve the Agriculture and Horticulture Bill, 1964, with that object in view. It should be noted that quite considerable expenditure is involved; the schemes will involve not £8 million, as hitherto, but £24 million. However, we are all anxious that aid should be given to the industry. We want to see units made more viable and the industry itself placed in a much better competitive position.

As all hon. Members know, the horticultural industry has gone through a very difficult period. There was the danger that the flood of imports from Europe could produce a situation leading to bankruptcy or, at least, a serious crisis for many of our producers. It was for this reason that, throughout the Committee stage of the Bill, which became the Agriculture and Horticulture Act, 1964, my hon. Friends sought to improve its administration. We sought assurances from the Minister that any schemes which he thereafter presented would be adequate. This evening, we are discussing the two schemes.

The main point of our argument in Committee was that there should be flexibility. I have here the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee stage, and it shows that our plea was reinforced by speeches from both sides. I am glad to see here this evening the hon. Members for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew), for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), and for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells), who all pleaded for flexibility. In fact, this was an old argument which had been pressed both before the Second Reading, at the time of the 1960 Act, and on the Second Reading of the Bill itself. Many of us felt that a scheme which laid down conditions for adjusted acres was too rigid, and we had a major debate in Committee about it. In the end, I advised my hon. Friends not to press the Amendment which had been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton)—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order, I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he has put me in a little difficulty. He cannot now discuss what went on in Committee on the 1964 Bill. A little bit by way of background is all right on these schemes, but not a recapitulation of old debates.

Mr. Peart

I am only seeking to illustrate the importance of these schemes, which arise out of the legislation which we were then discussing, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Our main argument was designed to extract from the Minister an assurance that he would conduct a survey before presenting any schemes. I have here a copy of HANSARD which reports the debates dealing with that precise point. The Minister promised an investigation. From what the hon. Gentleman has said this evening, it seems that for England and Wales the Minister did conduct a thorough investigation, but my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was quite right to ask what had been done in Scotland. It is not sufficient just to have a survey in England and Wales. After all, my hon. Friends from Scotland have a responsibility in this matter. These schemes represent a joint effort by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister in England. I hope that I am not out of order, therefore, in showing that these schemes arise from some of the debates which we had in Committee on the 1964 Bill and the promises which we were then given.

I recommend my hon. Friends not to oppose these schemes. I think that the Government have generally sought a compromise here. I have always argued that there should be flexibility, and I think that the schemes will give it. I am glad that the Minister has had conversations with the various interests concerned. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that there had been talks with the National Farmers' Union about what alternatives could be presented. These discussions, together with the Minister's own survey, lead him to the conclusion that the problem was really insuperable. The Minister must impose restrictions. There must be a minimum and, probably, in the case of small businesses, a maximum. Generally, therefore, I regard the schemes as reasonable and acceptable.

I am sure that there will be some criticisms here and there. I think that the hon. Member for Lowestoft—

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

Oh, dear.

Mr. Peart

I am sorry to provoke the hon. Gentleman. He made a very eloquent speech about bee-keeping and the importance of pollination. He wanted this very matter to be included in the scheme which we are now considering. His speech in moving an Amendment to provide that aid should be given to a small business for this purpose is recorded in HANSARD. I thought his argument reasonable, and the Parliamentary Secretary gave an assurance that it would be considered. He said: Pollination by bees could, therefore, be included in a scheme under the Clause. I am just quoting these words to show what was said in response to the hon. Member for Lowestoft, whose argument was supported by other hon. Members. The Minister promised that it would be considered. It might be reasonable to ask the Minister whether it was considered and why it has not been included in the scheme which is before us.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I do not want to be tediously repetitive about what we have already covered to a large extent in Committee, but it will be within the recollection of hon. Members that bees, on which we were all very keen, were described as livestock and, therefore, were inadmissible. This was made clear to us all, although everybody who has horticultural interests at heart is enthusiastic about it. Hon. Members on both sides pressed the point. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) is wandering rather far when he talks about livestock.

Mr. Peart

No, I am not, because it is on record that the Minister said that he would consider it. He said that Pollination by bees could … be included in a scheme under the Clause".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 30th January, 1964; c. 228.] I was not thinking so much of the production side of honey, which was mentioned during debate, as in terms of how we could help bee-keepers in some way, because their activities are important to fruit growing. That was stressed by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South. I merely said that the Minister who has presented the schemes stated that pollination by bees could be included in a scheme under Clause 1.

