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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:22 pm ar 19 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Ceidwadwyr 12:22, 19 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, what a pity it is that a subject so important, and which has had such an input from the House of Lords, has such little time to be debated. I hope there will be other occasions on which we can talk about this.

I speak as a professional horticulturalist—I am less so nowadays, because I spend too much time here, and you cannot actually work in the fields and sit on these Benches. I must declare some interests. I am president of the Institute of Agricultural Management, and in that there might lie a key as to how I approach this job. I am also president of the Anglo-Netherlands Society, and that also probably is a key to how I view this job.

We were talking earlier about how we start in these things. Taylors Bulbs, the horticultural firm of which I am the third generation, was started by a man from London—an ex-soldier in the First World War who managed to get 10 acres of land in Holbeach and rented it as a Crown colony holding. From that, he grew the business. His two sons were born in London but became naturalised Holbeachians in time; I still say “flowers” in the way that I was taught to when I was younger—I cannot help it. From that beginning, we grew to a business of 200 acres, which we owned by the time I joined. We now own 2,000 acres, and the business is in the hands of my younger son and a nephew. They are running it very well, and many of your Lordships will know the products that the company offers.

That lesson shows you something about the way in which horticulture thinks of itself. It is an entrepreneurial business. It is not a form-filling and bureaucratic business—it cannot be so. It has to work with the grain; it cannot fight against it. It works with the climate and the seasons, and has a great deal going for it because of that. It is really important that the Government, in interacting with the industry, understand that basic tenet; it means they should regulate lightly in an area where enterprise and initiative may well lead to great solutions.

That is certainly the way in which the Dutch have worked. Having left school at 17—I should have gone to university but I did not, and I do not mind that I did not because I went somewhere that was vital for me—I went to work in Holland. As a result, I learned how the Dutch dealt with their business: how they worked and prioritised horticulture, and how all sections of the Dutch Government used natural gas and various attributes which came to the Netherlands to build an industry. It was very much the enterprise and focus of the Dutch Government, and the Dutch as a nation, that led to the huge development of horticulture in that country. We can still learn from that; we have very close relations. Spalding was built by Anglo-Dutch co-operation—it is still the area supplying most of the fruit and vegetables to the whole of this country. Even strawberries growing in Kent and melons from Brazil get distributed from Spalding. This is an important feature of the potential that we have.

We have a lot going for us. We should back our horticultural institutes—the National Institute of Agricultural Botany is superb in its East Malling venture, and should be invested in and encouraged. We have Kew, and we have the Royal Horticultural Society. We have so much going for us in this country. We also supply the nation’s greatest hobby industry—gardening. Are we not lucky? Are we not gifted? This is a superb report. I am so grateful to all those who have spoken and participated, and I am really grateful to my noble friend Lady Fookes for all that she has done in proclaiming the virtues of our industry.

I hope the Minister will understand why there is disappointment with the Government’s response, not for any other reason than that they have failed to realise the potential that lies in this report and this industry. We should be optimistic, back it, and make it work for the interests of Britain.