§ '(1) Where a person proposes to set up a commercial market within the relevant area which but for the provisions of section 22(1) above would constitute a disturbance of the right of market of a local authority to which subsection 22(2) above applies, the person proposing to set up the market shall apply to that local authority for approval of the setting up of that market.
(2) Where an application for the grant or renewal of approval has been made under subsection (1) above to a local authority, the local authority shall—
- (a) give or renew that approval subject to such reasonable conditions as the local authority think fit; or
- (b) refuse to give that approval, provided that approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.
240 (4) The local authority may charge a reasonable fee in respect of an application for the grant or renewal of an approval under subsection (2) above and different fees may be charged for different classes, sizes and locations of market.
(5) The Secretary of State may by order make further provision as to approvals and regulation in relation to the setting up of rival commercial markets.
(6) A person who sets up a rival commercial market within the relevant area, which but for the provisions of section 22(1) above would constitute a disturbance of a right of market to which section 22(2) above applies without approval of the setting up of that market having been given or as the case may be renewed under subsection (2) above, or who carries on such a market in breach of any conditions attached to the grant or renewal of an approval, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.
(7) In this section, "local authority", "market" and "right of market", have the same meaning as in section 22 above and "commercial market" means a market other than a market—
- (a) which is a temporary market within the meaning of section 37 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982; and
- (b) the proceeds of which are to be applied solely or principally for charitable, social, sporting or political purposes, and
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 51, in clause 22, page 20, leave out lines 24 to 40.
No. 48, in page 20, line 27, after 'right', insert'provided that the operator of the rival market makes payment to the owner of the right of market of an amount calculated on such basis as shall be prescribed by the Secretary of State by order'.No. 53, in page 20, line 27, after 'right', insert'provided that the rival market is set up outside the relevant area'.No. 59, in page 20, line 27, at end insert'but without prejudice to the requirement for that market to be approved under section (Approval of certain markets (No. 3)) below.'.No. 60, in page 20, line 32, leave out from 'above' to end of line 33 and insert'and section (Approval of certain markets (No. 3)) below the references to setting up a rival market or a commercial market include continuing to hold such a market.'.No. 55, in page 20, line 33, at end insert—'(3A) The Secretary of State may, by order made by statutory instrument and after consultation with interested bodies including, in particular, bodies representing the interests of market operators and market traders, make such provision with regard to the licensing of market operators and the licensing of market traders as he may think expedient in consequence of the operation of this section.(3B) No order shall be made under subsection (3A) above unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.No. 47, in page 20, leave out lines 35 to 38 and insert "local authority" has the same meaning as in section 61 of the Food Act 1984'.
No. 54, in page 20, line 39, after 'fair', insert
the relevant area", means the area of the local authority in whom the right of market is vested.'.No. 6, in clause 23, page 20, line 41, leave out from beginning to end of line 18 on page 21.
No. 52, in page 21, in clause 24, leave out lines 19 to 25.
241 No. 57, in page 21, line 21, after 'effect', insert
'save in its application to a livestock or wholesale market.'.No. 58, in page 21, line 25, after 'effect', insert'save in their application to a livestock or wholesale market'.
§ Sir Michael Neubert
My interest in the subject of the new clause and amendments is twofold. First, there is Romford market, in my constituency, which has been established for nearly 750 years. It is the heart of the town and the fountainhead of its prosperity. The first connection with Romford that I can remember, long before being selected as candidate for the constituency 25 years ago last month, was when my grandmother took me on the bus to see the cattle in the market. There have not been cattle there since 1959, but I intend to return to the subject of livestock later.
My second interest lies in the fact that I am one of a panel of parliamentary advisers to the National Market Traders Federation, which represents the 40,000 or so individual stallholders whose livelihoods are at stake. That risk, together with all the other factors that represent the public interest, must be taken into account.
I do not often find myself out of line with the Government, but on this occasion I am, and must be. I certainly oppose clauses 22, 23 and 24, so it follows that I support amendments Nos. 51 and 52, in my name, which would delete clauses 22 and 24. I also support amendment No. 6, which would delete clause 23, and which was tabled by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) before I could get to the Table Office.
I am supported in my views by the Campaign for Quality Markets, which consists of a whole list of organisations. At the head of the list is the National Association of British Market Authorities, supported by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Association of District Councils, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Market Officers, the Manorial Society of Great Britain, the National Market Traders Federation and the Showmen's Guild.
