HC Deb 09 May 1961 vol 640 cc246-71
Mr. John Hall

I beg to move, in page 10, line 47, at the end to insert "or any other approved site".

It is not without significance that two of my three hon. Friends who support me in this Amendment were members of the Select Committee, and I believe I am right in saying that this Amendment has the sympathy, if not the formal support of their names being put to it, of members of the Select Committee who were drawn from the Opposition benches.

Subsection (1) of the Clause make it mandatory on the Authority On and after the vesting day…to provide within the Covent Garden Area facilities which existed there before. Subsection (2), on the other hand, lays on the Authority an obligation, when it has had time to consider the problems which confront it, when it has had time to settle into its new duties and to look around, to provide facilities on the market lands, but they shall…take such steps as are practicable either to improve those facilities or to provide, in substitution there for, better ones on other lands within the Covent Garden Area. The purpose of my Amendment is to release the new Authority from the straitjacket of those words within the Covent Garden Area so as to leave the Authority, after due consideration and consultation with all those concerned, free to decide how it can best develop and where it can best develop the market of the future.

We are considering a very great and very important and a world-renowned produce market, and I think that it is wrong that we should fetter the Authority in this way so as to force it to continue the establishment of this market in this particular area even though it may decide, after mature reflection, that it can be better sited elsewhere.

It is obvious from the Second Reading debate that many hon. Members on both sides were most alarmed about the proposal that this market should be frozen for all time in the centre and heart of a great city. I took the trouble to analyse the various speeches which were made. Altogether, there were nineteen. All nine Opposition speakers were, rather naturally, against the Bill. Five of my hon. Friends were against the Bill, and three gave it qualified support. They may be said to have damned it with faint praise. Two of my right hon. Friends gave unqualified support to the Bill—the Minister, who opened the debate, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who closed it. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is often called in to fight a difficult brief, and he did it very well, as he always does.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as reported in column 1273–74, said: Over the years the market has far outgrown its first location. Today, it presents grave problems not only of marketing, but of planning traffic and fire control. Later, my right hon. Friend said, Present conditions in and around the market are so bad that all agree that drastic reform is needed. The whole area cries out for proper planning and development."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1960; Vol, 631, c. 1273–4.] Everyone agreed, but the Minister, nevertheless, introduced his proposals that the market should be retained in the present site, but that some of the load should be shifted from Covent Garden by establishing an annex for containers and bulk produce elsewhere. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Select Committee removed from the Bill the site which the Minister had in mind and left the matter open.

In listening to the evidence presented to the Select Committee it struck me that the Minister seemed not to be fully acquainted with the various traffic problems and their extent—not only those which would be involved in placing the annex in the proposed site, but the traffic problems in general. I was struck by an answer given to me by a Ministry witness, as reported on page 232 of the Minutes of Evidence, Question 2190.

My question and the answer were: Was the Minister fully aware of the very serious traffic problems that might result from the St. Luke's site before he had the survey?—I could not say he was fully aware of the traffic implications in the use of any particular site. I quote that because it makes me wonder a little whether the figures given by the Minister on Second Reading about the general traffic conditions in and around Covent Garden were based on the same kind of information or lack of information.

In the Second Reading debate the Minister said that the flow of market traffic is not a major factor in the flow of traffic on the roads around the market area. The survey on which the Minister relies was taken by a traffic expert in September and a figure which the Minister quoted was 3,250 vehicles going into the market during the day, a figure arrived at by taking an average over five days. On the Tuesday the number of vehicles going into the market was greater—3,858; but the point is that these figures relate to September. The traffic engineer who prepared the report said in his appendix, about the period in September over which he made his investigation: It is generally felt by the merchants in the market that this is one of the quietest periods of the trading year, if not the quietest. It came out in evidence before the Select Committee that in April four times as much bulk produce comes into the Port of London as in September. One can, therefore, assume that the movement of traffic in and out of Covent Garden during that period is considerably greater than the figure quoted by the Minister as representing the average over a week in September, which is a much quieter period.

The Minister prayed in aid the Runciman Committee's Report. Hon. Members on both sides will remember that that Committee recommended that Covent Garden should stay where it is, but it also recommended an extension of Brentford Market, in the west, of Stratford Market, in the east, and of Greenwich Market for the south-east, and, as one very important recommendation, the establishment of a completely new market in the north-west of London. Only after making those recommendations to extend the facilities to be provided by other markets, with the establishment of a new market on the perimeter of London, did the Committee suggest that Covent Garden should remain, reduced in size, in the centre, to act very largely as a price-fixing centre.

4.45 p.m.

