HL Deb 08 June 1961 vol 231 cc1246-326

3.37 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill implements the Government's pledge to introduce legislation for the reorganisation and improvement of Covent Garden Market. Although it deals only with one market—albeit our largest and most important—it must be considered against the background of the Government's comprehensive proposals for helping British horticulture and improving horticultural marketing. It is the third feature of the three point plan set out in the White Paper of November, 1959 (Cmnd. 880). The Horticulture Improvement Scheme and the Horticultural Marketing Council are already in operation following the passing of the Horticulture Act. 1960. If Parliament passes the present Bill we shall have done more for horticulture and the horticulture industry than any previous Administration.

Anyone who knows the Covent Garden Market Area as it is to-day will recognise the difficulties of the problem which this Bill sets out to tackle. The original market burst its seams over a hundred years ago, and it is not surprising that to-day it presents grave problems, not only of marketing, but of planning, traffic and fire control. All these factors have been taken carefully into consideration in the Government's plan for improving the market.

Before I come to speak about the market and the Bill, I think it is fitting that I should pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, who, I am glad to see, is to speak to-day and whose Report on horticultural marketing was presented to Parliament in 1957. This Committee studied the intricacies of horticultural marketing in great detail, and their Report, which devotes a whole section to London markets, did much to bring to the forefront the chaotic conditions of Covent Garden Market and the need for Government action. Their Report gives much greater and more authoritative detail about the market than I can give, but nevertheless it may help your Lordships to understand the reasons which lie behind some of the provisions of the Bill if I first say something of the history and development of the market.

The right to hold a market at Covent Garden goes back to 1670 when the Earl of Bedford was granted a Royal Charter. This Charter right still exists and at present belongs to a company called the Covent Garden Market Limited. (This company was set up in 1957 as a subsidiary of Covent Garden Properties Limited, which is referred to in the Runciman Report.) The Charter Market still occupies its original 3-acre site: this is the square with the glass-roofed market building in the centre, which lies between the Opera House and Inigo Jones's historic church, St. Paul's.

By 1828 market trade had grown to such an extent that it was necessary for Parliament to pass an Act enabling the market to be improved to meet the conditions of that time. That Act stipulated how the market should be laid out and prescribed the tolls which could be levied. It is still in force to-day. As London continued to grow, so did the market. So during the second half of the 19th century four other buildings were brought into use as additional markets: the Floral Hall (next to the Opera House), the Flower Market, the Russell Street Market and the Jubilee Market. These four additional markets covered about 2½ acres. So we have market premises on about 5½ acres in all. These additional markets are not subject to the Charter or to the 1828 Act, though tolls similar to those prescribed for the Charter Market are levied by agreement on traders using those markets.

More recently than 1828 and right up to the present time, market activities have sprawled into the surrounding area. These activities stretch almost from Charing Cross to Kingsway and from the Strand to New Oxford Street. This area, which is called in the Bill the "Covent Garden Area", covers about 120 acres and market activities dominate about a quarter of it. The area lies partly in the City of Westminster and partly in the Borough of Holborn.

In case it would help any of your Lordships to picture this area more clearly, I have had some copies of maps sent to the Printed Paper Office and I hope your Lordships will find them useful. One of these maps shows the Covent Garden Area on a fairly large scale, and indicates in pink the lands that will be taken over by the Covent Garden Market Authority about which I shall be speaking later, and also in green other premises now used by traders for marketing purposes. There is a smaller scale map, covering a larger area, which shows the Covent Garden area in the middle, surrounded in red, with a prohibited area round the outside. I shall be explaining that when I come to the detailed provisions of the Bill.

Present conditions in the market area are little short of chaotic and scandalous. The whole area cries out for redevelopment. Market buildings are out of date and most of them were never built for market purposes. There is no parking space for market vehicles save in the open streets. Loading and unloading have to be done by hand and hundreds of wheel-barrows take produce from one part of the market to another. There are large numbers of empty wooden boxes stored in unsuitable buildings constituting a serious fire risk. All this is set out most clearly and fully in paragraphs 174 and 176 of my noble friend's Report. As I remember it, in paragraph 191 the Report also said that for the last 50 years people have been saying that something drastic must be done in order to solve these problems; yet nothing has been done so far.

Before I go on to speak of the Government's proposals for reform, I want to make clear what part the market plays in our horticultural industry to-day. Covent Garden is by far our most important market. It serves as the national price-setting and balancing market. That is one of the reasons why in the Runciman Report the conclusion was reached that it would be undesirable to break up this market and close it down altogether. I quote from paragraph 216: Covent Garden now effectively performs the functions of the single most important price-setting market in the country because it has the biggest single concentration of buyers and sellers. If this concentration were completely broken up, there would be a grave risk that the effectiveness of the market would be impaired. We are therefore opposed to proposals for the total replacement of that market by several smaller markets on the periphery of London. This market therefore has its effect on marketing throughout the country. Each year it handles between three-quarters of a million and one million tons of horticultural produce with a value of about £70 million sterling. Perhaps three-quarters of this volume is brought into the market entirely by road, and the other quarter by rail as far as the railway depÔts.

Though it is the most important, Covent Garden Market is only one of the live large wholesale markets in the greater London area. Two of the other markets—Spitalfields and the Borough—are in central London. The other two —Brentford and Stratford—are in the western and eastern outskirts respectively. The Government hope to see these last two markets expanded and developed by the local authorities responsible for them.


My Lords, I may have misunderstood the noble Earl, but would he not agree that Smithfield and Billingsgate Markets are in central London?


Of course I should agree that Smithfield and Billingsgate Markets are in central London. But this Bill and this debate refer to horticultural markets. I beg the noble Lord's pardon. When I refer to "markets" in this speech I shall be referring primarily to horticultural markets. The Government hope to see these last two markets, at Brentford and Stratford, developed by the local authorities responsible for them so as to relieve the pressure on the three central horticultural markets.

Now what is our solution to this problem? We propose to replace the present Covent Garden Market by a new streamlined market of which the country can be proud. After long and careful consideration, we have decided that it should stay in the Covent Garden area—this 120 acre site that I have mentioned—but not necessarily on the actual site that it occupies to-day. The precise site is left open in the Bill for the Covent Garden Market Authority to choose, in conjunction, of course, with the London County Council who are the planning authority. As my right honourable friend said in another place, the chances are that the new market will go to another site within the area: it could, for example, go to the Seven Dials area, which is not much more than commercial slums at the present moment.

I know that there are people who hold the view that to leave this horticultural market in its present vicinity is wrong. Some people argue that on traffic grounds the market should be moved right out of the centre of London. Some assert that it is bad planning to have an important fruit and vegetable market occupying several acres in the centre of a capital city, and that the market ought to be moved to the outskirts of London. Again, some say that if a market is to remain in the centre of London it might better be built on stilts over railway sidings, perhaps at King's Cross.

The Runciman Committee went most thoroughly into this question of re-siting the market. They pointed out that the site chosen must be one which buyers and sellers would use. It would be no use building a market to which nobody would go. It must be well served by roads, and not be too far from the rail terminals and the docks. They pointed out that the siting of a market at a rail terminal is unlikely materially to alter the existing pattern of market transport, which is mainly one of road transport. They observed that if the market were moved from its present area there would be a serious risk of traders transferring their business simply to the other markets in central London, to which I have already referred. But those markets are already overcrowded. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Runciman Committee came out clearly in favour of the market remaining in central London, and they saw no particular advantage in moving the market to some other central site such as King's Cross.

The Government have given much thought to this matter, and they are confident that the best solution is to leave the market in the Coven Garden area. I am sure this is right, for surely there can be nothing wrong in having a market in the centre of a capital pity such as London. It must have its markets, as well as its schools, hospitals, churches, theatres, offices, commercial buildings, dwelling houses. What is the city for? It cannot all be just open space for the benefit of the planners. What London cannot afford is to have an out-of-date market like the Covent Garden Market to-day, which takes up far too much room and which, by virtue of its inadequate buildings, creates quite unnecessary traffic congestion and fire risk.

I am willing to agree that our plan is not as dramatic as some of these other plans that have been advocated in the Press and elsewhere. But as Lord Runciman (if I may again pray him in aid) said in his Report, it is important to resist the temptation to adopt a solution on the grounds of its dramatic public appeal. And this is what is said in paragraph 234: … what is done now may affect marketing for many years to come, and it is important that it be right". The Government have followed this wise counsel. We have consulted all the interests likely to be affected: the present owners of the market, the traders, the producers, the London County Council, all the other local authorities, the trade unions, and, of course, all the Government Departments concerned; and we have devised our solution in the light of the views expressed by these organisations in the consultations. We do not put forward our plan because it is dramatic, although we believe that it is not by any means lacking in public appeal; we put it forward because we believe it to be a practical plan, and one acceptable to those most intimately concerned. Finally—and this is important—this plan can be put in hand without delay.

Noble Lords may ask why we have not accepted the Runciman Committee's recommendation to set up a London Markets Authority with powers not only over Covent Garden Market and the new north-west market which they suggested in their Report, but over all the other London markets. My Lords, it was the consultations that I have referred to that led us to discard this recommendation. To put it in a nutshell, we found that it simply would not be practicable.

But our plan is not merely to provide means for the construction of a new market building. We want to see a modern market equipped with up-to-date mechanical handling and storage facili- ties. We want it to be designed to fit in with changing market techniques. Of course, the present trend is towards greater standardisation in grading and packing, and there is more direct distribution from grower to seller. These trends mean that an increasing quantity of produce need not physically pass through the central market, though the operations of buying and selling would continue to be centred there. Then, again, returnable wooden crates are going out in favour of non-returnables. A new Covent Garden market, therefore, must be designed to meet these changing conditions.

My Lords, I think I have said enough to make it obvious that it is going to be some years before this new market can be built, though the Bill does set a definite target, which I shall mention later. The Bill therefore provides for a two-phase operation and for a statutory Market Authority with the necessary powers to carry out the whole task. In the first phase a new Covent Garden Market Authority will take over the main market buildings and other properties at present belonging to Covent Garden Market, Limited. All premises in the Covent Garden Area used for marketing and storage purposes will be licensed by the Authority, so that the sprawl of marketing activities may be controlled. If we turn to the large-scale map again we see what that means. The Authority will take over these lands that are owned by the Covent Garden company and they will license all these trading premises that are marked green. Broadly, it is the intention that all existing wholesale traders in this area shall be licensed as of right. As soon as the Authority has got under way and built its storage annex, some licences will be revoked. Finally, as soon as the new market premises have been built (which must be within seven years), all the outside trading licences will be revoked, and all marketing must be concentrated into the site, which must not exceed ten acres. Of course, there are proper compensation provisions for these licences.