That is a formidable array of opponents for the Government to take on, and one wonders why they are doing it. As recently as March 1991 a letter from the Department of the Environment to the secretary of the National Association of British Market Authorities—NABMA—acknowledged that there had beenvery few complaints about market rights, and that in 1987–88 the government had reviewed the system.At that time, it had been concluded that franchised market rights could not be compulsorily appropriated without compensation. Taking into account the requirements to pay compensation, the scarcity of complaints, the minimal part that markets play in United Kingdom trading activities, and the possible damage to centuries of tradition and heritage, the Government decided not to pursue the question of abolition.
However, two or three years later the Government are changing tack. One wonders why. The rights in question are known to have existed for centuries. It is easy to see why they might provoke attention. The concept of a market as having an exclusive area within a radius of six and two thirds miles, within which no rival market may start without permission, and without paying compensation, is of course archaic. Indeed, it is medieval in origin.
242 For the benefit of those who are not cognoscenti in such matters, let me explain that in the middle ages 20 miles was considered to be the distance covered by a journeyman in a day. The day was divided into three parts—six and two thirds miles to travel to the market, one third of the day —equivalent to another six and two thirds miles—at the market, and another six and two thirds miles back. That is the reason for the restrictions.
One has to ask, given that that right has existed for hundreds of years, why it has never been challenged by an ambitious, thrusting Minister. Why has no aspiring Asquith, a budding Baldwin, or even an up-and-coming Churchill thought fit to make his fame and fortune by challenging that archaic and medieval right? If one examines the issue, the answer is that, although it may seem, like the conventions of the House, to be a little outdated, it is an effective means of control of markets, and it has ensured that markets have prospered in towns up and down the country. That is why I seek to defend the status quo. On balance, the advantages and the public interest lie in retaining it rather than abolishing it.
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
Would my hon. Friend tell the House whether there is evidence that bodies wanting to run rival or competitive markets have been disadvantaged by the existing situation? On Friday, when I had a meeting with my local authority in Taunton Deane, I put that question to it and was told that nobody had applied to hold a rival or competitive market, but that there was the constant danger of fly-by-night traders—here today and gone tomorrow—and that they were the bane, not only of health and safety, environmental health, Customs and Excise and Inland Revenue officers, but of the police.
§ Sir Michael Neubert
My hon. Friend makes a timely intervention, because I was about to ask what evidence there was to justify the change of tack. We had a period of consultation last summer, in which almost 3,000 representations were received—10 to one against the Government's proposals. None the less, the Government decided to go ahead with the proposition. That does not lend encouragement to consultation or, certainly, does not engender confidence in consultation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) asks what other evidence exists. The only evidence I have is of an enterprise called In Shops, which has 57 stores in which it operates markets under licence. It has a multi-million pound turnover and, as far as I can see, is doing very nicely thank you with the law as it is. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will forgive me the comparison, but it seems that In Shops wants to acquire the same dominant position in markets as Sainsbury plc has in supermarket retailing.
If the Government want to make a change, why make it now? My understanding of the public's opinion is that the change is being introduced just at a time when they are becoming increasingly concerned about the proliferation of fly-by-night markets and, especially, car boot sales. Some hon. Members in the Chamber may still believe car boot sales to be charity fairs in people's back gardens. I can tell my hon. Friends that they are now big business. It is not simply distressed stately home owners who find the need to stage car boots sales, but, in the midlands, one can have as many as 15,000 people attending such markets and buying goods that are obviously not the contents of somebody's 243 home, but are simply stock taken in to sell at those unlicensed markets, which can start up anywhere—in a farmer's field or where they will.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)
I am listening to my hon. Friend's speech with great interest, but will he tell me whether the car boot sale is the kind of sale in which he would expect to find second-hand filing cabinets—without the anti-tilt mechanism—such as those, as we all know, the House is getting rid of in their hundreds, if not thousands, to abide by a regulation which is not mandatory and which will cost the taxpayer tens of thousand of pounds?