It is not without significance, in considering whether the Authority should be allowed to consider other sites for the establishment of Covent Garden Market, to remind the House what the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee said. I quote from page 126 of the Minutes of Evidence, starting at the last paragraph: In 1958, the traffic authority, that is to say, the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee Report for that year (it came out in 1959), expressly reminded the Minister of their view stated in their Report of the year before that Covent Garden Market would be best removed entirely to another site. And then they added,'…on 11th June, 1958, the Minister…announced in the House of Commons the Government's decision that the Market should not be entirely removed from its present area although he contemplated provision elsewhere for storage premises associated with the Market, coupled with increased efficiency and a reduction in size. In view of our duties in connection with London traffic, we much regret that this decision has been found necessary. Those responsible for planning the future Market, as well as those responsible for traffic conditions in the area, are now confronted with a challenge which it will require all their ingenuity to meet.' This point was made by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) on Second Reading, and the point does not lose force by repetition. Indeed, it must be repeated, because one of the main reasons why we should consider alternative sites is the appalling traffic problem which is likely to arise if it is left there.

What are the alternatives? It was suggested by the Minister on Second Reading that the market might be rebuilt not exactly on the present site, but possibly on the Seven Dials site immediately adjacent to the existing Covent Garden area. In my view, that would in no way improve the position, because it would still create the same kind of traffic difficulty. I am not at all sure—I have not the map before me—whether the Seven Dials area is included in the Covent Garden Market area and whether it comes within the map which is referred to in Clause 53, in which a definition of the Covent Garden Market area is given. But on the assumption that it is within that area, that is one alternative. If I may quote from "Iolanthe", Hearts just as pure and fair May beat in Belgrave Square As in the lowly air Of Seven Dials. I am not suggesting that Belgrave Square is necessarily a good alternative site.

On Second Reading, King's Cross was suggested as a site. It was mentioned in passing by the Minister on Second Reading and by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when winding up the debate, when he replied to an eloquent speech on this subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith). As I understand, King's Cross was rather dismissed by the Ministry because in its view the British Transport Commission was not prepared to make up its mind whether it was ready to release the land for the purposes of the establishment of a market or whether it wanted the land for some other reason. I have the impression that that is the Minister's view now.

Curiously enough, as I understand, Mr. Glover, who was one of the moving spirits behind the King's Cross idea, is still in active negotiation with the Transport Commission, which, apparently, shows itself keenly interested in the whole idea. Therefore, as far as the Transport Commission is concerned, there does not seem to be any overriding reason at the moment why King's Cross should not be considered as an alternative site.

I have no particular bias in favour of any site. It may be that the Authority, when it has had time to settle down, may find many more suitable places. It may find that it wants to divide the market up in different ways. All I suggest is that, by accepting the Amendment, the Authority is left free to decide for itself whether and how it shall develop the market. It is not forced to develop it in Covent Garden or elsewhere.

The Authority can decide entirely for itself, and in doing so I am sure that it would bear in mind the Abercrombie Report on the County of London Plan of as long ago as 1943, when it was said, of Covent Garden: It is now a source of great congestion and delay and, with its inadequate road and rail connections its position cannot be justified today. There can be no objection, surely, to adding these innocuous but helpful words as an Amendment to the Clause, which would leave the Authority to decide itself, against the background of its own knowledge and investigation, how it should develop this great market in the future.

It would be wrong to put into the Bill a Clause requiring the Authority to keep the market in Covent Garden even though the Authority might come to the conclusion that that was the wrong site.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I should like to support the Amendment It gives the Covent Garden Authority wider powers and does not seem to restrict it in any way. If this were an Amendment directing the Authority to find a site other than at Covent Garden I would not be prepared to support it, whether or not, in my view, the Authority should find another site. If the Clause goes through as it stands the Authority will be compelled by Statute, whether it likes it or not, to rebuild in Covent Garden.

When the Authority looks for various sites—and I say that advisedly, because the annex has to be considered as well and we have heard today about some of the difficulties which will be encountered with that—it may find itself unduly restricted if it may only look for its main buildings in the Covent Garden area. It might find tremendous transport and sewerage difficulties in the Covent Garden area. It might want to look elsewhere, further out from London, for a site for the present and the future.

We must remember that everything that is brought to Covent Garden and taken away has to be transported and that the present Covent Garden area has absolutely no transport facilities whatever. I exclude, of course, lorry transport, which can go anywhere, but by going to and from Covent Garden the lorries cause tremendous congestion in the area every morning throughout the year. The congestion is sometimes worse than at other times. There are parts of London where there are easy road and rail transport facilities and even facilities for air transport.

I am not saying that the Authority should seek a site further away, or that it should not. All I say is that it must be left with a free hand and must be free to decide in the light of all the pros and cons of the situation and of the question of the annex where the site for the new market should be.

It has been said that this site will be only a price-fixing site and that sales will be by sample and not by bulk. I have strong doubts about that. It will be a price-fixing site in the sense that prices raised in Covent Garden will govern prices in other markets, but for centuries there has been trading in bulk and not in samples there and I do not believe that when the new site is provided traders can be persuaded to bring their samples and keep the bulk elsewhere. It is contrary to their training and practice over centuries. We shall find that in the new market bulk will be delivered, dealt with, and taken away after sale.

I ask the Minister to accept the Amendment. It is permissive and it extends the Authority's powers. It does not in any way restrict the Authority, or say that it must or must not go to the Covent Garden area.

