English Horticultural Sector (Horticultural Sector Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:12 pm ar 19 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Colgrain Lord Colgrain Ceidwadwyr 12:12, 19 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, it was a pleasure and a privilege to serve as a member of this Horticultural Sector Committee, which was so ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Redesdale. I thank my committee colleagues for making our meetings enjoyable and informative, and I wish to add my thanks to those already given to the clerks and expert witnesses, all of whom managed to enable the committee to cover considerable ground effectively in a short period of time. The visits we made, within London and without, were particularly useful.

Of the issues raised in the report, there are three I wish to revisit. The first is education, referred to in recommendations 22 to 30 in the report. We were constantly reminded by many witnesses of the value of contact for young people with nature, in the classroom and outdoors—“Green time, not screen time”, as one witness put it. Beneficial effects through the outside world for the purposes of general well-being are appreciated by educationalists and the medical profession alike, but the long shadow of Covid means that there will now be a generation that needs exposure to and education about nature more than any previous one. So it is particularly frustrating that the Government say there is no room on the national curriculum for the subject of horticulture as a stand-alone topic, as highlighted by my noble friend Lady Fookes. I wonder whether the Government might reconsider this point.

The second issue I wish to revisit is that of food security and our recommendation 13. At the time the committee was sitting, the unseasonably cold and wet weather in Spain and Morocco had curtailed the availability of salads and tomatoes, with empty shelves in shops. The evidence given highlighted the small percentage of such crops grown in the UK in a normal year, thus adding to the susceptibility of annual shortages. As a consequence of the war in Ukraine and attendant energy cost increases, and with uncertainty attached to the availability of seasonal labour, many growers were cutting back. At the time, these seemed like exceptional headwinds, but the particularly wet weather this winter has brought about further jeopardy to the domestic supply chain, with crops unharvested from last autumn and crops not yet planted this spring. Can the Government give further thought to helping domestic horticultural producers wherever possible, particularly on the vexed issue of water storage—on which I hope that the Minister might comment—so that our percentage of self-sufficiency in horticultural products is not reduced further?

The third issue relates to research, development and innovation support from the Government in our recommendations 55 and 56. My noble friend Lord Carter of Coles has already slightly stolen my thunder on this point, because I too was going to refer to the site visit that we made to the vertical farming enterprise in Kent. This addressed positively many of the factors that the committee had heard negatively about, such as seasonal labour, energy and water consumption costs, and the detrimental effects of poor weather, which of course are not relevant to vertical farming at all. The disappointing note in our visit was that the funding for this enterprise and its planned follow-up site was coming from a US pension fund. Given that it is government policy to look for more inward investment from UK pension funds and insurance companies to infrastructure and businesses that might develop a public listing in due course, can the Minister give assurances that all possible financial help is given to similar horticultural enterprises in the future, along the lines of R&D tax alliances and preferential access to domestic capital markets?