However, I leave it at that, because I wish to come to another point that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. A. E. Oram), who put forward the view that the schemes should include the provision of buildings and the erection of amenities, My hon. Friend argued that any scheme presented should include appropriate provisions for installing heating equipment, rest rooms, lavatories, canteens and office equipment such as are reasonably required for the efficient conduct of a business and the welfare of its employees. Again, the Minister gave an assurance. He said that existing schemes, even the 1960 scheme, could meet the case put forward by my hon. Friend.

I have read carefully the details of the main Horticultural Improvement Scheme, which covers a wide range of activities. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger), they are extensive. They provide works for the replacement, reconstruction or improvement of permanent buildings, including parts of buildings. The scheme also provides for works for the supply, installation, reconstruction or alteration or other improvement of systems, for the production and distribution of heat in buildings, and so on. Throughout the various pages of the scheme and going on to Part II of the First Schedule, there are a series of works which cover heating, and so on, for dwelling-houses, and also water supply. Aid is also provided for plant and equipment for the control of temperature or atmosphere, plant and equipment for preparation and for packing and miscellaneous equipment. I should like to know whether the amenities that were mentioned by my hon. Friend are covered in the scheme. I hope that when the Minister replies, he will mention this. This is an important matter, because an assurance was given.

I accept the schemes. In Committee I tried, as did my hon. Friends who supported me, to improve the legislation and to press the Minister to promise that he would widen the 1960 scheme. This has been done. Our case has been met. Although we do not have full flexibility for the reasons which have been put forward by the Minister tonight, I regard these schemes as adequate. The main question will be how they are to operate.

A burden will undoubtedly be imposed upon the officers of the N.A.A.S., who have done a fine job. They are a nationalised service, so I trust that no hon. Member on the Government side will be so doctrinal as to support the stupid remarks of the Prime Minister about the junkyard of nationalisation. Here is a fine nationalised service in agriculture. In horticulture, it is to be extended. We are to have a 15 per cent. increase in the horticultural advisers, another increase of 10 per cent. in our specialist advisers and 30 field assistants. I support this fine nationalised service, which has given so much aid to agriculture and horticulture. [Interruption.] Of course it is a nationalised service. The N.A.A.S. is a fine advisory service which gives aid to private industry.

I am rather surprised that hon. Members opposite should be so touchy about a service which is run by the community for the community and paid for by the community out of Exchequer aid. The service itself deserves praise. We are glad that the Minister is to extend it. We shall certainly wish to give it all financial assistance. In the end this service can determine the success or lack of success of these major schemes which can help many small producers who in the past have been in considerable difficulty. Therefore, we give the schemes our whole-hearted support.

8.36 p.m.

Sir Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)

I shall not go into the long story about nationalisation. There is a great difference between someone giving excellent advice and something which has to make a profit or a loss. I have risen, literally for only a few moments, to speak about these two schemes.

As the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) quite rightly said, the amount going to the horticultural industry is being raised from about £8 million to £24 million. That is a very considerable sum with which to help the industry. I have only one fear. Possibly I need not have it, but I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary if he thinks there is a necessity for me to have it. I realise that under the schemes when anyone goes to the National Agricultural Advisory Service he will be given every help possible, but I still believe that in a great many cases small horticulturists are unaware of the help they can obtain. How we are to get out of this dilemma I do not know. The National Agricultural Advisory Service and representatives of the Ministry will give every help, but they cannot give that help until they are asked for it.

I suggest that there should be distribution of some very small paper which could find its way to every horticulturist. This would not be costly as I suggest only a very small publication. These schemes are splendid. I hope that horticulturists will take fully advantage of them and recognise the help which this Government are giving to them.

8.39 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

We have listened with interest to this discussion and none of us wants to belabour the point. We welcome these schemes. The Minister made it apparent to the House that he was aware of the substantial increase from £8 million to about £24 million. It will be necessary to spend that money carefully and to watch the way in which it is spent, for it is taxpayers' money.

I shall not continue the argument about whether this is nationalisation or not, but whatever Government are in power we must see that British horticulture gets a squarer deal than it has had. That goes for the flower industry also. It is necessary if the industry is to be able to stand up to the incisive competition from the Common Market countries and elsewhere.