Mr. Wise

I am happy to say that this point was not brought up in the Select Committee, otherwise we should have been unable to preserve the happy unanimity which we so strikingly showed. I cannot believe that this is a sound Amendment and I shall pray in aid the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who referred to the great difficulty and the delay which would follow if the Authority had to look for a site for the annex.

There would be even more delay if it had to look for two sites. Although this is a permissive Amendment, and does not debar the Authority from carrying on the market where it is, the fact remains that it lays upon the Authority the obligation to look for another site and, therefore, it can lead only to delay in carrying out the object of the Bill.

Moreover, I am not ready to believe that this market should be removed. It has been there for 300 years and enormous good will has grown around it. I know that a rose, By another name would smell as sweet, but Covent Garden will not be Covent Garden if the market is built at Ponders End. It is a market which is known throughout the world. It owes some thing to its name and it is well worth the effort to keep that name. There is an objection to having the market in the middle of a great town, but if we are to have a great fruit and vegetable market it must be in the middle of the town—

Mr. John Hall

That does not apply to Paris.

Mr. Wise

Paris is a much smaller town than London.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) adumbrated the idea that it should be removed to King's Cross, where there would be the necessary railway facilities.

Mr. Doughty

I never used the word "King's" or the word "Cross".

Mr. Wise

Anyway, my hon. and learned Friend said that it should be removed to a place where there would be railway facilities, and I do not know of any other where those would be available.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

I drew attention on Second Reading and in other debates to 44 acres of goods yards which are quite inadequately used at St. Marylebone and which would make an excellent site, with road and rail facilities and everything else available.

Mr. Wise

I was not aware that my hon. Friend had the concurrence of the British Transport Commission to the lack of use of these 44 acres, but as for King's Cross I think that it is "just not on"

The City of London announced to the Select Committee that negotiations had been successfully concluded with the Transport Commission for the use of this site at King's Cross for the transport of slaughterhouses from Islington.

Mr. John Hall

My hon. Friend is in confusion, rather naturally because of the confusing evidence on that subject. What the witness intended to say was that the City Corporation had concluded the arrangements for Maiden Lane. My hon. Friend will see that on page 307 of the evidence.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Wise

I can only base my statement on what the witness said. I said to the witness: I understood you to say in your evidence that negotiations with British Transport over the site at King's Cross have reached a successful conclusion… The answer to that was "Yes".

Mr. John Hall

If my hon. Friend ill now turn to page 307 of the Report, he will see that the witness said that the City Corporation was interested in Maiden Lane and not in King's Cross.

Mr. Wise

I must ask the Committee to forgive us while I look this up.

Mr. A. Evans

The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) is correct. The City Corporation has almost concluded arrangements with the Transport Commission to take the site at Maiden Lane for the slaughterhouse, which is departing from Islington, much to my joy. The King's Cross site was a different site from that at Maiden Lane.

Mr. Wise

For all I know, the City Corporation may have decided to take two sites. But I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) that the witness was a shade confused under cross-examination, but I was not examining him, I was simply asking him a simple question. It led on to the question whether the City Corporation envisaged that the depôt, if it were available, should be handed over to the Covent Garden Authority. The answer to that was "No". It is unfair to expect the Authority to have any easy access to any alternative sites.

Mr. John Hall

I am sorry to press this point, but it should be made clear that the City Corporation has no interest whatever in King's Cross. Its interest is confined to Maiden Lane. Nothing that it has done or intends to do, as far as I am aware, is likely to affect the King's Cross proposition.

Mr. Wise

I am not sure that my hon. Friend and I are talking about the same thing. Is not the site in Maiden Lane actually the goods site of King's Cross station, and on the tracks by the station? I do not think that there has been any proposal to move the station. But, passing from that point—which I will, if necessary, concede—the fact remains that it would be extremely difficult for the Authority to find any other site than Covent Garden. It would also be undesirable to throw away what is, as has been said, the world-renowned good will of this market. It will not be Covent Garden if it is somewhere else. I do not believe that the traffic congestion is anything like the problem which the traffic committee said that it would be.

Mr. Doughty

Go and see.

Mr. Wise

My hon. Friend says "go and see," but the traffic conditions constitute a factor which we are endeavouring to alter. Out of the 30 acres for the market, between seven and 10 are to be devoted to accommodating vehicles which now stand in the roads all round, causing congestion. It is not the movement of traffic in or out of the market, but the traffic standing at the sides of the roads which causes the trouble. I do not believe that the market's daily total of 2,000 or 4,000 vehicles—which is only a tithe of the traffic using that area—is so great a factor in causing congestion, so long as those vhicles are not standing in the surrounding roads.

It would be regrettable to impose on the Authority the obligation to look for an extra site, even though it might take the obligation lightly—which I do not think that it should. It would be better if this Committee did not force it to consider other sites, having already given it the task of looking for a variety of sites.

