HC Deb 18 February 1960 vol 617 cc1407-9
8. Mr. Sydney Irving

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if the site at the junction of Old Street and City Road has yet been acquired for use by the proposed Covent Garden Market Authority.

21. Mr. Reynolds

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress is being made with regard to the acquisition of St. Lukes Printing Works for use as a store in connection with operations at Covent Garden Market.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Hare)

The London County Council is still negotiating for the site and I cannot yet add to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) on 26th November, 1959.

Mr. Fletcher

Can the Minister please tell us how these negotiations are progressing and when he expects to be able to say that the site has been cleared?

Mr. Hare

It is very difficult for me to say when the negotiations will be completed. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the matter is in the hands of the London County Council. I know that the London County Council is very anxious to bring these negotiations to a conclusion as quickly as possible, as it has a very genuine interest in the matter because of the continuing fire risk which affects its responsibility as far as Covent Garden is concerned.

Mr. Willey

In view of the very serious objections that have been raised to this proposal, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be as well to review the matter before it is too late?

Mr. Hare

I think the hon. Member is just as anxious as I am to solve the problem of Covent Garden. It has not been solved by many Governments in the past because of the inevitable objections which are bound to be raised to the solution of a problem like this. I have listened very carefully to a number of representations and have received deputations from Finsbury and Shoreditch. I sympathise with and understand their point of view—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—but I think that without a market annexe no progress can be made to improve conditions at Covent Garden.

Mr. Cliffe

Does the Minister seriously believe that, by creating the annexe at the corner of City Road and Old Street, he is solving the difficult problem of Covent Garden? Is not he creating further problems for Central London?

Mr. Hare

I am sorry some hon. Members thought my last supplementary answer too long, but this matter is of considerable interest to a large number of people. I have had the considerable benefit of their views and I have considered them carefully. But we have to have the annexe to make a start on the problem of trying to solve the immense congestion and traffic difficulties, and the other difficulties, that exist in Covent Garden.

Mr. Partridge

While a great many of us believe that what my right hon. Friend proposes to do is right, we also feel that the instrument he has chosen may be the wrong one. Could he not think again about that, even at this late stage?

Mr. Hare

My hon. Friend knows my views on this. I have also considered his views and after a great deal of thought—some people have accused me of too much delay—I have chosen the instrument which seems to me to be the best for solving this problem.

Mr. Jeger

Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this, because he may find that if the Chancellor does not do something very soon Covent Garden Opera House may be available for storage purposes?

Mr. Hare

I do not know about that. I have been in constant touch with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, of course, is fully aware of the proposals outlined in the White Paper.