§ Sir Michael Neubert
It is one of my greatest concerns that second-hand House of Commons filing cabinets may find their way into car boot sales, be purchased at a knock-down price, taken into the home of some unsuspecting person and fall over on an innocent child or several innocent children in circumstances that I dare not envisage. Certainly the sale of stolen property is now, very often, facilitated by car boot sales. That is why the Association of Chief Police Officers is also opposed to the Government's proposal to remove all restrictions.
Why, having decided to make the change, should the Government decide to make the change in this way? I regret that I find myself at odds with the Government here. It is not the first time that that has been the case, and certainly not in relation to market rights. For two years, both in and out of government, I successfully frustrated the passage of a private Bill, the Redbridge London Borough Council Bill, which sought, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to undermine the Romford market charter.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
My hon. Friend will recognise that there are markets that are governed by the statute of market ouvert. The Sale of Goods (Amendment) Bill, which has come from another place, seeks to repeal 800 years of that statute. Does my hon. Friend believe that the repeal of the statute will expose those markets to competition and that rival markets will be set up? The market ouvert statute provides for certain conditions for the sale of goods. Would my hon. Friend comment on that?
§ Sir Michael Neubert
It is difficult to comment without the necessary background and briefing. Although, with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), I am a member of the Committee which considered the matter this morning, I am in ignorance of which markets have market ouvert rights and which would be affected. However, my hon. Friend raises a matter that might apply to the whole question of markets. The right of market ouvert is as ancient as, if not more ancient than, the rights I am discussing now in relation to the new clause. There is a degree of incoherence and inconsistency in the proposals.
§ Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Redbridge London Borough Council Bill and he said that he had played a role in successfully frustrating it. Conservative Redbridge council spent £176,000 in preparing the legal work and promoting the Bill, only to have it blocked in the House. The council then tried to reintroduce the Bill. It is now paying £4,000 a year to the hon. Gentleman's local authority of Havering for a desolate site underneath a flyover, which has no stall in operation, although there is a sign in the middle of Ilford which says, "Redbridge market". If one follows the sign, 244 one sees nothing. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is an indictment of the Conservative council which has just been defeated in Redbridge?
§ Sir Michael Neubert
Wittingly or not, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) has supported my case, both in what I have said earlier and in what I shall say later, if he allows me to reach that point. There is an excess of market capacity, which makes this proposal especially serious for those who have established markets.
The proposal runs counter to recent guidance from the Department of the Environment on out-of-town shopping centres. We are at last realising that such centres drain trade from the centre of towns, disembowelling towns and villages and leaving them empty, with shutters up. To allow markets to start up anywhere within the periphery of a town runs counter to that realisation because it would have exactly the effect that the Government are now concerned to limit by their guidance to planning authorities.
The proposal excludes the private owners of market charters. If the argument is that market charter rights and exclusive franchises limit competition, how can it be justifiable to allow those rights to continue in private hands but not in the hands of local authorities? There is some inconsistency there, I should have thought.
A further inconsistency is that the proposal apparently excludes Covent Garden. Covent Garden has protection for a mile around its market by virtue of the Covent Garden Market Act 1966; that protection would remain. There is also the proposition that there should be no compensation. That presumably is the reason for sparing privately owned markets from the proposal. It seems open to challenge that local authorities should not be compensated for the loss of their rights; some of them have paid heavily for those rights in years gone by. Expropriation without compensation seems to me, as a non-lawyer, to be a denial of natural justice.
Surely there is also an unseen cost to the Treasury and taxpayers. If local authorities currently derive benefitincome—from the holding of such markets, and if markets are to be affected by the new competition which will be introduced by the proposal, surely there will be a shortfall that will need to be made up by either the council tax payer or the general taxpayer in support grant. I wonder whether the Treasury has noticed that.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
I supported the hon. Gentleman when he opposed the Redbridge London Borough Council Bill. Many local authorities have modernised their town centres. One of the areas in which there has been great investment in many cases is that of new open-air and indoor markets, and they will suffer severe financial loss if the problem that he has highlighted is not addressed seriously.
§ Sir Michael Neubert
Investment is also a consideration.
I shall mention one further feature of the proposals—the abolition of byelaw powers. Apparently, it is only those that refer to markets, not those that are generally available. My own London borough of Havering used the powers as recently as 1989. That is especially important with regard to livestock or wholesale markets where the clearing of 245 passageways, the conduct of buyers, hygiene matters and general management are often the subject of byelaws which are necessary.