Mr. Colin Turner (Woolwich, West)

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) seems to have drawn a lot of red herrings across this Amendment. As I understand it, the object of the Amendment, which I support wholeheartedly, is to give the Authority, when it is set up, the opportunity, if it so desires, to look for another site. I do not agree with my hon. Friend's view on the traffic problem. Hon. Members who were present on Second Reading will remember that I laid great emphasis on the fact that I did not believe the Minister's figures were true. We have now been told that the figures we have been given during today's discussion are for the lightest part of the year, which justifies what I said on Second Reading.

The important aspect of this Amendment—which is the most vital Amendment of the Bill—is to give the Authority, when it is set up, the opportunity to look for an alternative site if it finds that the problem of traffic and transport in the Covent Garden area is almost impossible to solve. It is only right that the House should take that step. Perhaps it will be difficult to find an alternative site—no one denies that—but it is most important that the Authority should have the opportunity. I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept the Amendment, because many of us feel that it is vital to the Bill.

Mr. Morris

The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) has suggested that if this Amendment, which is an interesting one, were accepted, there would be an obligation on the Authority to look for an alternative site. I cannot see any such obligation.

Mr. Wise

If there is no obligation, the Amendment does not mean anything.

Mr. Morris

I will make my speech. Perhaps the hon. Member may make another one later. There is no obligation involved. It would merely be a permissive power. There would be no obligation on the Authority to delay doing something about the market area while going all over London or in the country to look for a site. It would merely give it power to look if it wished so to do. The hon. Member for Rugby is reading too much into the Amendment if he suggests that it is imposing an obligation on the Authority to look for another site, coupling with that obligation a resulting delay before anything is done about the market. We should look at the Amendment as it is. If it means other than what I have suggested, then I am willing to be corrected.

I agree that this problem did not assert itself before the Select Committee, and in that respect we were fortunate that it did not do so. Therefore, that aspect was not examined by the Select Committee. Indeed, it was not possible for us to look into the question of an alternative site at King's Cross. As I understand the Clause, the Authority is confined to the Covent Garden area.

All of us will agree, I think, that it is desirable to have some kind of market at Covent Garden which will give a lead to all parts of the country and suggest the price-fixing mechanism. The suggestion was made by the Minister on Second Reading that if this Bill went through it would be possible even for the market to expand. That was part of his original Press statement. It would be a deplorable result of this Bill if that were to happen. It would be far more advantageous to the market and to London, with all its traffic problems, if the market contracted. But that is quite different from going away from Covent Garden. There should be a market there, perhaps for price fixing mechanism, but nothing more.

On Second Reading, the Government implied that they were adopting the Runciman recommendations by introducing this Bill. They were doing nothing of the kind. They were accepting half the proposals of the Runciman Committee and praying them in aid for their action. We heard evidence before the Select Committee of the transport chaos in London. The Report of the Commissioner of the Police was quoted several times on Second Reading. If the hon. Member for Rugby is not aware that on Second Reading the attention of everyone was drawn to traffic chaos in London, he has now been corrected by another hon. Member. I am sure he did not intend to give a wrong impression to the Committee.

Everyone agrees that there is considerable unnecessary chaos in this area at present. If the Bill goes through, I am sure that large numbers of stationary vehicles will be taken off the streets and will go into the building provided in the market. But I am not completely satisfied. If the Government have such confidence in Covent Garden Market area as being the best possible site for a market, why should they resist this Amendment? It is merely a permissive Amendment. It gives the chance to the Authority to say that it wishes to look for another site. The Authority would not be obliged to do so. If there is confidence that, having given these powers to the Authority, it will inevitably come to the conclusion that this is the one and only site it can use, there is no reason for the Government to resist the Amendment.

Mr. Wise

I am a little confused about this. We have heard from all the sup- porters of the Amendment how permissive it is and how it lays no sort of obligation on the Authority to do anything. Do not supporters of the Amendment accept that if it were carried there would be an obligation on the Authority to do something about looking for another site? If they do not expect the Authority to do anything, why do they proceed with the Amendment?

Mr. John Hall

As the mover of the Amendment, perhaps I may be allowed to answer. The intention is that it should be permissive for the Authority, if on consideration it thinks it best to go elsewhere from Covent Garden, to be able to do so. As the Bill stands, although the Authority may think it better to go to another site, it cannot do anything but establish the market in the Covent Garden area.

Mr. Morris

I think that reply meets the point made by the hon. Member for Rugby. I was not a sponsor of the Amendment, but that was the impression conveyed to me by the proposer and by my reading of it. It would be purely permissive. The Authority could look for another site if it wished to do so, but it would not be compelled to do so. That is the nub of the Amendment. If the Government have such confidence in this area as the future place in which to invest a very large amount of money for ever, why should they seek to resist—if they do resist—the Amendment?

5.15 p.m.

Sir W. Wakefield

I wish to support the Amendment. I cannot see what possible objection there can be to giving something which is permissive. Some powerful arguments have been advanced as to why this permission should be included in the Bill. It may be that the Covent Garden Authority when it is set up will find some exceedingly suitable site for an annex. It may be that in course of time that annex could be developed more ably as a Covent Garden Market centre than in the Covent Garden area itself.

