HC Deb 30 July 1981 vol 9 cc1219-39

'The Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament an annual report giving details of all land formerly used for the purposes of agriculture, forestry, park, or general countryside amenity which has been developed during the previous year.'.—[Mr. Hastings.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it is convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 6—Review of law on abuse of the countryside.

New clause 7—Control of development of the countryside.

Mr. Hastings

The new clauses are concerned with land loss, with penalties for despoiling the countryside, and with development. All are related, and all are relevant to one central proposition. The whole of part II of the Bill is concerned with nature conservation, the countryside and national parks. There has been a lengthy and painstaking debate about access, about what those who live and work on the land shall be required to do in or with it, and about the relative claims and ambitions of the Countryside Commission, the NCC, the CPRE and many other conservation bodies with regard to it. But nowhere during the passage of the Bill, except briefly on Second Reading, has there been any opportunity to debate the wholesale disappearance of the countryside, the causes of it, the extent of it or the consequences of it.

It is not that the Government are unconscious of the position. Answers to questions on the subject show greater awareness of the danger than there was a few years ago. But it is still far from satisfactory in my view, and what those answers disclose only confirms the basis of public disquiet about land loss. Let there be no mistake, there is growing disquiet.

I mention especially an Adjournment debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), who I am glad to see in his place, on 1 July last. He is to be congratulated. His apprehension is entirely justified. The reply of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on that occasion was also important because it was the latest definitive statement of the Government on the subject.

I think I can summarise the Minister's case by saying that the Government are concerned to ensure that the minimum of agricultural land is taken. Secondly, they believe that the best way to ensure this is to make use of existing unused land in urban areas. Thirdly, the best available source of information on losses is provided by the annual census conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, although this is admittedly inaccurate. Fourthly, there remains a residual figure of land loss that cannot be accounted for. Fifthly, there is a dependence for the future on the structure plans. Finally, my hon. Friend invites the House to take comfort from an assessment that only one-tenth of our land area was urban and that the land taken for housing development now appeared to be abating slightly.

The case for the new clauses depends on how successfully these objectives are being met. I want to consider this, but first I must pay full tribute to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing about unused, under-used or derelict land in the urban areas. This was the second objective of the five to which I referred.

The 27 registers and what they reveal are most encouraging, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend unreservedly on the steps that he is taking to develop the inner cities. This could be the beginning of a great advance, but by itself it will not relieve the pressure and demand on new green field sites", which is the stated aim, unless it is backed up by a firm policy of resistance to all forms of non-essential development in the countryside. Let us remember that my right hon. Friend's scheme is rightly and logically based on information about what is really happening. The same cannot be said, alas, of development in the countryside.

That brings me to my two complaints about the functioning of the Government's policy, first, because it is based on inadequate information and, secondly, because it is not being enforced consistently.

The figures for land loss are still staggeringly high. On 1 July, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State mentioned 100,000 acres a year which was lost to farming. He cited a high constituent figure for transfer to forestry but admitted to at least 30,000 acres to urban development. Incidentally, that figure contrasts oddly with an answer given me on 10 July to the effect that the total loss of farm land to all forms of development in England and Wales was 9,282 hectares, which I make only 22,935 acres. There must be some confusion here. Perhaps my arithmetic is at fault.

At the same time, my hon. Friend said nothing about the loss of land to motorways and major road works, nothing about coal mining, either now or projected, nor about other extractive industries, and nothing about the depredations of the water boards and the miscalculations that they undoubtedly have made. Perhaps he had no time to do justice to these other matters in the Adjournment debate; but he did mention this unexplained loss, which he put at 20,000 acres, of farm land to dereliction. He termed it "horseyculture", and I shall return to that a little later in my remarks.

In reply to my last series of questions on 10 July, I was told that no separate figures existed for the loss of farm land to roads or mineral workings in England and Wales, but only a total. That seems strange. If the total is known, surely there must be some idea about how it is made up. The answers also indicated that there were no figures for the loss of forestry or of countryside amenity but only of farm land. I could cite other official figures over recent years which demonstrate apparent discrepancies as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North spoke of the current loss as amounting to the disappearance of a county the size of Dorset every six and a half years. I have myself cited a county the size of Leicestershire disappearing every five years. It takes these frightening extrapolations to bring home to people what seems to be happening, and therefore I take no comfort from the knowledge that only one-tenth of the land surface is now urban. If the process continues, it is no wild assertion to say that our entire stock of improved farm land will disappear in 200 years—and then what price the Countryside Commission, the SSSIs and all the grand plans for access and conservation, leaving aside who is to feed us?

I want to discuss the subject of structure plans for a moment, because this constitutes an important part of the Government's policy. On 1 July, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that they set the pattern for the future use of land. I suggest that they are an important guide in setting out area by area the way in which land should be used and the purposes for which it should be used."—[Official Report, 1 July 1981; Vol. 7, c. 986.] That is all very well, but when I asked on 10 July what was the likely total loss of farm land and countryside if the structure plans were implemented fully, my hon. Friend replied: structure plans are not required to express policies in terms that enable such an eitimate to be readily made."—[Official Report, 10 July 1981; Vol. 8, c. 251.] In other words, plans are to be made without any prior requirement to signal the probable loss of the countryside involved. I cannot think that this constitutes the best way of meeting the Government's objectives. This is planning without proper information, and it leads to the practice of moving and manoeuvring people and economic activity in accordance with hypothetical predictions, and this must risk unnecessary loss of the countryside.

I take an imaginary example of a country town—call it "Muddletown"—which is required to produce a suggestion for the local structure plan. The planners make it known that because of present trends they believe that the population of "Muddletown" in the 1990s will be so many and that therefore it will need so much new development and infrastructure to meet the increase, and so much land will be required for that.

To my mind, this is to ensure that the development will take place. No one can say what the size of the population of "Muddletown" will be in the 1990s if it is left alone. But the existence of that plan will bring the increase about. This may be planning, but it is not planning for the conservation of the countryside. The admirable logic of military orders, as every soldier knows, is based on the sequence of information, intention, method. Here, under the guise of town and country planning, we have what looks to me more like method, generally related to intention, followed by an attempt to find out what has happened.