I see that, under the Small Horticultural Producton Business Scheme, the amount can be paid by instalments by the Ministry. Why is this? Suppose that a horticulturist in a small business obtains a loan of £100. Does the instalment proposal mean that he will get 50 per cent. at once and that the rest will be held back as a kind of sanction to ensure that the work is being carried out?

We are all pleased that the period has been extended from April, 1965, to April, 1974. This will enable horticulturists to reorganise their industry. In addition, it means that young men will be able to consider this industry for apprenticeship. Again, young couples wishing to start in business on their own will find a better chance to begin in horticulture, with the opportunity properly to establish the base of the pyramid.

Will this scheme apply to local authorities? The Minister will recall that, during the passage of the Agriculture and Horticulture Act, we envisaged grants for the great distributive centres—for what is described by that ugly word "throughput". Suppose that a local authority with greenhouses in the parks decides to go into this business. Will it qualify for this money?

It may be that HANSARD did not pick this up, but I believe that when my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) was asking a question about washing facilities and lavatory accommodation the Minister nodded. I took it from that that the scheme does apply to washing facilities and lavatory accommodation. There was an interesting article in the Daily Mail on Friday about conditions at Covent Garden. It is sad to say that there, one of the greatest markets in the world, there is complete lack of facilities and cleanliness that should certainly be present in the mid-20th century. I recently returned from Copenhagen and other places in Europe and I must say that it is absolutely essential that we increase our standards of distribution and cleanliness for our horticultural produce.

No one wants to be a scare-monger following the typhoid outbreak but that outbreak re-emphasises that it is essential to get 100 per cent. cleanliness among those handling horticultural produce. If these schemes help in that direction alone, they will do much for the health, strength and welfare of the people.

For many years I have been interested in the provision of shelter belts. These are extremely useful in areas like the Stilly Isles which need protection from the Atlantic western winds. When the Parliamentary Secretary speaks of shelter belts, does he include not only trees, but types of wattle fencing? Would there be grants through the Forestry Commission for the provision of trees for such a purpose, even though the timber could be farmed like timber in ordinary forests? If part of the cost of providing a shelter belt of trees can be met by a grant through the Forestry Commission, the sum involved in these schemes may not be £24 million.

8.46 p.m.

Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

I welcome these schemes. It would be contrary to the spirit of the debate and to what you would permit, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if, at great length, I went into the details of our argument in the Committee stage of the Agriculture and Horticulture Act, 1964. In giving his general welcome to the schemes the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), who is the Opposition's chief spokesman on this subject, did so in the manner in which he conducted the opposition—if that is the right word, and I do not think that it is—to the Act in Committee. For a moment I thought that at the weekend he had been on a refresher course in ideology, but that was only a very temporary aberration on his part.

The N.A.A.S. is a nationalised service which has done valuable work. Its officers are extremely sympathetic and helpful in their advice to horticulturists about how to use the 1960 provisions. Their work is immensely widened by the 1964 provisions, but at this time it would not be right to deal with the strains placed upon these officers by the amount of work they do and by their lack of numbers. The Parliamentary Secretary has dealt with that issue on other occasions and we need not fear that this scheme will collapse because of those strains.

It is true that the increase of cost will be from £8 million to £24 million for horticultural businesses, and it would not be strictly within the scope of this debate to do more than mention the fact that there is also about £25 million available for the other end of the pipeline of horticulture, for the wholesale markets.

I wish to do nothing more than welcome these schemes which deal with a subject in which both sides of the House have played a part in deciding precisely what is to be planted in the legislation. When the money has begun to flow and the big and the small man have drawn what share of benefit they qualify for, do not let us think that all is then plain sailing for horticulture. It never will be. The very nature of the hazards which growers have to face means that, willy nilly, they are speculators, but, unlike some people who speculate on the Stock Exchange, they cannot do what other speculators do. They must face vagaries of the work.

I believe that as a result of these two schemes, which are the final act in the contributions which the Government had made towards a new drive and a new assurance for horticulture, the horticulture industry will be enabled to go forward with a greater chance, and one that has been recognised by the community, as expressed in this House.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

The House is giving a welcome to the schemes, and, 1 think, rightly so. They are a logical extension of the process of help to the agricultural and horticultural industries which started with the 1947 Act. That Act did not give a great deal of help to the horticultural side, and it has been a bit of a grievance to horticulturists that that has not been remedied as quickly as it might have been.

