HC Deb 09 May 1968 vol 764 cc701-26

Order for Second Reading read.

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

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the first speaker in the debate, I should say that it would help the Chair if hon. Members who wish to speak would let me know whether they wish to speak for or against the Bill or if they are neutral, as this will help me to secure a balance of debate.

7.13 p.m.

Mr. Mark Woodnutt (Isle of Wight)

The Bill is promoted by the Covent Garden Market Authority, a public authority constituted under the Covent Garden Market Act, 1961, which charged it with the duty of rebuilding the whole-sale market for horticultural produce which had been in existence for no less than 300 years.

Covent Garden Market is the largest market for the bulk selling of horticultural produce in the United Kingdom. After the passing of the 1961 Act, it was found impracticable for the Authority to rebuild the market in the Covent Garden Market area, but by 1964 it had found a new site at Nine Elms, south of the river. In the 1964–65 Session, the Authority promoted a Bill to authorise the removal of the market to this site. A Select Committee was set up, which sat for one of the longest periods of any in recent years, having 22 sittings. The Bill was, in fact, carried over to the next Session and became law as the Covent Garden Market Act of 1966. This Bill arises from directions which Parliament gave in that Act.

I am introducing the Bill because, of the four hon. Members on the Select Committee, I am virtually the only one left to do it. One, regrettably, died, another has the distinction of being an Opposition Whip and the third is a Chairman of the Committees. I do not intend to explain the provisions of the Bill, which I hope will be done by the Minister of State, Ministry of Housing, but I wish to facilitate further and early consideration in Committee.

I understand that the only questions which the Government have raised with the promoters related to the provisions of Part II and the associated provisions in the Preamble and Part I. They arose from the Select Committee's adjudication, incorporated in Section 35 of the 1966 Act and in the Preamble of the Bill. These items are the essence of the Bill. The Committee decided that three things had to be done and they are set out as follows in the Preamble: (a) to prohibit, as from the date on which the Authority's powers to provide market facilities at Covent Garden are determined, the use of land in the Covent Garden Area (as defined in the Covent Garden Market Act 1961) for dealing in bulk in horticultural produce or the storage of such produce or of empty containers therefor; The Select Committee's reasoning here was that, as we were to spend about £30 million on a new market south of the river, no one would wish to see a residual market left in Covent Garden. (b) to provide for the disposal, not later than the said date, of the lands of the Authority situated within the Covent Garden Area and of any lands situated within that area in respect of which, or of part of which, there is in force on a date to be specified in the said Bill a licence under section 21 of the said Act of 1961; The Select Committee wanted this incorporated in the 1966 Act because it did not wish to see a large part of Central London deteriorate and become an eyesore.

(c) to provide for the basis of compensation payable on the disposal of such lands as aforesaid; The intention here, of course, was to ensure that a fair basis for compensation was laid down by Statute, which it was not when the Committee considered the Bill.

I understand, from both the Government and the promoters, that the latter have agreed to submit amendments to the Committee to meet the Government's objections. On this basis, the Government have agreed not to oppose the Second Reading, and the Opposition have taken the same view.

Parliament first decided to rebuild this market over seven years ago; we are now dealing with a residual problem which should not be allowed to delay the rebuilding of Covent Garden Market at Nine Elms. It is in the interests of the wholesale horticultural industry, retailers, consumers, market tenants and the future planning of an important part of our capital city—indeed, in the interests of the whole country—that this rebuilding should proceed without further delay and that the House should give the Bill a Second Reading.

7.21 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

My main interest in the Bill is that the Nine Elms area, to which it is proposed to move the market, is almost wholly in my constituency. As the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) said, this project has now been thoroughly—indeed laboriously—discussed with all the authorities and interests concerned. Two Bills on the subject have already been passed.

Wandsworth Borough Council, the local authority which covers this area in my constituency, has been very thoroughly consulted over the Nine Elms end of the operation and is entirely in agreement with the project as it now stands. Indeed, it is anxious to see it going forward as quickly as possible. In my view and in the view of the council this area is suitable for a market of this kind, with its excellent rail access points as well as road access points which are being developed. Most of the area would be unsuitable for housing. The railways, gas works and other industrial operations there do not make it a suitable neighbourhood for housing.

I regret to some extent that it has not been possible to find a little more land for new housing on the fringe of the area, although some will become available on the river front at the Vauxhall end. Despite that, and in view of all the consultations that have taken place and the clear attitude of my local authority, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, even if the plan is not yet perfect, it would not be sensible to revise it now. 'I suggest, therefore, that the right course is for the House to wish it well on its way.

I hope that in carrying out the plan the Covent Garden Market Authority will seek, in those places where there are houses and flats abutting on the neighbourhood of the new market, to plant trees and generally ensure that the appearance of the market is as pleasant as possible and agreeable to those living in the neighbourhood. This is important in view of some of the unsightly operations which we have experienced in this area in the past.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

I, too, support the Bill, having opposed the original plan to have a sort of sample market in Covent Garden with a bulk store somewhere on the outskirts of London. There were obvious objections to that proposal, which I am glad to say has died a happy natural death.

