§ Order for consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.7.13 pm
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)
The motion on the Order Paper isThat the Bill be considered upon this day six months.
If my hon. Friends and I are to be honest we will admit that our reason for tabling that motion is that we do not want the Bill to be considered further. It is our contention that the House should not be considering it at all. Hon. Members may recall that it was given its Second Reading on 6 June 1989 and that on that occasion all the comments were undoubtedly to the effect that it should not be allowed to make any further progress. Unfortunately, as always, the vote that followed a lengthy and well-informed debate was carried largely by those who had neither listened to the debate nor knew anything whatsoever about the subject.
It is a matter for great regret that we are back in the House considering the Bill further. As a piece of legislation it is fundamentally flawed. It tramples on ancient and well-established rights. It attempts to take from Havering borough council rights which were established by royal writ and which it has enjoyed, uninterrupted, for over 700 years. I understand that the charter markets in the constituencies of 284 hon. Members may be similarly affected if the Bill is successful. It will undoubtedly set a precedent for the challenging of ancient market rights through the private Bill procedure. I submit that that should not be allowed or encouraged.
I want to draw attention to a statement, copies of which I understand the promoters of the Bill sent to all hon. Members. I want to go through the statement paragraph by paragraph and explain why I consider that it is misleading in respect of a number of issues. Of course, I accept that it was not the promoters' intention to mislead hon. Members.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the concern of many authorities in whose areas there are charter markets. Does the document to which he is referring really deal with that matter? I am sure that everyone recognises that that is the particular concern about the procedure that has been used throughout. It is my impression that the document avoids that issue. Certainly it does not deal with it in great detail.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As I go through the document it will be clear that that whole issue is not mentioned. Anyone reading the document would get the impression that this was a simple matter between Redbridge and Havering councils alone, with no deeper meaning, and capable of no wider interpretation.
In paragraph 1 the promoters say:The Bill is promoted by the Council of the London Borough of Redbridge…It would authorise the establishment of a market on a site near the town centre of Ilford."Paragraph 2 says:The council in 1980 adopted, following a long public local inquiry, a Local Plan for the Ilford Town Centre entitled the 'Ilford Town Centre Action Area plan'…In accordance with the proposals contained in that Plan the Council has brought about the revitalisation of the Ilford Town Centre by 498 the construction of a relief road diverting the A118 around the Town Centre, providing service roads and the pedestrianisation of part of the High Road.No doubt hon. Members will wish to join me in congratulating the Ilford council on doing so and will wish it every success in its endeavours to create a pleasant environment and a good shopping centre. It is, however, my experience of shopping centres around the country that they are not made very much more environmentally attractive if market stalls are placed right in the centre of them. But, so far as any planning permission application is concerned, that may be a matter for Ilford borough council to decide.
In paragraph 3 the promoters continue:A pleasant environment for residents, workers and shoppers has been created in the Ilford Town Centre. This has led to considerable investment in the Town Centre and the Prudential Corporation and the Norwich Union Insurance Group are currently creating a £100 million retail development, known as the 'Exchange at Ilford', which will provide 51,000 square metres of new shopping floorspace together with a 1,200-space car park.Again I say to the hon. Members for that area that that is marvellous, but, with this wonderful shopping centre, I cannot believe that the addition of about 80 market stalls will make or break the Ilford plan.
Then we come to more contentious matters. In paragraph 4 Ilford borough council says:The Plan proposed the development of one site in the Ilford Town Centre for 'substantial shopping development, combined with an expanded and more attractive covered retail market which could be a vital feature of the improved shopping centre'. Since the adoption of the Plan some 250 persons have indicated a desire to trade as stallholders in the Ilford Town Centre. The Council are of the opinion that a market established on the proposed site which it owns at the Ilford Town Centre would provide an additional and attractive facility for shoppers which will complement the 'Exchange at Ilford' development. The Council has the support in this matter of the Redbridge Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the Ilford Trader Association and both the Prudential Corporation and the Norwich Union Insurance Group.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
Does my hon. Friend have any information about the support that the proposal has within the council itself? Is the council united on it?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am afraid that I cannot help my hon. Friend on that matter. However, an intervention from one of the hon. Members for Ilford might assist us. If either of them gets an opportunity to speak in this debate perhaps he will be able to deal with the point.
The question that I should particularly like to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), because I asked it on Second Reading and have not yet had a reply, is whether he or his council know how many of the 250 persons who have stated their desire to trade at Ilford already trade at Havering. That seems an extremely pertinent point. If all that the Bill succeeds in doing is to remove some 250 stallholders—or thereabouts—from Havering five and a half miles across to Redbridge, I cannot believe that it will be vastly in the interests of the population of either of our two boroughs, or of anybody else who lives anywhere near the vicinity.
With the ease of travel that we have today, there can be no doubt that many Redbridge residents shop in Romford and enjoy the facilities of the Romford market, which has been established for so long. Hon. Members who were present on Second Reading will recall that I said that ease of travel must go against the promoters of the Bill, whereas 499 they were praying it in aid as a reason for allowing a proliferation of markets. In fact, it does nothing of the kind. The fact that people can now travel with substantial ease for considerable distances to do their shopping must be an argument against allowing too many market centres to spring up.
The whole pattern of trading in this country is moving towards people shopping in one place for everything that they wish to buy—at one time and in one place. Indeed, they often drive substantial distances to do so. My constituency has been suffering for some time because of some of the out-of-town supermarkets that are now being developed all around the country. People get into their cars and often drive happily for 10 or 15 miles to get to one of those places to do their shopping, and then return home. Our shopping centres and the centres of our towns are already under substantial threat. In my opinion, a proliferation of market centres, as proposed by the Bill, would undermine the security of the shopping centres in middle-of-town developments and would not be at all helpful. If Ilford manages to get the House's permission to proceed with the Bill, it may well live to regret it.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should be grateful if he would deal with my point about where the 250 traders who have been applying to him and to his council for a place in the new proposed development come from. I very much hope that the sponsors have taken the trouble to do that research because they will be doing Havering borough council and the House less than justice if, seven months after that point was first raised, they still cannot give us an answer.