I cannot see why permissive power should not be included in the Bill. Quite apart from the King's Cross site, there are sites which I have mentioned from time to time. There is the large area in St. Marylebone and the large area at Wembley which might be useful. There are large areas owned by the British Transport Commission which undoubtedly will become redundant in years to come. As the modernisation plan of the Commission takes place, goods vehicles will be much speedier and smaller numbers of goods vehicles will be required. Therefore, large goods areas will no longer be needed to handle the traffic. It may mean that in the next decade very suitable and convenient areas may be provided with rail, and perhaps road, facilities.

We should look very foolish if the Covent Garden Authority, during the course of its duties, found it was unable to develop Covent Garden activities elsewhere because there was no permissive provision in the Bill. For the reasons which have been advanced, I suggest that this opportunity should be given. All along, Westminster City Council has been greatly concerned at traffic congestion in its area. There have been petitions and representations about that congestion. It may be that if we removed the congestion caused by standing vehicles congestion would not be so great. There would still be a substantial number of vehicles coming to the centre of the city and going out again. That could be avoided if the market were established elsewhere.

Anything which can be done to remove congestion from the centre of London—which in the years to come is likely to increase rather than to decrease—must be an advantage. Therefore, if it is possible for the Covent Garden Authority to have permission, should it think it wise, to move elsewhere, that might be of greater benefit in reducing traffic congestion. For these and other reasons which have been advanced, I hope that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to this Amendment.

Mr. A. Evans

It appears that on the Government benches there is a belated doubt as to whether Covent Garden Market would be best left in its present position. Now, on Committee stage, a large number of Government supporters have come round to the view that perhaps, after all, it would be better if the market did not remain where it is. At long last, in Committee, it is thought that perhaps it was a mistake for the Government to decide that Covent Garden Market should remain in its present area.

When this matter was discussed on Second Reading, from this side of the House we advocated what has long been our policy, that the market should be moved to another site. Hon. Members opposite have now seen the wisdom of our policy and are wondering whether it is wise to leave the market where it is. They are seeking permission for the Authority to put it elsewhere if the Authority so desires.

Mr. John Hall

If the hon. Member reads the Second Reading debate, he will see that a number of my hon. Friends held that view before.

Mr. Evans

That may be so, but now we have a concerted effort on the Government benches to move contrary to the express purpose of the Government on Second Reading. This seems to be rather unfair to the House and the Minister to put forward this project at this stage. It seems to me that, properly, it should have been brought up on Second Reading so that the matter could be considered at that stage. Now that the Minister and the Government have committed themselves in principle to Covent Garden Market not remaining where it now is, it is rather late for hon. Members to seek to give the Authority permission to find another site.

I suppose that this Amendment is in order, although it seems to be difficult to fit it in quite happily into the Long Title of the Bill.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Godfrey Nicholson)

The Amendment would not have been selected if it had not been in order. I would deprecate any repetition of the Second Reading debate upon it. It is very difficult to keep within the rules but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not indulge in another Second Reading speech.

Mr. Evans

I agree on the first point, Sir Godfrey, that it is in order. Obviously, it must be in order, having been selected. I have no intention of remaking the speech I made on Second Reading, but I am, I hope, speaking to the Amendment. I am saying that this Amendment and the idea behind it should more appropriately have been put before the House on Second Reading. The Amendment is in order, but there is a problem with the Long Title, as it is quite clear that the intention of the Government is that Covent Garden Market should be refashioned and modernised on its present site. Therefore, it seems to me that the Amendment is quite contrary to the Bill as it comes to us from the Select Committee and as we have it before us on Committee stage.

Mr. Soames

I should like first to refer to what has been said about some remarks I made during my Second Reading speech. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) said that I prayed in aid the Runciman Committee, inferring that that Committee had recommended that Covent Garden Market should remain as it is and where it is, and that what we were doing was following the advice of the Runciman Committee. I would refer my hon. Friend to my Second Reading speech, which put beyond doubt what the situation actually is. I said: The Runciman Committee came to the conclusion that the national central Market should stay where it is, at Covent Garden, but be reduced in size and scope. It recommended that this should be done by diverting some of Covent Garden's trade with London retailers to a completely new market and to Brentford and Stratford Markets, which should be expanded for the purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1960; Vol. 631, c. 1281.]

Mr. John Hall

I do not think that what my right hon. Friend said then is contrary to what I have said to him. I drew attention to that very fact, though perhaps I put the stresses in slightly different places. I think I have quoted him accurately.

Mr. Soames

I gathered that my hon. Friend had either misunderstood what I said or thought that I had in some way endeavoured to mislead the House in what he called "praying in aid" the Runciman Report in suggesting that the new Covent Garden Market should remain where it is. In fact, what I put to the House on Second Reading was in line with the Runciman Committee's recommendations.

Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner), said that the figures I had given him had been shown not to be correct figures. I do not quite know what makes him think so. The figures I gave were from a census ordered from and carried out by a reputable firm used to carrying out such a census, which told us exactly how many vehicles were passing different points, how many were stationary and for how long, in the same way as anybody who wants to can have a census taken.

