HL Deb 29 February 1984 vol 448 cc1277-8

3.12 p.m.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many acres of farming land in Great Britain are owned by the Ministry of Defence, how much land is leased to farmers and what price is obtained per acre.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, at the latest date for which figures are available, the Ministry of Defence owned the freehold of some 266,000 acres of farming land in Great Britain, of which about 121,000 acres were 1et on full agricultural tenancies. Grazing rights have been granted by licence over the remainder. I regret that it is not possible to give a price obtained per acre as this will vary depending upon the locality and productivity of the land, and the extent to which the Services' requirements impinge upon the tenants' or licensees' use of it.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Can he tell me how many of the tenants are required to maintain their farm buildings, especially those which are scheduled?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, scheduled buildings are the liability of the Ministry of Defence, normally under a tenancy agreement in respect of structural repairs and external maintenance of the buildings, including any of those which are scheduled or of special historic interest. But neither the Ministry of Defence nor the tenant has any obligation to maintain in full repair any farm building which is redundant for agricultural purposes—that is, those which no longer have an economic life or are superfluous to present farming activities.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether there is any evidence that the farming community have objected to land which is regarded as important from the standpoint of agriculture being used for defence purposes? Although agriculture is of the utmost importance, even more important, surely, is the security and defence of our country?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is right. The Ministry of Defence, as I say in the original Answer, own a large amount of agricultural land, but we do not seek to occupy the land when it is not required for training purposes. That is why most of the land is let out on one basis or another.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, would the Minister bear in mind that very much of the land referred to in the noble Baroness's Question falls within the area of three of our 10 national parks? Would he further bear in mind that from past professional experience I totally accept the necessity of using that land for that purpose and agree with the inference in the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell? However, would the Minister further agree that the use of that land for that purpose is a total contradiction of the purposes for which the national parks were designated in the 1949 Act? Could the Minister assure the House that as soon as the needs of our defence allow, that land will be returned to the purpose for which it was designated?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can certainly assure the noble Lord that we shall retain no more land than we require for these purposes, but I have to say that training land generally in the United Kingdom is at a considerable premium. I would not think it likely that in the near future we should be able to release any of the land to which the noble Lord refers.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, if the Ministry of Defence has surplus land which is subject to a tenancy and it disposes of that land, will it be sold to the tenant or to a third party so that it can remain tenanted?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that will depend upon the individual circumstances of the land in question. I could not give a blanket answer to my noble friend, but if he has a specific case in mind I shall gladly look at it.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a few years ago there was an independent review of defence training areas in the country (it was the first time there had been such a review) which found not only that the land was required but that it was more than required—that there was, indeed, a significant shortage of training areas and that in no circumstances was there scope for reducing it?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right about the study which took place a few years ago. Despite the shortage, we do from time to time dispose of land which we are not using for training purposes. That is because, in general, it is not suitable for that kind of use.