The Authority will also have regulation-making powers to enable them to fulfil their duty to minimise the fire risk and to reduce the traffic congestion. The Authority will do this in two ways. First, they will arrange for the removal of as many as possible of the empty containers now stored in the area and see that those which remain are kept only in premises properly protected from fire. Happily, as I have said before, this is a diminishing problem because traders are more and more turning over to nonreturnable containers; in addition, some traders have made arrangements to store the bulk of their empty containers in the growing areas. That is the first task. The second task is for the Authority to encourage, and if necessary require, bulk produce, particularly that from overseas, to go to the provincial wholesaler direct, either from the port or railhead or via a market annex, without physically coming into Covent Garden Market at all.

The second phase of the whole operation will be for the Covent Garden Market Authority to build an up-to-date market equipped with modern mechanical appliances and containing, within its own boundaries—and that is the great point—sufficient space for all the lorries and vans that need to be there. These, my Lords, are the objectives that have been held consistently by the Government. But at this point I think I should refer to an Amendment which was made by the Select Committee of another place to the Bill as at first drafted. The Select Committee removed from the Bill specific reference to a specific site—the St. Luke's site in Finsbury—for use as a market annex for storage of containers and bulk produce. I want to dispel any impression that may have gained credence anywhere that this alters the policy or the objectives of the Bill, or of the Covent Garden Market Authority; because it does not. It merely places the St. Luke's site on the same footing as any other site anywhere else in London and ensures that, whatever site the Authority choose, they will have to seek planning permission in the usual way.

Now a word about the traffic problem. I make no bones about the fact that the present situation in Covent Garden is chaotic. But what causes the chaos? It is not the number of vehicles using the market, but the fact that they have to load and unload in the streets. Although market operations start very early in the morning, they take so long that the peak flow of market traffic coincides with the peak flow of non-market traffic, which comes between 9 and 10 o'clock in the morning.

Last September we commissioned an independent traffic engineer to take a census in the Covent Garden Area. My Lords, there is always much confusion in people's minds—I hope this map will have helped to dispel it—between Covent Garden Market and the Covent Garden Area. We had a traffic census taken in the Covent Garden Area—the area of 120 acres bounded by Oxford Street, the Strand. Kingsway and Shaftesbury Avenue. This expert census-taker found that the total number of market vehicles coming each day into the Covent Garden Area—this whole area—was just under 3,300. That is really quite a small number compared with the total number of vehicles using the streets bounding this area. It may interest your Lordships to know that the average flow of traffic in the Strand is 2,300 vehicles an hour. We find we have market vehicles coming into this whole area at the rate of just under 3,300 in 24 hours.


Will the noble Earl allow me to interrupt him? The difficulty is that the vehicles in the Strand are moving, whereas the vehicles in the market are staying there for something like six hours at a time.


Of course: that is the point: and that is just what, if the noble Lord had not interrupted, I was coming to. The really disturbing fact found in this census was that over half of the delivery vehicles had to wait more than hours before they could unload, and over half the collection vehicles had to wait for more than 3 hours before they could load up—and all this was taking place in the public thoroughfares, in the streets. That is the problem.

To cure this situation two distinct measures are essential. One is that the new market, when built, must be designed to enable all the market vehicles to load and unload within its boundary on its own premises. Secondly, steps must be taken to reduce the amount of produce actually coming into the market area at all. Finding a solution to this traffic problem in Covent Garden will undoubtedly be one of balancing advantages against disadvantages. The Market Authority must not solve this problem by restricting market activities to such an extent that the Market can no longer hold its place as (I quote again from the Runciman Report, paragraph 216) "the centre of the trade". The Authority would be failing in its duty if it did this.

Of course, the traffic problem in Covent Garden could be solved by removing the market to some alternative site elsewhere; but we should have to take very great care that a similar problem was not being created on the new site that was chosen. The road access to the King's Cross site, which has been discussed a good deal lately, is far from good at present. Again, if the traders were unwilling to go to the new site and transferred their business to the other existing central markets, such as Spitalfields and the Borough, we should immediately have traffic difficulties in the vicinity of those markets. I must remind your Lordships that we have no power, and do not want power, to direct traders not to go to other existing markets in London. We must therefore see that the new market to be built is acceptable to them, and that they will use it. We believe that they will use the new market in this area.

Now may I turn to the actual clauses of the Bill itself? I will go through them very briefly, for there is a very good Explanatory Memorandum on the outside of the Bill. Clause 1 provides for the setting up of the statutory authority, to be called the Covent Garden Market Authority. There will be a Chairman, a Managing Director and from three to six other members. None of them will be representatives of the trade or of local authorities. The Authority will not engage in trading. The rules governing the Authority and the Authority's procedure are set out in the First Schedule.

Your Lordships may ask at this juncture whether the Authority's task could not be undertaken by private enterprise, or by one of the existing local authorities. We have certainly not come lightly to the conclusion that a new statutory authority must be set up: but when the duties and responsibilities of this regulatory authority are fully examined. I think one is forced to the conclusion that a specific statutory authority is required, to stop the sprawl of this market, and eventually to concentrate it into one new market building, will involve the use of wide licensing and regulation-making powers of a kind which are inappropriate for a private enterprise organisation. I do not think it would be right to give powers of this sort to any one local authority, for many of the powers will have to be exercised in the area of another local authority. The Covent Garden Area lies partly in the City of Westminster and partly in the Borough of Holborn, and the market annex will probably be in the area of yet a third local authority.

My Lords, the proposals for vesting the market lands are contained in Clauses 2 to 14. The lands affected, as I have said before, are the five or six acres of property now owned by Covent Garden Market, Limited. They include the Charter Market and the other four main market buildings. We expect the Authority to take over these lands quite soon after their appointment—a question of months, not years—though they will have a great deal of work to do beforehand. For example, they will have to work out and introduce the licensing system for the market premises throughout the Covent Garden Area.

Under Clause 3, the Charter (which in the Bill is called, rather confusingly, the "Letters Patent", but to me is the Charter) will be extinguished. Under this clause, also, the 1828 Act will be repealed; and, to clear the way for changes in the layout and siting of the market, certain public rights will be revoked. Clauses 8 to 12 of the Bill deal with the compensation for these vesting operations, and Clauses 13 and 14 deal with the transfer of the present market staff to the Authority on similar terms to those which they now enjoy with the present Market company.

The next group of clauses, Clauses 16 to 20, deal with the duties of the Authority and the powers that they will need to discharge them. Clause 16 places on the Authority a duty to provide a wholesale horticultural market within the Covent Garden Area; to improve market facilities; and, ultimately, to build new premises, either on the present site or on another site in the Area. This is the primary duty. Clause 17 requires the Authority to concentrate the amount of land used for marketing purposes in the Covent Garden Area into not more than ten acres, and to do so within seven years. These limitations were put into the Bill by the Select Committee of another place as a result of a petition made by the City of Westminster.

We are satisfied that the acreage limit is a reasonable one, and that the time limit is a reasonable spur to ensure speedy action. The noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, will no doubt remember that the Committee over which he presided realised full well that the reorganisation of the market could not he done overnight. Clause 17 also requires the Authority to "secure the avoidance of traffic congestion", and "to minimise" the fire risk.

Now a word about market control. The Authority will need powers wider than the normal local authority powers in order to achieve the objectives I have described. These powers are all conferred by Clauses 21 to 32. First, the licensing powers. The Authority will license wholesale marketing premises throughout the Covent Garden Area. This will be the means by which they will ultimately be able to contract the market into a smaller area; and to prevent traders from evading the licensing provisions by moving into premises just outside the Covent Garden area the Bill creates a prohibited area, to which I have referred before. This prohibited area, as those of your Lordships who have a map will see, is the circle; the centre is the point marked "A" on the map. The circle is three-quarters of a mile in radius, and has its centre at the junction of Long Acre and Drury Lane; and your Lordships will see where the outside of the circle goes. That is to prevent the traders at present in the Covent Garden area from evading the licensing provisions, simply by moving just outside it.

Secondly, we must have regulatory powers. The Authority will be able to make regulations to control the quantity of produce and the number of containers brought into or stored in the Covent Garden area—that is Clause 25. Thirdly, there must be by-law making power, and that is contained in Clause 26. For example, the Authority will need by-laws for fire prevention and refuse removal. Then, revenue. Clauses 28 and 29 em- power the Authority to raise revenue by levying tolls on produce brought into the market, or by levying charges on he basis of the amount of business (brie. The powers to make regulations and bylaws, and to levy tolls and other market charges, are all subject to certain checks. In all cases the Authority must consult the Market Management Committee The regulations will have to be con, firmed by order made by the Minister, and the draft of the statutory instrument must be laid before Parliament. By-laws will have to be confirmed by the Minister after the Authority have consulted the appropriate local authority. Tolls require the Minister's approval, and if there are any objections the Minister must hold a local inquiry beforehand. Other market charges will have to be confirmed by order of the Minister.

Clauses 33 to 36 provide for the setting up of three Committees to advise the Authority in their task. A Market Management Committee, representing wholesalers, retailers and growers, will be consulted by the Authority on all matters affecting their interests. Then there will be a Traffic Committee. There will also be a Market Workers Committee, which will be consulted by the Authority on all matters affecting the interests of those who work in the Market, or who are engaged in transporting produce to and from the Market.

I think I ought to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 35, because when the Bill goes to a Select Committee I shall put down two Amendments to Clause 35 which deal with the Workers Committee. Both have been agreed with the Trades Union Congress and the Transport and General Workers' Union. One will ensure that the Workers Committee may make representations to the Authority on any matter appearing to the Committee to affect the interests of those whom they represent. The other Amendment will provide for a membership of from five to ten, instead of a maximum of five.