These schemes go a long way towards satisfying a number of things which those people have been demanding for many years. As the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) said, the life and work of anyone engaged in smallholding in the horticultural production industry is not an easy one. However we advance benefits, subsistence, and assistance to him, he, and usually his family, works long hours, on many days of the week, to provide a living for himself and to provide the produce to send to market to satisfy the needs of our people. The help that we give through these schemes will be very welcome indeed.

I should like to consider the Schedule to the Horticulture Improvement Scheme to see whether some of the improvements which are set out there could not be extended. I know that we cannot amend these schemes now. They have to be accepted or rejected, but if the Minister would bear in mind some of the things which will happen to the people who are concerned, that might be a help in the future.

Just imagine a man working in his holding where he will have works for the disposal of sewage and effluent, and then going to his cottage, which adjoins his holding, and finding that there are no works there for the disposal of sewage and effluent. Imagine him having gas or electricity where he works, but not in his adjoining house which may well be lit with oil lamps. Imagine him having in the sheds and in the buildings where he works all sorts of modern equipment such as special packing tables, to which the Minister referred, specially designed so that they cannot be used for anything else, packing benches, packing plant and automatic food packers, and even bulb counting machines, and then going across the yard, or down the path, to his primitive house, in which the local authority in a rural area has not given him a lavatory, gas, electricity, or a piped water supply. He will have all these pleasant and scientific advances in the place where he works, but not in his home.

One of the difficulties in agricultural areas is the lack of domestic facilities for modern civilised living. The extra money which is to be spent to provide better facilities for the running of the industry might have been expended on extending these facilities into the dwelling house which forms part of the holding. There is little difference between them. He will be clean where he works, but not in a position to get very clean in his home. Could not the provisions of paragraph 23 be extended, perhaps in a future Order, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government so that all these scientific appliances which the horticulturist has at work can be extended to give him decent facilities in his home? Paragraph 23 states: Any operation incidental to the provision of any of the facilities specified in paragraph 21 or 22 of this Schedule, and necessary or proper in carrying out the work or for securing the full benefit of the said facilities". Often the house adjoins the holding. Why should he not have civilised amenities in both?

8.56 p.m.

Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)

I am grateful to the Government for these schemes. They are generous and imaginative. I remember my right hon. Friend saying on the Second Reading of the Agriculture and Horticulture Bill that he hoped that it would give horticulturists a new deal. I believe that that has happened. These schemes will be of great help to many of my constituents who are engaged in horticulture. I have been delighted to see the wide range of equipment covered by the grants, as well as the help given to obtain working capital for co-operatives and making it easier for growers to obtain credit to carry out improvements. All these things will be warmly welcomed and should go a long way towards helping growers to improve their businesses.

I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say, on the Second Reading of the 1964 Bill, that the benefits to horti- culturists although they should help to reduce the industry's reliance on tariffs, were not intended as a sudden substitute for tariffs. He made it clear that there was no question of any reduction in tariffs being considered in the next four years and that in the future we would have to see how things were going.

Many people have, I fear, taken rather a gloomy view of the prospects of the horticulture industry, but I believe that the new Act and these schemes should give growers some hope and encouragement for the future.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Denys Bollard (King's Lynn)

I have some sympathy with the argument the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) used about the contrast which there might be between ideal conditions on a holding and the conditions the worker in that holding might experience on going home. I suggest that the hon. Member was being hardly fair to the amount of progress which has been made in modernising rural housing.

Most horticultural holdings are styled on the Continental pattern. A good deal of modernisation of horticultural dwellings has taken place and in many instances the occupier is also the owner. Usually, he sees to it that his home is kept up to date and I am sure that there are not many instances as bad as those suggested by the hon. Member for Goole.

I strongly welcome these proposals. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said that he would not encourage his hon. Friends to vote against them and I do not know whether, numerically, it would make much difference if they did.

Mr. Peart


Mr. Bullard

There is no need for the hon. Member to intervene. He might have been a little more generous to the Government for these proposals though I must say, in fairness, that he welcomed them in broad terms.

Like other hon. Members, I was surprised when reading the Schedules to see how comprehensively they cover the horticultural industry. I do not know who did all the thinking, but every possible contingency seems to have been covered. I have spoken in many horticultural and agricultural debates in the House and I have usually had sent to me beforehand a written statement pointing out the defects of the Government's proposals. That has been sent to me by the National Farmers' Union, but it is significant to note that on this occasion I have not received any such literature from the union, which must indicate that it considers that the range of the proposals is sufficiently comprehensive.

