HC Deb 09 May 1961 vol 640 cc228-43

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Fletcher

The Committee may wish to spend a little time on this Clause. It was on Clause 2 and the related Clauses and Preambles to it that the Select Committee had to spend so much time. We should appreciate the effect of the changes made in the Bill as a result of the considerations and recommendations of the Select Committee. For that purpose, it is necessary to look not only at Clause 2 of the Bill as it was presented on Second Reading, and compare it with the present text, but also to look at the Preamble to the Bill as it was on Second Reading and the Preamble to the Bill as it is now.

Clause 2 is bound up with the Preambles. If one looks at the Bill which was—

The Chairman

Order. We do not discuss the Preamble now. We are now discussing only Clause 2, although I appreciate that they are connected.

Mr. Fletcher

They are very much inter-connected, Sir Gordon. With respect, I submit that it might prove convenient for the Committee if we could refer at this stage to the Preamble in connection with Clause 2 rather than to have a separate discussion on the Preamble.

The Chairman

If the Committee understands that we shall not have a separate discussion on the Preamble, that would be satisfactory.

Mr. Fletcher

When the Bill was introduced and given a Second Reading it contained two Preambles, which were the basis of part of Clause 2. These Preambles have been omitted and hon. Members can follow this only if they have a copy of the Bill as originally introduced with the Explanatory Memorandum.

The Preamble recites, first, that it is expedient to make further provision for regulating the market business at Covent Garden and also for reducing the congestion of traffic in the rest of the borough, and, for that purpose, to vest in the Authority certain lands which are subsequently referred to as the Finsbury lands. I will paraphrase the wording to make it intelligible: whereas the storage, elsewhere than in Covent Garden of horticultural produce intended to be dealt in in bulk and of empty containers…would conduce to the achievement of the object originally suggested it is accordingly expedient to vest in the said authority certain lands in the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury suitable for the provision thereon of facilities for the storage of such produce and containers as aforesaid. 3.45 p.m.

This Preamble has disappeared as a result of the recommendations of the Select Committee. There has also disappeared from Clause 2 the specific subsection (2) which provided, in effect, that what are generally known in this context as the Finsbury lands should be vested in the Authority merely as an automatic operation of this Measure so that the Authority might use those Finsbury lands for the purpose of an annex to the market for the purposes of storage therein of produce in bulk and of empty containers. Those provisions have been deleted.

Nevertheless, as I understand the Minister—I may be right or wrong—it is still contemplated that the Authority should make some arrangements outside the Covent Garden area for an annex, so that congestion may be relieved and that produce for some of the operations now carried on in the market—namely, sales by samples or of bulk produce—can be stored at the annex, and so that empty containers may be taken there.

Mr. Mellish

I should have thought this a matter more appropriate to be discussed when we come to Clause 16, where power is given to the Authority to acquire land outside the market for the purpose of storing empty containers. I am wondering whether it would not be better, when discussing Clause 16, that we try hard to get assurances from the Government.

Mr. Soames

Clause 2 is the first Clause in which the Amendment of the Select Committee begins to bite. I take it that this is the Clause on which we were to have a major discussion about the alteration made by virtue of the Amendment in the Select Committee as it affects the Finsbury lands; and, generally speaking, the small consequential Amendments growing from that. In addition, there are other discussions which we shall have, about whether the the annex shall be inside or outside the market area, which will be separate. I foresee that Clause 2 will be the Clause on which we shall have the major discussion about the Finsbury lands.

Mr. Fletcher

On the point raised about procedure by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), I do not in any way wish to curtail the debate which I think we shall have on Clause 16. At the same time, I did not feel that we could dispose of Clause 2 without some explanation of the con sequences of the changes in it. As I understand, we shall want to debate Clause 2 and Clause 16 separately. I do not think that those debates can be merged.

