HC Deb 05 April 2001 vol 366 cc483-4
1. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

If he will make a statement on the future of British horticulture.[155678]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin)

The Government attach great importance to the future of our horticulture industry. We assist the sector through a programme of strategic research and development, costing about £10.8 million in the current year. In addition, new schemes launched under the England rural development programme will provide opportunities for the horticulture industry to improve its competitiveness.

Mr. Brady

Does the Minister agree that, at a time of crisis in the rural economy, the 30 per cent. of agricultural employment provided by horticulture is more important than ever? Does she also agree that the proposed increase in fees by the Pesticides Safety Directorate from £470 to £1,285 for specific off-label approval will be a damaging additional burden for horticulture, and will cause the sort of research and development expenditure to which she referred to be scaled back?

Ms Quin

We are looking at that issue. I am certainly keen to ensure that the horticulture industry does not bear increased burdens at such a difficult time for agriculture generally. I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the increased potential for horticulture in this country. Although much of the fruit, for example, that is imported could not be grown here, we could grow many of the vegetables that at present we import. There is therefore considerable potential, and the Government are working actively with the industry to identify a range of opportunities for expansion.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby)

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Yorkshire's horticultural growers who, with support from all around the country, have created and funded the Stockbridge technology centre? This week, the centre took over the management of the world-famous horticultural research facility at Stockbridge house in my constituency, only months after the facility was earmarked for closure—much to the consternation of the industry—by Horticultural Research International.

Ms Quin

I certainly pay tribute to my hon. Friend for what he has done to secure both activity at the Stockbridge site and the work being done there by the organisation to which he referred. I know that he has had a number of meetings with MAFF Ministers to ensure a good use of the Stockbridge site and also to ensure that some of the work being done in his constituency complements other work being done to assist the horticulture industry generally throughout the country.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Given that many growers are heavily dependent on direct sales from their holdings, as I have been in the past, what assessment has the Ministry made of the indirect effects of the foot and mouth epidemic in inhibiting people from travelling to horticultural or mixed holdings to make direct purchases?

Ms Quin

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the matter. Obviously, we do not want to encourage any movements that might compromise the fight against foot and mouth disease, but at the same time we do not want to restrict unnecessarily bona fide movements that would help the horticulture industry. The best way to resolve the matter is through continuing discussions with the Horticultural Trades Association and other representatives of the industry.