The present situation of Covent Garden as a market for anything, but particularly for fruit, flowers and vegetables, is entirely unsuitable. There are no rail or air connections—a great deal of foreign produce is flown in nowadays—and no sea connections. It occupies an expensive site, slap in the middle of London, and tremendous hold-ups are caused every morning as lorries go to and fro and congregate in the narrow streets in and around the area. It is the only means by which goods can go into and out of the market, even if they originally come by rail or air.

It has for long been obvious that this state of affairs could not continue. A proper site for a full market had to be found, not only where samples could be seen and the bulk delivered somewhere else, but where trading in bulk articles could take place. Like all hon. Members, I am glad that a suitable site has been found at Nine Elms. I am sure that when the present site of Covent Garden Market is sold it will fetch a tidy sum and that that will help to meet expenditure on the new market.

I entirely agree that if the market is to move to Nine Elms, everybody must move. We cannot allow a residue to be left behind trying to retain a market which has closed down. For that reason the part of the Bill which is designed to ensure that that will happen is important.

I hope that in Committee we will examine the compulsory powers aspect of the Bill to ensure that compensation at more than the barest minimum rates is given. When doing compulsory purchase for a market, one needs to be more generous. The market will make a good deal of money, and rightly so in view of the tremendous amount of business that will be done there. It will be a trading concern, even if it will have the national interest very much at heart. We must be careful when making compulsory purchase orders. If we are not, we will be faced with difficulties, arguments and a great deal of discussion. I hope that we will take the same attitude as we did over the Brighton Marina Bill and see that perhaps 10 per cent. more than the actual value is paid in compensation. That will avoid a lot of trouble when acquiring compulsorily for the new market.

I hope that the Bill completes all its stages quickly and that, when it is passed, the new market will be built quickly so that, in the near future, the centre of London will not be clogged by the traffic which necessarily goes in and out of the present Covent Garden Market and that we will have a bigger, better and more convenient market at Nine Elms.

7.27 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

I welcome this opportunity to explain the attitude of the Government to the provisions of the Bill. As the House knows, there was, during the passage of the 1966 Act, a good deal of discussion about the inclusion of provisions to deal with the future of the lands occupied by the Market Authority and market traders in Covent Garden after the move of the market to Nine Elms. The Government were then of the view that no special provisions were required, since the Covent Garden market would die a natural death after the move, and the ordinary compensation code should be applied to any land acquired by public authorities.

The Select Committee reached no decisions on these issues, other than to include Section 35 in the 1966 Act, requiring the authority to promote a Bill this Session to deal with the discontinuance of the present market, the disposal of lands and the basis of compensation. The present Bill, as deposited, contains provisions which, in the Government's view, depart from fundamental principles of planning and compensation law to such an extent that if the choice lay between accepting and rejecting it as it stands, the Government would have had no choice but to advise the House to reject it.

There have, however, been protracted discussions between the promoters and my Department and, as a result, the promoters have given an undertaking to bring forward in Committee certain Amendments to the Bill, of which I will give details later. They will be seeking the approval of my right hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Lord Chairman of Committees in another place to bring forward these Amendments by means of a petition for additional provision. Assuming that this approval is given, and that the Standing Orders Committee recommends compliance with Standing Orders as to the dates of service of notices be dispensed with, the Bill which would come before the Committee would be substantially changed from the form of the Bill as deposited.

It is on this basis, and only on this basis, that the Government are willing to see the Bill proceed. Whether or not the Bill is given a Second Reading is, of course, a matter for the House; but for the Government's part, on the basis of the undertakings given by the promoters, we would not object to the Second Reading.

It is right that I should explain to the House in some detail, and some of it I fear is rather technical, the nature of the Government's objections and the ways in which it is proposed that they should be met. Some of them relate to the vesting provisions, others to compensation.

Clause 6 deals with vesting. It provides for the vesting in an acquiring authority of the Market Authority's land and any licensed land within the Covent Garden Market area, unless the owner opts to retain the land. The acquiring authority may be the Greater London Council, or, if agreement to that effect is reached, a consortium of that Council and the Westminster and Camden Borough Councils. It could also be the Land Commission or some other body.

The Government accept that it is reasonable for the Market Authority's land itself to vest in an acquiring authority because it would inevitably need to be redeveloped with the removal of the market and no useful purpose would be served by requiring the Authority to dispose of it on the open market. But the Government do not accept that it is reasonable for the acquiring authority or authorities to be compelled to accept vesting of any land in which there is a licensed property without any consideration being given to whether the value of the owner's interest had been destroyed by the removal of the market, or the trader himself had suffered hardship.

This would mean giving the traders the same right as if their property had been blighted, without needing to prove blight. We requested, therefore, an undertaking from the promoters that a Clause would be introduced into the Bill in Committee which, very broadly, would provide that the acquiring authority could resist the vesting of the land on the grounds that there was still a reasonably beneficial use of the land.

We think that in these circumstances a trader should nevertheless be able to require the acquiring authority to purchase his interest if he can show that he has tried to sell that interest but, because of the removal of the market, has not been able to sell it except for substantially less than he would have got before the market moved, and that the new Clause should provide accordingly.