I do not underestimate the difficulty in obtaining the information required by new clause 5. It will involve a lot of work. But it is done elsewhere. There are land use maps available in Holland, and I am told information available in Scotland is much better than it is in England and Wales.

A year ago I asked my right hon. Friend how many planning officers were employed in the Department of the Environment and by local authorities. The answer was 108 in the DOE and no fewer than 22,350 employed by local authorities in England and Wales. Is it really impossible that a proportion of this massive establishment could not be instructed to turn its efforts to producing the information that is required under new clause 5? The Land Council was formed some two and a half years ago by a number of people much better qualified than I to judge these matters, with precisely this objective in mind. I suggest that the Government might make use of their ideas for this purpose.

My second complaint is that the policy of conservation professed by my hon. Friend is not being enforced in all Departments. If I am right, the information that is available on land loss, first, to motorways and major roads and, secondly, to the extractive industries is inadequate. There is, therefore, all the more reason to be careful. I shall give a typical example in the first category. At present, there is a proposal to construct an A1—M1 link in Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. At the same time work is progressing on the improvement of the A45, also in Northamptonshire, which happens to be an A1—M1 link. The Northamptonshire county council sensibly suggested that the improved A45 could do the job. The loss to agricultural land would have been nil. But no, the Department turned that down and came up with some engineer's dream—a great two-lane motorway flung straight across the county, with an estimated loss of 700 acres of farmland. In addition to that—and apparently as an afterthought—there is now an added scheme for another branch from the A45 to the Department's route, straight across the same country, involving a further loss of 100 acres. If the Government are serious in their objectives, that sort of wilful consumption of the countryside has got to be stopped.

I turn to the extractive industries, the second category that I mentioned. I cannot conceive that if, as it appears, my right hon. Friend had decided to spare the Vale of Belvoir, he will change his mind because of threats from the miners' union. That would make a farce of the whole Bill. Now, I read in The Times of today that 108 square miles of Warwickshire are also threatened by the National Coal Board. I have no doubt that the NCB is among the voracious and sometimes irresponsible consumers of the countryside.

Mr. Hardy

The hon. Gentleman is making a valid. point, but he may be overlooking the fact that in many areas there has been a great advance in land reclamation. In many areas, including South Yorkshire, there has been a remarkable transformation over the past four or five years because spoil heaps have been reclaimed, often in an extremely attractive manner. Our technical capacity to reclaim spoil heaps and return land to agriculture and rural purposes is now most commendable. Foolishly, that factor is frequently ignored.

Mr. Hastings

I myself see evidence of that. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) is right when he says that efforts have been and are being made. However, in my opinion they are quite inadequate. Claims that have been made for the fertility of the soil which is supposed to have been reclaimed are often grossly exaggerated. Some of the farmers who try to farm that land would not entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, although I accept that much has been done.

I come to new clause 7. The danger of land loss is increased by the new division of responsibility for planning and development between the district councils and the county planning authorities. There is no doubt that the ability of the county councils to protect their development plans has been seriously weakened by last year's Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Act. Since then, there have been examples of farm land taken by district councils against the structure plan, and despite the safeguards. In another place there was an unsuccessful attempt to amend that legislation. My new clause, or something similar, could restore the position.

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Finally, I come to new clause 6. My hon. Friend, in his speech of 1 July, was concerned, and rightly so, at the unexplained land loss to which I have already referred, and which he estimates at 20,000 acres. On Second Reading, I went into some detail about the survey that had been conducted by Dr. Alice Coleman and Mrs. Inga Feaver of London university for Farmers Weekly into urban pressure on farms. I shall not go into all that again. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is studying it, and I am grateful to him. It discloses a record of abuse, cruelty and hooliganism of horrifying extent. It occurs around nearly all the major urban concentrations and much of it goes unreported, undetected at the time, and unpunished. The total area of land placed under severe constraint by these abuses is estimated at over 11,000 acres. I take that as a serious estimate. It applies only to land that is affected by the 600-odd farmers who replied to the questionnaire that was sent to them. In addition to that loss, one must add the extra cost of time spent on surveillance, or paying for surveillance, and also the soaring insurance premiums which farmers suffer in these areas and must pay.

That is the genesis of the "horseyculture" of which my hon. Friend spoke on 1 July. The frontiers of farmable land around our cities are being steadily rolled back, leaving dereliction. Indeed, 20,000 acres is almost certainly a serious underestimate of the true position.

Most landowners and farmers, in my experience, are balanced and reasonable people who well understand the need for access to the countryside. However, they must be given protection against the abuses that are undeniably clear from the survey and from other evidence that I have come across since it was published. That is the reason for new clause 6. It is a question not simply of new penalties but of magistrates giving adequate penalties under existing law. I hope that the Government will require them to do so in future, and I am far from persuaded that they do so today.

I hope that I carry the House with me on the need for the three new clauses—new clause 5, because of inadequate information about what is happening to the countryside; new clauses 5 and 7, because the Government's policy is not being consistently or sufficiently firmly enforced; and new clause 6, because of the pressures on farmers in the urban fringe.

When I consider the Bill, and all the work that has been done on it by hon. Members on both sides, in the context of the loss of the countryside, I feel that we are like the crew of a stricken ship, arguing down in the hold about the division of the cargo while the vessel founders slowly about us with no one on the bridge to try to stop the catastrophe.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) on the new clause. I support new clause 5, and hope that he will press it to a vote. I also support new clauses 6 and 7.

Almost everyone in the country, and certainly all hon. Members, pays strong lip service to the idea of conserving the countryside and stopping the urban sprawl taking it over. Nevertheless, having expressed that general view, when it comes to a particular there is almost always an overriding and pressing reason why a development should take place. Everyone is in favour of conserving the countryside, but in practice they do not conserve it.