Finally, finance. The financial provisions are contained in Clauses 37 to 45. The Government intend the Authority to operate on a self-supporting basis. This means that they will have to finance the acquisition of the present market, and the building of the new market premises and the storage annex. They will also incur the expenses of running the market. The Authority will derive their income from rents, tolls, and other market charges, and from the development of their valuable properties. In due course, the Authority will be required to balance their books by adjustments of rents and other charges as the compensating benefits of greater efficiency are realised, and by the economic development of all their resources. But this will take time to achieve. It is clear that the Authority will need help to raise their initial capital. Clause 40 provides that the Authority may borrow up to £8 million from the Exchequer during the first ten years. This is not a subsidy, my Lords; it is a loan that will attract interest. The Authority will be required to repay both the capital and the interest in due course.


My Lords, how much interest? What is the rate of interest?


I do not yet know. All the Authority's other capital requirements will have to be found from commercial sources, subject to the restriction that the total borrowings may not exceed £20 million at any one time.


Before my noble friend leaves that point, could he give us some idea how much they will need to buy out the existing rights over this large area? What is setting them up going to cost?


I would ask the noble Lord not to press me on that point. I do not have figures readily available, and I do not think my right honourable friend has made public any estimate he may have of what the value of the properties are which the Authority may have to acquire. But perhaps I may return to that point when I come to reply to the debate.

These financial provisions are designed to give the Authority a fairly free hand over their finances. We want to give them sufficient freedom to ensure that they become a going concern as quickly as possible and can operate an efficient market at reasonable cost. But there must be some control over the Authority's finances, and the Bill specifies cer- tain restrictions on such matters as the size of the reserve fund. The remaining clauses of the Bill deal mainly with administrative and ancillary matters.

My Lords, I hope that what I have said—at all too great a length, I fear—will have convinced your Lordships that the Bill provides a solution to the Covent Garden problem that is both realistic and practicable. The problem which the market presents is undoubtedly complex in the highest degree. It affects not only the public and the public interest, but many individual rights. It affects the huge trade in horticultural produce of both home and overseas origin. But the complexity of the problem can no longer be a valid excuse for procrastination. What is needed is action now; and until there is new legislation, nothing can be done. A statutory Authority must be set up, and once it is in being the way will be clear for the market to be concentrated and ultimately to be rebuilt. This, in turn, will release much valuable land for alternative use and give at long last the opportunity to replan the whole of this large area of Central London—the 120 acres we know now as the Covent Garden Area, 10 acres of which will be used for marketing. This is an imaginative solution, which can transform the amenities in this historic part of London, at the same time as giving us a modern and efficient national horti-cultural market which can make a real contribution to the prosperity of our great horticultural industry. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That this Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Waldegrave.)


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I ask him one question? I did not want to interrupt him while he was speaking. With regard to the prohibited area, would a person trading within the Covent Garden area be able to store his produce in the prohibited area?


My Lords, licences will be granted for marketing purposes, and the storage of produce will constitute a marketing purpose. One of the most important points of licensing will be to regulate the storage of bulk produce and empty containers.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be obliged to the noble Earl for his exposition of the provisions of this Bill, which is of same importance not only to London but also to South-East England, and even to various parts beyond that. The noble Earl was right to pay a tribute to the work of the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, and his Committee for producing their Report, and I am sure that the whole House is indebted to the noble Viscount and his Committee, whether we agree with the Report in all respects or not.

I do not think that the noble Earl was altogether accurate in his references to the Runciman Report, where it recommended the establishment of a new market in North-West London and the enlargement of two existing markets. These recommendations the Government have apparently set aside. Therefore, when the Minister stands on the ground that they have accepted the Runciman Report, in my judgment that is not accurate.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will allow me to correct that impression. I was extremely careful to say that we had not accepted the Runoiman Report, but I drew upon the Report for factual evidence. I referred to certain paragraphs in the Report, but I was careful to say that we had rot accepted all the recommendations.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl. I think it would have been better if the Parliamentary Secretary had said that the Government had specifically rejected the recommendations of the Runciman Committee in important respects.

The Minister said, when I asked him about Smithfield and Billingsgate, that he was dealing only with horticultural marketing. That in itself is an indication that the Government have taken too narrow a view of the problem with which they are concerned. I should have thought it better to look at the markets problem as a whole. Nor do I agree with the noble Earl that this market must be in central London. One might as well argue that a great many other things—perhaps all the slaughterhouses—should be in central London. But the whole tendency of our time, especially among town planners and those interested in the traffic problem, is to get offices and factories away from central London, to which they attract traffic and population, and encourage them to go to the outskirts.

That leads me to doubt whether the Ministry of Agriculture, a Department for which I have a considerable respect, and have had ever since I co-operated with my noble friend Lord Williams of Barnburgh, when he was Minister of Agriculture, and learnt something about it, is naturally the right Ministry to be responsible for this Bill. I think it should have been a Ministry of Transport Bill, or a Ministry of Housing and Local Government Bill—not that I would trust the present Minister of Housing about anything concerning London, because there is a scheme on foot to abolish London altogether, a scheme with which his Department is not wholly unconcerned. Therefore, I do not altogether trust the right honourable gentleman who holds that office.

The Minister said that he was shocked at the idea that anybody should order anybody else about in connection with this Bill—that is probably a slight exaggeration; nevertheless, it will do for the purpose of debate. Then he said that they were taking powers to order people about and regulate them. But the Minister cannot very well be an anti-Socialist and a Socialist at the same time, and almost in the same sentence. That is not reasonable. The noble Earl spoke of metropolitan boroughs which are market authorities but the only illustration he gave was Holborn. By the way, I see on this map, "Holborn Met B & PH". I have taken a lot of trouble to find out what "PH" meant. I could not believe it was public-house, and in fact I found that it meant parish. I was going to "drop" that one on the Minister, because I was sure he did not know what "PH" meant, hut I did not think it was quite fair. But there are many other boroughs in London who might be marketing authorities. I will come to that later on.

In a sense, in a very narrow and unsatisfactory sense, this is a Conservative Government Bill for socialisation—which is shocking, from their point of view. They are really a funny lot, this Conservative Government. They spend half their time denouncing Socialism and the other half implementing Socialist principles. I wonder the noble Earl did not appeal for votes from this side of the House on the ground that this was a socialistic Bill, because it transfers from private ownership to a public authority certain private properties. He might have got some Left Wing votes if he had pleaded that argument. But I do not think it is a satisfactory socialistic Bill at all. The Authority is more like a soviet than a democratic public authority. In that respect, it is something like the Port of London Authority.

The machinery of the Bill is complicated. There is statutory provision not only for an Authority but also for three Committees. I must say that for a Government that do not like bureaucracy or the existence of too much authority, it is curious that they should require by Statute the setting up of an Authority, with three statutory Committees to help it in its work.

The London markets have an interesting history, which goes back to the days of absolute monarchy. Those absolute Monarchs had their little ways, and noble Earls then also had their little ways—more dangerous little ways in those days than they have now and so did the Corporation of the City of London have their little ways. When the absolute Monarchs were short of money, they were very glad if somebody came along and wanted a charter and put money into their own pockets, or possibly into Government funds, if there was anything that could be called a Government in those days. The history of London's markets is one of the nastiest chapters in British history.

The Charter for Covent Garden Market was granted by Charles II in the year 1670, which is not exactly the day before yesterday, to the Earl of Bedford, later the Duke of Bedford, who owned a lot of landed property in various parts of London. The Dukes of Bedford have done very well out of the community one way and another, and have done particularly well out of Covent Garden market. I do not know for certain, but I am pretty sure, that hard cash was paid to the King, or that the Charter was granted for services rendered to the Monarch. That is haw it began. But this is not the way that great concessions should be made to private owners. The whole thing smells of jobbery from the beginning.

Then it was bought and sold. It was granted to the Earl of Bedford; it was later sold to one company; then I think it was sold by that company to another: I do not know whether or not there was a third transaction. Now the market is to be bought by the State on behalf of, or by, a public authority, the Covent Garden Market Authority, and the price will go up again.

As for the capital investment which is now to be undertaken, I gather that the noble Earl does not know how much the capital investment is, but that he hopes to find out later. I must say that it is a curious procedure, that the Minister should come here with a Bill which inevitably proposes the investment of a large amount of public money, not knowing the amount of the capital investment. Nor does he know the rate of interest to be paid, which I understand a little better, because one never knows what this Government are going to do next about the rate of interest, except that they will probably put it up. This is going to amount to a great deal of public expenditure, and they will probably have to pay more for this market than the previous private company did, or the companies before them. It really is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. There will be surplus land, but I do not know what the Authority are supposed to do with it. Are they to continue to own it and let it for remunerative purposes? Or are they to sell the land to one speculator or another? What are the Authority to do with this surplus land? These points are not properly answered, and I submit to your Lordships that they ought to be answered.

It was not only Covent Garden Market that was granted by Royal Charter. The very old City of London Corporation had a Royal Charter about Markets and a number of other things. I feel pretty certain that the City of London paid for that Charter by hard cash to some needy King. I am not going to say that there has never been any virtue in the Corporation of London. There has. It was one of the champions of our Parliamentary liberties; and the picture of the five Members getting into the boat on the Thames and rowing away to the City of London to get their freedom from a tyrannical king depicts something of great credit to the City of London. But I am pretty sure that the City of London bought that Royal Charter at some time from a Monarch who needed money.

This sort of business is not clean, and it would not be tolerated nowadays that that kind of transaction should take place. I admit that historically you have to understand it, even if you do not excuse it. But why we should suffer for it in these democratic days, I do not know. The City Corporation had, I believe, with the exception of Covent Garden, something like a seven miles radius monopoly conferred upon them by the Monarch of that day. It must be remembered that the Corporation of London occupies one square mile, and nowadays have a resident population of between 4,000 and 5,000. It is ridiculous that they should have that monopoly (even though it has been somewhat restricted) of market facilities. I think it is bad.

This is in large measure a question, of transport and traffic. It is perfectly true that it is in large measure a matter of marketing, as well—of facilities for growers, distributors and purchasers. I just cannot see the sense of the Government's decision to retain right in the heart of London this great and important market, to which horticultural produce will have to come from very long distances and from which a lot of it will go out again, for delivery. It seems to me to be preposterous, ridiculous, irresponsible and absurd. Moreover, the Bill deals only with one market.