I continue with the promoters' letter. Paragraph 5 states:Planning permission will be sought for the establishment of the market if the Bill is enacted.I ask the House to pay particular attention to paragraph 6 because it is wholly misleading and gives an impression that is quite different from that reflected by the facts, and probably quite different from that which the promoters intended to give. I shall read it before commenting. It states:The law of markets provides a protection for any existing market franchise against another, competing, market being established within 6⅔ miles. The London Borough Council of Havering has, it is understood, two markets at Romford which are within that distance, and it would be in contravention of the protection to establish the proposed market at Ilford. The London Borough Council of Havering also has a third market at Romford operated by them in the exercise of their powers under Part III of the Food Act 1984. If the Council established a market pursuant to that power it would not be in contravention of the protection afforded by that Act although it would not be immune from challenge, under common law, from a franchise market. The Romford Markets contain approximately 600 pitches each and they are held on different days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday).That is not an accurate reflection of the position in Havering at Romford market. There is one market site in Romford. It does, indeed, have 600 or so pitches, but to give or attempt to give the impression that there are three separate market sites is wholly misleading and has certainly misled some of my hon. Friends to whom I have been speaking. One of my hon. Friends, to whom I was speaking a couple of moments ago, and who I had hoped would support my motion, said that he had read the document and, having seen paragraph 6, felt that Ilford borough council had a good point. He suggested that Havering was being extremely mean, having three existing 500 markets, to wish to deny Ilford a smaller one five and half miles away. But that is not true. Romford has one marketplace. It holds three markets in that one marketplace on three different days. That is not at all the same thing as the impression that has been given in the document.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
May I ask for further clarification on that point? Do I take it that the three days on which the market is held in Ilford are referred to in the document submitted to support the Bill as three markets? Furthermore, do I take it that the market at Ilford, with its 600 stalls, is an open market?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
In answer to the hon. Gentleman's second point, yes, it is an open market. In answer to his first point, again yes, there is one position of 600 pitches, but the three markets referred to are the three different days on which a market is held on that site. My understanding is that quite a lot of those pitches are occupied by the same stallholders over the three days. To refer to that as three separate markets and to give the distinct impression that there are three markets in different places, each with 600 pitches, is wholly misleading. If my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South would like to intervene, I am sure that he would agree that that statement does not reflect the true position and I hope that it did not intend to convey the impression that it undoubtedly does.
§ Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)
Is it true to say that the same stallholders are involved on each of the three days? Does none of the stalls vary?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
My hon. Friend must have misheard me. I did not say that. I said that the market is held on one site of 600 pitches. There are three markets. The reason for the confusion is that the markets are set up under different rights. I believe that one was originally set up under the writ, one under an Act and one because of long practice. Therefore, it is technically correct to say that they constitute three different markets—I do not argue with that—but the impression given in the document that three separate markets are operating is wrong. There is one marketplace at which the same 600 pitches are used three times a week, to constitute three markets.
In specific answer to my hon. Friend's question, although the market is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) as I understand it, some stallholders are there two days a week and others are there three days a week. Many are there only one day a week. Therefore, it is a balance and a mix. I am not saying that the same people are there every day; I am saying that we cannot multiply 600 by three and come to 1,800 traders using the market, because that would be equally misleading.
§ Mr. Bendall
Will my hon. Friend further clarify the number of people who hold licences in the market?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am sorry; my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) was whispering in my ear and I could not quite catch my hon. Friend's question. Will he repeat it?
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am afraid that I cannot answer that question because I do not know. However, I can probably find out before the end of the evening if my hon. Friend wishes me to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford is present in the Chamber, but unfortunately is barred from taking part in the debate because he is a Minister. I know that the fact that he is barred is as much a matter of regret to him as it is to me and, I am sure, to the rest of the House, because what he would have said, had he been allowed to say it, would have proved invaluable to the debate. I am afraid that I shall have to do my poor best to fill in the gaps that he cannot fill himself.
Paragraph 7 of the document states:Havering Borough Council petitioned against the Bill, and the issues between the two Councils were dealt with by a Committee of your Honourable House. Evidence was brought by the two parties and the Committee decided on a compromise, whereby the Bill was allowed to proceed but certain amendments were made for the benefit of Havering Borough Council, including special provision for compensation.That is true and I do not dispute that that is exactly what happened. However, I make two points on it. First, although Havering borough council was pleased to be able to get some concessions out of Ilford council, which have certainly assisted our position as I shall show a little later, it did not accept that the Bill should be proceeded with at all; nor did it ever give the impression that it was supportive of it. The fact is that Havering borough council will be damaged by the passing of the Bill, as will the 284 other constituencies that I have already mentioned. The principle that charter markets have a right to operate unchallenged will be grievously breached if the Bill proceeds through the House. That would not be a good thing.
The impression given by paragraph 7, as I read it, is that Havering borough council and Ilford have now made friends and are happy to proceed with the Bill as it is now constituted. That is not true. Havering borough council is happier with the terms than it was but it is not happy with the way in which the Bill is proceeding or that it should proceed at all.
My second point on paragraph 7 is extremely relevant to our proceedings tonight. The Chair will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the House is by no means bound by any agreement reached in Committee and that any decisions reached by the Committee are subject to the approval of the House and to Parliament as a whole. Therefore, we are not bound to accept any compromise that may have been reached in Committee. I do not argue with the decisions made by the Committee. They improve the Bill rather than damage it and improve the position of Havering borough council. But it is important to stress that if people differ from the view of the Committee, they are entitled to make their point and, if necessary, force the matter to a Division.
I have dealt with the promoters' outline of the case. I believe that it was misleading. I hope that my hon. Friends who have read it will also have taken the trouble to read the Second Reading debate where they will find a much truer account of what is behind the Bill and its implications. I know that they probably have not done so, and I regret that it is unlikely that we shall obtain the support that we should have been obtained if they fully understood the matter.
502 Having read the promoters' letter, some of my hon. Friends must wonder why Havering borough council persists in opposing the Bill. Before I deal with that, I should like to give the promoters credit for the concessions that they have made. Specifically, I draw the attention of the House to the concession on compensation. On Second Reading I and other hon. Members spoke about compensation. The original proposal was outrageously inadequate. I should not do justice to the subject if I did not refer to the original clause to enable us better to understand the changes that have been made in Committee.
Originally, compensation was dealt with in clause 4(2) and (3). It read:The measure of compensation shall be the capitalised value of the estimated loss of income to the claimant from persons trading at his market resulting from the continuance or establishment of a market under this Act.Compensation under this Section shall carry interest from the expiry of six weeks from the date on which the claim was received by the Council.Except as otherwise agreed by the Council, compensation under this Section shall not be payable except upon a claim made in writing to the Council within three months of the commencement of this Act.It was most unfortunate that the Bill was allowed to reach Second Reading containing such a clause. I do not want to labour the point that I made on Second Reading but the compensation provision was absurd. People would have had to put in a claim for compensation before the market at Ilford had opened. The idea that a proper assessment of the resulting loss could have been made at that stage was absurd. It was wrong to ask the House to consider the Bill in that form.
I am glad to say that the position is now better. Compensation under clause 4 has been substantially improved. Clause 4(2)(a) says:The measure of compensation shall be—
- (i) in the case of the Council of the London Borough of Havering or the owner from time to time of the right to hold Romford Market, in each year ten per cent. of the net profit accruing to any person holding a market under this Act (`the market operator') from that market measured by deducting from the market operator's turnover relating to the market (exclusive of Value Added Tax) any expenses defrayed by the market operator which are wholly and exclusively attributable to the market and not being—
To summarise the difference, Havering council, which previously was not to be compensated, will now receive a 10 per cent. return from the revenue gained by traders who open their market stalls at Ilford. That is of substantial assistance to Havering borough council. I applaud the inclusion of that compensation in the Bill.
- (A) any payment (whether by way of rent or otherwise) made by the market operator to the Council for the right to hold the market; or
- (B) in the nature of capital expenses written off to revenue; or
- (c) any payment in respect of the compensation or interest payable under this section; or
- (D) taxation; or
- (ii) in any other case the capitalised value of the estimated loss of income to the claimant from persons trading at his market."