It is the Government's view that such a Clause would strike a fair balance between the interests of the acquiring authority and the traders. It may not go as far as the acquiring authorities themselves would like, but whether it should go further is a question which the Government are content to see argued in Committee and decided in the manner the Committee thinks most appropriate. The Government consider that a provision such as this is the minimum requirement necessary to avoid an entirely unfair burden on a public authority.

The second part of the Government's opposition to the deposited Bill lies in its provisions which relate to compensation. The essential provisions are contained in Clause 11. The House will know that it has been the consistent policy of successive Governments to ensure that the compensation code is applied uniformly over the whole of the country whenever land is acquired compulsorily or under threat of compulsion. The powers under which a man's land is taken from him should not affect the basis on which his compensation is assessed; it should not make any difference to the amount he receives whether his land is taken for planning, housing, highways or other public purposes, or whether it is taken by virtue of a Public General Act or a Private Act.

This is not a question of whether the general compensation code is right or wrong or whether or not it could be improved; what we must ensure is that everyone in his dealing with the public authorities is treated according to the same rules. In pursuance of this policy successive Governments have opposed provisions in Private Bills which have attempted to enact special provisions about compensation which differed substantially from those in the general law.

The Covent Garden Market Bill, as deposited, does include such provisions. Their effect would be that market traders, and the owners of premises in which they traded, would receive compensation on a different footing from every other person whose land was compulsorily acquired. For these purposes I think that we must take land that is vested under the Bill as being equivalent to land which is compulsorily acquired. It is true that the compulsion in this case is being applied to the acquiring authority, but this is not a reason for increasing or varying the right to compensation.

The Government find this departure from the normal compensation code objectionable in principle. The question is not so much whether the basis proposed by the Bill would have resulted in market traders obtaining more or less money under the Bill than they would have done under the general law, but whether it is right to depart from the basic principles of the universality of the compensation code and the question of equity as between individuals.

To give a concrete example, why should a market trader, or, indeed, any person owning an interest in licensed land, be paid compensation on one basis if this is vested in the acquiring authority by this Bill, whereas a café owner, say, whose trade equally depends on the market and whose property is compulsorily acquired by the planning authority for redevelopment must be compensated on a different basis?

The specific provisions in Clause 11 to which the Government took objection are detailed ones, but I think I should refer to them: First, there is the provision in Clause 11(1)(a) that compensation should be paid as if the acquiring authority had purchased the land in pursuance of a compulsory purchase order made for purposes involving development in accordance with the scheme of the Act of 1966; secondly, there is the assumption—in subsection (1)(b) that the notice to treat was served on the "relevant date". I will explain that later.

Thirdly, there is the provision in sub-section (4)(a)(i) that no account be taken of changes in value resulting from the provisions of the Act of 1966 which require the removal of the market; fourthly, the provisions in subsection (4) (b) that the assumptions relating to the planning permission shall be those which are applicable on the 5th December, 1967; and fifthly that, as provided in sub-section (4)(c), there shall be no payment for disturbance.

The first and third provision which I have mentioned can be considered together because the essence of both of them is the same. It is to ensure that compensation shall be assessed as if the market were still operating in Covent Garden and was not moving to Nine Elms. It may be suggested that this is in line with the provision in the Land Compensation Act, 1961, that any increase or decrease in the value of land to be taken which is attributable to the scheme for which it is to be taken is to be ignored.

The fallacy in this argument is to think that the scheme under which the land will be acquired by the future acquiring authority will be the removal of the market to Nine Elms. It will not be that, but the scheme of redevelopment for which the Covent Garden area is acquired. It is only because the Government consider that an acquiring authority will need the land for redevelopment that they have agreed to the vesting provisions at all.

It is true that the removal of the market is a prerequisite to the redevelopment taking place; but it is not part of the scheme of redevelopment itself and there is no reason to disregard any of the effects of the removal for the purposes of acquisition for the redevelopment.

Let me refer back to the example I gave some time ago, of the café owner whose trade is dependent upon the market and whose property is compul- sorily purchased for the redevelopment of the area after the market is left. The compensation in his case is not affected by this Bill and it will not be assessed on the basis that the market is still in Covent Garden, but in the light of the situation as it exists at the time of the notice to treat.

The second provision I mentioned as being objectionable is Clause 11(1)(b) under which the date on which it is to be assumed that the acquiring authority has served notice to treat is the "relevant date". The effect of this assumption is to provide that the date of the assumed notice to treat, and, therefore, the date at which compensation is to be assessed, would be six months before the Nine Elms Market is opened and before any of the traders have moved to Nine Elms.

One effect of this would be that disturbance payments would have to be made for all the traders, were it not for Clause 11(4), which provides that no disturbance payments should be made. But, as I have said, the Government is not just concerned with the question whether more or less money will be paid, but rather with the general principle of some-one being compensated on a different basis from that which prevails under the general law.