I should like to ask the Minister whether forestry nurseries have been properly and adequately considered under the scheme As I understand, nurseries which are engaged in the raising of trees become eligible for grant for their equipment if they are raising ornamental trees or orchard trees, but if they are raising forest trees they are excluded, so I imagine that if they did nothing but raise forestry they would be excluded from the Act. This was a point raised previously by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan), who has not been able to be here this evening. I should like the Minister to say a word about that.

On the question of fork-lift trucks, so widely used in packing processes, has my hon. Friend the Minister fully considered the point about registration and whether it would be possible for them to be grant-aided provided that an undertaking were given that they would not be moved off the holding or out of the co-operative or other packing plant in which they were used? I would have thought it possible for the Minister to overcome that kind of difficulty.

The main point that I want to make concerns the administration of the scheme. I was delighted to know that the full facilities of the National Agricultural Advisory Service, including the business management advisory side which is now gaining great strength in that service, would be fully used. This scheme will need a good deal of explaining and pushing with horticulturists. It may seem odd that it should be necessary to push anybody to derive benefit from a scheme of this kind, but many horticulturists are great individualists and I think that if they are to be fully helped a good deal of assistance will be required.

It was, however, not so much the actual pushing of the scheme that I wanted to stress as the possibility of delays arising in the approval of the scheme. Already, under the existing Horticultural Improvement Scheme, I have put several cases to my hon. Friend, particularly referring to gas stores for fruit. In many cases delays amounting to several months arise before a proposition can be inspected for the initial approval. After inspection, there is a further delay before approval can be given—no doubt a lot has to be looked into before that can be done—and this has a very odd effect on the person putting up the scheme and who wants to go ahead.

From the psychological point of view, a definite danger arises if delay is too long. I was very pleased to hear that the Minister intends to add to the staff both of specialists and advisers and also intends to appoint non-qualified field officers who can carry these investigations. I hope that this will result in the cutting down of the delay, because growers have already told me that the service is hard put to it to get existing schemes through in time. The service will find it very much more difficult when it has the burden of a much wider scheme.

There is the question whether tenders will be required. In administering public money it is necessary to avoid any abuse, and often competitive tenders are necessary for equipment, buildings, and so on. The acquiring of tenders is a laborious process and as long as every care is taken with the administration, I hope that in many cases it will be found possible to do without competitive tenders, and so avoid grave and great delay.

I extend a hearty welcome to the proposals. This is a good way to help horticulture. It will not work wonders, but it is right to get the basic equipment of the industry in sound condition. It is easy for the grower to see what he is entitled to. I believe that many growers will take full advantage of the scheme and that we shall see a great improvement in the basic structure of the industry.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

If a Scottish voice may intrude on this hitherto completely English discussion, I should like to join in the chorus of welcome which has been given to the schemes. The Minister has carried out pretty fairly the obligations which he accepted in the Committee. It is inevitable that once we fix lower or upper limits there will always be hard cases. Regarding England, the Minister went into matters very carefully, which brings me to my first point. Did the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland go into the Scottish position with equal thoroughness? Has he figures relating to Scottish businesses which would satisfy us that the same consideration has been given to the Scottish problem as was extended by the Minister to the problems in England and Wales?

Am I right in assuming that the figures about the increase in the advisory service are for England and Wales and do not apply to Scotland? I should like the figures for Scotland, I should like to know what increase is expected in respect of the advisory services and field officers to be appointed specifically for this work. The hon. Gentleman should easily have anticipated that some simpleton like myself would be sure to ask about them.

I have not many specific points to raise about Scotland, but there is one and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find the answer easy. It relates to the conditions of eligibility. In England the person concerned in the small business scheme has to be the owner of the freehold, or the tenant. In Scotland the equivalent owner of the freehold is the owner of the land. I should like to know what that means in Scottish terms, because "owner of the land" in relation to Scotland is rather complicated. Does it refer to the owner of the land as the feuer of the land? Or does it mean the land superior, who would be able to write pretty stringent conditions, if he so desired, into the feu under which the land is held? Was this drawn up with the full knowledge and help of Scottish draftsmen who would probably have shown more concern for accuracy of language?