Mr. Turner

If my hon. Friend will remember, at an earlier stage it was pointed out that the census was taken at a time of the lowest peak of traffic during the whole year, and that was the very point I made. I did not accuse my right hon. Friend of giving wrong figures. These figures were perfectly correct at the time, but I say the time was badly chosen.

Mr. Soames

On the point of the lowest peak of traffic, we had this done in September, because it so happened that that was when we decided to have it done, not because we thought it was either the highest or the lowest peak of traffic. I assure my hon. Friend of that. As for the traffic peak, it may well be that there is four times as much imported produce going into Covent Garden in April as in September, and what is equally shown is that there are several times as much home-grown produce going through the market in September as there is in April. I suppose that to be absolutely accurate, one should have taken the census at various times of the year, but there is certainly much more home-grown produce traffic in September than in April, and certainly more imported produce going in the market during April than September.

Mr. John Hall

Irrespective of whether it is home-produced or imported produce that goes through the market at that particular time, the interesting point is that the traffic engineer's own comment, in the report to the Minister, said: It is generally felt by traders in the Market that it is one of the quietest periods of the trading year, if not actually the quietest, irrespective of where the produce comes from.

Mr. Soames

I dare say that the number of lorries coming and going might have been greater if the census had been taken a month or two earlier, or even a month or two later, but I think the fact is broadly appreciated by every one who has studied the problem that the traffic problem within Covent Garden Market is not nearly so much that of the number of lorries passing through, but the length of time which they have to spend under present conditions waiting to unload or load and then getting out again after having been unloaded or loaded.

Indeed, I think I would accept the broad thesis of what lies behind the Amendment. It is this. Can we be sure that Covent Garden is the best place for this market? Would it not be better to leave it to the Authority to decide in the fullness of time, after considering it and with more care, where it should be? Now, the Government could have brought in, had they so desired, a Bill which left it completely open. It could have been done. It would have been a difficult Bill from the hybrid point of view, because people would not have known to what extent they would be affected, whether representations could be made and the like, but it could have been done. To this extent, the Bill now lays down that the annex can be elsewhere than at Finsbury. This has been amended by the Select Committee, and it is now up to the Authority to decide where the annex should go.

But where the Covent Garden Market is concerned, this is a big decision to take, a much bigger decision than that on where the annex is to be. Where is to be placed a central market which trades in millions of pounds worth of goods? Where should it be placed? Should it be where it has been for a long time in Covent Garden, or should it be moved outside? It was the Government's view that if we were to have it put outside, or let the Authority put it somewhere away from its present situation, we should have had to have given the Authority powers far beyond what the Authority is receiving in this Bill, because there was, to put it no higher than that, a risk that a number of the people now trading in Covent Garden, if they had to "upsticks" and go elsewhere, might have chosen to go across the river to the Borough Market, or to Spitalfields or elsewhere, and so created probably worse conditions of traffic congestion in those markets. We had to decide one way or the other.

5.30 p.m.

We either give the Authority far-reaching powers to control all markets and marketing arrangements throughout London, or we have to stipulate where the market is to be. If we do not give the Authority those powers, then we have to say that the market must be in or around that part of an area to which a large proportion of the tenants attach the greatest importance.

Furthermore, the Government felt, and I think that there is a measure of support for this in the Committee, that whether the market should be in Covent Garden or some other place is quite a big decision to take, and that it is the Government's duty to take it. The decision as to where the market is to be sited is not one to be left to an authority that has not yet been set up. It will be the Authority's job to run the market. If this Amendment were accepted, the House of Commons would be left with no power whatsoever to say where—in what part of the country, or inside or outside London—this most important market should be placed.

As I have said, the Government felt it their duty to stipulate where the market should be, and there are always arguments for and against any particular place named. I suppose that the easiest way out would be to do nothing and just let things go on, but the Government's view was that we should come to grips with the matter and that it was the Government's duty to stipulate where the market should be. It was decided that the market should remain at Covent Garden. I am sure that had we chosen any other place there would also have been arguments for and against that proposal.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) said that there are certain areas of land which in some years' time will not be needed. Whenever a Bill of this kind is going through Parliament, one can always call such things as that in aid and say that the time is not far distant when new techniques will emerge which will mean that this and that will be available that are not available now. Nevertheless, from time to time a decision has to be taken—the chopper has to come down.

The Government have taken the view that the best arrangement is for the market to be rebuilt in its present area. I can put at rest the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe by saying that the Seven Dials area is within the area in which the building of a new market is permitted. As I have said, the effect of this Amendment would be to take away from the House the right to decide where the market shall be.

But I must also warn the Committee that if this Amendment were carried there is no doubt that the scope of the Bill would be enlarged. At the moment, the Bill limits the building of the new market to the Covent Garden area. That has been published, and all the petition procedure has been gone through with that in mind. There is no doubt that acceptance of this Amendment would enlarge the scope of the Bill, because we would be extending the places in which the market could be rebuilt to an unspecified number of sites. Although it is not for me to judge what would happen in another place, I think it virtually certain that the ruling there would be that Standing Orders had not been complied with, and, for that reason, the acceptance of this Amendment would be the end of the Bill.