What, then, should be the proper date for the assumed notice to treat? As I said earlier, the Government regard the vesting of the land under this Bill as equivalent to a compulsory purchase. The Bill should, therefore, provide that the date of the assumed notice to treat falls at an equivalent stage under the procedure provided for by this Bill to the stage at which it would fall under the normal compulsory purchase procedure. A notice to treat is the final decision of the acquiring authority that they will take the land in question. Once it has been served, the procedure for acquisition is set in motion and, to all intents and purposes, is irreversible.

The corresponding point under the procedure provided for by this Bill is the appointed day. The appointed day fixes the day of discontinuance on which the land vests in accordance with Clause 6 of the Bill in the acquiring authorities; it makes clear when the new market is to open for business and it sets a term to trading in the Covent Garden Market area. As from the appointed day the length of the life of the Market is irrevocably fixed.

Therefore, to carry through the principle that the persons affected by this Bill should be treated on the same basis as those affected by normal compulsory purchase orders, the Government have requested, and obtained, an undertaking from the promoters that they would make an amendment to alter the date of the deemed notice to treat.

The fourth provision to which I referred was the requirement, in Clause 11(4)(b), that the assumptions as to planning permission which were to be made were to be those which were applicable on the 5th December, 1967. I can understand the reasons which prompted the promoters to include this provision. No one is sure now what will be the planning position of the land to be vested at the appointed day, and the promoters thought it desirable to instil some certainty into the expectations of compensation which the traders had by specifying that as a basis for compensation the existing development plan should serve.

It might be that, at the time of the appointed day, the then planning position would provide a more profitable basis of compensation. Equally, it might prove less profitable. The promoters considered that certainty was preferable. But the provision offends against the general principles which I have stated.

Under the general law, if this land were to be acquired compulsorily in 1971, it would be the planning position in 1971 which would be relevant for the purposes of compensation. To come back once again to the café owner, if his land is bought compulsorily in 1971, he will be compensated on the basis of the planning position then existing. The Government could not agree, therefore, to this provision in the Bill passing and have received an undertaking that an amendment to delete it will be sought.

The final provision to which objection was taken by the Government is that in Clause 11(4)(c), that no disturbance shall be payable. The subsection was, no doubt, inserted because, without it, the effect of the other compensation provisions might have been to give greatly inflated compensation, which the promoters quite accepted would be unreasonable to expect the acquiring authorities to pay. It should, therefore, disappear simply as a corollary of the other amendments which they have undertaken to make.

But I would go further. It should disappear also, because it is yet another example of a provision which puts the traders and owners dealt with in this Bill in a position different from that of other land owners. The Government cannot accept that promoters of Private Bills should alter the compensation code to pay themselves or anyone else to whom the Bill applies either more or less than the general law provides.

I apologise for wearying the House with such a lengthy exposition of technical matter on a Private Bill. But I felt it necessary to make clear why the Government are taking the line they are and what the effects of the provisions, if unamended, would be. The promoters have contended during the discussions that these amendments would be unfair in their effect and that, without the certainty of the compensation and vesting provisions contained in the deposited Bill, traders would refuse to move to Nine Elms when the time came. The Government do not accept these contentions. Unfairness can be tested only by the way other citizens would be treated in similar circumstances. It is the Bill as deposited that is unfair because it treats the owners of land affected by it differently from other owners whose land is compulsorily purchased.

Nor do we believe that the alteration of the compensation provisions will cause the traders to refuse to go to Nine Elms when the market authority itself withdraws from the Covent Garden Market. If the economics of operating at Nine Elms were to prove such that the traders needed greater help than they would already get from the Government through the grant for the new market, then we would have an entirely new problem which would have to be discussed with the interested Departments. But the Government cannot accept in any circumstances that the right way to help the traders would be by bending the compensation rules to their advantage at the expense of the acquiring authority.

Finally, as the House will know, it will be open to authorities or persons affected by the Bill to petition against it in its amended form. I should make perfectly clear to the House that the Government are not saying that the Bill must be passed in its amended form; all we are suggesting is that in its amended form it does provide a reasonable basis for consideration in Committee. At the same time, I hope I have made clear to the House that the Government are not prepared to see the Bill pass into law in the form in which it was deposited or in a form which contravenes the points of principle on which we feel we must insist.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)

Covent Garden is in my constituency, and my constituents are divided about this Bill. They are not divided on the principle of moving the market, but they are divided on questions of acquisition and compensation. These questions, as we have heard, are extremely complicated, and I speak about them, therefore, with the freedom of ignorance.

It seems to me that, although Nine Elms will, no doubt, suit the traders better—I certainly hope so—the traders are nevertheless being moved, rather than moving of their own free will. Therefore I hope that all property at Covent Garden which is compulsorily purchased will be purchased at full and fair prices, a procedure which, as my hon. and learned friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) said a few moments ago, has certain other advantages as well. For myself, I should regard as a fair basis compensation as though the market were continuing in Covent Garden; but I recognise that this is a technical and difficult matter.