I should like to say something about the scheme relating to small horticultural businesses. This is the scheme which meets, in words anyway, the position when a second programme is approved for the same ground. As I understand it, the Minister takes very considerable powers upon himself, powers of "yea" and "nay". The scheme says that the payments in the second case: may, if the appropriate Minister thinks fit, be reduced by an amount not exceeding the aggregate of all payments made to any person under any scheme in connection with the carrying out of the previous programme. So, first, we assume that the appropriate Minister—the Minister of Agriculture or the Secretary of State for Scotland—has already approved the second programme, and, having done so, he has power to say whether anything shall be deducted from it, or, indeed, whether the total cost of the first programme shall be deducted. How are we to be able to judge the virtues of the Minister's exercise of discretion, because I can see nothing laid down? But the Minister is entirely covered. The words "if the appropriate Minister thinks fit" give him legal power to do whatever he likes. But we should still like to know how the Minister or the Secretary of State will adjudicate in these matters.

The scheme will be welcomed in Scotland as in England. There is scope for expansion. Given the guarantee that there will be a livelihood in this for the individual—there is no reason why there should not be, with proper grants and backing, including backing by the advisory service—there seems to be an opportunity for expansion in horticulture in certain parts of Scotland. We are closing a considerable gap in the provisions that we have been making over the years. I am sorry that it has taken the Government so long to do this. It is amazing what can be done just before a General Election. No doubt these things will come in handy in certain marginal constituencies. The Tories still have one or two constituencies in Scotland which they still regard as marginal, although the hope is fading.

The sum of £24 million is not bad. Probably some of my impoverished milk farmers in Ayrshire will think of going in for horticulture, but I shall have to warn them about that, because the grants are applicable in the first place only where there has been a two-year history of horticulture. I wonder to what extent this may limit expansion and the numbers entering the industry. But it would be wrong to start arguing that, because it is related more to the Bill than to the scheme.

I compliment that Minister on the comprehensive nature of the Schedule relating to the Horticulture Improvement Scheme. I see the horticulturists in Scotland wondering where they will pick in Parts I, II and III of the Schedule. They may well find difficulty in relation to the limitation which the hon. Member has stipulated. He is not specific when he talks about conveyors and elevators. What about mobile orchard lifts? Cannot these be used elsewhere? The ingenuity of many people in the British countryside would ensure, I think, that they found a use for many of these items other than in horticulture.

I was tempted to ask him, under Part II of the Schedule, how much he expected to spend on each of the items. He was taking the Treasury in his hand in the making and improvement of roads, paths and other permanent ways, railway crossings, bridges …". How many bridges shall we get for the amount of money which is being spent here? It was said that this is an imaginative Schedule, and I entirely agree. The Minister has drawn a good deal on imagination in respect of some of the items listed.

But the schemes will be welcomed and may well lead not merely to stabilising the position in British horticulture but to a considerable expansion to the benefit of those employed in it. I hope that the Government's mind is not closed to other needs in the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) compared the provision of amenities on a smallholding with those in a man's cottage. This gives food for thought. I echo the wish of the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard) for a speeding-up of approvals and administration. In particular, I want from the Joint Under-Secretary of State an assurance that the advisory service will grow to match the improvement which can arise from these provisions.

9.17 p.m.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

With the permission of the House, may I answer one or two points made in this short debate? The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) talked about the fall in the number of acres and flexibility. He was referring to the change between the multiplication factor from four to six and so on. This does provide flexibility.

He mentioned bees. Under the second of these schemes, dealing with small business grants, the flexibility is provided in that we do not insist that the producer should go down a stated list of the things which he intends to do and for which he proposes to use the grant. He is able to follow whatever programme is agreed with the advisory service. It is more than probable that improved pollination could be part of the programme if it were in an area such as Kent where it is necessary. In that respect bee-keepers would indirectly be aided through the scheme.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) asked about Scotland, and the analysis which we have carried out in England. It was not carried out in Scotland but an analysis was made in Scotland of the position there, and horticultural production for the most part was limited to 950 intensively cropped horticultural units out of a total of 28,200 full-time agricultural holdings of over one acre.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock asked about the advisory service. He is aware that in Scotland there is not an advisory service of technical officers as we have it in England and Wales. I am assured that provision is being made to ensure that the technical officers will not be overloaded but will be able to cope with the increased number of applications which will flow in through the working of these two Schemes.