There is a recommendation that there should be a General Market Authority. I do not much like these special authorities for special purposes. I happen to believe in the system of local government that obtains in Manchester, Birmingham and so on, where the municipality is usually the market authority. But poor old London gets used anyhow. The Government are being lazy about this Bill. They just say: "We must have a market authority, so let us have a special one; let us have an ad hoc authority, a special authority for special purposes". They would not dare to do that in the City of Birmingham or in the City of Manchester; and I doubt whether they would dare to do it in the town of Taunton, which used to be represented by my noble friend Lord Stonham, where there are local government rights. But London is treated not merely like a poor relation, but like no relation at all, as if London belonged to the Government. I, as a Cockney, resent that, and I think it is utterly wrong.

What should be done about this matter? Certainly the system of centralisation of markets, which means bringing stuff into the middle of the city and then partially out again, with the result that the traffic congestion, which is awful in any case, is thereby accentuated, should be abolished. Surely, the right thing would be to have about four comprehensive mixed markets—not only horticultural, but meat and fish—on the edge of the administrative County of London. In that way the farmers and others concerned could bring their produce into their nearest convenient market, not into the middle of London; and when they reached one of those four markets the produce could he redistributed, either within the County of London or without the County of London, because some of the stuff that comes to Covent Garden has to be sent beyond the administrative County of London. I have yet to see that argument upset.

It is not fair to imply that the London County Council are positively acquiescing in this Bill, because their evidence to the Runciman Committee was of a somewhat different order. The London County Council often co-operate with the Government on some of these technical problems relating to town planning, acquisition of property and so on; they usually try to help the Government in that kind of field; and that is right. I understand that they obtained a compulsory purchase order for the purchase of land in the Finsbury or Shoreditch area, or both, for this sort of overflow place from the market; but I am told now that the Government are giving up the.idea and are not going to acquire that land, in which case they will have another compensation problem to put the London County Council right. Cooperation is one thing; trying to imply that that signifies positive support for this is another. I have not asked the London County Council, but I should doubt whether that is right.

I claim that if we are to deal with the congestion, and give better market services, there should be four comprehensive mixed markets (or such other number as is thought expedient) on the edge of the administrative County of London; and the London County Council should be the market authority, taking over the functions of Covent Garden and the functions of the City of London Corporation which is now not quite a suitable body for that class of administration. There you have democratic responsibility, elected local self-government, and a good deal of financial credit behind the Council, and, in my view, that is what ought to have been done.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord one question. Does he mean to imply that both Smithfield and Billingsgate should be abolished as separate markets for meat and fish respectively and merged in these four markets?


I do. I do not say at once, but I say, sooner or later, put the functions of the Market Authority in the hands of the London County Council, and as time goes on let them try to get rid, as I am sure they could, of those bodies, and let them put part of the monies into the four markets on the edge of the administrative County of London. I see no harm in that at all. The present system means traffic coming in and then going out to some distance or another and, as a consequence, the traffic problem being endangered.

The Minister made a good point when he said that you want this market where it is reasonably accessible to rail and docks. I do not know that Covent Garden is reasonably accessible to rail and docks. It is true that there is King's Cross, but that is not the only railway terminal. There is Paddington and Heaven knows how many terminals in London! I should not have thought that that was a valid point, because these four markets that I suggest could take account of those things, and the Eastern market could be nearer to the docks, which are a fair distance from the Covent Garden Market.

For these reasons, I think the Government would be wise to think again about this Bill. With every respect that is due to them, I think that they have been lazy about it, that it is superficial, that it is thoughtless, and that it is not going to the roots of the problem with which we are concerned. I wish they had brought in a Bill which was calculated to do a positive and constructive job, rather than this thoughtless, characteristic, jumping to an ad hoc body appointed by the Government itself. They would have done it far better, I think, in the way that I have suggested, and I am very sorry that the Government have taken the course which they have.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support this Bill in principle. There is no doubt that the setting up of an Authority for regulating the business of the market and to reduce, as the noble Earl has said, the conditions of well-nigh chaos and waste which at present prevail there, is a matter of urgent need. There are, however, certain provisions in the Bill which I feel should be looked at with considerable care. As a member of the Common Council for the City of London, I am particularly anxious how this Bill will affect the City Corporation, especially in its capacity as a Market Authority. With your Lordships' permission, I will therefore confine my remarks to a few of the matters in the Bill in this context.

The City Corporation, as a market authority, probably has a greater and longer experience than any other and, as I think your Lordships will acknowledge, its record in this sphere is a good and efficient one, whether, as the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has stated, the Corporation bought its Charter or not.


You know it did.


While I am on that subject, I did not quite understand the remark of the noble Lord that, because only 5,000 people live in the City of London, the Corporation should therefore not have the rights of a market authority. The fact remains that the Corporation's markets provide a useful service, and have done for many years, at a very economic rate, and I hope that they will long continue to do so. It will therefore not surprise your Lordships that the Corporation have scrutinised this Bill with considerable care, and, although I am speaking in a purely private capacity, I should like to put before your Lordships' House certain of the anxieties which I know the Corporation have upon it.

There are three points which I should like to make. First of all, under Clauses 16 and 17 of the Bill, the Authority would be charged with the duty of providing various facilities for and in connection with the market, with due regard to public interest generally, and for preserving and improving the amenities of the Covent Garden area. But no provision is apparently made to ensure either that the Authority is qualified to determine where the public interest lies, or what is required to preserve and improve the amenities. Indeed, Clause 33, requiring the Authority to take into consideration the representations of the Covent Garden traders, seems likely in practice to prove more effective in deciding what action the Authority should take, rather than what is stated to be their primary duty in Clause 17. Under paragraph (g) of subsection (1) of Clause 17, the Authority must see that the amount of produce brought to the Covent Garden Area in bulk is reduced, while increasing the amount of business done by means of the facilities to be provided. But horticultural produce can be sold by sample only if it is graded, and while a large proportion of imported produce is graded, the bulk now sold in London markets is home-grown, and it will surely be a long time before the homegrown produce is graded.

At the City Corporation's market in Spitalfields there is a large business in imported fruit which is sold by sample, and this provides a main wholesale price-fixing machinery for imported fruit into the United Kingdom, just as the noble Earl said that Covent Garden provided the fixing machinery for home grown produce. It may well be that, in order to fulfil its statutory duty to increase the sale of produce by sample at Covent Garden, the Authority, assisted by the management committee of the traders, might try to attract to Covent Garden much of the business now carried on at the London Fruit Exchange. I should like to emphasise to your Lordships that such competition would not in the ordinary way be feared at all, but might not the Covent Garden Authority find it expedient to subsidise any new market set up by them for sale by sample? This might he done in a number of ways, and if this happened the valuable organisation built up at Spitalfields, which works admirably, would surely be seriously affected. When you dig up a plant which has grown in one spot for many years and put it somewhere else, there is surely a danger that it will not establish itself in the new area.

I have heard it said that the rebuilding of Covent Garden is a colossal gamble. It is quite possible that it might result in the dissolution of the organisation called the Market altogether. If so, a statutory Authority set up to organise a market cannot just accept failure, and they will be forced to try to reconstruct a market of a new type—and the only type consistent with their obligations is some kind of Exchange in direct rivalry to Spitalfields. It seems highly improbable that there will be enough business for both of them for a long time to come, even though the volume done at Spitalfields is at the moment very considerable indeed.

My second point is to draw your Lordships' attention to the very wide general powers which would he conferred on the Authority by paragraph (f) of subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 18. Under these provisions, the Authority could carry on any activities that seemed good to them, not only in connection with Covent Garden Market, but also for making the best use of their assets and generally to do anything which was calculated to help the exercise of any of their powers.

Such wide powers as that may he all right in an ordinary commercial concern, or even in a public undertaking where they are subject to adequate control, but as they are at present drafted the Covent Garden Authority could conceivably use them to obtain profits which could be used to subsidise the market in competition with Spitalfields. Similar wide powers have, of course, been conferred on nationalised undertakings operating monopolies. But is it right that they should be granted to an Authority working in a highly competitive field, thus giving them a great and unfair advantage over their competitors? I had thought seriously of moving an instruction to the Committee of this Bill to look into this question very closely but I do not wish to disrupt unduly the course of this present debate. I hope, however—and this is a point on which other noble Lords will require some assurance—that these powers will be defined more particularly.

The third matter which I should like to ask your Lordships to consider is the prohibited area, the circle with a radius of three-quarters of a mile drawn on the map extending into the City to quite a large extent. It may be said to me that this is a narrow City point and that it is merely a matter of prestige. But why this particular circle? Accepting that a certain prohibited area is necessary, the drawing of such an arbitrary circle, though it may look neat on the map, shows that no detailed consideration has been given. Surely it is not right just to draw a line which extends across the boundary of several local authorities, but especially of the City, which is, after all not only the immediate town planning authority but also the market authority as well. This may seem to your Lordships a small point, but I submit that this prohibited area should be defined more closely, and more thought should be given to its extent. The matters which I have referred to may seem perhaps to be of a rather narrow interest; nevertheless, it is important that in creating this new body and in giving it life and vigour it should not be given excessive powers with which it could do great harm to the Market Authority of the City, which has worked so well for very many years.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to offer a few words of welcome to this Bill and to thank the Minister for the very careful and comprehensive way in which he has explained it to us. Some weeks ago we were debating the subject of London traffic and I had cause to complain to the Minister. Lord Chesham, of the way in which the reorganisation of the one-way streets had prevented me from getting from my office in Tottenham Court Road to your Lordships' House without going through the outskirts of Wolverhampton. I have now discovered a quicker way, and that is to go through Covent Garden. Unfortunately 450,000 other people have discovered that too and we are all adding to the chaos in Covent Garden, but, at the same time, we are gaining first-hand experience of what goes on.

It is on this traffic aspect that I should like to address a few words to your Lordships. These few words to your Lordships will, I hope, make it clear that I think that the sooner this horticultural hubble-bubble known as Covent Garden is cleared up, the better. It is no credit to anyone. The fire risk alone strikes terror in any observer watching there for the first time. The people working there and the market traffic authorities do the best they can in appallingly difficult circumstances, but it is obvious that there is a shocking waste of space, manpower, material and transport which ought to be cleared up at once. Some of the waste of manpower, to my mind, may not be wholly unavoidable, but that is a matter of opinion. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, hinted darkly at some appalling skulduggery back in 1670. The history of skulduggery in the handling of fruit of course goes right back to the first chapter of Genesis, and having watched the goings on in Covent Garden I can say that in certain respects there seems to be no improvement or advancement in the technique of handling fruit since the days of Adam and Eve.

