HC Deb 06 July 1959 vol 608 cc1073-80

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a second time.

12.59 a.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I take it, Mr. Speaker, that you have called me because of the Motion standing in my name that the Bill be read this day three months hence.

I think that this Motion was put on the Order Paper because it was felt desirable that those of us who oppose the City Corporation Bill should be able to discuss the London County Council (General Powers) Bill at the same time. The matters with which my hon. Friends who represent Islington constituencies are concerned are to some extent involved in the London County Council (General Powers) Bill as well, but I know that the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew) wishes to speak, and I do not want to detain the House any longer. I feel that I have already taken up far too much of the time of the House on the City Corporation Bill. Unfortunately, I have to stay because I have the Adjournment debate, but in view of what I have already said I do not pro-pose to add anything to the observations which I made on the earlier Bill.

Therefore, as a matter of form so that the debate may continue, I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day three months."

1.1 a.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am very glad to second the Motion which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has moved, but I am afraid that I may take a little longer than he has done. I take it that the main battle of the evening is now over and those of us who have been waiting for an opportunity to say something about some of the other provisions of the L.C.C. Bill may now have a chance to do so, during which time, no doubt, other warriors of the debate will have gone home. I can only hope that the dreams of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) are haunted by visions of 40 acres of empties in his own constituency, where clearly they ought to be, and I hope he wakes up with a start in the middle of the night and imagines himself canvassing round the dreary wastes of empties and finding nowhere for his constituents to move.

The point which I wish to raise and to which, if possible, I should like a reply is this. I have looked through the Bill and observed with disappointment and dismay that the L.C.C. has not taken this opportunity to ask for powers to deal with one of the most serious problems in some London boroughs, that of the unrestricted and uncontrolled spread of clubs. The problem is a very acute one in some areas. It is a ludicrous anomaly when the authorities have powers to control all sorts of things under planning regulations—

The Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

We cannot debate something which is not in the Bill.

Mr. Parkin

I am startled by that Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I had always understood that on Second Reading one could object that a Bill was not wide enough. The London County Council (General Powers) Bill asks for general powers, I submit. I also submit that I am seconding a Motion that the Second Reading be deferred, and I would have set out as my grounds for supporting the proposal that the Bill was not wide enough and that it had not taken general powers wide enough to cover one point of great importance to my constituency. I had thought that, following the usual practice of the House on the Second Reading of a Bill, and particularly on a Motion to defer the Second Reading, one might well complain that the Bill was not wide enough.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member can complain that the Bill is not wide enough, but we cannot have a detailed debate on other proposals altogether outside the Bill.

Mr. Parkin

No, Sir, of course; but the subsequent course of debate is under your control. I was not attempting to lead the House into a general discussion of details, but I submit that it is within the rules of order on Second Reading for me to express my disappointment that the Bill has not covered an issue which everyone in London concerned with the problem had hoped to see covered in a Bill of this kind.

At this stage, I do not want to make a long speech on the evils of the unrestricted spread of clubs. That is perfectly well known. It is also perfectly well known that under the provision of the miserable and pusillanimous, sweep-it-under-the-carpet Street Offences Bill introduced by the Government last year—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. We obviously cannot discuss that Measure.

Mr. Parkin

No, Sir, but one of its consequences is to make the problem of clubs more acute and to make it more urgent that the L.C.C. should take some interim powers. I am not tonight suggesting that the L.C.C. could have covered the whole problem in a Bill of this kind. I am suggesting that it could have taken the very simple power of bringing the licensing and registration of these clubs within the regulations of the planning authorities.

That would have given it an interim power to stop the undesirable developments which are beginning to take place and would have given them the opportunity to check an undesirable tendency. I am not attacking all clubs, but it is well known that in persent circumstances it is only too easy to open a club and to make it the centre for the commercialisation of vice, to the great annoyance of residents and the dismay and bewilderment of the local civic authorities and the worry and concern of the police.

I am greatly disappointed that the L.C.C. has not thought it worth while to introduce that simple provision in this Bill, and that is why I second the Motion to defer the Second Reading of the Bill until the L.C.C. has had time to reconsider the matter and introduce a Clause to that effect which, although it will not solve the problem, will at least give the L.C.C. extra power which is desirable until some general legislation is introduced to deal with the problem as a whole.

1.8 a.m.

Sir Peter Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

At this very late hour, I do not wish to detain the House a moment longer than is necessary, but it is unfortunate that we began the Second Reading of the London County Council Bill only at about one o'clock. There is scarcely time to give all the Clauses of the Bill the consideration they deserve.

However that may be, it is fair comment to say that within the debate on the previous Bill one industry has been made the shuttlecock of various rivalries between competing local authorities jealous of their prestige and their rights for the good government of various parts of London, as they see it.

The industry which has been the victim of these rivalries has been the horticultural industry. I wish in as few words as possible to state the headings of my objections to what is proposed in the Bill. They arise for the most part on Part III of the Bill, and they relate, first, to the effect of the Bill upon the grower-wholesalers and other users of Covent Garden Market. They will come under control for the first time, which could mean the absolute prohibition of their keeping empty containers in Covent Garden Market. It is a fair presumption to say that not all those who apply for a licence under the Bill will be granted permission to keep their containers there. There is bound to be discrimination as between one trade and another, which will inevitably lead to some dislocation of the horticultural marketing arrangements round and about the market.

Furthermore, there is provision for storage of containers to be made on a new site. I do not want to go into the details of where that site is—that question has been fully dealt with in our previous debate—but it is an unsatisfactory feature from the point of view of the organisation of the horticultural industry and its marketing arrangements that the storage of containers is to be temporary only. That will inevitably cause uncertainty as to the future conditions under which the industry can organise itself as well as causing some additional expense, which may reflect itself in higher prices to the consumer. The producers want to avoid this at all costs.