The compensation available to those who trade at Romford has also been improved. It is in much the same form as in the original Bill except that it will now be payable under clause 4(3)(b): 503Except as may otherwise be agreed by the Council, compensation under subsection (2)(a)(ii) above shall not be payable except upon a claim made in writing to the Council within 24 months from the market commencement date".That is much more satisfactory. First, we have a two-year period in which to assess the damage and, secondly, and more important, it will not commence until after the market is opened. At least now we shall have a period during which properly to assess the loss to those trading at Romford.
I do not know—perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) can assist the House—how the assessment can be made while people are trading both at Romford and Ilford. Perhaps consideration should be given to that. There must be a computation to assess the changes made in those circumstances or, indeed, if someone moves his stall from Romford to Ilford. No doubt that will come up again later in the debate.
Havering borough council objects to the Bill for two reasons. I have already mentioned the first. The second is that the Bill goes against the way in which legislation should be amended. It is wrong that the position of charter markets, which exist not only in my constituency but at 284 other sites, should be eaten away piecemeal by private Bills.
On only one previous occasion has the position been changed. That was at Bexley and in that case it was done by agreement between two councils. There was no conflict or dispute. No one came to the House and attempted to take away the rights enjoyed by a borough without that borough's consent. I can see no objection to a private Bill if both parties agree to it, even when ancient rights are being subjugated by Acts of Parliament. But when there is a conflict, when the borough that is to be penalised does not consent, and when there is a substantial difference between the two parties, as in this case, it is wrong for the private Bill procedure to be used to make a fundamental change in the application of the law of the land.
A Royal Commission looked at the position of charter markets 98 years ago. It concluded that they should be altered. It said that it should he possible to create more markets within areas covered by the charter market rights. It said that the whole system should be considered and changed by Parliament. That was 98 years ago and nothing has been done.
If successive Governments believed that charter markets should be abolished and that a change should be made, it should have been done by Parliament. A Bill should have been brought before the House and debated. We could have gone to the root of the matter and decided whether it was right that ancient rights such as those enjoyed by Havering council should be abolished and whether we should operate a different system. That would be quite legitimate. But to accept the system and not to act on the proposals of the Royal Commission for nearly a century and then to come to the House again and again to erode the position of the charter markets that each borough has enjoyed is not the way in which private Bills should be used. They should not be used to further the interests of one borough or another. For that reason, I hope that the House will join us in wishing to defer consideration of the Bill for a further six months.
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor). I have read the Second Reading debate in Hansard, but my hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that my interpretation of it is different from his. On that occasion, the Division truly reflected the arguments that had been advanced.
My hon. Friend has made a number of points and I shall not detain the House by re-reading the statement because he has done so for me. I shall attempt to address some of the points that he has made and, if there are further questions, I shall do my best, with the leave of the House, to answer those later.
My hon. Friend asked about the 250 applicants for the 80 spaces in the proposed Redbridge market. He cannot have much experience of market traders or he would appreciate that they are anxious to retain some sense of anonymity and they do not always want to disclose exactly what business interests they have elsewhere. When they apply for a stall they are, as a rule, unwilling to say what other stalls they have and where they are located. Therefore, keeping accurate statistics of how many stalls each trader has is not practical. If my hon. Friend consults his local authority, he will find that it does not have an accurate record of the 600 stallholders in its market.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I shall check to see whether my local authority has such information. However, the situation is slightly different in a market that has been established for a long time compared with one that is being established now. Presumably, Ilford council will license the market holders and apply some sort of criteria to determine whether somebody is a fit and proper person to have a stall. What criteria is the local authority to apply other than whether people have been trading elsewhere, whether they have a criminal past and other necessary information?
§ Mr. Thorne
The local authority will make inquiries about the desirability of each applicant, but it will not necessarily be able to discover the business interests in other markets of other members of an applicant's family. My hon. Friend will find that Romford market has many more than 600 stallholders as it meets three days a week and, by his own admission, some stallholders have more than one stall and some go only once a week. It will not be possible to discover exactly what other business interests those stallholders have.
§ Mr. Bendall
Is my hon. Friend aware that many stallholders go to many markets around London? They could be at Bexley on Monday, Bromley on Tuesday and Romford on Wednesday.
§ Mr. Thorne
Indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster does himself and my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) an injustice in suggesting that Romford market is likely to empty out into Ilford. I have no such fear. Redbridge is asking for an 80-stall market and there is no way that that could absorb the 600-stall market that is enjoyed at Havering.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I do not want to give the impression that Redbridge will empty Romford of stalls. It will do nothing of the kind. The limit of 80 stalls has been heavily negotiated and it was not present on Second 505 Reading. But even though it will not empty Romford, it will damage it. If I am right that many stallholders who will attend Redbridge come from Romford and so will move, that will undoubtedly have an impact on Romford market, quite apart from taking a lot of the clientele.
§ Mr. Thorne
My hon. Friend is taking a pessimistic view. These markets are popular and there is no reason why Romford should suffer any great loss. I have patronised Romford market for many years. I have visited it since I was a schoolboy and my impression is one of a vibrant market. In days gone by one of its main purposes, if not the main purpose, was as a cattle market. That is the reason for the limit of six and two thirds miles. That was considered to be one third of the distance that cattle could be driven in a working day. That allowed them one third of the day to get the cattle to the market, one third of the day for them to be at the market on sale, and another third of the day for them to be driven back. That is rather out of date and in this day and age one should be working on an entirely different basis.
§ Mr. O'Brien
Has there been any contact with the National Market Traders Federation which has a code of practice for establishing markets and deciding who shall operate in them? The point about 250 applicants is relevant. Does Redbridge intend to obtain permission for the market and then hand it on to a third party who will operate it as a private market?
§ Mr. Thorne
As far as I am aware, Redbridge has not yet decided whether it wants to operate the market itself or to pass responsibility for it to a private operator. That decision will be taken if Redbridge attains an Act of Parliament to implement it. The National Market Traders Federation has been in touch with all Members of Parliament and I understand that it has also been in touch with the local authority. How far the discussions have gone, I do not know. However, it is not a regulatory body, rather a membership body, so it does not have any rights of control or nomination as to which traders are suitable. There is a significant difference. On that basis, the advice that it can give is somewhat limited.
§ Mr. Squire
My hon. Friend accurately said that the limit of six and two thirds miles went back to Roman times but that we had come a long way since then and were due for a change. That may or may not be so. We may be due for a change but, if anything, there would be less loyalty to a particular market today because of the speed of communications. Therefore, it could be argued that the limit needs to be tightened, not loosened.
§ Mr. Thorne
If we went down that road we would argue that no new supermarkets or any other form of trade should be opened. That is not the line that I would take. There should be the maximum possible choice for shoppers to shop as and when they wish, where they wish.