I still believe it right—I have no qualms about it—that to rebuild within this area is the best arrangement. There are, of course, arguments for and against it, just as there would be arguments for and against siting it elsewhere. We believe it right that this Bill should tie the Authority to rebuilding within the present area. We do not think that the Authority should be able to do this work elsewhere except with the express sanction of Parliament.

If, as a result of their inquiries and of representations made to them the Authority thought that it would be better to have the market elsewhere, how could that be brought about? It could not be done under this Bill, but what the Authority could do would be to tell the Government of the day, "We have been into this very carefully. This is the particular site we want. It is, in our view, a better site than the Covent Garden site. From every point of view, we think that it will be a more satisfactory site."

The Authority could suggest that to the Government. That would be the second phase of the operation—quite some time ahead—and that suggestion would be given weighty consideration. It would involve legislation. It would not necessarily need a very long Bill, but it would involve legislation. I believe that to be only right, because it is Parliament that should decide whether this market, which plays such a great part in our life, should be where it is now proposed to have it or elsewhere.

I appreciate the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, who made a forceful speech. It is very understandable that one should not wish to take such a big decision until all factors have been considered, but it is the duty of the House, by means of this Bill, to say where the market should be. But I can give the assurance that should the market Authority later say, "We think that you have made a mistake—this would be a much better site" that view would be given the Government's full consideration—

Mr. Morris

Before the Minister sits down, can he enlighten us on one thing? He said that if this Amendment were accepted it would be the end of the Bill in another place because Standing Orders had not been complied with. That is a rather important statement on which I should like him to enlighten us.

Mr. Soames

I do not think that I can enlighten the hon. Gentleman much more than I have done. I have said that it is not for me to judge what would happen in another place. Nevertheless, as Minister in charge of the Bill, it is my duty to point out the risks the Committee would be running were it to accept this Amendment. In my view, the Amendment would extend the scope of the Bill. That being so, as it is a hybrid Bill it would run the risk of being brought to an end.

Mr. Morris

But would not the same argument stand in regard to the annex proposal? That has been broadened as a result of the findings of the Select Committee, in that while the Finsbury site has been specifically deleted there now remains a general power for the Authority to look for an annex anywhere. As to the hybrid Bill proposals, there has not been any opportunity for people to make representations about any other site. I should have thought the same argument would apply to both, but I would be grateful for enlightenment.

Mr. Soames

The difference is that it is specified in Clause 16 (2) that the Authority shall provide facilities on the market lands but shall, as soon as practicable, take steps either to improve them or to provide in substitution therefor, better ones on other lands within the Covent Garden area". The Amendment would extend this. Subsection (3) of the same Clause in the original Bill said …the Authority…shall not, without the sanction of the Minister, provide them elsewhere outside that Area than on the Finsbury lands In other words, it was not mandatory to provide them on the Finsbury lands, but there was power to go elsewhere by means of appealing to the Minister.

Mr. Mellish

We can be certain that we shall not have heard the last of Covent Garden Market when the Bill becomes law, and I suppose that at some time someone will have to introduce legislation to cover all the markets in London, including Billingsgate and Smithfield, because of the traffic problems.

I recognise that the arguments about traffic are basically sound and no one can turn his back on them. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) is to be congratulated on the way in which he put his point of view. His theory was rightly and properly expressed on Second Reading, but now that the Bill has returned to the Committee, after having been considered by a Select Committee, we are faced with the fact that it is a Bill to deal with the development of ten acres of land in Covent Garden over a period of about seven years, its purpose being to deal with the produce which goes in and out of London every day. There are to be traffic management committees and all the other paraphernalia associated with the site. It cannot be suddenly decided, that decision having been made, that the market is now to be built somewhere else. It would have been much better and more logical, especially after what my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) said on Second Reading, if the Bill had then been defeated.

Apart from the farmers and the producers and the middlemen and those who take the produce in and out of London, there are several thousand people who work at Covent Garden. They would be the first to agree that the planning of London is the first priority and that their interests must take second place. But when we discuss traffic congestion do not let us assume that Covent Garden is responsible for all London's traffic problems. If Covent Garden were closed down tonight, traffic conditions in London would still be chaotic. I have often heard the Minister of Transport talking about his gimmicks with parking meters and so on in his efforts to solve the problem, but someone some day will have to take some drastic measures, even possibly to the extent of saying that no private motorist should stop anywhere in the centre of London but should drive straight through, and that might include Covent Garden as well. We might be faced with that eventually, but at the moment we are concerned not with the future but with the Bill.

I appeal to the hon. Member for Wycombe not to press the Amendment to a Division, because that will destroy the original intention which was to make the market arrangements workable and the traffic committee one of which we could be proud. If I thought that we would never again get the chance to talk about Covent Garden, I would support the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure that we will hear much about this and other markets in London in the future.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. John Hall

I find it difficult to understand the reasoning behind the speeches of the Minister and the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). The hon. Member said that he would support me if he thought that this would be the last that he would hear of Covent Garden. The hon. Member is extremely optimistic if he thinks that anyone will come forward with another Bill suggesting that Covent Garden be built elsewhere if, in the fulness of time, it is found that it should not have been retained where it is now.