The short point on Clause 2 relates to the opinion of the Minister of the effect of the changes made by the Select Committee. When the Minister mentioned them to the House during the Second Reading debate it was part of the proposal, in fact it was the essential part of the whole scheme, that the Authority should have the Finsbury lands transferred to it and that this land should be used as an annex for part of the purposes for which the market is now used.

That was, therefore, an essential ingredient of the Bill to which the House gave a Second Reading. I am not questioning whether or not the recommendations of the Select Committee were wise. We may come to that point later. Before we dispense with Clause 2 and pass on to a discussion of Clause 16, I would like the Minister to tell the House how, in his opinion, this serious mutilation of Clause 2 affects the whole of the scheme.

Hon. Members should remember that since the controversy in the concession of 1959 and 1960, it had been contemplated that the Finsbury lands would be used as an annex. It was because they had been earmarked, and because the L.C.C. had taken all the preliminary steps to acquire them, with a view to their subsequent transfer to the Authority when constituted, that the Bill was introduced.

It may be that the Select Committee was right—and I know that the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Cliffe) would say so—but if it was right, what becomes of the whole scheme? Is the Minister now prepared to proceed with the Bill in the absence of any Finsbury land, because a couple of years ago we were told that the L.C.C. and the City Corporation had for years been looking for an appropriate site for an annex? When there was some controversy in 1959, it did not take them long to find an annex. They found the Finsbury land and, because of that, the Ministry was able to proceed with this scheme and to introduce the Bill.

Now, the Finsbury lands have gone, and there is no site earmarked for an annex. No site is contemplated for an annex and, therefore, a large part of this operation has disappeared. Before we part with Clause 2 the Minister should tell hon. Members whether he is really satisfied that the Bill can proceed without the Finsbury lands.

Is the Minister now proposing that the whole scheme should proceed without an annex? Is he now saying that all the argument used two or three years ago—in which it was stated that there was an essential need for an annex—are no longer valid? It may be found in the coming years that containers will all become non-returnable and that there will be no need for an annex for the storage of containers. If that is valid, it would support the argument for there being no necessity for an annex in which to store empty containers.

That may not be the Minister's idea. His idea may be that an annex should be found. If so, hon. Members are entitled to know, at this stage, what prospect he has of finding a site for an annex. Has he any alternative site in mind? Is he proposing that the alternative site should be put out of the periphery of London, or perhaps somewhere nearer? Whichever alternative he advances, there would be arguments about traffic congestion. We must have more information from the Minister as to how far this radical change in Clause 2 affects the Bill, because, in my view, it largely destroys the whole case for having the Bill.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) is right, procedurally. We should discuss Clause 2 and the Preamble together, because they both dealt in the original Bill, to which the House gave a Second Reading, with what were known as the Finsbury lands.

We are in a difficult position and perhaps you can advise us, Sir Gordon. This Bill is, of course, a different Bill from the one which was given a Second Reading. Since it left the House after its Second Reading the Bill has been to a Select Committee and that Committee has amended it in certain respects. Would it not, therefore, be appropriate for the Minister, on each Clause that has been so amended by the Select Committee, to intervene in order to give hon. Members the benefit of his views on the changes which the Select Committee have made?

The Bill—it is a peculiar one and a hybrid Measure, because it is half public and half private—is not as clear from a procedural point of view as it might be. With your consent, Sir Gordon, and with the agreement of the Minister, it would be advantageous for the Minister to intervene at each point where the Select Committee has made a change.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East raised the subject of the Finsbury lands not with any desire to go over the controversy once again, but to get a clear picture of what is the Ministry's attitude to the alternative in Clause 2 and in the Preamble that has been made by the Select Committee.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

Since we have gone a little on to Clause 16—

Mr. A. Evans


Mr. de Freitas

Yes we have.

In any case, I hope that the Minister will deal with the point that by Clause 16, unless it is amended as we suggest it should be, the Authority is told that as far as practicable, it should provide these facilities outside the Covent Garden area. That point is of great significance in relation to what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East said. We all agree that it would be helpful that, where changes have been made in the Bill, the Minister should comment on them.