What my new clause and the amendments associated with it seek to do is to provide counter-proposals, which I hope the Government will be prepared to consider. I shall summarise my proposals as follows. Control would be limited not to the six-and-two-thirds miles radius but to that part which is in the administrative area of the relevant local authority. There would be a special case needed for the City of London because its principal markets—Billingsgate, Spitalfields and Smithfield—are outside the square mile. That would remove the vexatious question of one local authority having jurisdiction over a market in another local authority area. Control would be by means of approval; it is not to be unreasonably withheld and not at an unreasonable fee for the application. Markets solely or principally—I am sure that this will reassure my hon. Friends—for charitable, social, sporting or political purposes would not require that approval; and byelaws would be retained as necessary.
To sum up, that alternative approach would be better than removing centuries-old safeguards and putting nothing in their place. I trust that the Government will think again. Just as tower blocks are monuments to the architecture of the 1960s, empty shops, empty stalls and empty marketplaces could be the consequence of mistaken planning policies. This could be another mistaken judgment. The Government should recognise charter markets for what they are—the heart of communities in towns throughout the country. Markets need to thrive and prosper. They deserve better by the Bill.
§ Mr. Fatchett
I welcome the new clause of the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) and the consequential amendments. For those of us who served on the Standing Committee, may I say that we wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman's comment about the interest in this issue and the importance of markets to many communities up and down the country. Markets are a cherished part of local communities and an important part of local economic activity.
I agree almost wholly with the hon. Gentleman in asking how the Government have got themselves into the situation in which they now find themselves, because it seems that there is little support for the proposals in the Bill. If there were a straw poll of public opinion or, indeed, in terms of the consultation process, it is abundantly clear that virtually everyone would be against the Government's proposals.
The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to take us back to the consultation process. The result of that process was a 10:1 vote against the proposals. The hon. Gentleman argued that there were particular interests. There were some keen interests which were represented by local communities, consumers and those with legitimate market trading interests. Those people took the initiative to write in. It is sometimes easy for Ministers to dismiss a consultation process if it does not come up with the right result for Ministers, but the hon. Member for Romford is absolutely correct in saying that there will be no faith in the consultation process if Ministers simply dismiss it and go ahead with their own proposals.
In the Standing Committee, the Opposition tabled a new clause which we thought would provide a way forward and which would deal with the concerns on the issue. The new 246 clause would have given licensing powers to local authorities which they could not use unreasonably. Those powers were designed to protect legitimate traders, small business interests and the rights of consumers. Unfortunately, it was rejected in Committee, but it seems to me—I say this to my hon. Friends—that what the hon. Gentleman is aiming for with new clause 9 is extremely close to our objectives in the new clause which was discussed in Standing Committee.
There is a wide acceptance that there is a need to modernise the existing law, and I have not spoken to any local authority representative who does not recognise that. However, they also recognise that there are legitimate interests which must be protected. What the Government have done with the clauses which currently stand on the face of the Bill is to throw out those legitimate interests. There are genuine and deep concerns among market traders who have run businesses for many years. They feel that their interests will be undermined by people who will not maintain the same standards and who will not employ the same consumer protection.
There are consumer interests. We all know about the proliferation of car boot sales, and what is happening in relation to them. An article in The Times last August described what happened when a journalist went to look at a car boot sale which took place not far from the hon. Member for Romford's constituency. The organisers said that all that they had done was to pick up goods from individual households which were trying to clear items which were no longer needed and which then could be sold off at a cheap price. The reporter said that it was quite surprising to see one household selling more than a dozen exercise bicycles at £5 a time. There seemed to be some doubt about the interests of one family or of their legitimate ownership of the exercise bicycles.
There are real problems which must be sorted out in terms of protecting the public at car boot sales. There is a need to modernise, but also to recognise the legitimate interests which exist, and that is the basis of the hon. Gentleman's new clause.
What is the way forward? I suggest to the Government that the way forward is to start again and, this time, to listen and get it right. They must modernise the law and protect legitimate interests. They must withdraw the existing clauses from the Bill, and listen to what the opposition have had to say—not just the Opposition in this place, but the opposition throughout the country. They must recognise the deep community interests, and they must talk to the parties who have legitimate concerns.