I wish to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on tackling this most complex problem. Unfortunately the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, is no longer in his place, for I should like to take him to task for describing a Bill of 51 pages devoted to one market as "superficial". I should like, if it is not un-Parliamentary, to answer him in the one word contained in Clause 54, paragraph (e), of the Bill, and that word is "nuts".

I am glad the noble Earl and his colleagues in the Government have not tried to please everybody. It would have been impossible to please all those who are interested in this complex matter. A Government which tries to please everybody is like a puppy trying to follow four children at once. The Government have taken a line, and I congratulate them on sticking to it. I congratulate them also on not taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. They have tried to deal with this problem as it is, not as it might be or as some planner would like it to be. They have, therefore, not taken powers that are too wide; they have not advocated changes that are too drastic.

One of the changes they have not advocated is the wholesale removal of the market to King's Cross on stilts, or away to St. Marylebone or where you will. That would have brought further chaos where chaos already exists. The traffic is bad enough in Euston Road and around King's Cross, in all conscience, and if the 5.51 from Bradford over-runs the buffers and comes out into Euston Road it will be hours before anyone notices what has happened. It would be only creating further chaos to move the market out there, and the customers might not take their trade there either.

I must admit that sentiment is at the back of my mind when I say that I am glad that Covent Garden is staying at Covent Garden. And why should there not be a big market in the middle of a big industrial city? When you build a New Town what is the first thing you put down in the middle?—a market, of course. Therefore, I think it is right that the Government have decided to keep Covent Garden roughly where it is. And if you moved it, what would you put in its place? I suppose large blocks of offices, which would remain empty, as most large blocks of new offices seem to do to-day. That cunningly reduces the traffic problem, of course, but I do not believe even the present Minister of Transport is guilty of thinking up anything quite so devilishly clever as that. But it is wholly wrong to have an inefficient market in the centre of London and I very much hope that this Bill is going to put that matter right.

One other aspect to which I should like to draw the Government's attention is Covent Garden Opera House itself, which suffers particularly on Gala nights from the close congestion of decaying vegetables and barrows all around its exits and entrances. I understand, and believe this to be true, that when Covent Garden opera was built no space was provided for rehearsal rooms because in those days it was not considered necessary to rehearse. This is a belief which the management of two theatres I have visited in the last fortnight still share. But Covent Garden fortunately does not, and the cast, the orchestra and the ballet dancers, if they want to rehearse, have to go all the way down to Barons Court, or somewhere else in the Betjeman belt, which must be extremely wasteful and tiring. I hope, therefore, that when detailed plans are considered for the reconstruction of the Area, the needs of the Opera House for storing scenery, building rehearsal rooms and better access to the Opera House will be borne in mind. There are two big theatres in the Area—Covent Garden and Drury Lane—and seven small ones. I think that there will be a first-class opportunity for putting an underground garage beneath this particular area.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, talked about the other markets of London. I know nothing much about Smithfield and Billingsgate, but I suppose they are in roughly the same muddle as Covent Garden. But I think the noble Lord is right when he says that the time has come for a larger and more comprehensive reconsideration of the whole of our commercial, wholesale and retail trading habits. Fashions are changing, not only in the markets but in the techniques of the markets. Supermarkets are coming into fashion and shopping precincts are becoming more common. The pattern of retail trade is changing as shoppers move away from the congested central areas out to the suburban areas. Discount houses, as in the United States, with their particular problems, are beginning to become known in this country. These will present complex problems for the future, but they are coming nearer upon us. I would ask my noble friend whether he and his colleagues could not consider the necessity for looking at our commercial, wholesale and retail trade habits as a whole, though I admit that this to-day is the particular problem of Covent Garden.

This Bill makes a good start and I wish it well. I am happy to see the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his place. He complained two or three days ago of the amount of homework we have to do, only to find our efforts wasted and the Bills upon which we have sat up all night, with towels round our heads, falling by the wayside owing to lack of Government time. I have much sympathy with the noble Lord, but I wish he would ask his colleagues in another place to "cut it short". That would make it easier for us here. I hope this Bill will not fall by the wayside, too. The state of confusion of the Government's legislative programme at the moment is only to be rivalled by the state of confusion of Covent Garden Market. I hope the two will not cancel each other out.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, although I disagree with almost all that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said about this Bill, I support very strongly what he said about the Opera House, and I hope that the noble Earl, when he comes to reply, will be able to say something about the way the site is going to be replanned. I hope particularly that provision will be made for far more space, so that we can see the Opera House and the Inigo Jones church; so that there will be room for rehearsals, for storage in Covent Garden, and for people to walk between the acts. After all, the Government have a very proper investment in Covent Garden Opera House of some half-a-million pounds a year, and it seems incredible that they should promote a Bill which seems likely to ensure, among other things, that the Opera House will be permanently disfigured by orange boxes and cabbage sacks. We should be able to hear that it is intended to give the Opera House Council a real chance to make a worthy job of the Opera House of the Capital City. I, for one, cannot see how that is going to be done within the terms of this present Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said there had been skulduggery in the fruit and vegetable business since the garden of Eden. What we object to is the fact that apparently some £20 million of public money is going to be lent to this project. If it is intended that the same kind of skulduggery is to continue we object to public money and an Act of Parliament being used to perpetuate it.

This Hybrid Bill has a most unhappy pedigree; it is by vested interest out of ignorance by mulish obstinacy. I notice that on Second Reading in the other place there were ten speakers from the Government Benches. Two gave the Bill unqualified support: the Minister who opened the debate and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who closed it. Of the other eight speakers three, like the noble Lord, Lord Ebbisham, who has just left the Chamber, said "I support the Government in this Bill", and then proceeded to treat it to the most devastating criticism. The other five speakers in another place strongly opposed the Bill. My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth used a very fair sample of House of Commons invective in the course of his speech. But I noticed that Conservative speakers on this Bill in another place used such expressions as "quite incredible", "quite impossible", "a complete and utter menace", "completely devoid of an understanding of the problem", "this indefensible project", "a most unloved baby", "perpetuating an out-of-date system". Those were the views of Government supporters expressed with knowledge and conviction.

But the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, also contrived to convey, possibly without meaning it, the impression that the Bill had the blessing of the local authorities who were concerned with it. There were three powerful Petitions against the Bill from local authorities. The City Corporation, the Westminster City Corporation, and the Borough Councils of both Shoreditch and Finsbury all petitioned against different parts of the Bill, important parts of the Bill; and the Covent Garden Tenants' Association petitioned against another. Indeed the Select Committee removed from the Bill the reference to the Finsbury lands on which the proposed annex was to be built. This, in my view, as I shall explain later, has destroyed the Bill as a workable proposition.

Despite this, the Government bring before your Lordships' House a Bill which by common consent, so far as I am aware (certainly the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft's is the first speech I have heard supporting it, apart from ministerial speeches) has always been an ill-conceived Bill and is now an emasculated one. I think that the use of a Parliamentary majority to force through a Bill of that kind is a negation of democracy.

We have been told for more than two years that this Bill would be the third prong in the Government's plan for horticulture. It will do nothing for horticulture. In so far as it has any effect at all I anticipate that it will increase the cost of distribution and thus either reduce the price the grower receives for his produce or increase the price the housewife pays; or both. Because the Bill is founded on a complete misconception of the basic problem of horticultural marketing, which is to get the produce from grower to housewife by the shortest quickest route, with the minimum of handling, the smallest number of intermediaries and the lowest on-cost.

The Minister of Agriculture's misconception was clearly revealed when he described Covent Garden as the national marketing centre for fruit and vegetables. It never has been, and there never could be a national marketing centre for horticulture. There are some 30 main horticulture markets in the country, five of them, as the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, said in or around London. In terms of trade, Covent Garden has an annual turnover of £70 million. Spitalfields comes next, with nearly £50 million. Covent Garden, therefore, is not immensely larger than the others, as the noble Earl appeared to think. The impression that was put over by the noble Earl was that here was a national central market which was so much vastly larger than the others as to be, as it were, a national distributing centre. That is quite wrong, and if one reflects on it it could not be done for horticulture.

Spitalfields, as the noble Lord, Lord Ebbisham said, houses the London Fruit Exchange, where imported fruit is sold by auction against sample, and it could therefore be said for imported fruit alone that Spitalfields to some extent provides wholesale price-fixing machinery for the whole country. But neither Covent Garden, nor any other market, can or could provide any sort of national price-fixing machine for horticulture. It just is not true. I must tell the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, that it is manifest nonsense to describe Covent Garden, as he did, as the national price-setting market, because in every market prices for horticulture are determined by supply and demand at the moment of sale. With very perishable produce, on the same market, the price at noon can frequently be half what it was at six o'clock in the morning, and it is a common thing for growers sending to different markets to receive drastically different prices for the same quality produce on the same day. Therefore, by the very nature of things there cannot he a national central market. One of the main arguments, therefore, for the present Bill falls to the ground.

It is not true, as also has been said, that Covent Garden is the centre of distribution for the provinces. Indeed any attempt to convert Covent Garden, or any other market, for that matter, into a national market or distribution centre would positively injure horticulture. For some years in another place I was Chairman of my Party's horticultural group. Our investigations in those years showed conclusively that one of the main weaknesses in horticulture distribution was unnecessary re-consignment from London to provincial markets. In some cases we found that produce was handled by four different wholesalers before it reached the retailer. That meant four profits and four sets of freight and portering charges, with the produce all the time getting more and more tired and less eatable.

In 1947, my noble friend Lady Summerskill, who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, estimated that some 40 per cent. of all produce consigned to Covent Garden was re-consigned to other wholesale markets. Happily, to-day the proportion is much lower, because efficient growers and importers send direct to provincial markets. Indeed, Lord Waldegrave told us that the Market Authority would have powers to direct people to send produce direct from the ports to provincial markets so as to reduce the burden on Covent Garden. In fact, successful importers and growers are doing that already. Many more would be doing so if the Government had accepted the proposals that we made some time ago for packing and grading stations and for a market intelligence service, based on teleprinters, because that would have helped the smaller growers. But because that was not done, we still have the sad sight of laden lorries coming in every morning from Cambridge and the Lea Valley, and the same night, or sometimes even the next day, the same lorries, nearly always with some of the same produce or the same type of produce, going long journeys back again to the provinces. Our objection—certainly my objection—to the Bill is that this tragic and costly farce will be perpetrated directly by the Bill.