The Chairman

We cannot discuss matters which arise on Clause 16 until we reach that Clause.

Mr. Soames

There are a number of Clauses, after Clause 2, from which references to the Finsbury lands have been deleted. These were purely consequential Amendments following the major Amendment which removed any reference to the Finsbury lands.

On the major Amendments made upstairs, it was my hope and intention to say something on each one of them as they were reached.

The main point that has been raised so far in this debate is the question asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher): how has the Bill been changed by the taking out of all references to the Finsbury lands? When they brought forward the Bill, the Government's view was that the Finsbury lands were a suitable and convenient site for the purposes of an annex, and it was laid down in the Bill, as presented to the House, that the site should be vested in the Covent Garden Market Authority.

That was put in because the Government felt that it was essential that the Bill should provide for an annex, and we still regard that as necessary. The Government's view has not changed; they still regard an annex as an essential feature for the clearing up of existing conditions in Covent Garden.

4.0 p.m.

What did the Select Committee do? It did not say that the Finsbury lands shall not be used. It decided that it would put Finsbury on the same basis as every other borough within the bounds of which a suitable site might be found. The Committee thought it fairer and wiser to make the Covent Garden Market Authority responsible for finding a site and going through all the planning processes necessary to enable it to buy and occupy the site rather than to vest the specific site on the Finsbury lands in the Authority.

Instead of there being an annex in that particular spot, it will now be for the Authority to request the planning authority to designate a site for the purpose. From that point, it will go through the well-known procedure for purchase with a public inquiry if need be. My right hon. Friend might well think it right, in a matter of this kind, that there should be a public inquiry, but, of course, that would be for him.

In any event, it will be for the Covent Garden Market Authority to go for whatever site it may choose. I agree, of course, that the choice is limited, but what the Government have not done since the Select Committee made its alteration was to find another site and say that that must be the one. It is now left to the Authority to find a site, and among the sites to which it could direct attention Finsbury is still one.

The effect of the alteration by the Select Committee is not, therefore, that the Finsbury lands may not be used, but merely that that site should be treated on exactly the same basis as any other which the Authority might consider for the annex.

As the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) said, when we come to Clause 16 we shall discuss whether the annex should be inside or outside the Covent Garden area. But the answer to the question arises on Clause 2, that is, what is the effect of the alteration, is briefly this. Instead of it being determined by the House that the Finsbury site will be vested in the Authority for this purpose, it is now open to the Authority to choose a site, and it will thereafter have to go through the necessary planning procedure.

Mr. Fletcher

The Minister has made the legal position perfectly clear. The effect of the deletion is that the Finsbury land will no longer be vested by the Bill in the Authority. But this means that the Authority will have to search for other land for an annex. It may find somewhere or it may not. If it does find a site, it will face all the procedural complications. It may find a site which it regards as convenient, but for which it will not receive the necessary planning permission. All this must take a considerable time.

One additional effect of the deletion is that, instead of the Authority being able to make an early start by having an annex site fixed for it to which it could go by statutory right, it will have its operations considerably delayed. As I understood the position hitherto, it was contemplated that operations in the annex should be the first and immediate step after the passage of the Bill. Now, it may be two or three years before the Authority has its annex. I do not know. Is it now envisaged that the Authority will still have to wait to find an annex and obtain planning approval for it before implementing the rest of the provisions of the Bill?

Mr. Soames

No. The implementation of the rest of the provisions of the Bill by the Market Authority is not affected by the change at all. The hon. Gentleman's guess is as good as mine about how long it will take the Authority to find another site. Perhaps delay will be caused. I have no doubt that this was borne in mind by the Select Committee when it considered the matter, but, none the less, it felt that this was the fairer, more equitable, and proper way to do it. It would have taken some time anyhow before the Authority could have moved on to the Finsbury lands. I cannot judge what extra delay might be caused as a result of the change. Although I accept that the change might possibly cause delay, I do not think that it will necessarily be so.