The figure of six and two thirds is out of date. Another figure would be more appropriate in this day and age. As has been said, it would be quite appropriate for people to complete their shopping in one area. If there is a good shopping centre in Romford and shopping is not confined to the street market, the people who go there to shop will be loyal to that particular shopping area. They can do their market shopping and also their under-cover shopping in 506 department stores and elsewhere. That is what other people would like to do in other areas. It is right and proper that they should be able to do so. If people wanted to go for keenly priced goods, clearly they would want to go to a market with a large number of stalls. One with 600 stalls would be much more attractive than one with 80. An 80-stall market should not and cannot be a threat.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
In their preamble, which I covered at some length, the promoters described Romford market as three markets. As I understand the Bill, in the same equation, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) is asking for six markets. He is not asking for 80 stalls but six times 80 because, under the terms of the proposed Act, they are able to open six days a week.
§ Mr. Thorne
I do not think that my hon. Friend is right. The description of Romford market as three markets reflects the fact that there are three entirely different markets. One was set up by ancient charter, one by a lost prescription of grant and one by the Food Act 1984. That is how the three separate markets were created. They may be on the same site, but anything done in Redbridge would come under the Food Act and would, therefore, be one market.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am sorry to intervene again but I must pursue that. Is not my hon. Friend merely being semantic? He says that there will be three separate markets on three days. I accept that, technically, they are three separate markets because they were set up under three separate Acts. However, in reality, the stalls are open three days a week. If my hon. Friend succeeds, in his area 80 stalls will be open six days a week. There will not be 80 stalls but 80 times six and, therefore, the threat to Romford is much greater than the impression that my hon. Friend seeks to give.
§ Mr. Thorne
My hon. Friend has not really researched his local authority's decisions on this matter. Otherwise, he would appreciate that it could apply for markets to be opened on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday as well and could therefore have the other three days under the Food Act if it so wished.
If Romford market were open only under the Food Act, it would have been referred to as one market and would not have had the protection of the six and two thirds miles. Therefore, Redbridge borough council need not have applied to the House for this Act. There is no inconsistency in my argument. The likelihood of 80 stallholders turning up in Redbridge on Monday and Tuesday but not wanting to turn up in Havering is remote.
§ Mr. Bendall
Will my hon. Friend clarify this point? As I understand it, the six and two thirds miles relates to the charter that granted the cattle market. Is there still a cattle market at Romford?
§ Mr. Thorne
No, the cattle markets at Romford and Stratford were phased out many years ago. There have not been cattle markets there, to my knowledge, for perhaps 15 or 20 years, or even longer. That is another reason why the figure of six and two thirds is irrelevant.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
It is important to clarify this matter, as it is deeply significant. If the Bill goes through in its present form, Redbridge borough council will have the right to open 80 stalls, six days a week with 80 different 507 stallholders on each day. In other words, 480 stallholders will be able to operate in Redbridge from Monday to Saturday. Am I right or wrong?
§ Mr. Thorne
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but, in practice, it is no more likely that 80 stallholders will apply to have a stall in Redbridge on a Monday than would wish to have a stall in Romford on Monday. Stallholders in Romford have not found it profitable to do so on a Monday. Therefore, there is no likelihood that Redbridge market will be open every day of the week. If it were likely to be profitable for a stallholder to do that, Havering authority, on behalf of Romford, would want to hold markets on other days of the week, in addition to the one day a week on which it is allowed to do so at present under the Food Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster made two other points which I shall deal with. First, he said that 284 charter markets in the country could be under threat. I entirely disagree. It has been necessary for the London borough of Redbridge to come to the House to ask for a special Act for a market within six and two thirds miles. Where those charter markets are a long way from the next town the problem does not arise and there is no threat. Where there are other major towns nearer than six and two thirds miles, quite rightly those other authorities wishing to open a market would have to come to the House for such authority. Clearly it would be wrong and misleading to give the impression that there was any threat to 284 charter markets.
My hon. Friend also talked about compensation. Naturally, this was revised during the passage of the legislation through the Opposed Private Bill Committee which, in its wisdom, decided how compensation could be calculated. The figure of 10 per cent. of the profit was generous bearing in mind, as my hon. Friend has accepted, that there is a conflict on only two days a week. Therefore, 10 per cent. of the total profit seems extremely generous.
The way in which the calculation was made was put into the original Bill, and it went before the Opposed Private Bill Committee which listened to counsel on both sides at great length over many days. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster criticised colleagues and suggested that if only they had listened to all of the Second Reading debate they would clearly have voted in his favour. I do not agree. But by the same logic, had our colleagues listened for many days to arguments put by counsel, instructed by the two local authorities, surely the House would wish to consider the Bill further. I believe that we should do so tonight.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
Unlike the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), I believe that there is a danger to the future of established markets if the Bill is allowed to continue in its present form. The danger arises because we shall be dealing piecemeal with an issue that is targeted at markets instead of looking at the position in total. Other authorities, many of which will be influenced by people wanting to develop markets, could follow the same procedure. The very fact that the application by Redbridge has received the attention of the House sets a precedent for future applications.
If we are to be fair and honest in our judgment, we must consider the position of the market traders. They are small business people who often start from nothing and, in many 508 instances, with hard work and some luck develop businesses that can sustain a living for themselves and their families. Market trading is usually a family affair. The only right of a market trader is if he stands his stall in a franchise market. He then has the right, under common law, to be there provided that there is a space available and that he pays the toll.
Under current law, no organisation can set up a market within six and two thirds miles of an existing franchise market. That protects market traders and small business people. It is true that the distance was set by an historic event, but nevertheless there is an inbuilt protection for market traders. The proposed market in Redbridge would be only a short distance from an existing market, so the long-established principles would be broken and there would be serious problems that would be detrimental to the traders at both the existing market and the proposed Redbridge market.
In an intervention I asked the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) whether there had been any consultation. Although I accept that the market traders' organisation is not a regulatory body, at least it looks after the interests of 25,000 or more market traders.
§ Mr. O'Brien
The Act dealt with different circumstances and different principles in the markets. That is why I began my speech by referring to mismatched and piecemeal legislation. We should be considering the whole of the operation of markets and not piecemeal legislation. The 1984 Act was intended to deal with certain matters, as the legislation before us is intended to deal with other matters. That piecemeal consideration of the issue will continue if we agree to this legislation.
The Bill is not necessarily intended to allow the borough of Redbridge to organise a market itself. The hon. Member for Ilford, South said that it had not yet decided whether it would organise the market or whether that would be handed over to a third party. It would be dangerous for the market traders for Redbridge to request permission for a market and then hand it over to a third party. Those traders have experience at the sharp end of private market operators. I have discussed the matter with people who stand market stalls in my constituency, at Ossett and Normanton, and at Wakefield in the neighbouring constituency. They told me how the private operators bring on to the markets their own traders who already have stalls in other markets that are operated by the privateer. That cuts across some of the sacred principles of market traders. The principles involved in the setting of market stalls should have been more fully considered when the Bill was in Committee.
Another important matter is charges for stalls. Unscrupulous operators have been known to ruin a good market by not operating within the broad principles that relate to markets. The Bill does not encourage good practice and it threatens established procedures. The hon. Member for Ilford, South does not agree, but were he to examine the matter in more depth he could conclude only that the Bill is a danger to established markets because it is piecemeal legislation. Franchise markets are an important part of our heritage. For example, the Pontefract market has operated for hundreds of years and goes back to Saxon times.
