My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already announced a number of measures to encourage the development of under-used urban land. These will reduce development pressures on agricultural land. The discussions which are continuing between officials of my Department and those of my right hon. Friend are a parallel exercise. They are intended to ensure that the voice of my Department is effectively heard in the planning procedures established under the town and country planning legislation.
Is my hon. Friend aware that vast areas of derelict urban land remain unused while industrial and other development continues apace on good agricultural land and, indeed, in the green belts? I appreciate what my hon. Friend is doing, and I congratulate him on his efforts, but will he do everything possible to reverse the present trend?
So far as that is the responsibility of my Department, of course I shall. The proposed local government planning and land Bill embodies clauses to deal with urban and derelict land and alter the relationship between structures and local plans. It will certainly assist the saving of good agricultural land that might overwise be built upon.
What effort has the Minister and his colleagues made to ensure that their voices are heard on the possibility that large areas of agricultural land in Essex will be put under concrete for the purpose of constructing the third London airport? May we have an assurance that his Department will make it clear that this land should not be wasted and used in that manner?
Is my hon. Friend aware that for many years we have heard about consultation between his Department and other Departments and about plans and battles that have been fought? Does he realise that if he were to look at the amount of agricultural land that has been lost to industry in the last 12 years he would frighten himself to death?
I am not sure about the latter question. I spend much of my time seeking to ensure that my Department's advice to other Departments—our interests inherently conflict—is aimed at saving our ever-decreasing resource of good-class agricultural land.