Mr. Mellish

The change has been made, and I think that it should be said now that my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Cliffe), my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) put up a tremendous fight in the House against the Bill as it originally stood. We had considerable debate about the principle of any site being used in the central area for storage, and I think that it can be said now that my hon. Friends may take great pride in the fact that that menace, to which it was intended to give legislative force by the Bill as it originally stood, has been removed.

As I understand the position now, the Authority can go anywhere for the annex it requires. It is not confined to one particular site, but it can itself decide where the site ought to be, subject to the usual town and country planning provisions. For the benefit of the Authority, I think that it should be put on record now that, if it eventually does meet to decide that it wants an annex inside London for the purpose of storing empties, it will face the biggest battle of its life.

All those concerned had better be quite clear about that. I can imagine nothing more obnoxious to any Metropolitan borough than having in its midst a site used purely for the storage of empty packages from Covent Garden Market.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East that the day is coming when the annex will not be required. Thanks to modern packaging and marketing systems, the return of empties will soon no longer be necessary, so what we have been arguing about may well become abortive. Nevertheless, it ought to be put on record now—I do not know whether the Authority will do us the honour of reading the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee stage of the Bill—that the Authority can take it firmly from some of us that it had better not try to put anything of this kind within Metropolitan London.

Mr. Michael Cliffe (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I find it extremely difficult to follow the logic of the Minister's statement. A good deal of public money and time has been devoted to establishing that the proposal that the annex should be at the junction of City Road and Old Street was a bad one and should not stand. A Select Committee was appointed. Thousands of pounds were spent on engaging advocates to establish that what was proposed was wrong not only for Shoreditch and Finsbury, but for London as a whole. The idea of putting the annex at one of the busiest junctions in London was regarded by most people who knew the area as absolute lunacy.

The Finsbury lands are now taken out of the Bill, but the Minister has told us that we are almost back where we started, despite the change made by the Select Committee. If the Authority decides that it is difficult to find another site which can be regarded as suitable, it may revert to the City Road-Old Street junction for the purpose of its annex.

Mr. Mellish

That is unlikely.

Mr. Cliffe

Whether it is unlikely or not, the statement of the Minister is very disturbing, to say the least. I can only interpret it in the way that I have just indicated to the Committee. If I am wrong, perhaps the Minister will correct me.

Mr. Soames

I do not think that I have misinterpreted either the effect or, to the best of my knowledge, the intention of the Select Committee in altering the Bill in this way. In deleting all mention of the Finsbury lands the Borough of Finsbury has been left on all fours, so to speak, with every other borough. That is all that has happened. That is not very different from what was sought by the petitioners. The Bill does not now say that the annex must not be built in this or that particular borough, but merely that a site should not be singled out and vested in the Authority without going through the usual planning procedures. Whether that was what was in the mind of the Borough of Finsbury, I cannot say. I gather from what has been said that it might have aspired for more, but this is the effect of the Amendments made by the Select Committee.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) says that there will be great trouble if the Authority tries to put an annex in any borough. We will have to jump these hurdles when we reach them. It will be for the Authority to get the necessary planning permission. It may be that there will be objections. They will be handled in the normal way. The hon Member appreciates and understands that. He says that the need for the annex is fast disappearing since the use of returnable empties is diminishing. One reason why an annex is needed is to house these returnable empties, which are like tinder and are a great fire risk. I agree that the move towards the use of non-returnable contained is all to the good.

There will, however, still be the other object of the annex, which is to prevent the unnecessary carting of very large number of crates of citrus fruits, and the like coming into the Port of London, into the Covent Garden area, when they could well be stored somewhere else, perhaps near the port.

Mr. Mellish

I recognise that the annex could be used for the purposes which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I repeat, however, that I think that most Metropolitan boroughs, certainly those whoch are Labour controlled and probably most Conservative controlled boroughs, would strongly object to their land being used for this purpose. One of the problems that we face under Clause 1 is that the authority will be given certain powers. I agree that there will be the normal restrictions concerning appeals against compulsory purchase orders, but at the end of the day it is a pity that the fight will not be on the Floor of the House.