I know that local authorities are prepared to talk to the Government to come up with a sensible and modernised law which will meet all requirements. The Government must get away from their ideological drive which says that deregulation is the only way forward. There are interests which need to be balanced, and good government and good administration are about balancing those interests. The Opposition will co-operate as far as possible if the Government withdraw the existing clauses from the face of Bill. We will work with them to come up with a new, sensible and modernised law which will protect all of the interests that the hon. Member for Romford mentioned in his speech.
I shall finish with what may be my only partisan point. I have a letter from a market trader, who is a constituent of the Minister for Corporate Affairs. This person wrote to me 247 suggesting that clauses 21, 22 and 23—as they then were —of the Bill should be taken out and scrapped. He said in the final paragraph:The only way to secure my vote at the next election is if you ensure that these proposals are thrown out immediately.
§ Mr. Fatchett
The hon. Gentleman says, "Oh, dear." I should have thought that it was in the interests of Conservative Members to listen to that. Votes and support are rather limited. Market traders throughout the country would welcome the changes that we are talking about.
§ Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
There was some disagreement among market traders about that particular statement. I think that I speak for hon. Members from all parties when I say that we are not much impressed by blackmail. We are impressed by good arguments.
§ Mr. Fatchett
I would hardly call it blackmail. We are offering to support a modernised approach and a modernised law. That is the way to make progress. We are offering that co-operation.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
The point about the threat that was made in the letter is that it shows that the campaign has been highly orchestrated. I happen to support my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir Michael Neubert) because I wish to see changes to the Bill, for good reasons. However, the thing that almost made me decide not to support the amendment was people using in 20 or 30 letters that I have received exactly the same phrase. It was taken straight off the typescript that was issued by an organisation. Lobbying in that way is surely not the way to conduct a campaign.
§ Mr. Fatchett
It is probably a basic rule of democracy that our constituents have a right to say that they will not vote for us in a future election. Sometimes that is reflected in the ballot box. They have that right and they have expressed it. As Members of Parliament, we all know that there are organised campaigns. Good luck to people. That is part of an essential, vibrant democracy. People have expressed their views. Many communities up and down the country have expressed their views.
I repeat that the Government should withdraw the clauses. Let us start again, take the clauses out of the Bill and have a proper, modern perspective on the law.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
It gives me particular pleasure to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) on his powerful and eloquent defence of his historic market, which is almost 750 years old, and what he described as centuries-old safeguards. My hon. Friend and I started a period of silence together in the House in 1983 when we became members of that important organisation, the Whips Office. The House will be aware of what it missed during the period when my hon. Friend had to be silent except when moving those important motions that brought our proceedings to an end.
I remind the House that we passed what are now clauses 22 to 24 in Committee. However, we have listened carefully to the views that have been expressed and the points that have been put to us on the measure, most forcefully and eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member 248 for Romford, but also by several other hon. Members and other interested parties, including many market traders across the country.
In the past few days we have given particular consideration to the proposals for reform which have been suggested by the National Association of British Market Authorities, supported, as my hon. Friend said, by several other distinguished organisations. I should like to stress that it has never been the Government's intention to remove the ability of authorities to run markets. However, I recognise that fears have been expressed that removal of market franchise rights would seriously weaken the ability of local authorities to control temporary markets such as car boot sales.
Fears have also been expressed that there would be a real threat to some city centres—a threat which has already been reflected in tonight's debate—if those rights were entirely removed. We have had detailed discussions with interested parties about those fears.
We remain very much of the opinion that the present untrammelled rights of authorities cannot be justified. I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) that there is a need to modernise the law. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about doing that. However, we also recognise the strength of concern that has been expressed. We now believe that the right approach is to withdraw clauses 22, 23 and 24 and discuss further with all interested parties how best to remove the adverse effects of market franchise monopoly rights. We hope then to bring forward amendments, on an agreed basis, in another place.
Having said that, I might help the House by turning to some key points in the new clause and the amendments that are before us, as well as in the proposals that have been put forward by the National Association of British Market Authorities.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)
When the Government are reconsidering this matter will they bear in mind the fact that it concerns deregulation, and not regulation? We do not seek, under the Bill, to bring back provisions to regulate car boot sales. Such regulation should be the subject of different legislation.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
My hon. Friend is quite right to emphasise the deregulatory nature of this important Bill. When I comment on some of the key points he will perhaps realise what we are seeking to do.
