§ 3. Mr. Cash
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in the light of current overproduction, he will take steps to revise the current guidelines for the release, where appropriate, of some agricultural land for other purposes.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)
The Government continue to attach importance to the protection of agricultural land as a valuable but finite national resource. The Government's policies in this area are implemented to ensure that the right balance is struck between the competing considerations.
§ Mr. Cash
I must express some disappointment with that answer. Will my hon. Friend tell me whether the 1976 guidelines are under consideration, whether she is having discussions with the Department of the Environment on this issue, and whether sufficient priority is being given to the problems of small businesses in rural areas and the extent to which it will be possible to improve the guidelines in the foreseeable future?
§ Mrs. Fenner
I can reassure my hon. Friend that we recognise the need to strike the right balance between the 419 interests involved. We adopt a flexible approach to development proposals. We recognise the need to provide more jobs and to improve amenities in areas which are adjacent to towns and villages.
§ Mr. John
Is not the real criticism that the balance is entirely wrong in the countryside, in that we are growing vast quantities of unwanted cereals while we are short of protein crops and farm woodlands? Does the Minister accept that the Ministry's reluctance to issue a White Paper that gives any signs for the future is an irresponsible attitude to adopt?
§ Mrs. Fenner
We have a consultation paper on woodlands policy, and the entire issue is under that sort of review. We examine carefully any proposals involving first-grade agricultural land if we believe that there is other lesser grade land available for the purposes that are envisaged.
§ Sir Dudley Smith
Is my hon. Friend aware that a number of county councils of varying political colours are granting themselves planning permission to develop good agricultural land for industrial purposes? As the Government are committed to the preservation and improvement of the environment, will my hon. Friend have better consultations with her opposite numbers in the Department of the Environment?
§ Mrs. Fenner
We always have good consultations with our opposite numbers in the Department of the Environment. We are consulted at all stages in the preparation of structure and local plans and on all planning applications for areas of more than 4 hectares if they are not within an agreed development plan. That enables us to ensure that the policy for the protection of agricultural land is taken fully into account in the planning processes, whoever is involved.