HC Deb 11 June 1958 vol 589 cc211-6
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Hare)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement on the conclusions which the Government have reached on the Runciman Committee's recommendations concerning the horticultural markets serving the Greater London area.

The Government accept the Committee's view that the market at Covent Garden should not be moved, but should be greatly improved, in the interests of efficiency, smoother traffic flow, reduction of fire risk and the proper development of the neighbourhood. It is proposed to bring in legislation providing for a statutory Covent Garden Market Authority, but it is not yet possible to say when this will be introduced. When set up, the Authority will first concentrate marketing in a smaller area by acquiring some of the land and premises at present in market use. Ultimately, it will provide and maintain up-to-date market buildings in the area.

These radical changes will require a review of the original Charter and of existing private legislation, and it will be necessary for the new Market Authority to acquire the Charter Market. The Authority will be given powers to enable it to prevent the present sprawl of the market over too wide an area.

The Government have decided that the first step, in order to concentrate Covent Garden Market and to reduce traffic congestion, should be the provision elsewhere of storage premises. This new accommodation will then be available to take the bulk produce not required by retailers using the market and for empty containers at present stored there. Pending the establishment of the Authority, I hope to make temporary arrangements for the provision of these facilities by another agency, possibly a local authority.

In parallel with the improvement of the market, the London County Council, as planning authority, will prepare a plan for the development of the whole neighbourhood, for submission to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The Government accept the Runciman Committee's recommendation that Brentford and Stratford Markets should be developed and expanded. This will reduce the number of retailers who at present come into Central London to make their purchases, despite inconvenience and loss of time.

The Government have come to the conclusion that this programme, which, I believe, will command wide acceptance, makes it unnecessary to proceed with the Runciman Committee's proposals for an additional market and for a London Markets Authority. I should like to thank the London County Council, the City Corporation, and all the other public authorities and trade organisations concerned, for their helpful suggestions and offers of assistance in giving effect to this plan, which I think will provide the right answer to a problem that for some years has appeared almost insoluble.

Mr. Willey

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, while we welcome the fact that the London County Council is to prepare a development plan for the Covent Garden area, his statement, for which we have waited for so long, is nevertheless very disappointing? Does he realise, also, that the recommendations of the Runciman Committee were accepted as being minimum recommendations, and that we do not feel that the right hon. Gentleman will solve the problem of London markets unless he accepts the further recommendations of the Runciman Committee that there should be a new market for London, possibly in north-west London, and also the establishment of a London Markets Authority?

In view of the dissatisfaction that the right hon. Gentleman's statement will undoubtedly create, may I ask whether he will consult his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and assure us that we shall have an opportunity to discuss the Report of the Runciman Committee before we disperse for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Hare

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is sitting next to me and has no doubt heard the last parts of the hon. Gentleman's question. I cannot share the hon. Gentleman's expression of gloom. I believe that the plan will provide a solution which both sides of the House have anxiously sought for a very considerable time. I believe that if the further recommendations of the Committee to which the hon. Gentleman has referred had been put into effect, we should be no nearer a solution for many years to come.

Mr. Hurd

While congratulating my hon. Friend on what seems to be a well-balanced scheme, may I ask whether, in view of the difficulties involved, my right hon. Friend can say how long it will take to carry through the plan to rebuild Covent Garden?

Mr. Hare

We shall make a start on the storage depôt as soon as possible. Later stages will include the rebuilding of the Covent Garden Market, which will take some years. Since it involves considerable capital expenditure, the precise phasing of the work will be subject to the financial and economic policies of the Government.

Mr. H. Morrison

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the existence of Covent Garden and other markets, including those for fish and meat, in the Central London area is a waste of valuable sites and contributes to the congestion of London traffic? Would it not be better to have mixed fruit, vegetable, meat and fish markets, about four of them, on the edge of the County of London so that they might serve both outer London and the County of London and thereby be more efficient and economical? In those circumstances, I should have thought that, rather than establish another ad hoc specialist authority, the London County Council could be the authority to run these markets?

Mr. Hare

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has great experience of this subject, but I would put this to him: I think that my proposals will make a definite contribution by achieving two things. The first will, I hope, be the reducing of the fire risk which is a considerable concern of the London County Council. The second will be the relieving of traffic congestion by the removal of this huge area of storage of empties. It covers about eight acres of the present market. Those two results will achieve a great deal in a matter to which both sides of the House have given considerable thought for many years.

Mr. Whitelaw

What consultations has my right hon. Friend had with the various interests concerned, in view of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey)? What were the reactions of those organisations?

Mr. Hare

We have had consultations with the representatives of, I think, all the main interests concerned. They consist of local authorities, wholesalers, retailers, trade unions, growers, and so on. I think I can honestly say that the general reaction of the representatives of these interests has been that our proposals are on the right lines.

Mr. Willey

Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that the fullest consulations were carried out by the Runciman Committee itself and that it was on the basis of those fullest consultations that the Committee made its recommendations.

Mr. Hare

No doubt the hon. Gentleman realises that I answered that question perfectly correctly, because all the consultations to which I have referred took place since the Runciman Report was published and since the Committee's consultations took place.

Major Legge-Bourke

Can my right hon. Friend say what sort of membership he visualises coming on to the new body which he proposes to set up to organise the market and whether it is his long-term intention to turn Covent Garden into a sort of sampling market?

Mr. Hare

I have tried to show that this is a matter which will require future legislation, since the authority which I have in mind—subject to considerable further thought—would be a small body of about five to seven members, not necessarily representing interests but chosen because of their efficiency in this field of work. It would be unwise to go further at this moment until we are in a position to discuss legislation which at some time will be brought before the House of Commons.

On the question of whether Covent Garden would become more of a sampling market, the tendency is that that will happen. Already a great deal of foreign fruit and of our own domestic apples is sold on sample. The whole tendency is to improve the packing and grading of horticultural produce. I believe that more will be sold on sample in future than is the case now.

Mr. Isaacs

Following on a question asked by one of my hon. Friends, has the right hon. Gentleman considered, or will he consider, the successful work of the Borough Market in Southwark, which is controlled by a small number of local people and which, I think he will find, is run most successfully from every point of view?

Mr. Hare

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for what he has said. My feeling is that a small body is right. I do not want to be more specific, but I think that the suggestion is sound and that the clearing of the air will be of help to the authorities of the Borough and of advantage to them in dealing with the ideas they have in mind.

Sir P. Agnew

Could my right hon. Friend say on whom the cost of rebuilding the market will fall?

Mr. Hare

This will be a commercial transaction. The cost will not fall on the taxpayers or local authorities. The idea is that it will be paid for through tolls and market rents. It is a purely commercial affair.

Mr. Collins

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, since his proposals deal with a section of London markets only, they only touch the fringe of the horticultural marketing problem? What proposals are there for provincial markets? Does he not think that this proposal will extend the undesirable practice of re-consigning?

Mr. Hare

I think that that question is a little wide of my statement, which deals with London and the Greater London area. I hope my proposals will allow all the present marketing authorities, such as those of the Borough, Spitalfields, Brentford and Stratford, to plan ahead in a far better way than they have been able to in recent years.