Many people dream about having a cottage situated in a field, with trees and hedges around it. It is that dream that many housing developers try to emulate, and they destroy the dream at the moment when they start building. They do not look for a vacant site within an urban area. They look on the edge of the urban area, somewhere that has an attractive view, with trees, perhaps a stream, and that is where they go. They do so often because it is cheaper to build there but also because they know that the completed houses will offer to the would-be purchasers something approaching their dream. Time after time people buy houses on the urban edges, with fields around and with a view, and five or six years later the next patch is developed. Gradually they find themselves back in an urban environment, and a bit more of the countryside has been lost. Not only are buildings involved. Sometimes two or three fields are taken over for development. That reduces the viability of the rest of the farm. The farmer ceases to farm the land. He lets it to a farmer some distance away. It is difficult to look after and children sometimes cause mischief. Gradually the land becomes derelict.

It is important to try to stop the urbanisation of the countryside. We should also try to bring back the countryside into our towns. There have been some interesting developments with so-called town farms. However, that nearly always means keeping livestock within the urban environment. Only rarely does it involve the re-creation of fields. I know that it is difficult to bring derelict land back to agricultural use. It is extremely expensive, but we should examine the possibilities.

The Coal Board has been attacked for the way in which it has eaten up the countryside. I am concerned about the number of spoil heaps, but the board's record is better than that of many other mineral extractors. Sand pits can often create attractive recreational facilities when water is left after the extraction of sand, but, again, agricultural land is lost. In many areas of the Peak District the scars left by the extraction of limestone mar the landscape as much as coal tips. It is almost impossible to turn such land back to agricultural use. It is much less likely to be successful than the NCB's efforts.

New clause 6 ranges wide. I support attempts to stop abuses of the countryside. I am particularly concerned about the way in which dogs from towns worry sheep and cause havoc among other livestock. Such incidents make it harder for farmers to continue to farm on the urban fringes. I abhor the abuse caused by youngsters with air-guns who go out supposedly to shoot at vermin but end up shooting at anything that moves. If they cannot find anything that moves, they shoot at the street lights. There are many other abuses, and I welcome measures to stop them.

This is an opportunity to come back to the question of hedgerows which are being grubbed up in large numbers. That is another major abuse. The extension of forestry has caused a great deal of concern. The way in which roads spread into the countryside is also a problem. I refer not only to major roads and motorways but to the widening of existing roads. It is amazing how often, when a bend is cut from a road to make the road better, the old bend is either made into a layby or left derelict. It is expensive to take a piece of land from a farmer and to return the piece on the bend to him in such a state that he can use it. We should consider the problem because often such land is used as a rubbish tip and becomes a major nuisance.

We must examine planning within the countryside. Planning is also subject to abuse. It is amazing that, although we can control advertising signs on shops and hoardings in the urban environment, farmers are allowed to erect buildings which totally alter the appearance of the countryside. I realise that cost is involved in putting up buildings that blend with the countryside, but outside national parks many abuses occur. Some farmers obstruct walkers and others who want to enjoy the countryside.

Another abuse involves land held by the Services. A great deal of land was taken over by the Services during the First and Second World Wars. They were able to take over the land without much inquiry because it was considered to be in the national interest. The needs of the Services in terms of the amount of land held have changed. However, they hold on to vast areas of land, sometimes because there is live ammunition or bombs on it, but they have no real need for it. We should spend a little money on reclaiming such land and bringing it back to agricultral or amenity use. That should reduce some of the pressures on other parts of the countryside.

The legislation has been discussed for almost two years. It has been going through Parliament for over nine months. Much public interest has been aroused. The fines and penalties in the legislation are perhaps not as important as arousing the public conscience. We should investigate ways of continuing the debate and getting people interested in the issue.

That is one of the attractions of new clause 6. It calls for continued discussion and for the Government to bring back to the House proposals to deal with the type of problems to which the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire referred, and to which I have referred briefly. It calls for discussion of the many other problems raised by the Bill so that they can be considered in the next 12 months and perhaps legislated upon. The big danger is that once the legislation is passed people will think that something has changed. Nothing will change unless attitudes change and people carry out the spirit of the legislation rather than the letter of the law.

Mr. Peter Mills

I welcome the chance to speak to the new clauses. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) on the way in which he moved the new clause and, more than that, on taking such an important role for many years in seeking to preserve agricultural land and delving into the problems. He has done a good job.

I fully support new clause 5. Annual reports seem to be right and useful to a large number of people, not just to those who are concerned about the loss of agricultural land. We should know exactly what is going on. We should know, the amount of agriculture, forestry and park land being lost. The loss is more serious than people realise.

I declare an interest as a farmer, although most people know that I am a farmer. In the South-West of England we are desperately anxious about the loss of good agricultural land. It is said that land lost is usually the better land. The higher grade land round our towns and other places is being lost. In the South-West there is a constant threat to our beautiful land which is used for food production. It is being lost to concrete, reservoirs and roads. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows how concerned I am about the flooding of hundreds of acres of land at Roadford and Higher Horselett for reservoirs. It is nonsense to think of doing that at this time. It is beyond my understanding why we should continue to allow that loss of agricultural land.

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It is quite wrong to build huge dual carriageways simply to cope with peak demands on a few Saturdays in the holiday season. We need good, improved roads with passing areas so that the heavy lorries can keep to the crawler lanes and motorists can pass them. To use so much agricultural land for those roads is a sin.

A large development is taking place at Plymouth which is coming into my constituency in the South Hams. It is using up some of our high grade land. It is wrong to put houses there when there is plenty of waste land available. We could even reclaim land. An annual report on the loss of agricultural land would be immensely useful in the South-West.

I cannot understand why so many good people are concerned about the preservation of areas of outstanding beauty and rare types of butterflies and animals—concerns that I fully support—but never give a squeak about the loss of agricultural land. That is a sad fact. I am not accusing Opposition Members in particular. I receive letters from people concerned about the loss of the lesser blue spotted tit, or some such thing, or about land being ploughed, but never do I receive letters about the loss of prime agricultural land, even though it produces food. I think that I am justified in making that complaint. I am concerned about both aspects. I wish that others were similarly concerned.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, because people do not write, it does not mean that they are not concerned? Most of those who write to him about the preservation of various species or land would also write about the loss of agricultual land if they thought that that issue was in dispute. They believe that everyone is in favour of conserving agricultural land. The sad fact is that that does not happen.

Mr. Mills

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Those concerned about the loss of a rare bird or butterfly should be concerned also about county councils and the Department of Transport putting concrete on land and the South-West water authority flooding land. They do not write about that, and that is my concern.

