HL Deb 17 July 1961 vol 233 cc385-90

2.38 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in Command from Her Majesty the Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Covent Garden Market Bill, has consented to place Her Majesty's interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time. There has been so full a debate and it is so closely within your Lordships' recollection that I do not think your Lordships will wish me to make a speech at this time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Earl Waldegrave.)


My Lords, we have fought a good fight and we have lost. I can only hope that time will prove that we have been wrong. I hope that when the Market Authority is set up it will from the start realise that people will expect a really worthy development for this potentially fine area in London, not just a series of concrete office blocks.

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, if I may respectfully say so, I agree with the polite and friendly observations which have fallen from the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, opposite. I do not propose to keep your Lordships long, but it will be remembered that there was some degree of controversy between myself and the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture about the position of the London County Council in this matter; and in order to refresh your Lordships minds I will quote briefly from the OFFICIAL REPORT. During my speech on Thursday last I said to the Lord Chancellor [col. 277]: My Lords, would the noble and learned Viscount tell us, in terms, what the L.C.C. said about what they want to be done with the Market? To which the Lord Chancellor replied: My Lords, if the noble Lord will contain himself for a moment"— which I did— I will come back to the important point on which the London County Council are most anxious". At col. 278 I again intervened and said: My Lords, I hope the noble and learned Viscount will not rebuke me again but I have a recollection that the L.C.C. gave evidence before the Runciman Committee. Does the noble and learned Viscount remember what line they took? I thought it was rather critical of the present site. The Lord Chancellor replied: My Lords, I have the report and the evidence here, but I think it would be a pity if I interrupted my speech. And that finished that.

Now we come to the Parliamentary Secretary. During his speech towards the end of the debate I said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 233 (No. 109), col. 315]: Will the noble Earl forgive me? I wish he would clear this up, because I raised this matter with the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack. Will the noble Earl quote the positive approval of this Bill and this scheme by the London County Council—the positive approval? Because they gave evidence otherwise to the Runciman Committee. And the noble Earl replied: My Lords, I was going through the list of authorities and bodies whom the Government had consulted, and whom it was their duty to consult. On the question of the London County Council and its degree of acceptance of the proposals in this Bill I have not a document to quote; but it would be unlikely that one would have a document to quote on this matter. I thought it would be well, for the sake of the Record, to quote from a letter which I have received from the leader of the London County Council Sir Isaac Hayward. I am not a member of the Council and have no authority over its affairs. I submit that this letter is to a great extent on my side on matters as to the views of the Council on the merits, but in the end it is clear that the Council reached some sort of compromise about this scheme—possibly it has some relation to another scheme about which they reached a compromise as well—though it is not true, as I shall show, that they positively approve the Bill. I think it was the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who said, at the end of the day, that they "acquiesced in" the Bill; and that is true, because I want to be quite fair.