The new clause and the other amendments, which reflect the proposals of NABMA, have been eloquently presented by my hon. Friend. They contain some very constructive proposals on how to remove the potential for abuse of market franchise rights. The NABMA proposals would introduce a measure of deregulation while retaining the underlying need for some regulation of markets to protect the consumer interest. It is those suggestions that lie behind new clause 9.
The first NABMA proposal is that a system of approval for markets should replace market franchise rights and that approval should not be withheld unreasonably. The House will recognise that an approval system would, in turn, require detailed provisions covering the applications for approvals, the procedures by which they were handled and related matters. It might be preferable simply to restrict the exercise of existing franchise rights so that they cannot be 249 exercised in an unreasonable way. If this approach were adopted it would certainly be necessary to define "unreasonable" so that all concerned know where they stand. I suggest that we should seek to prevent authorities from being able to stop rival markets when it is clearly in the public interest for them to operate. But this is clearly a complex area on which further discussion is needed.
§ Mr. Miller
1 am very pleased about the position that the Government have adopted in respect of this matter. If what we have here returns to the House in a different form will the Minister, given my hon. Friend's commitment and given the points that were made in relation to some local authority issues—in Committee, I cited as an example the difficulties faced by local authorities in Ellesmere Port and Neston and in Chester in relation to a particular car boot sale—commit the Government to in-depth consultation with local authorities before introducing further legislation?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I thought that I had already made it clear that, following the withdrawal of the provisions—and I hope that my hon. Friend will think it right to seek leave to withdraw his proposed new clause—we should consult very fully before introducing in another place what I hope would be agreed proposals, which would then come to this Chamber at a later stage.
The second of NABMA's proposals suggests that there is a need to ensure that any licence fees levied on a new market by a local authority for the right to trade in restricted areas would be reasonable. I agree with that proposal, and I hope that it will be endorsed by the whole House.
Thirdly, we agree that there is a clear distinction between commercial markets, which operate primarily for commercial profit, and those whose purpose is to raise money for charitable, sporting, social or even political purposes. It follows from that distinction that noncommercial markets should not be treated in the same way.
§ Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
Hon. Members probably do not realise that I often attend car boot sales on a Sunday if I have a couple of hours to spare. I see the car boot sale as very much a people's market. That is a very modern right and there has been an explosion of car boot sales. I welcome them and I know that millions of people enjoy them. Surely Ministers must consider them closely. People want car boot sates and they do not want unnecessary regulations to boot them out again. If someone who owns property says, "I'll lease this to you, to run a car boot sale," surely that is good business and if I come along in my car with whatever I want to sell, I can do so.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
Clearly the hon. Gentleman is reflecting a view that I hope that the whole House will recognise. Many people derive pleasure from attending car boot sales—the hon. Gentleman clearly does.
§ Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that today's markets started off as cart boot sales and that if legislation of this sort had existed and Parliament had debated it they would never have got off the ground—not Sainsbury or Marks and Spencer or Mr. Alan Sugar, who also started on a barrow in a market?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I would love to enter into a longer discussion of the historic development of retailing, but 250 there is a risk that you might rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) and I could discuss that on another occasion.
Nothing that I have said so far has been directly relevant to car boot sales, but it is clear that there are both concerns about them and concerns that they should not be unreasonably restrained. I said that we intended to consult interested parties on market franchise rights, with a view to producing agreed measures in another place. We intend that the powers available to local authorities to control commercial car boot sales would in no way be weakened by those measures. It is clear from the existing position that those powers do not prevent car boot sales from taking place.
§ Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)
My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) voiced the minority view. Does the Minister agree that car boot sales are not regulated and have become a conduit for stolen, counterfeit and unsafe goods, especially unsafe electrical goods? While I am on my feet, I must tell him that I am grateful that he has seen fit to withdraw the clauses. It is a sign of strength and not of weakness.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
We are running the risk of debating car boot sales, which are clearly a matter of interest to hon. Members on both sides of the House, rather than market franchise rights, which are the subject of new clause 9, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
May I advise my hon. Friend that his announcement to the House will be warmly welcomed, not least by those of my constituents who operate and make their living in the indoor and outdoor markets and who administer them?