I do not want to spend much time discussing the question of traffic congestion, or the folly of continuing a system which condemns lorries bringing in produce to wait for as long as six hours in the market, or retailers to spend two or three hours getting their load out. We all know about that. We all know the historic reasons why Covent Garden is where it is. But surely, if you are starting de novo nobody would think of plonking a great market right in the heart of London, in one of the most congested and busiest valuable spots. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft asked, "What are you going to do with it? What do you expect to get in the centre of a city if you do not get markets?" I suggest that you get people in the centre of a great city who will be trying to enjoy themselves and have recreation, which one could do if this great site were properly planned and used—there could be offices, underground parking and garages, and many other facilities. But you would not deliberately now go and say, "Here is a great city: we will put a market right in the middle of it."

We are really, in fact, starting de novo. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave said, that within the perimeter of Covent Garden the Market Authority will build its market in whichever place it thinks right. He said that it might be in Seven Dials, which at the moment is a kind of business slum. But wherever it is built on that perimeter, it is going to be built new, which means that the wholesalers will have to move; and there will be scarcely any difference in the disturbance whether the move is half a mile or two, three or four miles. This argument about people not going to a market if it is in another place is abject nonsense. They will go to the market if the produce is there and if the distributors are there. They will not go to the market only if they cannot get the service that they expect.

Virtually the only possible argument for this Bill is that the standholders in Covent Garden perhaps like a particular place to go and have their breakfast, or they like the beer in a particular "pub"; or because the Covent Garden market porters also have a vested interest in the way they draw their porterage, and perhaps feel that they may not have quite such a specially advantageous position in another market. But is that any reason for foisting on to the British public and the growers of horticultural produce a really disastrous position? I say that it is not. The housewife does not mind whether her vegetables come from Seven Dials of Silvertown, so long as they are fresh and reasonably cheap.

If we followed the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and built four perimeter markets, not necessarily four main markets covering fruit, fish and vegetables as well, but certainly four horticultural markets on the perimeter of London, it would help the growers enormously, because it would save a great deal of cost. It would help the housewife, because eventually she would get cheaper produce; and it would help the retailer because he would not have to waste so much time buying and collecting his goods. Indeed, it would eventually help the wholesalers, because they would not have to pay the enormously enhanced charges in which this tremendously costly scheme would involve them. My Lords, I submit that this Bill should be judged on the way it will affect the classes of people I have mentioned—the consumers, the growers and the distributors. It will not help them at all. No one in the passage of this Bill through another place ever attempted to show how this Bill would benefit anyone. I ask the noble Earl, when he comes to reply, to do what he has not so far done—namely, tell us how it will benefit any of the classes of people that it should benefit.

A few moments ago I said that the removal of the Finsbury lands from the Bill would destroy it as a workable proposition. That site was put in the Bill as the place where the annex would be built. I should like to explain why the removal of that area from the Bill in Select Committee destroyed the Bill. The Minister of Agriculture said on Second Reading, that in order to get into 8 acres all the operations now carried on over some 30 acres, the new Covent Garden Market Authority would engage in a two-phase operation. The first would be to "establish a market annex outside the market area." He said that this would reduce the physical load on the market by providing storage for empties and bulk storage for imported produce coming from the docks, which it was hoped to sell against sample. Obviously, therefore, if the market is to be rebuilt from 8 acres this market annex is essential. It is a case of "No annex, no new market". And the annex, I submit, must be functioning before they can make a start on the new market, because somehow they must reduce the load between the markets while the new one is being built.

But with a degree of foresight at which one can only marvel, Mr. Soames chose for the annex a site at the junction of Old Street and City Road, which is the third busiest intersection in London—a spot where for most of the day traffic averages a speed of one mile in seventeen minutes. I think that if the noble Lord, Lo rd Mancroft, had to go through that way he would sooner walk. Yet that is the site chosen for the annex. It has the additional advantages for heavy lorries that it is immediately opposite Moorfields Eye Hospital and immediately adjacent to three schools. It is also just a mile from the London Fruit Exchange, which, as we heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Ebbisham, is the only place in London where imported produce is auctioned against sample.

In his Second Reading speech the Minister of Agriculture described this as a realistic and practical solution of a problem which has daunted central Government for 50 years", and one, he said, which can be achieved with the minimum of interference with traders and public authorities. Before I came to your Lordships' House I had the honour of representing Finsbury, so I know the district very well, and I was not at all surprised when the public authorities opposed this scheme and the Select Committee, apparently deciding that it was neither realistic nor practical, struck it from the Bill. And, of course, no annex, no Bill.

The noble Earl said, quite airily, that of course it will be up to the Covent Garden Authority to find another site on which to build the annex. But where? He must be perfectly well aware that before the Bill was printed the Department's planners had a look at same seventeen or eighteen possible sites. He is also aware that in 1959 it was hoped to use the Caledonian Market site temporarily. That nearly caused a riot. And, within two or three weeks of the commencement of the L.C.C. General Purposes Bill of that year, they put in this Finsbury site, which has now been thrown out of the Bill; that has gone. Wherever it goes, the Market Authority will have to get planning consent. They cannot use the overriding powers that would have been in the Bill, which would have avoided the need for planning consent if the Finsbury site had been there. They will have to get planning consent. On this, I quote my honourable friend Mr. Mellish, who said in another place that he could not imagine anything more obnoxious to any metropolitan borough than having, in its midst, a site used for the storage of empty packages from Covent Garden. The Authority", he said, had better not try to put anything of this kind in metropolitan London.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but surely he is not quite in order in reading from a speech in another place, not made by a Minister, in the same Session as this.


My Lords, I am sorry if I said anything that was not in order, and I can paraphrase my remark by saying that, in the general opinion of honourable Members on both sides of the House who represent metropolitan boroughs, it would, be quite impossible to get planning consent for a site of this kind in those areas; and if noble Lords will reflect on it I am quite sure they will agree that that is a reasonable suggestion.

If the annex (and I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, will help me if I am wrong about this) is to serve the useful purpose which the Government intend, it must be not more than about three miles from the market on a fairly direct line from the docks, and therefore, it must be in a fairly inner circle of London. Consequently, there will be a great deal of added traffic congestion. I would submit that there is not a chance of the Market Authority being able to get planning consent and getting a site anywhere of that character in metropolitan London. It just will not happen. And if they do not get the site for the annex the Bill cannot work. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, said that the Authority would soon be putting the work in hand. I say they will not put the work in hand, because they cannot, until they have settled this business about a site for the annex.

Assuming a place could be found, just think of the effect on the retailers. They have an annex three miles away to which they have to take their empties. Then they go on to the Market to buy their home-grown produce and also imported produce against sample; and go back to the annex to pick up the bulk of the imported produce they have purchased against sample. It is quite fantastic, not merely for them but also in adding to the traffic congestion. From the point of view of the traders it is "cloud-cuckoo land", and from the point of view of the people who use the roads it is a menace.

We are drawn to the inevitable conclusion that the annex which we cannot have is necessary only if the Government insist on the market's being rebuilt at Covent Garden. Equally, we must accept the conclusion reached by the chairman of the Covent Gardent Tenants' Association and expressed in a letter to The Times, when he said: All functions of both the Market and the annex could be provided for in a modern building, including the elimination of fire risk caused by container storage. I quite agree; but it is equally obvious that that dual-purpose building cannot be at Covent Garden. There is the very attractive scheme suggested at King's Cross, at no public cost. There was a suggestion put forward by Sir Wavell Wakefield to build it at Marylebone Station. Both would be an immense improvement on Covent Garden, although still open to the objections (I agree with the noble Earl) of unnecessary long hauls for the growers, and traffic congestion. I think the best solution is perimeter markets; and I think the worst solution is in this Bill.

Every local authority affected by the Bill has in some way or another opposed it, and no public body has supported it. The Abercrombie Plan in 1943 said that Covent Garden was a source of great congestion and its position cannot be justified to-day". In 1958 the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee said: From the traffic point of view, Covent Garden Market would be best removed entirely to another site. When the Minister announced his plan for the market the same Committee, which is a very responsible Committee of which the Government take great notice on traffic matters, said: We very much regret that this decision has been found necessary"; and in polite language they forecast that it would cause traffic chaos. The City of Westminster urged: Removal of the Market entirely from the heart of Londen. The London County Council have made clear their policy of decentralisation of markets in the evidence of the Runciman Committee. The noble Earl did not mention that, and I think these points must be made. These great local authorities are opposed to the Government's proposal. Even the National Farmers' Union, which always tries to avoid offending the Government, says that the Minister's plan will not benefit the English grower but will result in higher marketing charges and higher consumer prices. And for what? The only tiny reason I can think of is that the Covent Garden distributors and porters do not want a change of beer. That is not sufficient reason for supporting an indefensible Bill.

My Lords, I know that as a matter of principle we do not vote against a Second Reading, but if ever a Bill deserved rejection on Second Reading in your Lordships' House, this one does. I hope that the Government, even now, when they have really studied the whole thing, will not persist in their obstinacy but will start again, and next time give us a Bill that will not only remove the chaos from the heart of London but will also give us a market which will help the growers of horticultural produce to produce cheaper, better fruit and vegetables for the housewife.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, I do no: think there have been many Bills introduced by this Government which have obtained so little enthusiastic support in the debates when both Houses have considered them. If this Bill reaches the Statute Book in unchanged form it will be less due to any enthusiasm for its provisions in any part of the House than to the fact that the criticisms have been largely mutually destructive. Perhaps I may be one of those who have most to say in commendation of this Bill, because I have felt for a very long time that the state of Covent Garden was a public scandal and I am glad that at last the Government have made up their mind to tackle it and to tackle it in a resolute manner.

But when I come to considering how it is going to be done, I am bound to say that I do not feel that in some respects the Government have drafted the Bill on entirely the right lines. For example, I was surprised that my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary so frequently prayed in aid the Runciman Report. In a very large number of matters the Government have turned down the recommendations of that Report. Indeed, what I most noticed was that they appear to me not to have accepted the underlying reasoning of the Runciman Committee that marketing in the twentieth century is undergoing a change and that it is extremely desirable to encourage this new method of marketing increasingly by sample and without the movement of vast quantities of heavy materials into a market to be sold and then out again.

