The amount of land on the registers has now fallen below 100,000 acres for the first time to 99,968 acres; 46,000 acres have been removed since the registers were established in mid-1981. My right hon. Friend will continue to use his statutory powers to force sales; and we shall be asking Parliament to streamline the procedures for directing owners to sell. We think that it is better to build, where possible, on brown land that has previously been built on than to build on green land.
I warmly welcome what my hon. Friend has just said. What further measures does he propose to take to ensure that the intolerate pressures for development in counties such as Hampshire and Northamptonshire are relieved? What further measures does he intend to take to convince Left-wing local authorities that housing needs are more important than ideology?
Alas, there are some loopholes in the Act. We need to do more and my right hon. Friend's forthcoming local government measure will introduce new ways to make recalcitrant councils, whatever their political colour, "unbelt" land so that it can be built upon.
Does the Minister recall that some years ago the Northfield report recommended setting up a national register of land? Does he think that there are any advantages in that? Does he agree that a national register for the ownership of land would give some sort of reliable statistical basis for a land policy? What does the Minister think of that proposition?
I do not remember the Northfield report. However, I do have some views on a land register. We have in the Department a perfectly adequate register of unused land in the ownership of local councils, statutory undertakers, and nationalised industries. It contains over 99,000 acres of land. That is there for a start and more land could undoubtedly be registered. We need to bring that land back into use as soon as possible.
We should congratulate my hon. Friend on releasing 46,000 acres of public land. However, the problem of public vacant land involves not only getting rid of the land on the register, but stopping more land coming on to it. That is the problem that my hon. Friend must face. It will mean that we never see the end of public vacant land. Will my hon. Friend also consider the 1,000 acres that are under the ownership of the Department of the Environment, because that issue needs to be dealt with?
Unfortunately, there are no productivity bonuses in my job, so I must make do with my hon. Friend's welcome words of praise, and I thank him for them. I saw my hon. Friend's interesting letter in The Times on this subject earlier this week. He is quite right in saying that we must do all that we possibly can to stop the flow of new land coming on to the register. Although more than 10,000 acres came off the register in 1986, about 7,000 acres went on to it. We should try to prevent that, although it is part and parcel of the identification of vacant land. We have a duty to move Government land holdings that are not in use, and a policy to move it all by 1 April 1988, if possible.