On this point, I say only that I should not care to accept the argument on uniformity put by the Minister of State. I distrust uniformity. I thought his arguments, though doubtless correct, a little inhuman and mechanistic. Uniformity is of service only in uniform situations. But here land is not being acquired, as it practically always is in cases of compulsory acquisition, for a specific use; it is being acquired partly to prevent a specific use and partly, also, to make sure that the traders are able to sell their property in time to set up shop in their new premises at Nine Elms.

In that connection—this is a detail—I do not see why the acquiring authority cannot take parts of buildings, but feels that it must take only whole buildings. It is a perfectly normal practice to acquire, and to dispose of, parts of buildings and interests in parts of buildings. Indeed, it may well be the smaller traders who are the occupiers of parts of buildings and whom we in this House would not wish to suffer loss.

There is another aspect of the move, though not coming directly under the Bill, which I wish to mention. I hope that the acquiring authority will have particular regard to the historic buildings in this area. There is a surprising number, some of them extremely well concealed. Having canvassed in this very old area, I assure the House that there are a great many hidden treasures to be found here.

In particular, I hope that great regard will be had to the market building itself, a building of the first half of the 19th century. It was built in a period which has never had the old glamour of being Georgian, although it is in a classical style, and it now suffers from not having the fashionable glamour of being Victorian. But it is an excellent building, and particularly suitable as a focus, which so many large schemes of redevelopment nowadays lack. Therefore, I hope that particular care will be paid, in any development scheme, to the preservation of the original central market building.

In general principle, most of us agree—and indeed we have agreed—that the market, with its tidal flow of heavy traffic, should go from Covent Garden, which is inconvenient for the traders and inconvenient for us. That is what the Bill is about. Moreover, it is promoted in compliance with directions given by us in the Covent Garden Market Act, 1966. For those two reasons alone, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading so that its complicated and technical provisions can be sorted out in Committee.

7.51 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I too hope that the deadly uniformity the Minister is trying to impose will not necessarily be forced on the Market Authority. We must bear in mind that the Covent Garden Market, the Covent Garden legislation and the whole situation we are discussing is absolutely unique. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that the wishes of the promoters, the Market Authority, which itself is the creature of Government, should be deeply considered.

Those of us who had the great privilege the other night of attending the Danish Ballet, which ended just as the market was about to begin to trade, had borne in upon us to the full what a very unsuitable place it is for a great vegetable market. Those of us who know Denmark and Copenhagen remember the extremely good and modern market which the Danes put in a position comparable to the Nine Elms site in a very short space of time. I remind the Minister that the matter has dragged on since 1961 far too slowly. In announcing his 20th July cuts in 1966 the Prime Minister set the whole project back, in the same phrase in which he set back municipal swimming baths and so on. This treatment by the present Government of this great national project caused great offence both to the horticultural trade—it is no good the hon. and learned Gentleman shaking his head, because it did cause great offence.

Mr. MacDermot

The hon. Gentleman's hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) reminded the House that the original proposal was not very adequate or work-able.

Mr. Wells

The original proposal was that of 1961. I had the privilege of abstaining then. I sat on the benches opposite as a comparatively new Member and disagreed with my own party that night. I went the whole way, perhaps further than my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty). But we do not want to go over old ground tonight.

I urge the Minister to help the Market Authority to assist the tenants and the Tenants' Association to obtain the most equitable compensation possible. I do not disagree with a word that he said on Clause 6, but I am at some variance with him on his lengthy dissertation on Clause 11. I do not have his privilege of being learned in the law, but it seemed to me that he was a trifle doctrinaire in this matter. He spoke to the effect that the Government would bless the Second Reading and expected the promoters to put forward various alterations. If those which the Government favour were not accepted by the Committee I understood that the Government would turn sour upon the Bill. But they must have a Bill of sorts. It is essential if the country's horticultural trade is to have a great central focus. The 1966 Measure must be carried through to its conclusion.

The provisions of Clause 11 are very complicated to the layman, and are no doubt complicated enough for a lawyer. They make a set of conditions which seem to me reasonable enough for a unique operation. It is not as though it is the same as the hon. and learned Gentleman's mythical café being taken over. I understand that under the Land Compensation Act, 1961, compensation can be assessed in several different ways, but the cornerstone of the code which the Minister mentioned is existing use value, which represents the minimum amount the owner can expect to be paid. Existing use value can simply be described as the value of property on the assumption that it continued to be used for the purpose for which it was being used after the date of compulsory acquisition.

Compulsory purchase powers are normally sought where a local authority wishes to carry out a redevelopment of the sort the hon. and learned Gentleman outlined. In the ordinary course of events, such existing use value is clearly equitable, since there is no reason why a private landowner should be in any way different from any other member of the community. But the problem I find is the definition of existing use value that would apply in this case. Here I am perhaps speaking the thoughts of the market traders, because I have considerable horticultural interest in my constituency and I am Chairman of the Sub-Committee considering horticulture in the Select Committee on Agriculture.