Most agriculturists—I speak as one—are concerned about our national heritage of agricultural land. They are concerned also about the preservation of species and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Only a few of them are not concerned. It is unfair that the general impression gained is that farmers are not concerned with the preservation of all that we are discussing tonight.

I do not know whether my next remarks will be in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am sure that if they are not you will stop me. Farmers want to ensure that the NCC has sufficient finances to deal with conservation in the proper manner. It is no good introducing legislation if there is insufficient finance to deal with it. There could he a serious problem if sufficient finance is not provided by the Government.

I welcome new clause 7, which refers to waste land and other available land in the vicinity … completely unsuitable for such development. It is important to use waste land and poor land for new housing and factories before using good clean, virgin agricultural land. I hope that the planners will consider the issue carefully. I realise that it is easier to build a new housing site on a completely new site—that is obvious—but, in the interests of food production, older and derelict sites should be used first.

I hope that everyone realises that we cannot continue to lose agricultural land. Future generations will need the food that it produces. The present generation has much to answer for, with the loss of thousands of acres of land every year. Food production is still crucial. Food is the basic item that we need to produce in a hungry world. It is wrong to continue in such a wasteful manner.

I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Minister on the Front Bench. I know that he is concerned about these matters. I hope that he will take to heart sincerely the real difficulties and the sin of flooding food-producing land for reservoirs and the terrible loss of good agricultural land for houses and roads. It is a crucial issue.

Mr. Hardy

Like the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), I believe that the House is indebted to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) for introducing these important clauses. I hope that the Government will accept them. Their merits speak for themselves.

The hon. Member for Devon, West referred to reclaiming land. That reminds me that some of us have argued that one of the advantages of the Vale of Belvoir coalfield is that the relatively small amount of dirt that would come up with the coal could be moved to his constituency to fill some of the holes left by the brick industry. Some of the holes could remain for conservation reasons. That is an example of the sort of land reclamation to which he referred.

I do not quite share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North for the return of Ministry of Defence land to agricultural or other uses. When I was piloting the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975 through the House, I was vexed and concerned about the plight of the natterjack toad. Shortly after the Bill was enacted I discovered that the gentleman responsible for MOD land had permitted the breeding of the natterjack toad and that several thousand had been released. Had the House known that fact' when it considered the Bill, it is probable that the list of protected species in schedule 1 would have been somewhat shorter.

The House should be concerned about the loss of agricultural land. I hope that that concern will be expressed to the point that we discourage farmers from using heavy machinery that affects the soil structure. To use such machinery means that the hedgerows are removed and fields enlarged. In the end, that may not produce more food, and may even contribute to producing less.

The new clauses are important. New clause 6 touches on a significant matter. I recall that in Committee I said that the House would have to recognise that enforcement was important, and that therefore the NCC and other public bodies should be given adequate capacity to enforce the law.

If the new clause is accepted—and I hope that it will be—the promised review may lead the Government to assume that enforcement should receive greater priority. I have often said that in countryside matters one cannot have sufficient policemen to stand guard over every rare place and every acre of farm land. We must give public bodies the capacity to advise and to ensure effective enforcement of the law.

That leads me to a suggestion that I made in Committee that the Minister did not accept. I hope that at some stage—this will probably happen, if the new clause is accepted, when the review takes place—the Minister will ensure that his colleagues in other Departments consider the proposition that in every police force one officer should be appointed to act as link man with the Nature Conservancy Council and perhaps with the voluntary bodies to ensure that the law is properly enforced.

One of the problems is that, with all the good will in the world, police forces may not have officers with sufficient contacts, knowledge and experience to carry out the function that I have described. The result is that several Acts have not been properly implemented. I think that my proposal would cost nothing. The evidence in Canada and one or two other countries demonstrates that it is a worthwhile suggestion. If the new clause contributed to that enforcement and to our legislation being more effective, the House would have performed a real service in putting it into the Bill.

I hope that the three new clauses will be accepted. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has chosen a good time to offer us new clause 7. We are now able more easily to protect our countryside than at any time over the past 30 years. If the Minister considers the structure of the population and the falling birth rate, he must conclude that the voracious consumption of agricultural land is no longer justified. Given the size of the secondary school population, we can properly assume that the demand for housing by the early and middle 1990s will inevitably fall.

I suggested mischievously not so long ago that one reason for the Conservative Party embracing the principle of council house sales is that in many areas the populations may decline, and it prefers to pull a fast one on council house tenants rather than leave local authorities lumbered with the cost of unoccupied houses. I do not wish to spoil the debate by introducing such a partisan note. I merely say that the new clauses are splendid. I hope that the Government will have enough sense to accept them. If they do not, I trust that the hon. Gentleman will divide the House.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

I support the new clause. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) for referring to the Adjournment debate that I initiated on the subject on 1 July. I agree with the comments made so far.

First, in the words of the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), we need a completely different attitude to the loss of agricultural land. I understand that the Department of the Environment regards the problem as serious. However, I do not believe that local authorities do. The same can be said of the House. I am sure that the public do not apprehend, as my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) said, that we face a serious problem.

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Secondly, the loss of agricultural land, like the pressures created by population increases, is at the heart of many of the problems with which we are trying to deal. Too often we are dealing with the results of problems rather than the fundamental causes. There is pressure on farmers to use more chemicals on their land and to adopt factory farming methods. Small farmers have difficulties, as do those who wish to enter farming. At the heart of these problems is the disappearance of the farmer's raw material—agricultural land.

We have been discussing the disappearance of wildlife and natural habitats. Surely the fundamental cause is the disappearance of agricultural land and hence pressure on other land. I have in mind hedgerows and marginal land. The only note of discord that I strike with the hon. Member for Stockport, North is my contention that the Ministry of Defence has often acted as a good conservator of natural habitats and wildlife. That is principally because it insulates wildlife from depredations by the rest of the population. We must recognise that the countryside is fast disappearing in the South of England.

