asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many acres of green field land per year are being built over; and how much land in urban areas is being re-converted from wasteland back to agricultural land.
The average loss of agricultural land to development in England and Wales is about 17,000 hectares—or 41,000 acres—per annum. About 3,000 hectares—or 7,500 acres—of unused or restored land are returned to agricultural use each year, although I must say that this figure is not very precise.
Will my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture examine with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the scope to return wasteland in and around urban areas to agricultural use at agricultural prices, with full tenancies, on which some agricultural properties can be built?
As I told the House a few minutes ago, I think that the best chance of succeeding is in the areas around the urban areas rather than inside them. Here the Department of the Environment, in conjunction with the Countryside Commission, is proposing an experiment to see whether this damaging trend towards blighting land can be reversed.
Will the Minister take a very good look at the position at Stansted, where a large area of good agricultural land is likely to be taken over for the use of an airport? Should we not endeavour to see that this consideration of preserving agricultural land is borne in mind in these matters? Ought we not also to examine the loss of land by the seashore? The Ministry does not even keep figures as to how much is eroded each year.
It is inevitable that, wherever the third London airport might be sited, there would be substantial loss of agricultural land. The overall national interest has to be considered. However, the hon. Gentleman can be certain that the priorities with regard to agricultural land were considered by the Government. The question of seashore erosion is a difficult one, because in most cases it is natural and has been going on for a very long time. If the hon. Gentleman has any special cases to draw to my attention, I shall be happy to look into them.