Mr. Mellish

The time may come, in the next ten or fifteen years, when a great deal of London will have to be entirely rebuilt and when we may not have to confine ourselves to Covent Garden but rebuild the entire dock industry, for instance, at a cost of millions of £s.

Mr. Hall

That may be, but at the moment we are discussing Covent Garden and we have to confine ourselves to it.

It is absurd that we should spend £20 million on an authority to re-establish the market in the centre of London only to find in ten or fifteen years that we would have to have another Bill establishing the market somewhere else. The Minister seems to be perturbed lest by this, to me, innocuous Amendment some power is taken from the House and the Authority decides on its own responsibility to put the market other than in the Covent Garden area. I point out to my right hon. Friend—I have worded it rather carefully—that the Amendment says: or any other approved site". so that the Minister himself would have to approve the authority's action.

If he studies Clauses 17 and 18, he will see that a good deal of power has been given to the Authority outside the control of the House. In Clause 17 the Authority is required to ensure that the area of Covent Garden is reduced so as not to exceed ten acres at the expiration of the period of seven years… although the Minister retains to himself the right to lay an Order before the House to vary that period. Under Clause 18 (2) the Authority has the widest powers, akin to that of a nationalised industry, which place it outside the control of the House.

Earlier on, the Minister himself pointed out that we were not entitled to ask Questions about the day-to-day working of the Authority any more than we are about any other nationalised industry. I find it hard to accept the argument that the fact that the Authority might decide to fix upon a site other than within the Covent Garden area is something to be deplored because that would place the Authority outside the control of the House. It would still be within the control of the Minister and, if he felt it better, we could make the procedure subject to an affirmative Resolution. I have heard nothing from either Front Bench speaker to persuade me to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. A. Evans

I beg to move, in page 11, line 7, to leave out "outside" and to insert "inside".

I am sure that the Minister will feel happier about this Amendment than he did about the last one. He may be able to accept it because, unlike the last one, it is designed to keep the activities of the market within the area shown on the map.

Under Clause 16, certain duties and powers will be laid on the Authority. Under subsection (1), the new Authority will be required to improve the existing facilities and arrangements in Covent Garden. We wish the Authority well in that. Whatever view we take about any part of the Bill, and however much we might disagree about the basic concept behind it, now that the Bill has reached this stage I am sure that we all agree that there is much scope for the new Authority to clear up some of the chaos which exists at present in Covent Garden and to eliminate as far as it can much of the unnecessary traffic in the market.

Subsection (3) lays on the Authority the duty to provide, as soon as practicable, adequate facilities for storage, and it specifies that these storage facilities shall be provided as far as practicable outside the Covent Garden area. It is on that point that I invite the Minister to consider the Amendment. We think that the Authorty would be well advised to provide these facilities within the area laid down as the Covent Garden area. It would be a mistake if the Authority unnecessarily spread itself outside the designated area.

It will be many years before Covent Garden functions merely as a gigantic showroom for samples of fruit and vegetables. For many years it will have to continue under the present arrangements, and only gradually will the Authority be able to eliminate many of the activities which are at present carried on in the market.

For many years it will be necessary to provide storage facilities within the Covent Garden area for many commodities. I am not referring to commodities such as potatoes, vegetables, oranges and apples in bulk. Those commodities can be kept at the docks or at the annex, if and when one is found. For some time it will be necessary for the Authority to provide facilities for the storage of perishable fruit, exotic flowers, and so on. I hope that the Minister will agree that it is sensible to ask the Authority to provide facilities for the storage of the more exotic produce within the area of the market. We do not wish to encourage sprawl. We want storage facilities to be provided within the area laid down on the map.

Whether the Authority provides storage facilities inside or outside the area depends on the Authority's judgment as to the practicability of providing such facilities. If the Amendment were accepted, it would encourage the new Authority to keep its arrangements tidy and condensed. It would encourage the economic use of the space available within the market, and at the same time it would prevent the Authority from providing storage facilities outside the market that even if it thought that that was the practical thing to do.

I hope that the Minister will realise that the Amendment will not make any considerable difference to the duty which the Bill seeks to lay on the Authority. It will merely act as a guide to the Authority in the provision of storage facilities. I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment.

Mr. de Freitas

In an earlier discussion I referred to the confusion in people's minds between the provision of facilities in the annex for the storage of produce intended to be dealt with in bulk, and the provision of facilities for the storage of containers. I hope that the Minister will cover those two points when dealing with the Amendment.

The arguments for having space for the storage of horticultural produce to be dealt with in bulk are different from those for having facilities for the storage of containers. I am concerned about the storage containers if they are to be provided outside the area of Covent Garden. We come back to the point about the shuttle service of lorries which would obviously increase expense. We should examine what is done in foreign markets—

Forward to