However, I will quote certain portions of the letter. I will not quote it all, because I do not think that is necessary, but if anybody wants the whole letter in the Record I do not mind. Sir Isaac Hayward says in this letter of July 14: It is quite true that as far back as 1950 the Council expressed the view that if the Government were to decide on a unified control of the wholesale markets serving the London area, the appropriate authority or agency for the County would be the Council. This view was reiterated in 1955 in the Council's evidence to the Runciman Committee in favour of the removal of Covent Garden Market. The letter goes on: It was also recommended"— this is by the Runciman Committee— that a public ad hoc authority should be set up to undertake the comprehensive improvement of Covent Garden, the development of a proposed new market in north-west London and the co-ordination of redevelopments and improvements at all the other London markets. The Council expressed regret … this is after the Report of the Runciman Committee— that the Runciman Committee had not supported the complete removal of Covent Garden. In 1958 the Government announced that it had accepted the broad conclusions of the Runciman Committee in relation to Covent Garden; that steps would be taken to set up a statutory market authority for Covent Garden alone; and that it was considered unnecessary to proceed with the Runciman Committee's proposal for a London Markets Authority. The statutory Covent Garden market authority would, when set up, first concentrate marketing into a smaller area and ultimately provide and maintain up-to-date buildings in the area … For some time before the publication of the Runciman Report the Council had been trying to do something positive to try to improve conditions as regard traffic and fire risk in the existing Covent Garden Market. Finally, the Council secured some undertakings from the Government about this point. The letter also says: The City Corporation had been trying to get powers to set up a fruit and vegetable market on the Metropolitan Cattle Market site (Caledonian Market), Islington … Some arrangement has been reached that, in return for the transfer of that site to the London County Council, the Council will build an abattoir for the City somewhere else. Then the letter continues: The Minister then asked the Council to negotiate for the acquisition of the St. Luke's site."— I think that is in the Finsbury and Shore-ditch area. And here is the point where the Council, not improperly, co-operated with the Government for the sake of a public service. Having got so far, having pressed for the tidying-up at Covent Garden and it being clear that the Government had rejected the idea of a unified control of the London markets and accepted that Covent Garden should stay, our Committees agreed to accept the principle of the setting up of the new authority for Covent Garden in so far as it arose in connection with the proposal to acquire the St. Luke's site with a view to its being vested in due course in the statutory authority. From all of this you will see that we have accepted the situation in respect of Covent Garden, though with regret. From a town planning point of view, we think that on the basis that the Market has to stay more or less where it is in the centre of London, it should be moved to the Seven Dials area and rebuilt with adequate entrance and exit and car-parking facilities. At the same time the whole statutory market area should be opened up and redeveloped round the church and the Opera House (but not with blocks of offices) and made an area of high amenity. My Lords, I thought it would be well to quote that letter in order to show that this question, which was never answered by the noble Viscount the Lord Chancellor or the Parliamentary Secretary, as to the Council's real attitude at the beginning and after the Report of the Runciman Committee was a contrary view from that taken by Her Majesty's Government in this Bill. But it was fair for me to make it clear also that they had in the end acquiesced in the passage of the Bill. I did not know all this. I was calculating and guessing at what might be the situation, but I was most careful never to say that the Council had opposed the Bill, or deposited a Petition, otherwise I should have been in difficulties. In the end, they acquiesced. On the other hand, I think that the Lord Chancellor and the Parliamentary Secretary might have admitted to the House, which they never did, that the Council, on merits, had opposed the Covent Garden rebuilding before the Runciman Report, at the time of the Runciman Report and after the Runciman Report. Possibly some arrangement has been reached between the Government and the Council which I, as one experienced in these matters, can understand, whereby friction between Her Majesty's Government and the Council has to that extent been removed.

In conclusion, I want only to say that I still think we were right about this Bill. I still think that it would be right, over a period of years, to clear the whole of the central London markets out of central London—Covent Garden, the City Corporation markets and the others—and to have four mixed markets somewhere on the edge of the County of London, and to let them be run in London, as they are in the Provinces, by the municipality, namely, the London County Council. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said, we had a good try. On one occasion we were successful and it was a great day. On another occasion we were unsuccessful, which from our point of view meant that it was not such a great day. We do not propose to divide against the Third Reading of the Bill, but we do think that Her Majesty's Government have lost a great opportunity to rationalise and clear up the London markets situation, the result of which would have been a great relief of London's traffic problem.

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be grateful for the trouble which the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has taken on this matter in investigating with the London County Council to make the position quite clear. I should like to make only one further comment: that I did say on the last occasion we were discussing this Bill, on July 13, at Column 319 of Hansard: My Lords, I come to the question of the London County Council. They told the Committee"— that is the Runciman Committee— and later the Government, that on town planning grounds they would have preferred to see the Market moved to a site elsewhere outside London. I said that all through, and there was no question of my trying to conceal it. The London County Council made it clear to the Runciman Committee that they favoured the complete removal of the Market from the Covent Garden area. So far as I am aware, the London County Council's view on the matter is still the same—that is Ito say, on town planning grounds they would prefer to see the Market removed from its present neighbourhood.

But on March 17, 1958, the then Minister of Agriculture had a meeting with the Leader and the Chairman of the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council, at which the Minister of Housing and Local Government was also present. At this meeting the Minister outlined his proposals for Government legislation to solve the Covent Garden 'problem, emphasising that the Government was not yet committed to his plan. The Leader of the London County Council reminded the Minister that the Council would prefer the removal of the Market to another area; but he went on Ito say that as the Runciman Committee had not recommended in this sense the London County Council were prepared to co-operate with the Government in putting into effect plans for improving the Market on or near its present site, if they should finally decide to tackle the problem in this way. He also stressed the importance of early action to reduce the acute fire risk and control the storage of goods and ancillary business around the Market. On a number of occasions since then the Government have paid public tribute to the assistance they have in fact had from the London County Council in carrying these plans forward. Therefore I do not think there is much difference between us, and I believe we have now explained to your Lordships fully all that has developed in 'these negotiations between the Government and the London County Council.

I did not want to make a speech, and I will not make a long speech on the Bill at this juncture. But it is vitally important that the present chaos in the Market should be brought to an end. When this Bill is on the Statute Book the chaos which affects not only marketing but traffic, and means also a grave risk to life from fire, can at last be tackled realistically.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.

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