Land Use (Rural Areas)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th February 1987.

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Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire 12:00 am, 4th February 1987

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will now publish a White Paper on his proposals for land use in rural areas.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Our policy is, and continues to be, to protect green belt land and land of environmental importance. There is no question of allowing uncontrolled development in the countryside.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood , Roxburgh and Berwickshire

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that people in agriculture and people interested in rural use share a widespread anxiety about a vacuum in the Government's policy? Will he confirm the existence of an interdepartmental committee on alternative land use and rural employment, and will he give us an undertaking that the endeavours of that committee will eventually be published?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

The Government will make such policy statements as they wish in their own good time. Wherever there is a policy vacuum it is likely that the Liberal party will try to fill it at the same time as the SDP, with the disastrous result of a collision in the middle.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman , Chipping Barnet

May I remind my right hon. Friend that established green belt land represents less than 20 per cent. of England's countryside? Is that not all the more reason for asserting that the Government will protect those green belts, and for reminding any political party which thinks that the green belts should be breached that such belts command widespread support? In the words three years ago of the Select Committee on the Environment, the green belts should be regarded as sacrosanct.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we must preserve the green belt. We have no intention whatever of departing from past policies about that. We do not, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) advocates from the Opposition Front Bench, believe that we should have green lungs with development running up to them on the green belt. We entirely reject that policy.

Hon. Members:

Order.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I think I also heard unparliamentary expression. Perhaps it could be withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I withdraw the unparliamentary expression, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

Does the Minister accept that tinkering with planning controls is no substitute for a proper strategy for rural economic development? Will he now answer the question put to him by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood)? Is there a Cabinet Committee studying alternative land use and rural employment? If there is, what is it doing?

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

As the two hon. Gentlemen are from Scottish constituencies, it is difficult to know whether these questions should properly be addressed to the Secretary of State for Scotland. If the Government wish to make proposals, as I am sure they will from time to time, on how best to promote and preserve the rural economy, they will do so in their own good time. I make it clear that we have no proposals for re-rating agricultural land, which is apparently the policy of the SDP.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

Will my right hon. Friend pay special attention in rural planning to places where schools are full and there is no capital available to build new ones? That should cause an infrastructure interdiction in just the same way as sewerage capacity or water supply.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Capital allocations for education are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. These matters should form part of the structure plan or, in due course, I hope, the district plan that the district will produce. Of course, planning considerations are relevant.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

I begin my question by making the point that my hon. Friend—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman should ask a question.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. We are making slow progress. We have reached only question No. 7. Question please.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State said. Will he give the House a categorical assurance that the report in The Observer that the Government intend to weaken the green belt around our major industrial conurbations is untrue?