509 If the House agrees to this legislation, the laws on franchise markets will be threatened. Indeed, that threat is targeted on low-income groups because they depend on the markets for reasonable goods at a price they can afford. We must ask why the Bill is even before the House. The market at Romford is less than six miles from the proposed market at Redbridge. There is no real demand for stalls in that area. I note that 250 applications have been made, but there is nothing to show what sort of trade would be carried on by the applicants. I understand that there is no demand and no waiting list for additional stalls in Romford. That market caters for a number of communities in and around the area, including Redbridge. The evidence submitted to the Committee shows that there is no demand for additional market facilities in the area.
In Committee, it was argued that people without cars or access to public transport could not travel to Romford market. If that is a reason for accepting the Bill, what of rural areas? If there is a demand to develop market trading, it is in rural areas where there is a lack of public transport and where fewer people can afford cars. If a reason for accepting the Bill is that people find it difficult to travel six miles to Romford, Conservative Members in particular should be arguing for more market facilities in their constituencies. There is no substance in the argument for an additional market at Redbridge. The same criterion could apply to every rural area and community throughout the country where people are denied the use of public or personal transport.
The letter accompanying the original applications suggests that Redbridge is to be a covered market which will operate six days a week. In my view, that is merely an extension of a shopping development. I suggest that it would be fairer to the local community to make an application for a store comprising 80 stalls, rather than make one under the guise of it being an open market.
§ Mr. Squire
Has the hon. Gentleman established from his researches if it would make a difference whether such a store had a roof? Is it the concept of open air versus non open air that is in dispute, or do the walls surrounding a store make all the difference?
§ Mr. O'Brien
The difference would come if the market were handed over to a third party such as Asda, who could develop it not as a market but as a superstore. The difference between the proposed market at Redbridge and the existing one at Romford is that the latter is an established open market, whereas that at Redbridge will be covered. The application is for 80 stalls because it will be a covered market—a supermarket. It is wrong to consider an application for what is ostensibly an open market when it will, in the main, be developed as a supermarket. I hope that we shall receive honest clarification of the real nature of the application.
§ Mr. Thorne
The proposed site is a car park over which there is a flyover carrying a road over the railway. The site is only covered inasmuch as it is under a flyover.
§ Mr. O'Brien
My remarks were based on the letter accompanying the application, which refers to a covered market. If, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, the only cover provided is a flyover, it will be different from what we understand as a covered market.
510 That is the letter's second misleading statement. The first one was that Romford has three different markets, but the truth is that there is only one market area, comprising the same stalls, but subject to three different Acts of Parliament. For that reason only they are referred to in the supporting letter as three markets, which is most misleading.
I return to my earlier point that, as Redbridge borough council's representatives have given misleading information, the scheme should be more carefully considered. One wonders how many other misleading statements have been made in support of the Bill. I suggest to the Bill's supporters that more consideration should be given before the House agrees to the Bill. The Bill should be deferred so that all the evidence can be analysed properly to see whether it contains any other misleading statements.
I appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House to support the motion in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) and for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), and of the hon. Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) and for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), as that would be in the best interests of the House and of the public.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), and agree strongly with the main thrust of his arguments. To be fair, I must pay tribute also to my next-door neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), who is bound by Trappist vows on an occasion such as this. One has heard of the strains and frustrations of office. It is arguable that this evening, one of the more acute forms of frustration is being visited upon my hon. Friend. I only hope that the inadequate way in which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) are dealing with the matter will give him some consolation.
I congratulate also my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who is a genuine long-term friend. We encounter one another occasionally at local events, and I always treasure his company.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster said, the royal writ governing Romford market has operated for 742 or 743 years I forget which. It also covers markets in nearly half of the constituencies represented by right hon. and hon. Members. Those markets are protected by the operation of common law, which is at the very foundation of our rights. The House should consider carefully any application to vary rights that have existed for that length of time before deciding to alter them. In particular, the private Bill procedure is an extraordinary way to vary common law rights. I shall return to that in the ultimate part of my argument.
It is important that I put the precise viewpoint of the London borough of Havering. I do not intend to touch upon the promoters' statement. That would be unfair to the House, as it has already been covered by my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster and for Ilford, South. It is important that there should be no doubt about the attitude of the London borough of Havering, which is directly affected by the Bill.
I shall quote selectively from a letter from the Havering borough secretary which begins, "Dear Robin"—it is a 511 very friendly borough, Madam Deputy Speaker; I should like to think that your part of the country is similar. The letter states:It would be foolish to pretend that the amendments made in Committee do not limit the potential harm to Romford Market from a rival at Ilford. In particular limiting it to not more than 80 stalls on the one identified site is an improvement on the Bill as originally lodged. Nevertheless, the principle remains that Redbridge are using private legislation to override long established Common Law rights … What we put to the committee and suggest is still a sound proposition is that the abolition of rights going back 750 years should not come about as a result of a piecemeal process whereby one piece of private legislation in one area (e.g. Bexley) is succeeded by another (e.g. Redbridge) and so on.—one might suggest that they are using salami tactics.
The letter continues:There is no real difference in the circumstances applicable at Romford Market and those applicable at Common Law markets up and down the Country. Conceding the principle in this Bill must therefore make easier the compulsory extinction of other market rights.That is demonstrated by the fact that the Bexley London Borough Council Act 1987 has been relied on in part as a precedent by Redbridge, although that Act appears to have come about by some agreement between parties.
The letter states:The compensation provisions in the Bill have been substantially rewritten as a result of the committee hearing.I shall return to compensation in a moment, as it would not be fair to read out a long letter to the House. However, the letter continues:It might be helpful to remember that the deposited Bill (i.e. the version we petitioned against) allowed for a market to be established by Redbridge anywhere within a circle of just over 3 square miles, and also allowed Redbridge to authorise the establishment by others of a market within that same area … they could have had two markets unlimited in size and only broadly limited by location.That is one of the reasons why the original objections were so strongly based.
The amended version in which the council is allowed to establish a market which is limited to not more than 80 stalls on the particular site identified by the signed plan is a considerable change from the original Bill.
The letter concludes:The petition lodged by Havering in respect of Romford market has produced a transformation in the Bill which it may be thought was unlikely without our opposition."—there is certainly no reason why it should have been changed.This emphasises the danger of launching into private legislation to take away established rights of another body and you might think Parliament could still be urged to send Redbridge away to think again about whether they really need powers of this kind.The letter was signed by the borough secretary and solicitor.
I mentioned that the terms are changed so that the market will consist of 80 stalls on an identified site. I do not know whether 80 is the right figure. The House will note that I have tabled an amendment on the matter.
On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, referred to the well reported divisions within the majority group on Redbridge council. As a former council leader, I confess that the news that there could be divisions in local authority groups comes as something less than a shattering surprise. I held the job for three years and I would have been surprised to hear that my council was 512 united about anything—except possibly the name of the local authority, and even then there was probably a rebel fringe moving an amendment.
