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Agricultural Land Loss

Volume 12: debated on Thursday 12 November 1981

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6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate for the last five years for which figures are available of the average annual loss of agricultural land for urban development.

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate for the last five years for which figures are available of the average annual loss of agricultural land for urban development.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer this question and question No. 9 together.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to delay Question Time too long, but you will remember your ruling on 9 November when, in c. 307, you drew the attention of the House to questions appearing on the Order Paper in identical language. I therefore draw your attention to questions Nos. 6, 9, 10, 16 and 31, which are in identical language. The Order Paper is obviously being used blatantly for some reason by 'some" organisation. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will rule on the matter.

Order. I understand that the questions to which the right hon. Gentleman correctly draws attention were tabled before my ruling on Monday. Otherwise, I should have stood up, because it is wrong for anyone to try to corner our Order Paper or, indeed, to change its character from what it has been.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point of order by the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) is not correct, because questions Nos. 10 and 16 are not the same as questions Nos. 9 and 31.

Order. I was referring to questions Nos. 6 and 9, which are identical, as the hon. Gentleman will discover. We can all read.

The average annual loss of agricultural land to urban development in England during the five-year period June 1975 to June 1980 was estimated at 8,400 hectares.

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving two answers for the price of one. Does he agree that one of the best ways of stopping the loss of agricultural land is to halt green field site development in favour of using inner city vacant land?

Yes, I agree with that. The Secretary of State for the Environment also agrees with that. The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 provides for local authorities to establish the extent of under-used and derelict land in their urban areas. I hope that that will result in a greater use of that land.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to stop the use of good agricultural land beyond city boundaries and to encourage developers to use some of the 250,000 acres of vacant, dormant and derelict land which, according to the Civic Trust, is lying idle in the city areas?

Planning permissions are the ultimate responsibility of the Department of the Environment. The working relationship between my Department and the Department of the Environment is close and good. Indeed, the Department of the Environment has recently taken note of our objections to the use of good agricultural land.

Does the Minister, by chance, have the comparable figures for land lost to motorways in the same period?

When my right hon. Friend's inspectors are conducting public inquiries into the designation of land for industrial purposes, do they take into account the question that lies behind the observations from this side of the House, namely, that when there is adequate land for development within town and borough boundaries, good agricultural land should not be designated for industrial development, however convenient that land might be for such development?

The inspectors to whom my hon. Friend refers are responsible for planning. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, by the creation of the register and his attitude to planning permissions, has done more than any recent Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that good agricultural land is not lost.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) alleged that five identical questions were on the Order Paper. This is not true. There were only three identical questions on the Order Paper and only two were answered orally. There were a further two questions, Nos. 5 and 12 on the glasshouse industry, which the Minister chose to answer together. Will you be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to give a ruling that no question in identical language to another should appear on the Order Paper or that the same subject should not appear twice on the Order Paper?

I thought that I had made my position perfectly clear earlier this week. I believe that there was a move which, if not checked, would have changed the Order Paper of the House. I am considered to be the guardian of the Order Paper, to the best of my ability. If a new system creeps in whereby a whole string of questions are tabled in identical language, there is nothing to stop an hon. Member from putting down 100 such questions. As we have changed the character of Prime Minister's Question Time, so we could also change the character of Question Time, which is very precious to the House. I am doing my utmost to preserve the rights of Back Benchers in the matter.