HC Deb 14 June 1979 vol 968 cc594-6
2. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has, in view of the substantial total of agricultural land lost permanently in Great Britain each year, for reviewing the serious situation which arises.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jerry Wiggin)

The continuing rate of loss of land from agriculture is totally unacceptable. My right hon. Friend is reviewing the major causes of such losses to see how they can be reduced. He is also considering how to monitor these losses more accurately.

Mr. Smith

I am delighted by that reply. Is my hon. Friend aware that in the last Parliament there were less than satisfactory arrangements between his Ministry and the Department of the Environment over the way that good agricultural land was used for urban development? Will he pay particular heed to the need to liaise on planning and subsidiary matters with the Department of the Environment?

Mr. Wiggin

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend has already corresponded with the Secretary of State for the Environment about the matter. Junior Ministers have been allotted the task of starting officials upon the work.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister trying to tell the House that he is engaged in temporary intervention in the so-called free market forces affecting land? Is he saying that in reality it will turn out to be a long-winded cover-up?

Mr. Wiggin

The hon. Gentleman well knows that planning controls have been in operation for many years. It is felt that these should be altered in order to preserve an important natural resource that can never be replaced.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Since this is the first occasion upon which my hon. Friend and his right hon. and hon. Friends have answered questions from the Government Front Bench on agriculture, may I say that, of all the appointments made by the Prime Minister, that of the Secretary of State gave the greatest satisfaction to my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself? Bearing in mind the record held by my right hon. Friend in the improvement of derelict land in this country in his previous post will he take an early opportunity to make a statement on his policy towards land use in this country so that the remark he made about the loss of agricultural land being unacceptable may be put into practice?

Mr. Wiggin

I have intimated that steps have been taken on those lines. My right hon. and hon. Friends will have heard my hon. Friend's remarks, and I am sure that they thank him for them.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Minister tell us how he reconciles his answer with the Budget Statement in which the Chancellor announced a relaxation of controls on the release of land for development— most of which, presumably, is agricultural land?

Mr. Wiggin

There is all the difference in the world between releasing controls and ensuring that land which is less suitable for agriculture is used in preference to grade one and other good land.

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