I recall that it was suggested that up to one third of the majority group had objected to the Bill as originally deposited. We now have a very different Bill which imposes upon the stallholders in the putative market in Redbridge an absolute responsibility to pay sums of money and, as I have already said, it limits the number of stalls.
I do not have to go back very far to remember that quarrels broke out in my council group on far smaller issues. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South will comment on whether the revised Bill now has a clear, obvious and unambiguous commitment from Redbridge council, and whether it is aware of the dangers that have been highlighted this evening and recognises that they should take it away and think again, as the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) suggested.
Obviously, Havering welcomes the fact that, although the original Bill would apply compensation to cases where the right was conferred by statute or royal charter, that has now been deleted so that any legitimate claim can be considered. I welcome the fact that the Bill now refers to 10 per cent. of net profit, although I shall return to that in a moment. Originally, all or some of the rights created in the Bill could have been transferred or disposed of, but now no transfer or disposal can take effect without the consent of Redbridge council. None of that could have happened without the original objection, but equally Havering's central objection still remains.
I now refer to an important point on compensation. Clause 4 (b)(i) states:The Director of Finance of the London Borough of Redbridge, acting as an expert and not as an arbitrator, shall within six months after the end of each financial year of the market's undertaking certify the amount of net profit calculated in accordance with paragraph (a)(i) above, and shall send copies of the certificate to the market operator and to the person entitled to receive compensation under that paragraph.I highlight that for several reasons. I speak as a chartered accountant. I do not usually confess that in public, because it tends to turn people against me—erstwhile friends walk away and decide not to talk to me again—but it means that I have had some experience of drawing up accounts, looking at other people's accounts and, above all, completing accounts from incomplete records.
I freely confess that I have never audited a set of market traders' accounts, but I have carried out the audits of many similar undertakings. I am genuinely concerned about how that will effectively be carried out. Let me make it clear that that is no reflection on the director of finance in the London borough of Redbridge, who I am sure is a well qualified and good representative of the accountancy profession.
Let us think about it for a moment. What evidence will he have for purchases? I doubt whether there will be invoices. My experience of the sort of business undertakings we are talking about strongly suggests that the chances of many invoices being available for the purchases by the market trader are very slight indeed. We shall be relying upon approximations, because much of the business is not accompanied by invoices.
§ Mr. Thorne
Is my hon. Friend being misled, in that he has not read the Bill? Clause 4(2)(a)(i) contains the words 513in each year ten per cent. of the net profit accruing to any person holding a market".It does not say "market stall": it says "market".
§ Mr. Squire
If I have got the wrong end of the stick in that respect, perhaps, either now or in winding up, my hon. Friend will clarify the point. In other words, is it a fixed, finite, easily established figure? If it is, I wonder why it is necessary for the director of finance to verify it. If, as I fear, it is not but needs considerable assessment, I am a little concerned.
Since I have presented one side, and a good accountant always tries to present both sides of any case, the obvious other side is the takings. If my theory is right, if the problems of accounting for expenses are there, I judge that the problems of accounting for takings will be even more significant. I suspect that the average inspector of taxes would be the first to agree with that statement. The thought occurs to me that, if the assessment is based on the actual profit of the market traders, presumably it could also be based on their audited accounts, which would have been agreed, so that there would be no great difficulty.
These are major points, because we are talking about compensation. So far, people have said that this is a considerable improvement, and they welcome it as against what was originally proposed. But from where I am standing at the moment, it seems to me that that could be 10 per cent. of very little, which, I need hardly remind the House, is even less. I would appreciate some clarification from the sponsor of the Bill at some appropriate time.
§ Mr. Pike
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) said that the markets would be in competition for only three days a week, since Redbridge would be doing six days and Havering only three. But is it not true that trading on the three days when Havering traders were in competition would be affected, because people go to a market usually once a week and, if they were able to do so on a different day, that would obviously have an impact within Havering?
§ Mr. Squire
The hon. Gentleman, who is on a Select Committee with me, where we usually discuss matters relating to the environment, has made a very good, clear point. Obviously, there is some limit to the amount of money that people will spend in a particular week or other period, and if they have already spent it in one market, say in Redbridge, they cannot spend it a second time—something that even Governments have learnt over the years.
I want to turn now to a letter from the leader of Redbridge council, John Lovell, who I am sure is a very good Conservative and does a very good job. This letter was addressed not to me but to one of my hon. Friends, and it has come into my possession. I know that it is open to anyone to write to any or all right hon. and hon. Members, but I wonder whether there is any change in this in the private Bill procedure. Very strict procedures are laid down, for instance, requiring the promoters to supply a statement, which has to go to all hon. Members. I am sure that you will confirm that, Madam Deputy Speaker.
A selective statement has been sent out by the leader of Redbridge council, which I have not received. I see that my silent hon. Friend the Member for Romford indicates that he too has not received a copy of this letter, in which case 514 he may be very surprised at some of the contents. I have no way of knowing how many people have received the letter. Perhaps all other hon. Members present have received it, in which case they may be rather bored if I highlight some of its contents, but it may be that they too have been the victim of the selective amnesia of the leader of Redbridge council. I do not even know, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether he managed to include you. We draw a veil over that.
In the third paragraph of his letter, Mr. Lovell writes:We are obliged to do this because our neighbouring Borough of Havering enjoys the monopoly protection of an ancient Royal Writ which prevents us from affording shoppers in Redbridge the choice they enjoy elsewhere in the country as a matter of right.The letter could have pointed out the 288 constituencies we have already mentioned, where the same market rights exist. Whether the letter is saying that we should include all the 288 or whether we are only threatening the one is not clear, but the point I want to take up concerns the words "monopoly protection."
What is a monopoly in this context? There are some 300 traders—we have conceded this—who are competing not only among themselves in Romford but also against the shops and stores in Romford. That is scarcely the standard definition of a monopoly. There is a very active retail trade there. If a hypermarket were to be created, since it is unusual to create more than one hypermarket in an area, would that be a monopoly position or would one say that it was competing with other forms of retail trade? I would argue that the word "monopoly" in this case is misused.
The second point about the letter is even more important. It says:You may also have received correspondence from the National Market Traders Federation seeking support for the Havering case. The allegation that we, as promoters of the Redbridge Bill, are weakening the rights of street traders is far from the truth—Redbridge in effect seeks an expansion of open market trading and it is Havering relying on its ancient and anachronistic Writ, who is denying the freedom of choice and opportunity which Redbridge seeks.The only comment made about the letter from the National Market Traders Federation is in the quotation about this Bill weakening the rights of street traders. That is the only point picked up in this criticism.
Many people may have had the letter from the federation and lost it or not seen it; or it may not have reached them, because these things happen in this place, and they may think that this was not much of an objection. But if they were to read what the federation said they would find that it was quite a bit more than the leader implies.
§ Mr. Bendall
I am not sure what my hon. Friend is trying to prove. Clearly, the National Market Traders Federation letter came some time ago. It was totally against. It was lobbying in a fair way, so I do not see why other people should not lobby.