Does he believe that there will be adequate time after the passage of the Bill through the House for the necessary meaningful consultation with all the interested parties, to enable the other place to introduce new clauses into the Bill, which will come back here in due course? Might it not be appropriate for the matter to be dealt with in separate legislation?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
We are not starting from scratch. There has already been much consultation. The NABMA letter dated 26 April—it is very recent—was the result of many deliberations by that organisation and the others that supported its letter. We look forward to taking those consultations further, on the basis of the proposals in the letter, of my hon. Friend's new clause and in the light of my remarks. I have no reason to suppose that we will not have adequate time to produce amendments, if we can reach agreement on them in another place.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I should like to make some progress.
The next point that we need to address in any further proposals is that the present market franchise rights can spill over into neighbouring local authority areas with the wholly undesirable result that one local authority with a franchise market can frustrate the attempts of a neighbouring council to set up a new market. Examples of the undesirable effects of that have been provided in earlier 251 discussions by my hon. Friends the Members for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). NABMA, therefore, proposes that a local authority's market rights should be restricted to its boundaries or a radius of six and two thirds miles from the market—whichever is the nearer—and we see a great deal of sense in that.
§ Mr. Robert Banks
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He has spoken about the historic rights of markets and I appreciate what he has said tonight and the decisions that have been taken. In the course of the consultations that he is proposing, will he look carefully at the Sale of Goods (Amendment) Bill, which has come to the House from another place, so that he can carefully examine the rights that appertain to certain markets—those called market ouvert—which go back some 800 years, and to consider whether the Government will withdraw their support for that Bill?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
The market ouvert arrangements are archaic, to say the least, and there is grave concern about the way in which they give rights to purchasers of goods in certain markets during the hours of daylight perhaps providing too much opportunity for the handling of stolen goods. That is a different measure, however, and perhaps we will discuss it further on another occasion.
Obviously we have not had time since the NABMA letter came in and since my hon. Friend tabled his new clause, for full and detailed discussion of these proposals, but we believe that they may well offer the basis of an agreed approach. We intend to discuss the matters further with the interested parties, including consumer bodies as well as market operators and traders, with the aim of achieving deregulation which does not threaten legitimate interests, including the continuance of historic markets and authorities' existing powers over car boot sales. We hope, therefore, to table amendments on an agreed basis in another place.
In the meantime, we accept that clauses 22 to 24, as drafted, go too far and we propose that those clauses be deleted. Therefore, I ask the House to accept amendments Nos. 51 and 52 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford and others, which would delete respectively clauses 22 and 24 and to accept amendment No. 6, in the name of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), which would delete clause 23. I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Romford, if he thinks fit, to withdraw new clause 9. In that way we shall clear the way to further discussion with a view to reaching agreed proposals.
§ Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)
I rise very briefly to support the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert). He and I both spoke in the debate on the Romford markets in the Redbridge London Borough Council Bill, to which he referred earlier. I am pleased that Government have decided to withdraw the clauses.
I represent the constituency of Barnsley, Central. Barnsley has a market right dating back to the 13th century which led to the development of Barnsley as a market town. In the 1960s and 1970s Barnsley had the largest open-air market in the country. I wish that we still had it, but unfortunately it has now gone.
252 I am extremely grateful that the Government have decided to withdraw the clauses and I hope that, with the co-operation of all concerned, particularly the Campaign for Quality Markets in which the hon. Member for Romford has taken a lead role, sensible proposals can be brought before the House for the regulation of markets in the future. I should make just one brief comment on the idea that car boot sales are something that a local charity will organise on a Sunday afternoon when everyone can turn up and sell the contents of their attics.
Things have moved on and car boot sales are now commercial enterprises. In Leeds, people queue from 10 o'clock on Saturday nights to be first in line to take part in a car boot sale that opens at 6.30 on Sunday mornings. It takes place not in cars but in transit vans and lorries that bring goods to be sold at commercial markets. Those traders do not sell at car boot sales; they are commercial traders and a great number of car boot sales have now become commercial markets. The idea of a Sunday afternoon charity car boot sale has now been overtaken by commercial traders.