I was interested to note that my noble friend Lord Mancroft, although he wished the market to stay in Covent Garden, very soon afterwards said that he wished that the Government would make a wholesale review of all the markets and all the marketing arrangements. I do not like to accuse my noble friend of inconsistency, but how it is possible to maintain the Covent Garden Market in its present form and on its present site, and at the same time undertake a comprehensive review of the functions of all the markets of London, I confess I do not, without further guidance from him, follow. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that in the Bill when originally introduced the Government proposed that the market itself should be fixed in the Covent Garden Area. He also mentioned that the annex was to be fixed at the St. Luke's site in Finsbury. Now the Select Committee in the House of Commons has made a fundamental change as regards the annex in Finsbury. My noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary went on to say that this has not affected the principle of the Bill in any way. My Lords, I should have thought that that was a quite fundamental provision of the Bill as introduced.

My main purpose in intervening to-day is to urge that the provisions of the Bill should be so widened as to enable the Market Authority, when it has been set up, to consider whether or not it is desirable that the new market should be built inside the Covent Garden Area. I am not saying that it is wrong for it to be rebuilt there. I do not know that we know. The Government say that they must take a decision upon the matter. I am not sure that they are yet sufficiently informed to come to an irrevocable decision upon a matter of that kind. And if they are setting up a highly expert Marketing Authority to go into this matter, then surely it is only wise to say that, although they are not to go outside the Covent Garden Area without the approval of the Government (which is the provision which has been put in with regard to the annex), they are not debarred from doing so.

In another place the Minister dealt with this matter, and it is obvious that he had been very much shaken by the arguments from the supporters of the Government on the Back Benches, who said that a great opportunity was being missed of planning for the future and moving the market into a suitable place. After all, Covent Garden was not in the middle of London when the market was originally established there in 1670. He was sufficiently impressed by them to feel it necessary to explain what he would do if the Market Authority, when it had been set up, thought that Covent Garden was not a suitable area. At column 265 of the Commons OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 643 (No. 106), he said. If, as a result of their inquiries and of representations made to them the Authority thought that it would be better to have the market elsewhere, how could that be brought about? It could not be done under this Bill, but what the Authority could do would be to tell the Government of the day, 'We have been into this very carefully. This is the particular site we want. It is, in our view, a better site than the Covent Garden site. From every point of view, we think that it will be a more satisfactory site'". Then, rather later, he said (col. 266): But I can give the assurance that should the Market Authority later say, 'We think that you have made a mistake—this would be a much better site' that view would be given the Government's full consideration—


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? I think it might be helpful if he mentioned that the Minister, considering this same Amendment, said (col. 265): Although it is not for me to judge what would happen in another place, I think it virtually certain that the ruling there would be that Standing Orders had not been complied with, and, for that reason, the acceptance of this Amendment would be the end of the Bill. In other words, he said that to have it in any area other than the Covent Garden Area would be an end of this Bill.


My Lords, I am no more confident than the Minister was that he is competent to judge upon the Rules of Order in this House, and I am far too newly recruited to this Chamber to express any views as to what are the powers of a Committee upstairs in dealing with a hybrid Bill. I know it to be a highly complicated and difficult matter, and I should not wish to express any view upon it.

When the Minister said that, he clearly contemplated that it was quite possible that the Market Authority would come back to the Government and say, "Covent Garden is not the place to rebuild the Market". He said, "But that could not be done under this Bill", and he said it would be necessary for there to be additional legislation. He refused to give any undertaking when Parliamentary time would be found for that necessary additional legislation. It is only too vividly in your Lordships' minds, as a result of the consequences of legislative congestion, what may be the fate of Bills to which your Lordships have been giving close attention for a long time. What can possibly be the justification for our passing this Bill in this present form so that it would be impossible for the market to be built anywhere outside the Covent Garden Area, despite the fact that the Minister already considers that a distinct possibility and says that it could not be done under this Bill and that it would then be necessary for there to be fresh legislation?


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment, only on the words "distinct possibility"? I also have in front of me column 265 of the relevant Hansard for May 9, and the Minister said: … I have no qualms about it—that to rebuild within this area is the best arrangement. That does not look as if he is saying there is a "distinct possibility" of building somewhere else.


I know the Minister has no qualms about it, but he obviously thought the Authority might have qualms, otherwise he would not have said that they might come back to him, and he would not have gone on to say (col. 266): & should the Market Authority later say, We think that you have made a mistake—this would be a much better site' that view would be given the Government's full consideration— The Minister may have no qualms himself, but there is a difference, I suppose, between having qualms and considering possibilities.

My Lords, my purpose in rising to-day is to suggest that in this House an Amendment to the same effect as one that was moved in another place should be made to the Bill: that it should be possible for the Market Authority to decide to recommend that another site, outside the Covent Garden Area, should be chosen; and that, if the word "approved" is inserted, it would still maintain the authority of the Minister in that respect. I have said that I do not know whether this would come within the purview of the Committee upstairs. I should have thought that, as the Preamble has to be proved—it is a very lengthy Preamble, and deals with the justification for all the provisions of this Bill—it might be possible for the Committee upstairs to go into that matter. I wish to give the Government notice that, if this change in the Bill has not been made upstairs, when the Bill comes back here I propose to put down an Amendment on the lines of the one moved in another place, in order that the scope of this Bill might be widened and the possibility envisaged by the Minister, in his speech in another place, dealt with within this Bill, instead of requiring additional legislation.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain the House very long this afternoon, but I should like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on having at last made a decision on this matter. My noble friend Lord Motion has just said that he considered the traffic conditions at Covent Garden to be a public scandal, and I would agree with him. Certainly the fire risk which has been present there for some time is of a very serious nature indeed. I am sure that the time has come when something should be done about it, and I am therefore glad that Her Majesty's Government have been able to promise in this Bill that by 1968 something real and constructive will be achieved.

None the less, my Lords, while congatulating Her Majesty's Government on having done something speedy and constructive now, I must confess that I should have thought they were being inconsistent in one particular respect. They have said that they will not have a general market review; and they have said that, after consultation, it has proved to be impracticable to set up a London Market Authority. That being so, the Authority that is being set up to deal with the Covent Garden Market alone is in a different position, I think, from most of the ad hoc or public authorities which are set up, whether an authority to organise a nationalised industry, or perhaps an organisation like the Port of London Authority. If this is not to be an Authority with monopolistic powers—which it clearly is not—I would question the enormous scope and generality of the powers which have been given to it in Clause 18, sub- section (1) (f), and subsection (2) of the Bill. Because, after all, if it is to be a competitive Authority, it has on it the duty to increase its trade in a certain respect in the market—that is, in sale samples—and it will come into direct conflict with other organisations in the area.

It may be, as my noble friend Lord Waldegrave said, that it must have wider powers than those of a local authority. None the less, are the powers in Clause 18 (2) really necessary? And is it not possible to define them more clearly? I would quite accept, as was pointed out in another place, that it is impossible to remove Clause 18 (2), because to do that would mean removing some essential powers from the Authority. But I should very much like my noble friend to explain what Her Majesty's Government really have in mind in giving this enormous residual power to the Authority, which is an Authority, as such, by its nature.

Is it something that simply cannot be drafted? I do not believe that is so. Is it something that Her Majesty's Government have not yet thought about? Is it that they have not yet set their minds to finding what should be the residual powers? Or is it that Her Majesty's Government do not know what these powers should be? Are they putting themselves in a position where the Authority can deal with some very different situation from that which is at the moment envisaged, and which perhaps might not be the least acceptable to your Lordships' House, even if it could be envisaged at this moment? If so, I cannot think that your Lordships would wish such very large powers to go through without further examination, In that connection, although I have no connection with the City of London myself, I would support what my noble friend Lord Ebbisham said when drawing attention to the width of these powers.

There is a further point in this respect. What control is this House, or Parliament, going to have over the Authority in the exercise of those powers? I know that there is a certain possibility of financial support from the Treasury for some length of time, and that there is to be an Annual Report. But if, on the other hand, the law is such that the Authority will be able to exercise, quite legally, a power of almost any description within that subsection, then I cannot see, apart from complaint, what even your Lordships can do about it. I should therefore be grateful if my noble friend Lord Waldegrave would clarify the drafting position, or the intention of Her Majesty's Government on this part of the Bill.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by saying haw much I appreciate what has been said, both by my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, about the Committee over which I had the honour to preside some four years ago. I am sure the other members of it will appreciate that as much as I do. Having said that, I need hardly make it clear to your Lordships that anything else which I may say this afternoon is entirely on my own authority and that I am in no sense whatever seeking to speak on behalf of my colleagues on that Committee.

For myself, then, I welcome this Bill. Even if it was not as good a Bill as I think it is, I should still welcome it for one reason which seems to me to be overwhelming; that is, that it puts an end to the uncertainty about the future of Covent Garden which has continued for far too long and has caused the utmost difficulty to those who trade there and to those who depend upon that trade for their livelihood—indeed, for their sustenance.

I should like to say only two things more about it this afternoon, and they both stem from the same consideration, which is this: that a market is essentially a place where traders meet to conduct their business. If it is not the most convenient place, they will not use it; and although, by legislation, they may be prevented from using some other place, they cannot be compelled to use a place which they find unsatisfactory. Therefore it is quite useless to create a market and assume that it will be used, unless in fact it meets the needs of the people who it is hoped will use it. That is, perhaps, rather an obvious statement, but I think it has some relevance when we consider—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? He says that it is obvious, and I am very puzzled about the statement which he says is obvious. People will use a market, even if it is unsatisfactory, if they have no alternative. Is the noble Viscount really not begging the question when he tries to argue that, because people use it, it must therefore be satisfactory?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for pointing out that I did not make myself as clear as I hoped I had. Of course, if traders are not allowed to go to one place, they will go to the next best place, and so on down the line. But if you want to cause people to use a place, you cannot order them to use it—you have to encourage them to use it. I think that is generally a pretty fair proposition. You can no doubt, in an autocracy, take such powers as will compel the citizens to do virtually anything; but I was not talking in that context. For that reason, I am glad that the Bill proposes that the Covent Garden Market should continue to be, in effect, Covent Garden Market, either on the same site or at any rate in the immediate neighbourhood. I think that I can fairly say that what one learned—whether rightly or wrongly may be questioned—was that this particular place, maybe by association or for a number of reasons which are not logically perfect, does attract, and I think is likely to continue to attract, the favour of the people who now use it. And there is something to be said, in matters of this kind, for making the minimum disturbance that we can make, subject, of course, to getting a satisfactory result.