§ Mr. Squire
I fully accept what my hon. Friend says. The act of lobbying is a legitimate and almost ever-present part of the proceedings of the House. He says that the original letter came some time ago. Many hon. Members receiving this letter from the leader of Redbridge council might have thought that the only complaint was about a weakening of the rights of street traders. It goes into considerable detail and quite simply says—I will just read their concluding sentence or two.
§ Mr. Bendall
I received a letter a few days ago from the National Market Traders Federation asking how I intended to vote and reminding me of its previous letter.
§ Mr. Squire
My post bag may have been even more selective, because I have not received that letter. It appears that a sustained attack has been launched upon me.
I shall read the concluding part of a letter from the National Market Traders Federation, which says:The Federation"—the National Market Traders Federation—is opposed to the Bill as it believes it would set a dangerous precedent if a Private Bill was allowed to take away common law rights. This could pave the way for another Private Bill that could remove the common law rights of traders, which, with the exception of the few traders who have tenancies, are the only protection that traders have.The Federation of Street Traders Union—I am delighted to announce to the House that I have received this letter—underlines that message. It says:Market traders do not enjoy statutory rights, their only rights being derived from common law. They are concerned that the Redbridge Bill is an attack on common law rights of market franchise owners and thus weakens the few rights that market traders have.If the Bill is a precursor of future legislation, changes will be made in other constituencies. I have the list of the 285 constituencies that are affected, but I do not propose to read out the names of the hon. Members concerned. I note that both Front Bench spokesmen and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have markets in their constituencies. They will therefore be listening intently to the arguments being deployed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who is regarded as all-powerful by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), is not present tonight, but he also has a market in his constituency. Most important, given my past, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who might be assumed to be a clear believer in market principles—in this context, I mean the other market principles—represents the attractive and delightful area of Kingston upon Thames, where I had the privilege of being educated. If he were present, he would be listening carefully for any precedent being created to destroy the lovely and cherished market in Kingston.
In 1891, the Royal Commission set up by the then Government recommended the abolition of rules for the protection of market rights. For whatever reason, successive Governments and Parliaments have not seen fit to act on that recommendation. On the contrary, the most recent legislation, the Food Act 1984, expressly preserved the rights of protection against rival markets, even when those rival markets are set up by local authorities under statutory powers.
Why have Governments not seen fit to act on that recommendation? It cannot be because of insufficient time. Have no past Governments been anxious to pursue a market-based economy? I can think of one or two that have. Why have they not introduced legislation? Perhaps it is because of a lack of supply side zeal. Nothing restrained the Government from introducing a Bill on Sunday trading, which was not given a Second Reading. The Government were seeking to tackle what many people regard as an anomaly. Time was found for that legislation, so why could not previous Governments introduce legislation on markets?
516 We must assume that successive Ministers considered this, because people would have said to them "This is anachronistic, with its rules on six and two thirds miles, and so on." I suspect that the Government said, "Whatever changes we make, we shall face enormous problems of compensation, of measuring the loss that will be suffered by market traders and the benefit will be limited, even if we take the purest free market principles."
What Government and Parliament refused to do. or decided was not necessary, is being accomplished by a series of little Bills. First, there was the Bexley London Borough Council Bill, and now we have the Redbridge London Borough Council Bill. That should concern all hon. Members, because it cannot be the way to achieve logical legislation. The salami approach, by which bits of legislation are sliced away, makes no sense. We know from correspondence that such action is unpopular with market traders. If we must make changes, it should he by comprehensive reform in a public Bill, not by private legislation.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
I intend to speak only briefly because the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) and my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) made many of the points that I would have made. I must make it clear that I hold no brief for Havering or Redbridge. I know little about them, so I cannot be biased in favour of one or the other.
There is a principle in the Bill that threatens other charter markets, one of which is in Burnley. The 284 authorities must be concerned about the methods being used to overcome common law. It is not sufficient for the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) to say that there will be other private Bills. Private legislation is not the way to make these changes.
The charter for the market in Burnley was granted in 1264, and for the fair in 1265. Those dates are inscribed on the wall of the council chamber as notable and historic features in the development of the borough. Originally, the market was held on the doorstep of the church. Burnley was not recorded in the Domesday Book, but two centuries later it flourished around the market.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South dismissed the six-and-two-thirds-mile rule. He must recognise that many towns developed that distance apart, or slightly more, so that a market could be established in them. The pattern of development in many parts of this country was controlled indirectly by that early form of town planning. We should not disregard some of our important historic links.
Perhaps we should reconsider the correctness of the six-and-two-thirds-mile separation. If a sensible proposal to change the distance were introduced, I would not necessarily be rigidly opposed to it. But many factors would have to be considered, should such a change he thought necessary, and the implications would involve local people, market traders, authorities with and without markets in their areas and, of course, the views of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
We have been told that 98 years ago Parliament considered whether a change was necessary to the six-and-two-thirds-mile rule, and apparently it was decided to maintain the status quo. Few of us are likely to be here 98 years from now should further changes he proposed then.
517 Many authorities have invested in markets in their areas. My local authority invested heavily in the 1960s in the indoor and outdoor markets in the area, and it is intended further to upgrade the outdoor market. Most of the outdoor market is already under cover, mainly because of the weather. My area is close to the Pennines, so we get more rain than areas further south. Genuine worries exist and we should not allow the Bill to proceed in its present form at this stage.
The material put out by the promoters did not deal with the charter conditions and various issues affecting other local authorities. The promoters and Redbridge council must have been aware for some time that such matters have led to the Bill being delayed. I find it surprising. therefore, that they did not address such issues.
Not knowing the areas involved and having read the material as an independent and neutral observer, I envisaged three separate market sites, not three different markets operating on different days on the same site. Whether the material that I read was intentionally misleading I do not know, but most people reading it would have got an incorrect view from what was stated.
It is essential that people, especially hon. Members, should have a thorough understanding of what is proposed. After all, having read it, some hon. Members may have decided not to attend tonight's debate, imagining that Havering has three different markets operating on three different sites, believing that there is no problem.
§ Mr. Squire
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that hon. Members have been known to vote without hearing the balance of the argument and have relied simply on a piece of paper that they have been sent? The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is overwhelmingly valid in a case such as this, when we have a near empty House.
§ Mr. Pike
The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why I read what private Bills are about, particularly if they concern an area of the country with which I am not familiar. Many private Bills relate to particular areas and issues, the details of which are not known nationally. There are, in those cases, only two ways for hon. Members to know what is proposed. One is to read the literature put out by the promoters and others who are interested in the matter, and in that case we depend on the information being correct and not misleading, intentionally or inadvertently. The second way is to come into the Chamber and listen to the debate.
Some hon. Members may have been influenced by the literature into thinking that Havering has three different markets operating in different parts of the borough, and have reached a view about the Bill on that basis. Issues of principle are involved here. I wish Redbridge no harm. I would be happy to see most of the Bill proceed and the proposed development and investment take place in that borough. However, I have doubts about certain aspects of the measure. If they remain in the Bill, I shall feel it necessary to oppose its passage at this stage.