Thirdly, I am sure that the vital first step is to try to identify clearly how much land is disappearing. I support and applaud my right hon. Friend's work in identifying waste land. That is one way of dealing with one end of the problem. In the Adjournment debate on 1 July, my right hon. Friend more or less admitted that a large area of land that had not been identified was disappearing. That is no longer tolerable. I support the planning restrictions in the new clause. Local authorities should be required carefully to examine their waste land and structure plans before giving planning permission. Agricultural land is a vital national resource, and the new clauses go some way to preserving that asset.

Mr. Farr

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) on calling attention to an important problem and on moving the new clause so well. The gravity of this issue can be gauged when one remembers that for many years about 1,000 acres a week of agricultural land has been lost to agriculture. On average 50,000 acres a year, or slightly more, has been taken from agriculture.

I support what my hon. Friend said about new clauses 5, 6 and 7. I have a good example to give the House. It involves Leicester. For some time the Leicester authorities have been worrying about what to do with large areas of former housing land which has lain derelict for some considerable time. It covers many acres. On the outskirts of Leicester, to the south of the city in my constituency, hundreds of acres of virgin farmland are under application by would-be developers for housing. All that my hon. Friend and I want is sensible and regulated use of such land. Surely someone should not be allowed to spoil it in some way and then look for more. I do not believe that that can be allowed to happen in the late twentieth century. The House must encourage more disciplined usage of land in all its forms.

My hon. Friend referred cogently to the extravagant land requirements of motorways and new road schemes. He spoke with great authority about the Al-M1 link road. I mention it for almost the same reason. It is due to blaze across the middle of Northamptonshire. I have often said that it seems that Department of Transport planners in London decide that they want a road to connect points A and B and they join them on the map by means of a ruler. At a much later stage they send teams to the district to ascertain whether there are alternatives. An example is the A45, which has been improved dramatically. It is a first-class dual carriageway that runs through East Anglia. The A45 could be used as an alternative.

About the only Department of State, apart from the Ministry of Defence, which has not suffered economies is the Ministry of Transport—especially its road building department. That is booming. Top of the list for economies should come this wasteful and extravagant Al-M1 motorway which will cover 800 or 900 acres of first-class agricultural land in Northamptonshire. With the A45 to the south, coupled with an improvement to the A427 to the north, which would ease congestion in Leicestershire and which would have to be provided quickly to relieve Corby and towns such as Market Harborough, the link road is unnecessary. Improving existing roads and forgoing the motorway would give speedy relief to the villages in my constituency and encourage new firms to go to Corby. It would avoid a long timetable—perhaps over eight or nine years—for the Al-M1 link road. As a result, about 800 acres of unspoilt virgin countryside would remain.

My next point concerns reservoirs. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) mentioned the wasteful use of much agricultural land for reservoirs. The preservation or conservation of land seems to be at the bottom of the planner's list of priorities. I have a classic example. My hon. Friend gave some examples from the West Country. My example is Rutland Water, which covers half of Rutland. It would never have been built if we had gone ahead with the Wash barrage scheme. which was in preparation. A barrage across the Wash would have used the present wasted land in the Wash for fresh water storage. The beautiful county of Rutland would have been left undisturbed, and its agriculture would have flourished instead of being under what is now proudly boasted as the biggest man-made lake in Europe.

I feel strongly that the new clauses of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, although we do not have much time to deal with them, are probably three of the most important new clauses which the House will ever consider. We are seeking a sensible, not a greedy, approach to future land use by all concerned, including local authorities. In Committee—possibly rightly in some cases—agriculture and farmers were often clobbered for wasting or destroying SSSIs. Often, in my experience, first an SSSI is degraded by a big new housing estate being built in the vicinity. The quality of the water is polluted and the habitat is destroyed. Once the quality of that SSSI is degraded, the farmer probably sells the land for development and, as has happened in my constituency more than once recently, a developer comes along, fills in the lake or pond in the SSSI and uses the land as a building site. So far as we can and within reason, we must curb the urban sprawl in a sensible and knowledgeable way. I fully back what my hon. Friend said today.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I have listened to all the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), whom I congratulate on his speech. I agree with virtually everything that has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I shall add briefly a crucial point which should be raised in the debate. We all, perhaps belatedly, are aware of the loss of agricultural land for urban purposes. The loss is greatest where town has encroached on the countryside. It has been at its most acute in one real sense around our great metropolis because it is the greatest conurbation in the country.

We are about to surround the metropolis with the M25 orbital motorway. I agree that we should have the M25. In any case, it would be late for me to suggest that we should not. However, there is no doubt from the history of motorways in this country that they act as magnets for industrial and residential development and to help the smooth flow of transport. New clause 7 is vital if we are to be able to preserve the agricultural land immediately surrounding our metropolis.

Even if new clause 7 is not suitable for other parts of the country—I believe that it is—it is vital for the future land use planning in the South-East in general and around our metropolis in particular. I hope that my right hon. Friend, who I know is sensitive to questions of land use and who is in sympathy with many of the points which have been made, will bear in mind the particular problem which will be caused by the M25. I thank the Almighty that that motorway passes my constituency a mile to the north.

The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) on the way in which he has introduced what by general agreement on both sides of the House is an extremely important debate.

I may have misheard one or two interpolations suggesting that this debate was not relevant to the Bill. How we can have a Wildlife and Countryside Bill in which the loss of the countryside cannot be a relevant issue I find difficult to establish. My hon. Friend has taken the opportunity to table three new clauses on this subject. Anyone familiar with the proceedings of the House and its Members will know that my hon. Friend has taken an extremely active interest in the matter for a considerable number of years and has chaired a committee which has been active on this subject.

We should start from the recognition, which has been endorsed by a number of hon. Members, that this is an issue which should concern the House and the whole country. My hon. Friend has done a service to the House by the way in which he has drawn attention to the issues involved. He faced some difficulty over the figures about the scale of the problem. Part of that difficulty may flow from the well-known problem that he may be comparing the United Kingdom statistics with the England and Wales statistics. I think that he will find that his 30,000-acre figure comes from the United Kingdom figures and that the 22,000-acre or the 10,000-hectare average loss comes from the England and Wales figures. I believe that no time need be spent on the argument about the exact figure, whatever it is. It is a figure of such a dimension that it is right that the House should be seriously concerned about it.

