§ 5. Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr)
What has been the overall percentage change in the price of farmland since May 1997. 
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)
The estimated average price of agricultural land sold in England fell by 5 per cent. between 1997 and 1998.
§ Mr. Williams
I am a bit surprised by that answer. A recent survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors shows that, in the last quarter, land prices increased in England by 6 per cent. and in Wales by 13 per cent. Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is the Government's policy to join the euro when the time is right, and that, when that happens, we will adopt European interest rates, which are currently 3 per cent? That huge fall in interest rates will mean that house and land values are bound to rise. Is it not in the interests of British farmers that we join the euro?
§ Mr. Morley
My hon. Friend makes an important point on the euro. There is no doubt that joining the euro would bring many benefits to agriculture, through lower interest rates, a stable exchange rate, and especially in respect of agriculture prices and agrimonetary compensation. Those matters will have to be considered carefully. Ultimately, the British public will make the decision in a referendum. The Government are considering the matter on the basis of what is best for our country and our economy. In that respect, farmers are not well served by the Conservative party, which made it clear that it would never go into the euro within an arbitrary five-year period, even if was absolutely clear that it was in the interests of this country and of agriculture to do so.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
If agriculture prices are increasing, it is nothing to do with farming and everything to do with proposals to build 1.1 million new homes in Oxfordshire and the south-east. Whenever agricultural land becomes available, builders buy up options and drive up the price of farmland. In counties and constituencies such as mine, there is a crazy situation in which farmers are driven out of business through the Government's policies, and any spare fields will be built on, cemented and concreted in the next 20 or so years. That is a disaster for the shire counties. When will the Government wake up to the devastation that they cause to rural England?
§ Mr. Morley
The hon. Gentleman makes an inaccurate point. Many indicative housing figures were far higher under the previous Conservative Government; they have been scaled down under the Labour Government. Whatever happens to planning policy in future, planning law will apply to farmland. Buying farmland is no guarantee of permission to build on it.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
Is it not a fact that the land value of difficult farmland in the hills—and in the Pennines, in constituencies such as mine—has fallen the most? However, that trend was evident under the previous Government, who showed no support at all for farmers of difficult farmland.
§ Mr. Morley
My hon. Friend, who represents large areas of disadvantaged farmland, is absolutely right. The causes of the changes in the price of farmland are complex, and there are a number of reasons for that. In some parts of the country, the price of farmland is holding and, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams) said, it is increasing in some cases. There are different demands, different types of farm and different sorts of land and we have to take those important factors into account in developing a coherent rural approach. That is why we shall be giving them a great deal of thought in the forthcoming rural White Paper.