§ Mr. Thorne
With the leave of the House, I shall reply to some of the points that have been made.
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) mentioned the importance of franchise markets, and I agree with him. But Food Act 1984 markets are important 518 as well. They have played an important part in our shopping life since being introduced and they are to be encouraged.
The hon. Gentleman referred to low-income groups. Pensioners, who now have bus passes, still prefer to shop locally if they can. If he were to ask his constituents whether they preferred to shop in the vicinity of their homes or catch a bus and travel perhaps five and a half miles, he would find that, especially in later life, they preferred to shop locally. It is the desire of my local authority that they should be able to do so.
There is no intention of excluding the National Market Traders Federation from the site. On the other hand, there is no intention to give them a monopoly over it. I trust that the hon. Member for Normanton was not proposing that such a monopoly should exist. This is not a case for a closed shop.
I have referred previously to the location of the site. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not aware that Romford market has both an open and covered section. Neither Asda nor any other group has taken over the covered section of Romford market. This is often called "Rumford" market, which 1 believe is an old and original spelling of the word "Romford".
The hon. Member for Normanton also underrates my local authority and our colleagues on the Opposed Private Bill Committee because they certainly would not allow a situation to arise where a private contractor was able to introduce only his friends and colleagues into the market. I assure him that the London borough of Redbridge would be most assiduous in ensuring that it was kept open to all respectable people and that in any contract entered into by an operator—if that were the way in which it was proposed to operate the market—it would make sure that to do otherwise would be a breach of the contract, which would thereby be terminated. I have no hesitation in believing that that would not be allowed to happen. Our colleagues considered the matter in some detail; they were advised by counsel who were instructed by both the councils involved, and they were a good judge of the ultimate result.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) on his speech. He said that his friends tended to ostracise him when they learned that he was a chartered accountant. That could, of course, be the reason why he does not receive as much correspondence as the rest of us. He must have been struck off the lists that give us so much correspondence from the National Market Traders Federation and others on this issue. I am sorry that he was left out, but he has only to ask and he will always be kept fully informed.
I want especially to pick up one of my hon. Friend's points. There have been Bills before the House to vary the distance of six and two thirds miles and that is the right way to proceed. I do not believe that a blanket cover is necessarily the right answer. Each case should be dealt with on its merits, as has happened in this case.
Negotiation is a matter on which two parties must agree. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch is aware of this, but I have tried hard to encourage negotiations to take place between his local authority and mine, and I have not been as successful as I should have wished. I have even pursued the point that the negotiations should take place in front of the six Members of Parliament involved, with the leaders and chief officers of the two authorities. Unfortunately, that suggestion has been turned down.
§ Mr. Squire
I did not make the point clear when I read the letter from my own borough secretary because I did not want to take up too much time. I must now make it clear that my borough secretary confirmed that an informal approach had been made, but, as he put it, as the purpose of the discussion would in no way reduce ultimately the presence of the Bill—and it is the principle to which Havering objects—no discussion took place.
§ Mr. Thorne
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is important that people try to get together in these matters and to resolve issues, because if that had been done at an earlier stage the defects that my hon. Friend saw in the Bill on Second Reading might have been overcome before the matter ever arrived in the House. Many of the corrections that have now been made would have been ironed out before the Bill arrived in the House.—if it ever arrived at all. My local authority is not wholly to blame for the changes that have taken place—quite properly—as a result of the deliberations in the Opposed Private Bill Committee. We have already covered the question of the number of markets, so I shall not say more on that point.
The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) raised an important point—
§ Mr. Squire
I am making the assumption that my hon. Friend has disposed of my argument. I hope that before he finishes he will tackle the question that I raised briefly about the measurement of profit and whether we are talking about market traders or someone else.
§ Mr. Thorne
I dealt with that point at the time and said to my hon. Friend that I felt that he was confusing the market operator with the market trader. We are, of course, talking about the profit to the market operator and that is the basis on which profit is to be calculated. It would not be difficult for a competent accountant to calculate that. It is a question of calculating the number of rents that have been received in a year, and the number of outgoings for the management and the running of the market. That would be relatively easy and straightforward, and it would not require many qualified people to cover it. I have every confidence that the right figure will be produced at the right time without too much difficulty. The Bill also provides for interest on late payments, so that matter has been covered. There is no point in any delay and I am sure that none will ensue.
The hon. Member for Burnley raised some interesting points, especially on the historical side. I was grateful to him for the way in which he described how various towns had been built six and two thirds miles apart, probably on the road from London to York. Eventually, through horrible ribbon development, they may have been joined up. Perhaps they are attractive towns or cities now with one franchise market at each end of the high street.
He also raised the question of substantial investment. If the market is to be successful, it must have major investment. It is no good any more doing these things on a shoestring. A piece of wood on a couple of wheels is no longer adequate. One has to produce something far more attractive to attract the customers to the stall.
We need to consider how frequently these markets take place nowadays, and whether that requires an overall view or whether the matter should be dealt with individually on its merits. Hon. Members have said that a change was last suggested about 90 years ago. My local authority would 520 not want to wait 90 years for an answer. That is why it wants to pursue the matter now. This is not the first time that this has happened. There have been others—Bexley and so on—where reasonable agreements have been reached. That is perhaps the way that the public would wish the matter to be pursued so that it is properly considered.
It is not an inexpensive operation to bring a private Bill here. Counsel and others have to be instructed. It will not be done quickly or on the cheap. The Opposed Private Bill Committee, which comprises two Opposition Members and two Conservative Members, with an Opposition Chairman, investigated the matter thoroughly from every angle, instructed by counsel on behalf of the two councils. Therefore, I believe that we should accept what our colleagues have recommended to the House and that the Bill should proceed to consideration.
§ Question put, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 56, Noes 24.
|Division No. 63]||[9.06 pm|
|Amess, David||Kilfedder, James|
|Arbuthnot, James||King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Knight, Greg (Derby North)|
|Beith, A. J.||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Bendall, Vivian||Maclean, David|
|Boswell, Tim||Maclennan, Robert|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & CI'T's)||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Browne, John (Winchester)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Page, Richard|
|Carlisle, John, (Luton N)||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Chapman, Sydney||Riddick, Graham|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Cormack, Patrick||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Fearn, Ronald||Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Summerson, Hugo|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Forth, Eric||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Glyn, Dr Sir Alan||Thorne, Neil|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Hague, William||Walker, Bill (T'side North)|
|Harris, David||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Wilshire, David|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Wood, Timothy|
|Jack, Michael||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Janman, Tim||Mr. Jacques Arnold and|
|Kennedy, Charles||Mr. Nicholas Bennett.|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Neubert, Michael|
|Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)||O'Brien, William|
|Cryer, Bob||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dixon, Don||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth||Snape, Peter|
|Durant, Tony||Spearing, Nigel|
|Gill, Christopher||Wareing, Robert N.|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Wells, Bowen|
|Gregory, Conal||Wray, Jimmy|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Meale, Alan||Mr. Robin Squire and|
|Nellist, Dave||Mr. Peter Pike.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill, as amended, considered.