Mr. Ross

Surely the advisory service is worked in co-operation with the West of Scotland Agricultural College.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Surely. I turn to the points connected with the advisory service made by several of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Sir Douglas Marshall). He made the point, which is relevant, that the small horticultural grower sometimes is not entirely aware of the benefits which he can obtain through the various schemes and the conditions applying to them.

I can assure my hon. Friend that we take every opportunity we can to publicise these matters, through the medium of the Press, wireless and television. We are in constant contact with the leaders of the industry, the C.A.E.C.s and the N.F.U. I hope that by these means we shall be able to disseminate information right down the line, because I am just as anxious as my hon. Friend is that all horticulturists should be aware of the benefits which they can obtain through these two schemes.

Several hon. Members mentioned £24 million as the amount of money to be spent under the Horticultural Improvement Scheme. This is the amount of money which will be available, but I have no idea exactly what will be spent. We shall not know until the applications come in for the various items now eligible for grant.

The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) spoke about instalments, and asked why we are insisting that in some instances the grant be paid in instalments. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of sanctions. It is a safeguard which I am sure the House will agree is necessary when buildings, such as packing stations, are erected on land which is not agricultural and which therefore could obviously be lost to horticulture. In such circumstances we pay half the grant on completion and the remainder over five years, provided that the building remains used for horticulture. The other grant, under the Small Horticultural Production Business Scheme, is paid over three years. Another point made by the hon. Member for Leek was about local authorities. If a local authority has a business in horticulture, it will be treated as any other horticultural business. Local authority parks would not qualify for such grants.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about shelter belts, which are included in the Schedule. This also brings in the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard), who talked about grants for forestry. I was asked why they should not be transferred for grant purposes to forestry. It will be appreciated that forestry is completely separate from horticulture. Therefore, forestry as such does not come within the definition of a horticultural business. It is true that nurserymen who grow ornamental trees, ornamental shrubs, etc., would not be excluded from the benefits of the scheme.

The hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) pleaded that we should extend the Schedule. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out, the hon. Gentleman is being a little ungenerous. The Schedule covers extensive ground. The hon. Gentleman exaggerates the miseries which he seems to think exist in the countryside. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that rural electrification has been carried out to such an extent that 85 per cent. or 86 per cent. of farms and holdings now have electricity. The hon. Gentleman knows also that there are several other grants available for the modernisation of houses. These are being applied. Applications have come forward over the years. I am sure that the House will agree that we have more modern and better equipped houses now than we have had in the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn talked about registration for such things as fork-lift trucks. Much as we should like to bring in these types of equipment, they could be used outside the horticultural holding. Registration might be a method of dealing with the matter, but in whatever way we sought to do it we must remember that we are dealing with equipment which is extremely easy to use outside horticulture, and the method of policing the system would be difficult, costly and cumbersome. I should not like to guess whether it would be a practicable proposition.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock said that various equipment listed in the Schedules might easily be adapted. Everything can be adapted, if sufficient time and money is spent on it, but I am sure that it would not be worth while for horticulturists to go to the expense, time and trouble of adapting a costly piece of equipment. We must not treat horticulturists as if they would readily do that kind of thing. The type of equipment included is specialised equipment which is used specifically on horticultural holdings.

My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn also asked about tenders for equip- ment. He will realise the necessity for safeguarding public money. In many cases we are dealing with equipment for which there are quotations, and it is right that tenders should be required when large sums of money are involved. I take his point about time and delay, but he will have noticed that in my opening speech I said that we were recruiting 30 or 40 field assistants, at least, and these should be of great help in assisting our technical advisory officers. They will be able to do a great deal of purely checking work, to see how the schemes are progressing.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock asked about the ownership of land. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Scotland will be writing to him on the matter. He also asked about paragraph 6 of the Small Horticultural Production Business Scheme. The whole purpose of that paragraph is to provide that the same land should not receive more than one grant. There will be times when an owner will want to increase his holding when a scheme has already been completed on the land which he takes in, or the holding has been changed in some other way. That is why the paragraph provides for the Minister to determine the type and size of the grant to be made. The power is also there for the Minister to withdraw the grant.

I have gone over most of the points that have been raised. The schemes have been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am sure that they will be of great help to the horticulture industry, and that full advantage of them will be taken by all horticulturists.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Horticulture Improvement Scheme, 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 13th May, be approved.

Small Horticultural Production Business Scheme 1964 [draft laid before the House 13th May], approved.—[Mr. Scott-Hopkins.]