New clause 5 proposes a system of recording the land loss every year—for the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an annual report. Such a system would raise technical problems. Would it be done through local authorities, which do not necessarily have the information? At present the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food collects and publishes information. The information that I gave about the average loss of some 10,000 hectares per annum over the past five years comes from the figures assembled by the Ministry. However, I entirely share my hon. Friend's view. The system is not satisfactory. We must improve the recording and identification of land loss.

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For some time we have been actively investigating alternative ways in which that might be done. One of the more interesting ways of conducting a survey, which may prove to be the most cost-effective, may be a somewhat twentieth century solution—satellite imagery. Extremely interesting work is being done by my Department, in conjunction with the cartographic section, using infra-red capacity through satellite imagery. Some hon. Members may have seen the maps that show the state of land. If the new development can be taken to a successful conclusion, it may be an extremely effective way of producing an up-to-date, nation-wide survey of exactly what is happening about land use.

I shall not take the House into the full scientific background, but if any hon. Member is interested I shall be more than happy to supply him with initial maps and pictures which show how the technique might be developed. In view of my hon. Friend's interest, I shall certainly ensure that he receives samples. That is one possibility that we are investigating.

I wish to make our approach on each new clause clear. Although I am not able to accept the detail in the new clause, the substance of what my hon. Friend has put before the House is essential. We must identify an effective and cost-effective way to produce the information. I give my hon. Friend the clear undertaking that we intend to pursue the matter. We have already made progress.

The only question to consider is whether the House wishes to have an annual report. That might more easily be done by using the technical methods that I have described, but, although the total sum is quite large, it is a small percentage change in any one year, so there may be arguments for suggesting that the report may be every two or three or even every five years. That question will have to be examined. The recording and identification of land loss is something to which we attach particular importance. I hope that the fact that I can tell my hon. Friend of the progress that we have made assures him that I am not saying something convenient for the debate but that it is a matter to which we attach great importance.

New clause 7 concerns planning. It suggests: A local planning authority shall not grant planning permission for land that has been in agricultural and other uses unless such development is in accordance with the provisions of the development land in force for that area for the time being, or is an essential departure therefrom; and … that all wasteland and other available land in the vicinity is completely unsuitable for … development. My hon. Friend may suspect that the way that the new clause is drawn would produce appalling fuses throughout the planning system. I cannot accept it as it stands, but the truths contained in it are the cornerstone of our approach.

The principle is, first, to make sure that the structure plan works, and that there is departure from it only in the most exceptional case. It is important to ensure that we do not lose good agricultural land when there are vacant inner city or urban derelict sites available. That is fundamental to the future planning of the country. I do not believe that one hon. Member would dissent from it. In the past not nearly enough has been done to that end, and we have now taken a number of steps to try to achieve it. I hope that we can go further.

Let me say a few words to instance how we see that developing. First, there are the planning circulars. The original circular on development involving agricultural land passed by the Labour Government in 1975–76 required planning to ensure that, as far as possible, land of a higher agricultural quality is not taken for development where land of a lower quality is available, and that the amount of land taken is no greater than is reasonably required for carrying out the development in accordance with proper standards.

We have gone on from there. The most recent circular that we issued—No. 22 of 1980—dealt with the extension of urban developments into the countryside. We emphasised: The bulk of future development must take place both by rebuilding within existing towns and by expanding the towns within the limit; of employment… infrastructure and social facilities. In considering proposals for development which involve the expansion of an existing town, regard should first be had to the amount of suitable cleared but undeveloped land within the town. Expansion of a town into the surrounding countryside is objectionable or planning grounds. The circular then considers such cases. It is also objectionable if it conflicts with national policies for the protection of the environment. It cites a number of factors, including the safeguarding of good farming land. It goes on to say: Such an objection would normally rule out development unless the circumstances of the case are such that there is an exceptional need to make land available for housing. I know that my hon. Friend's new clause includes the phrase or is an essential departure therefrom".

Although we might quibble about the wording, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that the circular very much embodies views that he has expressed to my right hon. Friend and to me many times, and which, as he will know, we had very much in mind in the writing of that circular. I stress to all right hon. and hon. Members that a planning circular is the guidance of my Department to every planning inspector, who is required to observe the guidance contained therein. It therefore has considerable impact on planning development.

Mr. Hastings

I have been listening carefully to my right hon. Friend. Will he give some guidance to the House on the additional freedom of action on planning matters that was conferred on district councils last year which has led to a loss of land that should have been prevented?

Mr. King

I was about to embark on that aspect. I was disappointed by my hon. Friend's comments on it, because I have not had such instances drawn to my attention. If instances have been drawn to his attention, I should be grateful if he would let me see them. I proposed to explain to the House the background to this and my hope that that should not be the situation.

We thought last year that it was more sensible for development control to be the clear responsibility of the district council, and we built in important safeguards concerning the responsibilities of a district council in relation to a county council and in relation to the protection of the structure plan. The local authority is required to report to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State any departure that materially conflicts with or prejudices the implementation of policies or general proposals for the structure plan. We have the power to call in the application for our decision if we wish. It is open to the county council to make representations to us at any time if it considers that any departure should be referred to the Secretary of State.

A code of practice has been jointly agreed between county councils and district councils as to how this procedure should be operated. I am therefore most anxious to know of cases where it is not working, as we should like to investigate them further. As my hon. Friend knows, there are also requirements under the general development order to consult the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about any "departure" application that involves the loss of more than 10 acres of agricultural land. These proposals, under our present controls, are the most sensible way of approaching planning arrangements.

I should like to say a word about new clause 6, relating to vandalism and other abuses of the countryside. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has written to my right hon. Friend, drawing his attention Ito a written survey conducted by Dr. Alice Coleman and Dr. Inge Feaver about these problems, and we also discussed the matter in Committee. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) drew attention to many of the problems, and he proposed an amendment, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir M. Kimball), in connection with the worrying of sheep, which is one aspect of this abuse.

In his new clause my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire asks for a review of the offences connected with the abuse of the countryside. It is not a review that we need. As the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) said, the problem is enforcement, because the offences are well understood and we have the legislation to deal with them. We need to address ourselves to the problem of enforcement not just in the sense of attempting to analyse some of the problems and issues at stake.

