HC Deb 30 July 1980 vol 989 cc1491-3
3. Mr. Lyell

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he is taking to discourage building on good agricultural land between new towns and other urban areas.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Marcos Fox)

The Government's policy is, where possible, to avoid development of agriculural land and, where it must be taken, to use lower, rather than higher quality land.

Mr. Lyell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. That may be the policy where possible, but will my hon. Friend please remember that there is a large amount of vacant and dormant land around new towns throughout the country? Will he consider imposing a moratorium on the use of agricultural land until that land is used?

Mr. Fox

If my hon. Friend considers carefully the measures that the Government have taken since coming into office, he will realise that we have done that which he has asked me to do. We shall ensure that underused land is brought forward for development. Only as a last resort will we consider using agricultural or green belt land.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Is not the one principal measure that the Government have taken that of virtually stopping all building? Has the Minister had an opportunity to consider yesterday's report of the Select Committee on the environment, which predicts that building starts in the private sector will stay at 100,000 and that starts in the public sector will decline to 31,000? Is that not the sort of measure that the Government are taking, rather than the measures indicated by the Minister?

Mr. Fox

In due course the Government will give their answer to the issues raised at yesterday's meeting of the Select Committee. My responsibility is for land availability. The Labour Government were not very successful in building houses or in providing land. We intend to ensure that when our economy expands—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] That will come sooner than Labour Members realise. Our intention is to ensure that shortage of land will not be a detriment to building the number of houses that we deem to be necessary.

Mr. Chapman

Will my hon. Friend establish beyond doubt that at least 50,000 acres of agricultural land are used for development purposes of various sorts, while at the same time probably a quarter of a million acres are lying derelict or unused in our large towns or conurbations? I recognise the progress that the Government have made in utilising derelict urban land, but will he ask his right hon. Friend to consult the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ascertain whether fresh initiatives can be taken to encourage the conservation of agricultural land?

Mr. Fox

Our relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is on an ongoing basis. The difference between this Government and the Labour Government is that our Departments work closely together. I assure my hon. Friend that Environment Ministers, and sometimes Ministers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, are involved when it comes to the use of green belt land. A register of derelict land is being prepared. I take note of my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister tell the House a little more about the relationship between his Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? It may be ongoing, but we do not know where it is going. Have the Department's consultations on conservation covered the deplorable proposals which the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has put before the House, which will make the Government's already deplorable record on conservation quite outrageous?

Mr. Fox

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to give an ongoing answer, but I shall resist that. We shall be prepared to defend our record on conservation, certainly when it is compared with that of the previous Labour Government. What we have done already is quite an achievement.