DEFRA secretary of state Margaret Beckett has failed to attend the All-Party Parliamentary Horticultural & Gardening Group (APHGG) annual reception for the fourth successive year.
Garden writer and broadcaster Peter Seabrook said: “I’m surprised we’ve not seen her when so many leaders from across the industry were there. When I’ve been to meetings to hear her speak it seems she’s not interested in horticulture. The message is not the right one from our point of view.”
Beckett’s press secretary said: “We do take the horticulture industry seriously but the secretary of state was unable to go on this occasion because of ministerial business. Lord Whitty did attend and he is the lead minister [for horticulture] in our department. I don’t want you to read anything in to it that she couldn’t go.”
More than 30 MPs and peers did attend the event, held at the House of Commons. Other attendees at the event — sponsored by Scotts, HTA, HW, Royal Parks and the Corporation of London — were former agriculture minister Lord Clark, RHS director general Andrew Colquhoun, HTA director general David Gwyther and Royal Parks chief executive William Weston.
DEFRA minister Lord Whitty spoke to the 150 delegates.
Organiser Mark Glover said: “Again it provided an excellent opportunity for the industry to directly raise the concerns with interested members of Parliament.
“It is important that the horticulture industry continues to fight for stronger recognition of its contribution to the UK economy, which is the key aim of the group.”
Seabrook said: “One garden retailer was cross we had given the indication everything was OK in horticulture. As far as he’s concerned we’ve had a rough year.”
In his speech, Seabrook attacked both the RHS and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for failing to support British trade.
The Sun gardening editor said the Sun Flower Street exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May 2005 will be the last. “They’ve arbitrarily removed the stairs to the exhibit’s walkway without any discussions. And there seems to be no reason to open on the Saturday. From the trade point of view it is not sensible to take another day out on the busiest Bank Holiday.”
RHS head of shows development Bob Sweet said the raised walkway would not be allowed because of new disability laws.
Seabrook also attacked BBC2 programme A Year at Kew, which showed arboretum head Tony Kirkham sourcing trees in Italy.
Seabrook said: “If they’re going to plant an avenue of trees they should be purchased here. Kew wears its environmental heart on its sleeve and it’s burning fossil fuel bringing big trees across Europe.”
Kew head of corporate affairs Sue Runyard said: “Kew works with over 80 countries constantly importing plants and seeds — and exports them for re-introduction.
“The grand Georgian and Victorian avenues at Kew consist predominantly of trees that are not native to the UK, so in planting the six matching pairs of trees from overseas, we were continuing a long-established tradition.
As a World Heritage Site we are bound to protect and restore the heritage vistas.”
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