My hon. Friend may be aware that the Countryside Commission in particular has been pursuing the problems of what we call the "urban fringe". We have already seen the trial scheme in the Bollin Valley. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is shortly to have a meeting with Moseley district council and St. Helens to discuss an experimental scheme that we hope to develop to learn more about, and try to implement, some practical steps to deal with the problem, which is now recognised as very significant—the figures quoted by my hon. Friend drew attention to it—of the interface between urban areas and the countryside. Any hon. Member who has seen something of the problem will recognise that it needs attention.

Mr. Hardy

I am somewhat puzzled. I welcome all that the Minister has said, but it seems to me to suggest that the Government's policy is changing. For example, their attitude towards structure plans seems rather different today from what it was. Some of the decisions made by the right hon. Gentleman's Department in the past 12 months seem unlikely to be repeated in the next 12 months. One example concerns bigger hypermarkets. We should have another debate as soon as the recess is over so that we may examine the Department's priorities on these major planning matters.

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Mr. King

As the Department's policies are always supremely consistent, I do not know whether the reason for the hon. Gentleman's puzzlement is failure to keep up to date with our very consistent policies. We are talking about the sum of a number of individual decisions. There will be a great deal of publicity over any one granting of permission for a hypermarket, but little for a significant number that may be refused. In trying to identify consistency of policy, the hon. Gentleman may be misled by the odd exception that is highlighted, compared with the generality. However, I take what he said in good part.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire for drawing attention to the problem of abuse of the countryside and vandalism. I do not think that we need a review, because penalties already exist. That is why I do not recommmend that his new clause should be accepted.

However, there is an important job to be done. I hope that we shall shortly be able to announce the first scheme to tackle the problem. After we have learnt the lessons of that, we shall need to consider whether further action is needed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) said that the first action that needed to be taken was to try to identify what was happening. I do not agree. I think that the House already knows enough about what is happening and that it is time for action and reinforcement of action. Successive Governments of both parties have become increasingly concerned about what is happening. It is precisely for those reasons that we are taking a much tougher view on land use.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) spoke of the question of reservoirs, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) mentioned Empingham, or Rutland Water. I cannot comment too much on the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West. We are closely examining the reservoir that he mentioned. We rejected an application for a reservoir in Kent called Broadoak, which would have taken a substantial amount of agricultural land, because we did not consider that the case for it had been made.

In recent years applications for certain projects to go ahead have been made on the basis of demand forecast. My hon. Friend might choose to cite Empingham as one where—it would be improper for me to make any such suggestion—it might appear that demand forecasts were made, and substantial amounts of land were taken, for a project that will no doubt prove eminently worth while in due course but for which the loss of that land comes earlier than might have been thought to be justified.

Making the forecasts is difficult. We are examining them closely. Our decision on Broadoak shows that we are not automatically rubber-stamping applications by water authorities on a basis or forecast that we do not find acceptable. We are no longer prepared to tolerate the loss of good agricultural land because derelict urban sites are allowed to remain neglected and unused. Every hon. Member present could go to any major city and find bomb sites from the last war that have remained unused, neglected or under-used. The longer such land remains neglected, the greater the pressure on the countryside for development to take place there.

Mr. Farr

One of the difficulties is that virgin, unused land is much more attractive to a developer, because the services can be put in without difficulty, whereas many of the derelict sites in the cities, even those sites that have been grassed over, have underneath them old electricity cables, pipes, drains and telephone cables, and are much more expensive to develop again.

Mr. King

That is why there must be a carrot-and-stick approach, with restraint in the more easily developable areas and encouragement for inner city development. That is why we are trying to break some of the log jams of the past. That is why we introduced the requirement for registers for unused and under-used land. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's tribute in that regard. Almost all of the first batch of registers are now set up. I am pleased to say that there has been good co-operation from district councils of all political persuasions. We shall do all that we can to ensure that the registers are effective and that a great deal of unused publicly owned land is moved on to the market and brought into development, which will make a real contribution to reducing the pressure on agricultural land.

Therefore, although for the reasons that I have given I cannot recommend that any of my hon. Friend's new clauses be accepted, I trust that nobody will suggest that it is due to any disagreement with the principles behind the issues that he has raised. My hon. Friend has suggested a report in one connection and a review in another. We are determined to go further. We wish to see real action. I therefore assure my hon. Friend that he has not only our sympathy in these matters but our commitment to action on every one of them.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) has my sympathy, too. He has proposed three new clauses in a manner that has aroused the commendation of the entire House in a speech on which all of us would congratulate him. His speech was full of well-documented and highly disturbing facts. A case as well presented and as well documented as that deserved a far more forthcoming response from the Minister.

The Minister, having praised each new clause, then added the key word "but" and kicked each one into touch. In new clause 5, for example, the hon. Gentleman asks for statistics. The Minister says that there may be maps. When the hon. Gentleman asks for annual statistics, the Minister says that there will be maps, but only every two or three years or at some imprecise interval. That is not what the clauses seek or, I believe, what is required in the very dangerous situation to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention.

That dangerous situation would not be remedied by the new clauses, but new clause 7 would certainly assist and the other two new clauses would be valuable in mapping where we are and what we ought to do about it. The new clauses would be a useful addition to a Bill that the whole House would agree has achieved some useful though unsensational advances, particularly those relating to reciprocality of notification for sites of special scientific interest. Such advances as have been achieved owe a great deal to my right hon. and hon. Friends and, indeed, to Conservative Members, and I pay tribute to all who have taken part in the very hard work on the Bill as it has proceeded through the House.

I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) when he said in an earlier debate that we shall all watch the operation of this legislation closely to see whether the new provisions are effective. One of the reasons why I would welcome the new clauses is that they would have helped in that monitoring process, which I believe is extremely important.

I give notice in the friendliest possible way to all concerned that Labour Members shall watch the operation of this legislation very closely indeed, if not with the material that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire is seeking to provide, with whatever other material can be gained. If this legislation is not effective, which we hope it will be, we may well have to introduce the use of compulsion, either in the way proposed in new clause 7 or in other ways. We may have to consider the introduction of a planning system for the countryside equivalent to the planning system for the built environment. Moreover, we shall have to consider strengthening the existing planning system because it contains certain critical inadequacies.