It seems to us that horticulture in the broadest sense needs support from the Government. If the code in the 1961 Act were applied, any redevelopment prospects arising from the removal of the market would be ignored in the assessment of the existing use value. The traders accept that that is reasonable, but the code would allow to be taken into account the effect of the existence of the new market at Nine Elms on the value of Covent Garden premises. But the Covent Garden Market and the new market at Nine Elms will never be in operation at the same time. The traders feel that this puts an artificial situation in the interpretation of the valuation terms. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not be too dogmatic in this.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) hoped that perhaps a few more houses could be squeezed into the Nine Elms site. We appreciate his interest in the housing well-being of his constituency, and I should not presume to speak about his constituency, except to remind him that the great European markets of the sort with which we hope that this new market will be on all fours have needed more and more land year by year. Although the great Continental markets within the E.E.C. set out as fine markets in new concrete and glass structures only a few years ago, they have nearly all had to develop further. I should hate to see the right hon. Gentleman's constituents put into nice new houses and then find them being compulsorily acquired on the Minister's terms only a few years later. Therefore, I hope that the Market Authority will not be artificially curtailed now that it has this great site.

There is a fundamental difference between the Nine Elms site and Covent Garden in that Nine Elms has a railhead which will make the whole style of market trading different. I believe that the British producer will not specifically benefit from this, but it is just possible that some of the long-haul broccoli producers from the South-West will benefit. It is essential for the Government, as its godfathers, not to try, as I fear the Minister of Housing and Local Government is doing tonight, to spike this Measure, which is really their own and should be brought in as a Government Measure and not as a Private Bill.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)

As I represent one of the principal horticultural areas and one of the most distant, I want to intervene to make a plea to the Government to hasten this Bill through at the earliest opportunity. For many years, horticulturists in West Cornwall have been waiting for the Covent Garden scheme and, with legislation now before the House, particularly the Transport Bill, there is deep concern, particularly among those growing broccoli and early produce in West Cornwall.

The matter which concerns us is the distance and time it takes to get horticultural produce from the far South-West to London. If the Nine Elms scheme could go ahead as fast as possible, it would bring great benefit to the horticulturists of the South-West.

For example, under the proposals now in the Transport Bill, it will be impossible for Cornish broccoli growers to reach Covent Garden in the statutory nine hours; this is likely to have a devastating effect on the potato and broccoli trade in my constituency. Covent Garden cannot be reached in nine hours and can hardly be reached in 10 under the new proposals the Minister of Transport is discussing. But the new site could just be reached in about 9½ hours. This is another topical reason why we hope that this scheme will go forward at the earliest opportunity.

I hope that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will quickly solve the problems he has over compensation and get ahead with the new site, because it will be of substantial benefit not only to my constituency but throughout the country.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Everyone who has spoken in the debate has been in favour of the Second Reading, indeed of hastening the Bill through. One would think that it would not in these circumstances have come to be debated on the Floor of the House. Let us be quite clear that this is a Private Bill, and Private Bills normally do not have their Second Readings on the Floor of the House, but that this debate has been forced upon the promoters and on the House by the Government.

The Government want some substantial Amendments to the Bill. Indeed. the Minister of State says that the Government would not be prepared to see the Bill passed in the form in which it was deposited. The Bill must be passed this Session if the Covent Garden-Nine Elms scheme is to go forward. It was ordered by Parliament in the 1966 Act that there should be a Bill on the lines now deposited in this Session, so the promoters have no room for manoeuvre in face of Government obstruction to their Bill.

I understand that the promoters have, therefore, given an undertaking to amend the Bill as the Government want it amended, and in a statement they have circulated they say, in paragraph 8, that they will bring up for consideration by the Committee to which the Bill is referred certain Amendments. But it is clear from what the Minister of State said, and from the tone of the promoters' statement, that they have been forced to do this by the Government and that the promoters are not happy that they have been obliged to concede the Amendments required by the Government.

The result in procedure is that a petition will have to be lodged by the promoters for additional provisions. That petition will have to go before the Standing Orders Committee because it is against Standing Orders unless that Committee so permits, and any of the petitioners or anyone else who does not think that the compensation provisions are fair will have the right to put a memorial before that Committee objecting to the petition for additional provisions.

Then the original petition and the new one will go before the Committee dealing with the Bill and there are already three petitioners who will wish to amend their petitions, no doubt, on the new basis of compensation and there may be possibly other petitions. Because of the obstinacy of the Government over this there is the possibility that the Bill will be seriously delayed.

What is the nature of these Amendments? As the Minister of State said, they deal mainly with compensation, that is to say, compensation to traders whose places of business will be compulsorily taken away from them under this scheme. The Bill is obliged to include compensation provisions. This was laid down in Section 35 of the 1966 Act, which is quoted in paragraph 4 of the preamble to the Bill. Section 35 said that there should be this Bill in order …to provide for the basis of compensation payable on the disposal of such lands as aforesaid: Of course, …the disposal of such land as afore-said… means the disposal of land and buildings in the present Covent Garden market in order to transfer the market to its new site at Nine Elms. When land is compulsorily acquired for purposes involving development, in the normal way Case I of Schedule I to the Land Compensation Act 1961 applies—that is to say, one disregards, when valuing property for compensation, the purposes of the development scheme. One treats it purely and simply on what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) called the cornerstone of compensation, existing use value.

