HL Deb 12 April 1960 vol 222 cc960-4

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Horticulture Improvement Scheme, 1960, a draft of which was laid before this House on March 23, be approved. This draft Scheme, which applies to the whole of the United Kingdom, is the first to be introduced under Part I of the Horticulture Act, 1960. It was laid before Parliament the day after the Act received the Royal Assent. Its main provisions were set out in the White Paper on Horticulture (Cmnd. 880) published in November last. The draft instrument now before us sets out the complete detailed provisions in legal form to enable the scheme to be carried out. These have already been the subject of considerable discussion during the passage of the Horticulture Bill through Parliament. Though I do not think that your Lordships would wish me to speak at length on the detailed provisions of the Scheme, I think there are some features on which a word of explanation would be helpful.

Your Lordships will recall that the Scheme is designed to help horticultural producers, either separately or through their co-operative marketing associations, to improve the efficiency of their businesses—with special emphasis on improved facilities for the storage and preparation for market of horticultural produce. The draft Scheme provides for grants for two kinds of business: first, horticultural production businesses, which may be run by growers as individuals, partnerships or companies; under the definition in the Act a "horticultural production business" includes not only a grower's production activities, but also the storage, preparation for market or transport of his produce; and horticultural producers' marketing businesses, run by co-operative associations. For certain facilities for horticultural production businesses, grants may be paid to growers or, in some cases, to their landlords. The conditions of eligibility for a horticultural production business are set out in paragraph 3 of the Draft Scheme.

The first condition of eligibility is that the business must embrace at least four acres of "eligible land". To be "eligible", land must have been in horticultural use for at least two years. The four-acre limit is really a notional one since, as stated in the White Paper, adjustments will be made to the actual land area to take account of particular forms of production. The area of glasshouses will be multiplied by twenty; the area of movable lights by four—and so on. The details are in sub-paragraphs (2) and (3) of paragraph 3 of the Draft Scheme.

The second condition of eligibility is that the business, after the proposals have been carried out, would be capable of yielding an adequate return to any person carrying it on with reasonable efficiency and as a full-time occupation. Normally we should expect a business of four acres or more of "eligible land" to meet this requirement without difficulty. We may, however, get the odd case where even though, strictly speaking, there are four acres or more of "eligible land" it is quite clear that they could not be regarded as a horticultural business. If it is obvious that even after providing the proposed facilities there would not be a business that would provide a living for at least one man, we should be wrong in putting the taxpayers' money into the venture.

The third condition of eligibility relates to security of tenure of the land on which the grant-aided proposal is to be carried out. The intention is that there shall be a reasonable likelihood of a grant-aided facility remaining in horticultural use for long enough to make payment of grant worthwhile. This condition will, of course, be fulfilled automatically if the person carrying on the business is the freeholder or an occupier under an agricultural tenancy. If he is a tenant under a non-agricultural lease we shall want to be assured that the unexpired term is sufficient.

The conditions of eligibility for a horticultural producers' marketing business are set out in paragraph 4 of the Draft Scheme. The main requirement for a marketing business, of course, is the condition that the business must have a co-operative character. This is laid down in subsection (4) of Section 8 of the Act.

Paragraph 6 of the Draft Scheme sets out the procedure for payment of grant by instalments in certain cases. We discussed this matter at length during the passage of the Bill, but there are a few points that I think deserve mention this afternoon. Your Lordships will recall that this is a safeguard which we propose to adopt where a grant-aided building, or similar work, does not form an integral part of a horticultural unit, so that its future use is not necessarily bound up with the use of the land it is erected to serve. In the light of views expressed in your Lordships' House while the Bill was under consideration, and of other representations which were made to us from various quarters, we have modified the procedure originally envisaged.

Our original idea was that, in this type of case, grant for a facility costing £200 or more would be payable by instalments. We have now decided not to insist on payment by instalments if the work costs less than £900. Again, we had originally intended that the first payment—upon completion of work—should be equal to one-third of the total grant. We have now decided to put this up to one-half, or £250 if that is more. Finally, instead of applying the instalment procedure wherever the site of the facility is in any way separated from other land used for the purpose of a production business, we have decided to allow a tolerance of 200 yards—so that, for example, separation simply by a lane or roadway will not be a reason for invoking the instalment procedure. These modifications go as far as we can by way of relaxation, while at the same time preserving the degree of safeguard for the Exchequer which we conceive to be essential.

The schedule of facilities for which grants will be payable corresponds closely to the Appendix to the White Paper. The only significant difference is that the Draft Scheme lists in detail the items of machinery and so forth that were described generally in the White Paper as plant and equipment necessary for the storage, preparation for market or transport of horticultural produce. A word on the administration of the Scheme. In England and Wales applications will be received in the Ministry's Divisional Offices. Proposals will be considered from a technical standpoint in the first place, of course, by the qualified horticultural officers of the National Agricultural Advisory Service. These officers are already in touch with virtually all potential applicants, though they have not previously been concerned with the administration of a general grant scheme of this kind. This Scheme will give new point to many of these existing contacts. In many cases discussion of proposals under the Scheme will be combined with other advisory work.

My right honourable friend is looking to the county agricultural executive committees to make a valuable contribution to the successful operation of this Scheme, as they do under other schemes. Members of committees will be consulted in difficult or border-line cases, and will consider representations from persons aggrieved by official decisions. These functions of C.A.E.C.s are now a well-established feature of the administration of our grant and subsidy schemes. In Scotland applications will be dealt with by the headquarters of the Scottish Department of Agriculture at St. Andrew's House. Technical consideration of proposals will be in the hands of qualified inspectors, and in cases involving fixed equipment the Department will be advised by its own architects and surveyors.

Our aim all along has been to be ready to accept applications as from April 1. Since that date, therefore, we have accepted provisional applications, on the basis of the Draft Scheme now before the House. But no proposals have been approved, nor any grant paid, of course, in advance of Parliament's approval. This arrangement has made it possible for growers to start discussing their plans with our local officers and, in some cases, for detailed examination of applications to be put in hand. It is, of course, too early yet to assess the response, but it is clear that a lively interest is already being shown in the Scheme.

In a week so far as my own Ministry is concerned, up to last night over 1,200 inquiries and more than 80 applications had been received. Most growers are heeding our advice to think about their proposals carefully and discuss them with our local advisory staff before submitting formal applications.

This Scheme is the first to be designed specifically for horticulture. It presents new opportunities for the horticulture industry to equip itself to meet the demands of a market that is becoming increasingly discerning in its quest for produce of the right quality, in the right condition, and at the right price. The Scheme gives positive encouragement to the co-operative marketing of horticultural produce which, it is generally agreed, offers the best chance of improving the position of many of our growers, particularly smaller ones. I feel quite sure that the horticulture industry will make the most of the opportunities presented by this Scheme. I have much pleasure in commending this Scheme to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the Horticulture Improvement Scheme, 1960, be approved.—(Earl Waldegrave.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.