During the course of the Bill, the Government have made much of the success of the voluntary activity on Exmoor. I readily acknowledge its success. But there are three flaws in that which may be helped by these proposals. Indeed, other proposals may have to be considered.

First, what has happened on Exmoor has depended on the amount of money available for compensation. Obviously, what was done on Exmoor could not possibly be done in the country at large, because the sums of money required would be billions of pounds, and clearly they are not available.

Secondly, what has been done on Exmoor has depended upon the payment of compensation. When one looks at this in perspective, it seems odd that this is not required in the built environment. It is a strange concept whereby we reward people for not doing damage. Apart from anything else, it could be an incitement to landowners to threaten development they do not intend simply to attract the compensation that is available.

Thirdly—here again, these proposals would assist—the kind of thing that has assisted Exmoor covers only outstanding sites. It is like having a planning system for the built environment that covers only listed buildings and nothing else. That is far from satisfactory. That is why a Labour Government may well have to consider an extension of the planning system to rural development.

This would have three features. First, listed sites of outstanding beauty, equivalent to the listed buildings system in the built environment, could be proposed by the Secretary of State, the NCC or other concerned bodies or individuals, and could be interfered with only with the express permission of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Chapman

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kaufman

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed. We are running late and many hon. Members wish to take part in the succeeding debates.

Secondly, we may have to consider—this is along the lines of new clause 7—a system of planning permission for the countryside. If one cannot erect a carport at one's home without permission, it is arguable that the same criteria should apply to the destruction of hedgerows, downland, roughland, ponds, streams and wetland. I fully acknowledge—this is one of the reasons why I hope that the function of the Bill will avoid what I am suggesting—that this means an extension of bureaucracy. I do not like bureaucracy, but if such a system were to be introduced, a general development order would have to be introduced for de minimis cases.

However, bureaucracy exists now in the shape of the common agricultural policy and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which pile on grants and subsidies to encourage, in some cases, the wrecking of the countryside. We have a system that encourages farmers to wreck downland for the production of cattle feed cake. Then there is over-production of milk, and the milk is turned back into skimmed milk and fed to the cattle which produced the surplus in the first place. We are now spending £35 million a year on that.

Farmers do not mind filling in forms for that. The estimated cost of a system of that kind is £16 million a year, which one could compare with the £200 million a year that is now paid in grants to farmers and water authorities for capital projects alone, never mind the £5 billion spent on agricultural support.

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Thirdly, I believe that we must have a system of appeals against planning permission in both town and country. We now have a major flaw in which the developer has the right of appeal but the victim of the development does not. Anyone living in the urban environment, where an amusement arcade is erected in his street or the next street or where planning permission is given for a take-away food shop, or someone in the countryside who loses the. ability to take his dog for a walk on downland, has no redress against the results of such action. That would also deal with the fear of partiality of the countryside planning authority.

I support new clause 7 as pointing the way we should go if the Bill, when enacted, does not do what we hope that it will do. I ask the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire whether he intends to press his new clause to a Division. If he does, we shall vote with him. If he decides not to do that, we shall vote on new clause 6 instead, as that is one on which we can force a Division. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow us to vote on new clause 7 because of his three new clauses—all of which we support—new clause 7 is the most important because it would give us positive action.

We may need to go even further, but that depends on the success of the Bill. That the Bill is worth enacting is an achievement and a victory for Parliament. The Minister would agree. He may agree privately rather than publicly, but I am sure that he would agree that Parliament has helped the Department of the Environment in winning some important victories over the Ministry of Agriculture on the Bill. Ministers have been able to follow their true instinct because conservation of the countryside, both for agricultural and for amenity purposes, is a true instinct in Ministers. They have sometimes been prevented from following their instinct due to the difficulties that some of us have experienced in Government. I am glad that the House has been able to assist the Minister and his colleagues in improving the Bill.

The Bill is far from the last word. The statistics that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has provided show how dangerous the position is. We shall watch it with the keenest interest and we shall be ready to act if necessary when the opportunity is given to us.

Mr. Hastings

I am grateful to my hon. Friends and to Opposition right hon. and hon. Members for the way in which they took part in the debate and for the kind things that they have said. I am especially grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services for answering the debate. I know him for a true countryman and accept entirely the feelings that lay behind his speech.

I am glad of support of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), but it would be a mistake to associate my new clauses too closely with ideas about future Labour policy on planning controls in the countryside, which, from some of the things he said, would need to be examined deeply by my hon. Friends before they could be put in the same context. Nevertheless, I agree with much that the right hon. Gentleman said.

I took it that my right hon. Friend endorsed my arguments but did not accept the need for legislation on any of the three points raised. I also took what he said as a firm indication of an intention to improve the present state of affairs without legislation. For the time being, so be it. Much of what my right hon. Friend said was generous and some of it was most interesting. The new technique of infra-red photography to produce land use maps is exactly the sort of thing that my hon. Friends and I are after. I am not insistent that it should be done every year, but I want a system that will ensure that it is done regularly. I shall follow progress in that area with interest.

My right hon. Friend dealt with all the matters raised in the debate except that ably outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr)—I also touched on it—namely, the land disappearing to motorways and major roadworks.

Mr. King

I apologise to my hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). I took careful note of what they said and I should have told them that I am not able to respond today, but I will make further inquiries.

Mr. Hastings

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I accept his comments as an intention to improve matters as rapidly as practicable. I was a little disappointed when he said, on new clause 5, that an annual report cannot be made because it would be difficult for local authorities to produce information as they may not have it all. That is surely the point. However, I hope that through some of the means described by my right hon. Friend it will not be long before local authorities have that information.

I should emphasise to my right hon. Friend that if matters do not improve, as I expect them to do following his remarks, within, say, one year from now—and we shall keep a close watch on developments—we shall certainly return to the charge. The Opposition may be sure of that. And my right hon. Friend will not expect us to be as indulgent in those circumstances as we may be today.

In the light of what my right hon. Friend has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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