In this case, the Bill seeks to disregard, in assessing compensation, the 1966 scheme. This scheme was not merely the closing down of the Covent Garden market. It would be a nonsense to say that. It was to close down Covent Garden and to open a market at Nine Elms. That is the whole of the scheme.

Under the general law, the purposes of the development schemes must be disregarded in assessing the compensation. So the Bill, as deposited and before amended as the Government wish, says that compensation shall be based on existing use value of the property in Covent Garden, disregarding the fact that Nine Elms will be in existence at some time in future. I contend that that is perfectly fair and in accordance with the general law.

On the other hand, the Government want to say: Your places of business in Covent Garden must be valued on the basis that there is to be a new Market at Nine Elms. If there is to be a new market there, no one will pay much for the property in Covent Garden because Nine Elms will be the place to be in future. No one will pay much for property under those circumstances, even if there were no prohibitions on market trading at Covent Garden. It is quite disgraceful that the Government should force these Amendments on the promoters and the House.

The Minister of State has said that the promoters thought that these Amendments were unfair. I ought to say at this stage that these words have not been put in my mouth by the promoters. The promoters have come to an arrangement with the Government, one which seems to me to have been forced on them, and they would not wish me to say on their behalf that they want to break that arrangement. But in my opinion the promoters ought to be relieved of that undertaking. It was grossly unfair to impose it on them. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Woodnutt) made a very significant remark when one remembers that he served on the Committee dealing with the Bill in 1966 when the provision was inserted that there should be a Bill in this Session dealing with compensation.

My hon. Friend said that a fair basis of compensation was laid down by Statute, which was not the case when the matter was discussed in Committee on the 1966 Bill. Therefore, the Committee at that stage wanted some new provisions for compensation dealing particularly with this scheme, and that is what the promoters are now putting before the House. The Government want to cut down the compensation to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) called the barest minimum. This should not be so under a scheme of this sort, where it is so important that the scheme should run smoothly, that there should be the movement of the market traders from Covent Garden to the new site at Nine Elms.

The promoters have tried to carry out as far as I can see, the wishes of Parliament in 1966. They have provided, as the Bill is drawn, fair compensation on an existing use value basis, which in my submission is wholly in accordance with the existing law, namely, that the purposes of any development should not be taken into account in assessing the compensation.

On the question of obliging the acquiring authority to acquire the property, this is being very niggling on the part of the Government. Market trading is to be prohibited in future on the Covent Garden site. Then the Government wish to say, "Oh, but you can use the property for some other reasonably beneficial use." Anyone who has dealt with town and country planning, with compensation and compulsory acquisition, knows the meaning of the words "reasonably beneficial use."

They know that Section 129 of the 1962 Act has been useless to any owner whose property is reduced in value by some development scheme. I can think of no occasion when those who will be left with buildings in Covent Garden will be able to show that the buildings cannot be used for some reasonably beneficial use. If the buildings are there, of course they can be used for something. In this, case the acquiring authority will be able to pick and choose and refuse to acquire compulsorily wherever it wishes. The market trade will have no case whatever when he tries to show that his property no longer has any reasonably beneficial use. This means any use at all. If the acquiring authority can show that the property can be used to some purpose then it can refuse to acquire.

The scheme was to move the Market from Covent Garden to Nine Elms as a whole. Each trader has to rehabilitate himself at Nine Elms. How will he do this when his capital is left in property at Covent Garden, because he is told that that the property can still be used for some reasonably beneficial use? I would have thought that Clause 6, as it stands, is perfectly fair, and that the acquiring authorities should be obliged to acquire.

It seems to me that the promoters, as they have lodged the Bill, have carried out what Parliament asked them to carry out in the 1966 Act. They have made provision for perfectly fair compensation; they have made provision for the acquisition of property by the acquiring authorities and altogether they have produced a reasonable and fair Bill. It is most unfair of the Government to force undertakings out of them for Amendments which do not give fair compensation to those displaced.

8.16 p.m.

Mr. MacDermot

With your leave and that of the House, Mr. Speaker, I will reply to some of the points raised.

I hope that when the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has had an opportunity to study carefully the speech which I made a little while ago he will perhaps come to a more moderate conclusion than that which he reached as a result of his immediate reaction. On a few factual points, he said that the Second Reading was forced on the House by the Government. It was the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) who objected, but I do not make any pretence, and have not sought to throughout, that if he had not done so we would have, so as to give me an opportunity to explain to the House the reason for these objections which we made.

Mr. John Wells

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that I objected. I did on one occasion because I was anxious that this important matter should be debated, but I must point out that it was the Government Whips who objected on practically every other occasion.

Mr. MacDermot

I have said that we would certainly have objected, but the suggestion was that no one else wanted a Second Reading and that is not quite fair.

It was said that the Bill must be passed into law to enable the move to Nine Elms to take place. I must make it clear that this is not correct. I do not want it to be suggested that the Government are opposed to the Bill in any way. I have made it clear that we are not, and that provided that our requirements are met we are perfectly content that the Bill should go through.