The argument about Shoreditch and Finsbury and Islington is one which concerns Parliament. This is what caused the Government of 1959 and the Government of today to change their minds on this aspect. It is a pity that we are hoping that outside sources will deal with a matter which, to many of us, is very personal.

Mr. A. Evans

The Minister has made it clear that, under the Bill as amended by the Select Committee, the Finsbury lands are not alone in the picture. The site is on all fours with other sites in the country, because the Bill is not confined to London. There may be doubt in the mind of the local authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Cliffe), because the Minister is on record as having said that the Finsbury site is eminently suitable. His representative in the Select Committee agreed that the right hon. Gentleman had said on more than one occasion in this Chamber that, in his view, the Finsbury site is eminently suitable for an annex to Covent Garden.

Perhaps the Minister can help us further and say whether he accepts the Amendment which the Select Committee has made in the Bill, that he regards the position as open and that the Finsbury annex is not under special favour by himself or by his Ministry.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)

I wish to clear up one or two points. The first concerns whether my right hon. Friend regards the Finsbury site as eminently suitable. The fact is that the matter is no longer in my right hon. Friend's control. It has now been handed over to the Covent Garden Market Authority. The Minister has parted with his rights in the matter. That is what the Select Committee intended.

Mr. A. Evans

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Authority, when it is constituted, will act under the Minister and with his approval or disapproval in finding land for an annex. That is in the Bill.

Mr. Wise

It may act with his approval or disapproval. It will not accept dictation as to where it should look for a site for its annex.

I wish to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Cliffe). It is true that the Select Committee deleted all mention of the Finsbury lands from the Bill, and did not add a rider to the effect that in no circumstances should Finsbury be considered as an alternative site, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that that is what the petitioners requested. The petitioners offered us two alternatives in the Select Committee and we accepted one of them. Whether they are satisfied now is another matter. In my view, I think that they should be, because town planning procedure provides a number of safeguards.

As the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, I have no doubt that there will be strenuous opposition to the annex, wherever it may be proposed. But equally, as a general rule, there is no doubt that there has to be an annex and, in my view, no doubt that it must be somewhere in London.

Mr. Mellish

We do not necessarily accept that, although it would be out of order to debate it now because it arises under Clause 16.

Mr. Wise

There may be great opposition, but I think that it will be based on an out-of-date assumption of the precautions that can be taken against fire. The fire brigades are not despondent about being able to cope with a large number of packing cases stored in a modern building. That is the point which must be appreciated. Presumably, the annex will be the latest thing in storage facilities. Therefore, wherever planning permission is sought for an annex, most boroughs can rest content concerning the risk of fire, particularly, as has been said, it is a diminishing risk because, as each year passes, packing cases will be used less and less. The traffic problem will be argued when planning permission is sought. I have no doubt that it will be bitterly fought in every case, as it was in the Select Committee. I suggest that as the Bill stands it is a satisfactory solution to the problem which is before us.

Mr. Cliffe

I understood the Minister to say that the Authority could go back to the site at the junction of Old Street and City Road, but Shoreditch and Finsbury, the two local authorities, have been given an interpretation by legal representatives who have dealt with the case for them that that is not so and that if a suitable site could be found, it could be established elsewhere in Finsbury but not at the junction of Old Street and City Road. That was the interpretation that we were given.

Mr. Wise

I must correct the hon. Member. I do not have the proceedings of the Select Committee with me, but if the hon. Member refers to the Minutes he will find that in the Select Committee, when they asked for the deletion of the Finsbury lands, the petitioners said that they would leave it open to the Authority to seek town planning permission where it wished, including the Finsbury lands.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

Speaking as another member of the Select Committee, I should like to confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) has said. It should be borne in mind that the Borough of Finsbury got all that it asked for with the exception of one or two minor amendments. Indeed, the Select Committee gave Fins-bury all the matters of substance in deleting from the Bill any mention of Finsbury lands.