Another point of criticism is that under the Bill the outside scheme of storage on a new site is to be limited. It is within the recollection of the House that the Minister of Agriculture clearly envisaged the provision of a storage depot on a new site. It was to contain empties, but it was also to be a storage for bulk produce. It was to be a pioneer scheme, on a different marketing system for Covent Garden Market itself, under which much of the pressure upon space could be relieved and some produce sold at Covent Garden on sample while the bulk was later hauled from the new outside overflow site. A system which places a restriction upon the use of the outside site, in that it is to contain only empties, will prevent the new pioneer scheme being set up for at least five years, during which time there will be continued uncertainty.

As for the licensing system, it is true that any aggrieved applicant who is refused a licence may appeal first to the magistrates' courts and thence to quarter sessions. But if consideration is given to the nature of the pleas made to those courts it will be appreciated that a court of law is not a very suitable body to adjudicate upon the question whether an individual is to be granted a licence, or where he is to keep his empties. It is analogous to a planning function, and I should have thought it more suitable if an appeal could have been laid from the county council straight to the Minister which he could settle after ordering an inquiry by one of his inspectors.

Although in connection with the site of the former Caledonian Market the facilities are limited to five years, the powers obtained by the London County Council under this Bill are permanent. In the Bill there is no limitation. So the horticultural industry is to come under the control of the London County Council. I am a great admirer of the county council in most of its activities, even though it has been conducted for a long time under the aegis of a political party which differs from the one to which I belong. But were I looking for an ideal type of marketing authority to control and regulate in detail and to adjudicate upon the claims of traders, producers and growers of country produce, I do not think I should select the council of the most urbanised area in the world. These Clauses should not have been inserted in the Bill now. We should have waited until the Minister set up the Covent Garden marketing authority which is contemplated in the Runciman Report.

I wish to say something about Part VI and particularly about Clause 28 which empowers the L.C.C. to reduce in size, in fact virtually to abolish, one of the precious open spaces so much cherished by the London public. I am not made more pleased by the prospect when I see that it is apparently for the purpose of building a so-called national theatre. I do not think there is any case to be made now for taking an open space in order to build another theatre, when we are told that existing London theatres have to close down because it does not pay to present plays in them. There is no greater supporter, in spirit, of the English drama than I—although I am afraid that I am not a frequent attender at the theatre—but I do not wish a theatre to be built on one of our open spaces when open spaces are all too few.

I do not intend to enlarge on other matters in the Bill but I think the proposals regarding horticulture are ill-advised and that it would have been much better to have waited until the Minister brought forward his proposals for a marketing authority.

1.21 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I am deeply sorry to be keeping the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) from his Adjournment debate, but I hope he will bear with me for a moment while I reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P. Agnew).

I have a great deal of sympathy with the points made by my hon. Friend and I tried to cover some of them in an earlier debate. I only want to say to him that, of course, my right hon. Friend is as anxious as he to go forward with plans for Covent Garden and to obtain the permanent basis which we so much require. As I explained at an earlier stage, we look on this temporary provision as an insurance. I assure my hon. Friend once more that it is our firm intention to go forward for the permanent provision at the earliest possible moment.

As to the other matters in his speech, I realise the difficulties that one or two points in the Bill will provide for some growers and traders, but it is the hope of my right hon. Friend that the London County Council will be as reasonable as it can be in the way it uses these licensing powers and that it will take proper account of the needs of horticulturists. I entirely share the view that horticulturists should be given every possible help in the marketing of their produce. I was very interested to see a Motion on this subject which my hon. Friend has placed on the Order Paper. I assure him that what is said there reflects very much the view of my right hon. Friend, and that we have the needs and desires of these people very much at heart.

1.24 a.m.

Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)

I wish to answer what was said by the hon.

Bill read a Second time and committed.

Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir P Agnew) about Clause 28. I assure him that it is not a question of taking an open space. The council dedicated as an open space this piece of the embankment, which was regained from the river a few years ago. All that would happen is that the proposed building would encroach by 11 or 12 feet on the riverside wall. The public would not lose this open space because a colonnade would be built and the council would require public access to the area always to be available.

It is a very small portion which seemed necessary for the plans. I cannot agree about not wanting a theatre there. I personally want to see a theatre on that beautiful site and I should be pleased if the Government would come forward with the money quickly. We do not want that site unbuilt on for long and the land has been promised for a national theatre.

Question put, That "now" stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 45; Noes 0.

Division No. 160.] AYES [1.25. a.m
Agnew, Sir Peter Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Ronton, D. L. M.
Barlow, Sir John Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Rippon, A. G. F.
Body, R. F. Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Roper, Sir Harold
Brooman-White, R. C. Kirk, P. M. Sharples, R. C.
Bryan, P. Legh, Hon. Peter (Peterafield) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Linstead, Sir H. N. Studholme, Sir Henry
Chichester-Clark, R. Macpheraon, Niall (Dumfries) Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)
Cooke, Robert Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Thornton-Kemeley, Sir Colin
Cooper-Key, E. M. Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebom)
Courtney, Cdr. Anthony Nairn, D. L. S. Webbe, Sir H.
Elliott, R. W.(Ne'castle upon Tyne. N.) Noble, Michael (Argyll) Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Finlay, Graeme Nugent, Richard Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gibson-Watt, D Pott, H. P. Wood, Hon. R.
Godber, J. B. Price, David (Eastleigh)
Green, A. Ramsden, J. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gresham Cooke, R. Redmayne, M. Mrs. Freda Corbet and
Mr. Dudley Williams.
Mr. Stonehouse and Mr. Reynolds,