Another example in Barnsley—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. We need no more examples of car boot sales under the new clause. I call Mr. Anthony Coombs.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)
It would be remiss of an hon. Member whose constituency has market franchise rights and who voted enthusiastically for the Bill in Committee not to say that I am concerned about the Government's reaction. The reason is that I believe that market franchise rights are anti-competitive and therefore against the interests of consumers. They prevent competition from legitimately springing up and, incidentally, have little effect on car boot sales.
My council does not benefit, as a result of having market franchise rights, from being able to deter car boot sales.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) mentioned the campaign for quality markets and mentioned a series of organisations. Interestingly, the only organisations that he did not mention were those that represent consumers. It is significant that the Consumers Association is strongly in favour of the Bill, although it says that car boot sales should be better regulated. We made that point in Committee and I reiterate it today. But that is far from saying that to give only 50 per cent. of local authorities powers that effectively allow them to restrict competition from their own markets is viable, logical or appropriate for a country approaching the 21st century.
§ Mr. Clapham
How does the hon. Gentleman reach the conclusion that market franchise rights are anticompetitive when they provide the context for market competition?
§ Mr. Coombs
The reason why market franchise rights are anti-competitive is that people in my constituency have been trying to set up a reasonable, well-regulated service to consumers but have been unable to do so as a result of the operation of market franchise rights. That is anticompetitive and against the interests of consumers. It is therefore dangerous to argue for the retention of market franchise rights as the hon. Gentleman just has.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
May I congratulate the Minister on seeing the sense of the argument against the Government's position? The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) is arguing that franchise rights exercised by local authorities are anti-competitive. Why, then, does he not support legislation to remove similar rights from private markets?
§ Mr. Coombs
I support any legislation that increases competition. By abolishing market franchise rights that give local councils an opportunity to restrict competition in favour of markets in their own areas or those markets to which they choose to give that right, competition and thereby consumer choice will be increased.
Although I understand the tactical reasons for the changes that my hon. Friend the Minister announced tonight, in any consultations that he has in the Lords, he should bear in mind that any changes that he brings back to this House must satisfy one criterion: they should not allow councils or any other operators a monopoly power over alternative operators who wish to set up in an area, in a way that would restrict consumer choice and therefore give the customer a worse deal.
The Conservative party is all about free enterprise and giving consumers the choice that they want. It is about competition, because that gives consumers the best: deal. I hope that that will be reflected in any proposals that my hon. Friend the Minister brings back to the House.
§ Sir Michael Neubert
Before I respond to what my right hon. Friend the Minister has generously said this evening, I shall make two points and attempt to restore my right-wing credentials with one or two of my hon. Friends who are not persuaded, notably my hon. Friends the Members for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) and for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who contributed to this short debate. The debate would have been much longer if it had not been for the what my right hon. Friend said.
I would like to think of myself as an enthusiastic supporter of the free market, but I have never been in favour of a complete free-for-all. All markets are regulated. For a start, we operate within the European Community, which is a controlled protected market. Whatever level one goes down, one will find regulations. So we are seeking to achieve a degree of balance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) spoke about market franchise rights being anti-competitive. I invite him to come along to Romford market on a Saturday morning, where he will see 300 individual stallholders engaged in intensive competition. Obviously, checks and balances are provided, but little evidence was provided, either in Committee or tonight, and he has not been able to provide evidence of the way in which that is seriously inhibiting competition from other enterprises. It has simply has not been demonstrated. The overwhelming weight of evidence is against the case that he makes.
I now come to my right hon. Friend and his warm personal recollections of our entry into government together in 1983. I am very glad that, at this stage of our partnership, he was able to respond to the debate, because he has seen that what he proposed—the withdrawal of the three clauses relating to market franchise rights, and the reconsideration of the whole issue—has been welcomed by the whole House, not least myself, and in tirne for amendments to be tabled in the Lords along the lines of the 254 new clauses and amendments presented tonight, and by me in moving the new clause. It is a constructive approach, which has shown the House of Commons at its best. It is an issue that is more important, perhaps, than was first thought by the people coming across it.
There are serious implications for the public interest in what will be decided by the House. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not exclude the possibility that, when he considers all the matters once again, it may require a further measure of Government legislation rather than amendments to the Bill, which, as one of my hon. Friends rightly pointed out, is a deregulation Bill and may not necessarily lend itself to meet the circumstances of changing commercial practice, particularly the incidence of car boot sales. But, my right hon. Friend having so generously responded to the representations made tonight, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.