It is certainly my understanding that what we did in deleting the mention of Finsbury lands was to place the Borough of Finsbury on all fours with all other areas, so that should the Authority wish to set up an annex for any purpose, it had to go through the normal town and country planning procedure with all the inquiries and rights to object which follow.

We thought that if we did that, it would be unlikely that the town and country planning authorities would grant permission for an annex in the place where it was originally intended to establish it.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

As another member of the Select Committee, I confirm what the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) has just said. It is also my impression that the decision of the Select Committee placed all available sites on all fours. Until the decision was arrived at by the Select Committee, it seemed that the St. Luke's site for an annex was in a preferential position; there was no need for the planning requirements to be observed or for the special inquiries to be instituted. Therefore, once the Bill was passed, the Authority could go ahead and proceed to erect the annex at St. Luke's.

The Select Committee heard evidence on that point and we came to the conclusion that the preferential treatment which placed St. Luke's in a special position should be deleted from the Bill. The conclusion that we arrived at is that when the Authority looks for an annex—and the House came to the conclusion on Second Reading that there should be an annex—it can go back to St. Luke's if it wishes, but that it must observe the ordinary planning requirements and obtain permission. As the hon. Member for Wycombe said, having regard to the evidence, it is extremely doubtful whether the Authority could satisfy the necessary requirements for this site.

Mr. de Freitas

As a Member of the House who was active on Second Reading and, at that stage, was closely in touch with the Bill, but who did not serve on the Select Committee, I should like to ask whether we could not be given guidance that would help us when we deal with Clause 16. When we talk about the annex and storage, should we not at all times draw a sharp distinction between storage for bulk goods which are to be sold, and storage for containers? Are they not two completely separate points and may they not give rise to a great deal of misunderstanding unless they are sharply distinguished?

As I understand, the points made by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) are concerned largely with Clause 16. Unless we make the distinction clear before we reach that Clause, we may be going round in circles.

Mr. Fletcher

It is important to get this right. I have been looking at precisely what was said by Mr. Gerald Gardiner, Q.C., who presented the case for the Finsbury Council. The Committee might well be reminded of what he said, for he put the matter succinctly. At page 122 of the proceedings of the Select Committee, Mr. Gardiner said that the object of Finsbury Borough in petitioning was either (1) that wherever else the annex may be put, it should not be put on the Finsbury Lands;"— that was the first thing for which they asked; or alternatively— that if the Market Authority is given power to put an annex on any site it thinks fit, the Finsbury site should not be specifically mentioned in the Bill. Mr. Gardiner went on to say that those two objects might be achieved in one of two ways: (1) if the Committee thinks fit to make a special report to the House, if there is to be an annex, or assuming there is to be an annex, the Committee is satisfied that it ought not to be put on this site". I break off the quotation there to observe that the Select Committee did not adopt that alternative. It did not make a special report to the House and it did not say that the Authority ought not in any circumstances to put the annex on the Finsbury site.

I resume the quotation from Mr. Gardiner, who said that the second alternative would be by omitting from the Bill any reference to the Finsbury lands, which would leave the Market Authority with power, with the permission of the Minister"— I am not sure whether that means the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister responsible for town and country planning— to put the annex on any site they think fit, including the Finsbury lands. It was that second alternative which the Select Committee adopted.

Mr. Soames

That is so. I think that the final outcome is now broadly understood on both sides of the Committee. In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), we talk about an annex but what is in the Bill is an obligation upon the Authority to provide storage facilities. We have grown accustomed to talking of it as an annex. There are two distinct problems, the storage of cases and the storage of fruit and the like. The Authority will have to grapple with the question of how large the storage facilities will need to be. It might not prove to be all that large. I do not think that it is for us to try to specify it. We will be referring to storage facilities when we reach Clause 16.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3 to 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.