Members and sponsors of The All Party Parliamentary Group met the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson MP and Parliamentary Under Secretary Lord de Mauley today at Defra's offices to discuss plant health, horticulture employment opportunities and the skills gap, research and development and pesticides and neonicotinoids.
RHS director general Sue Biggs, HTA director general Carol Paris, BALI chief operating officer Wayne Grills and Sue Ireland, director of open spaces at the City of London Corporation attended the meeting along with Baroness Fookes and Brian Donohoe MP.
Chairman of the All Party Group Fookes said:
"It was one of the most constructive meetings of this type I have ever attended. I thought that the Secretary of State was very much on the top of his game."
Fookes said the group was pleased with the progress made by the department, particularly in the area of plant heath.
The ministers reported back Defra's work in:
- Starting a plant risk register.
- Reducing imports and substituting them for home grown plants.
- Investigating setting up a plant health task force.
- Holding monthly bio-security meetings so that Paterson is fully briefed on developments.
"They are really trying quite hard to look at the issues of plant health," Fookes said.
"It is very much at the top of the agenda. The Secretary said it was one of his four departmental priorities."
She said the issue of growers being stuck with healthy ash trees they are not allowed to sell was not raised.
The group also presented the Horticulture Matters matters report, which Paterson had not yet read. The report, launched in the House of Commons in May by the RHS in association with other industry bodies asks seven requests of government.
Fookes said Patterson pledged to study the report which she said the group made clear represented research and views from across the industry.
He also said he would discuss the report with Heath and see if he had done any work based on it.
However Fookes said she thought ministers now the ministers had "a much greater understanding of the employment possibilities in horticulture and the employment risks. We either have to import skilled people or run down the industry. There are numerous possibilities for skilled jobs.
The All Party Group requests an annual meeting with the Secretary of State which is usually granted. This was the first with Paterson, also Conservative MP for North Shropshire, who took over the role from Caroline Spelman MP in September 2012.