We have always taken the view, and said so before, that in law there is no need for the Bill, in the sense that the Market Authority and the traders will be free and able to dispose of their old properties when the Market is moved and there is no need for an operation requiring these people, rather euphemistically termed "acquiring authorities" to acquire. It would not be essential to the scheme. One can see advantages all-round if an agreed framework can be found, but there is no legal necessity for it.

Equally, the effect of Section 35 of the 1966 Bill is not to require that an Act shall be passed. No Parliament ever can in an Act require that Parliament shall pass another Act. What it required is that the promoters should promote a Bill dealing with these matters and use their endeavours to get it passed. That they most certainly have done, and I make no suggestion to the contrary. I must correct the impression that in some way, as a matter of law, the passing of this Bill is a necessary and essential preliminary to the opening of the Nine Elms market. It is not.

Mr. Graham Page

Surely, from a practical point of view, it is necessary. If the Bill did not exist there would be no complete prohibition on trading in the market, and no compensation.

Mr. MacDermot

Once the Market Authority moves to the new area, it is the view of the Government that the old market will die a natural death. Different views may be held on that. However, as the Committee included this provision in Clause 35, we certainly respect that, and are perfectly content to see a Bill pass through which gives effect to that in a way which does not offend against the general principles of the compensation code.

The hon. Member for Crosby said that the property of the traders will be compulsorily taken away from them. That is wrong. It will not. The effect of the vesting provisions is that, if they consent, the property will vest in the acquiring authority. We get confused by the euphemistic terms "disposal" and "acquiring authority".

This is not a compulsory acquisition by the acquiring authority. It is a statutory provision, telling whoever eventually becomes the acquiring authority—it will be the G.L.C. if nothing else is agreed—that it has to acquire, unless the owner of the property says, "No, I do not want you to; I opt to retain it." That is a very different transaction from the ordinary compulsory acquisition.

Mr. John Smith

Can the occupier or the owner opt to retain it, or must he obtain the agreement of the acquiring authority?

Mr. MacDermot

No, he has an absolute option to retain it, and I am advised that it is likely that a number of them will exercise that option, for the reason that a number of these properties are useful and valuable properties containing valuable storage space right in the centre of London, which is something that is very much in demand. They may well, therefore, prefer to retain it, and it could be to their financial advantage to do so. May I say, in parenthesis, this is the explanation of the existing use provisions in the Bill.

The provision in Clause 11(4,aii) will ensure to the traders or the owners of licensed properties—not necessarily the traders themselves—that they will continue to have the benefit of their rights under the Use Classes Order. If the land is acquired, they can have it valued with the value of those rights for other ware-house purposes under the Use Classes Order.

The hon. Member for Crosby challenged what is the basic principle of the Government's attitude. He says that it is the accepted principle on compulsory purchase—and I am treating this as if it were a straight compulsory purchase—that you can ignore the effects of the scheme on the acquisition. I entirely agree.

The hon. Member goes on to say that the opening of Nine Elms is part of the scheme of the 1966 Act. I agree, but my point, and the Government's point, is that the 1966 Act is not the scheme of acquisition. If this is treated as a deemed compulsory purchase, then the scheme of acquisition is the purpose for which it is acquired by the acquiring authority, namely, the scheme of redevelopment of the old area after it has been acquired by the acquiring authority. That is why it is right to assess the compensation on the basis of the realities of the existing use at the time of acquisition, and on the basis of the planning position and the planning assumptions which are relevant at that time.

I come back to the café proprietor. The hon. Member for Maidstone said that these traders are not the café owners. Indeed they are not. They are in a much more favourable position than café owners. The café owners will be every bit as much affected by the 1966 Act, even more so. They will have their business closed down because it is tied to, linked to, and depends on the existence of, Covent Garden Market. That goes.

Assume that their land is required for the scheme of redevelopment, whatever it may be. They do not have the advantage of being provided with an alternative market to which they can move, which is receiving a grant from public funds, to help them start up in business else-where. They will have to take the compensation code as they find it and take their compensation on the basis of the realities of the situation which prevails at that time.

It is not deadly uniformity that we are insisting on. We are insisting on the normal basic principle of compulsory purchase compensation which is, "Do fairly between people in a like situation." I am sure the hon. Member for Maidstone would be the first to rise in his wrath if we were to make provisions which would enable a person to be more favourably treated than one of his constituents in a like situation under compulsory purchase.

One may have objections to the compulsory purchase code. I am well aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have such objections. These matters are all under consideration, as I have made clear to the House. It may be that, by the time this comes into force, there will have been some alteration in the compensation code but, whatever it is, we say that that compensation code must, mutatis mutandis, be applied to this situation as fairly as can be, and on the basis of the same principles.

Mr. Graham Page

I fail to appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's café proprietor case. Are there to be no cafés? Nine Elms will be a miserable sort of place if there are no cafés. The principle is exactly the same for the market trader and the café proprietor. The café proprietor will be told that there is another place for him to go to, and therefore his property will be valued on the basis that there is somewhere else for him to go to.

Mr. MacDermot

All I can say is that the promoters of this Bill have not made any provisions for the café proprietors which would cover them in the way that owners of land on which traders are carrying on their business are protected.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.