I am quite sure in my own mind that a central market has to be central. At the risk of appearing to the noble Viscount, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, to support the principles which he regarded as "preposterous" and "absurd", and one or two other things which I forget, I feel that the scheme for four or any other number of peripheral markets is doomed to failure from the start. I do not believe that we can possibly prevent one of them from becoming the chief market of the four and attracting around it many of the things that go on in a central market. In other words, I think that a central market is a necessity. And I do not think that we can decentralise it by merely cutting it up into four or more pieces, in the hope that they will maintain a perfect balance among themselves.

I must here join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—in fact, if I had time, I should join issue with him on a large variety of subjects. The picture he painted of how horticultural marketing works is so extremely different from what we thought we had discovered four years ago that I can hardly believe that we are talking about the same subject. I do not think that the pattern can have changed as much as that in the intervening period. But if I were to discuss that, it would detain your Lordships for a very long time.


My Lords, is it not the case that the central markets in Paris have been decentralised and put on the outskirts and that that has been a success? And may I thank the noble Viscount for referring to me as a Viscount? I am a humble Life Peer, and proud of it.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord if I elevated him to an uncomfortable altitude. Consideration was given to moving Les Halles outside Paris, but I believe it is true that this has not been done, though I speak under correction. What I would say is that I do not accept the proposition that a central market has not an influence on the fixing of prices in other markets. I am sure it is true that the prices at Covent Garden have a very considerable effect on prices, particularly later in the day, in quite a number of provincial markets.

Without attempting to go into the reasons why I think the system works like that (which again I fear would take too long; and a good deal of it, I think, is given in the Report of the Committee to which reference has been made), broadly speaking, one can never tell how much produce is coming into the market on any one day, where it is coming from and who wants to buy it, because people are so extremely capricious about these things. Therefore, we have a central market which is to some extent a clearing house (if I may use that expression) both for prices and for produce which may not physically come anywhere near it. I think that this is an important point and that the maintenance of a central market is extremely important for this reason, and if there were no central market, all concerned would find that sooner or later one was growing up.

As regards the question of other sites for Covent Garden, while one ought never to be too dogmatic about anything, I would say that most of the comparisons between other sites and Covent Garden have been made on the basis of what markets on other sites could be like and what the market at Covent Garden is like now. What Covent Garden Market is like now is so appalling that on that basis one could justify practically any other site—I was going to say in almost any other country in the world. The essential thing is to put an end to the conditions that exist at Covent Garden to-day; and, coming back to my first point, if the Bill does nothing more than that, it is worth having. I do not think that we shall ever find a better central site than Covent Garden, though I have some sympathy with those who feel that another shot should be made at the problem by the Authority which is to be set up.

So far as traffic goes, we shall have heavy road traffic to and from the market on any site, wherever it is; but, as has already been said this afternoon, the real traffic problem is not caused by vehicles coming or going to the market, but by vehicles waiting about in the streets while people are trying to do their business at the market. A new, well-designed market should take care of that problem, whether it be at Covent Garden or anywhere else. I do not think that the traffic argument per se is a good one against maintaining, Covent Garden where it is. If I have a real doubt about the Bill, it is about the effect it may have on the relation between the new Covent Garden and other existing markets. At present, there is a sort of rough balance of convenience—or perhaps it would be more fair to say of inconvenience—which decides what goes on where. I think that there is a considerable risk that if we radically alter, and for the better, one of the London markets we shall disturb that balance. It is extremely difficult to see what the effect would be on the other markets.

It was with this consideration in mind that we suggested the creation of a London Markets Authority, which Her Majesty's Government have not felt themselves able to set about. I readily agree that there is a great deal of difference between sitting down and saying what you think would be a good thing to do and trying to deal with all the interests whom you have to get into a frame of mind in which they would at least accept your scheme before you can put it into effect. Nevertheless, I am a little afraid that it may be found—in fact, I am sure it will be found—that once the new Covent Garden is established, very close consultation and co-operation between that market and the redeveloped and improved Stratford and Brentford Markets which are envisaged will be necessary, if we are not to get into a situation where we may find an inconvenient amount of trade leaving one market and going to another. We want to try to induce a fair balance in these matters.

I think that, at least by implication, the Bill does lay upon the Covent Garden Authority which is to be set up some duty of this kind, if not actually a positive duty, then at least the task of not doing things which obviously would disturb the existing balance. It is true that we cannot effectively order people to consult, but I very much hope that a spirit of enlightened self-interest, if you like to so call it, will animate the several market authorities to put their heads together when Covent Garden is rebuilt, because I am sure that, if they do not, they will fall a very long way from arrival at the benefits which this Bill could produce.

Having said that, my Lords, there is little more that I want to add. If it does work like that, I agree that a wider authority will be unnecessary; and it is a very good thing not to create bodies for which there is no obvious purpose. It may be that the wiser course will be to wait and see how the scheme works out. I hope, however, that Her Majesty's Government will keep an open mind on this matter. If they should find that something of the sort is necessary I hope they will not feel themselves in any way inhibited by the fact that this Bill has gone through from going further, should it be found necessary to do so, in order to reap the full benefits of what they now propose. I do not think there is anything whatever in the Bill as it stands to prevent them from doing that, and I hope it will be borne in mind. With that note of caution, I should like only to add that, even though in one or two respects this Bill does not go so far as some of us might wish, I warmly welcome it as an important and desirable advance towards dealing with a problem which has waited far too long for its solution.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, welcome this Bill which sets up this new Covent Garden Market Authority. It comes to us not a bit too soon. We are dealing here with our largest market and with what is probably one of the largest markets in the world. Anybody who goes to Covent Garden cannot but be struck by the efficiency of the buying and selling within the market and with the utter chaos which goes on in the streets outside, What is it that contributes to this chaos, which not only prevents the circulation of the vehicles, but is so bad at times that even the porters with their barrows cannot get through? There are the parked vehicles all along the kerb, the majority of them being the vehicles of customers, and they remain there for many hours while the owners are buying in the market. Then you find lorries parked all day from which produce is sold. Earlier, when lorries want to deliver to the wholesalers, you find the cars which have been carefully locked up by people going to see My Fair Lady; in fact, it is mainly the usual off-street parking problem.

There are really two Covent Gardens, the flower market and the fruit and vegetable market; and, apart from the commodities, the trade is different. A large proportion of the trade of the flower market is a local trade in the West End, particularly with the choicer blooms, whereas the greater part of the fruit and vegetables comes in from and goes out again to, the provinces. It has been suggested to me that when planning the new market one of the things the Authority should consider is whether these two markets need be together in the same market buildings.

The suggestion is that it would be reasonably possible to make the existing flower market work if a certain amount of the fruit and vegetable market next to it were demolished and off-street parking in multi-storey car parks provided for the customers' vehicles. At the same time, the fruit and vegetable market could be moved elsewhere, either up by the Seven Dials site or (as a trader who does a large business there suggested to me, although I do not think this has the blessing of the majority of the traders in Covent Garden) out of Covent Garden, further to the north even than the King's Cross site that has been suggested. Preferably, of course, it should be near a railway, because although at the moment only about 20 per cent. of the traffic to the market goes by rail, that amount might increase if railway facilities were available right into the market. And with the new tunnels being built under the Thames, even from Kent transport would be almost as quick to a market in the north as it is at the moment to Covent Garden. Whether if you took away the fruit and vegetable market the flower market could continue to survive is, in my view, doubtful.

One other point that I think the authorities should have in mind in planning the new market facilities is that selling produce is an individual business. The various wholesalers often deal in different trades on different scales, and they require individual facilities: they have elaborate accounts departments and that sort of thing. I mention this only because the other day I went to a talk where a plan of a possible solution of a building at Covent Garden was shown. It was of a spiral road, at a gradient of about 1 in 100, in which there were various bays all the way up. Going all the way round it would be something like two miles to get to the top, and the traders there would obviously be in a disadvantageous position compared to those at the bottom. In fact it was seriously suggested that every so often they should move up one and the top one come down to start again at the bottom. I think that anybody who realises the organisation that goes on behind the scenes—not only the accounts departments, but in many cases sundries departments and that sort of thing—could not regard this as a serious proposition: it would be rather like the tea party in Alice in Wonderland.

What I am trying to say, my Lords, is that this Covent Garden Authority has a tremendous number of problems to sort out. When it is set up, and has its various expert Committees, I hope that it will make haste slowly and give proper consideration to all the problems, so that London can have a really efficient market Which will be a benefit to both consumers and producers, and yet, at the same time, see that it does it as economically as possible, consistent with the proper use of the land in the area. What I should like is an assurance that if this Authority, with its Committees, after going into all the problems of setting up an efficient market in the Covent Garden Area, should come to the conclusion that the market ought to be outside—and my inclination is with the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, that it should be in the Covent Garden Area—or that some other site would be a better one, the Minister, if he agreed with it, would give any such conclusion due consideration and take steps so that it could come about. With those few words I support this Bill.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, Covent Garden has for years been a blot on the landscape, and one has only to read the Runciman Report, and even to take a stroll through the market, as I do quite frequently round about noon, when it is still a complete jam of lorries bringing in stuff from the docks, and wholesalers' lorries still hanging about waiting to load for the country, to realise that obviously something must be done. But the problem is: what, and when, and by whom? Is this the right "what"; is now the right "when"; and is the Minister of Agriculture the right man?

The Runciman Committee, I thought, found abundant arguments to move the whole market, but they did not appear to be willing to face up to the ultimate issue of recommending the disturbance drastically of the existing situation. In paragraph 221 they thought that the complete removal of the market "would have undesirable effects on marketing" though I was not able to find out from the Report exactly what they mean by that. But flowing through the Report there seemed to be a vague idea of the virtues of continuity. But is continuity necessary? Where the traders are, the market will be, provided that their suppliers and customers can get to them; and the traders will certainly go to any place which is the most convenient for them. For instance, the Report mentions how the trade shifted from Birkenhead to Liverpool when the Mersey Tunnel was opened. I do not think we need have any fear about encouraging a market to move from one place to another; it can very often serve its customers just as well from one place as another.

Then the Committee fell back on compromise: A new market in North-West London, a new organisation for storing bulk supplies for sale by sample, and the modernisation of a smaller Covent Garden market. The Bill implements a good deal of this Runciman Report, but there is to be no new market in North-West London; and the annex, which was to be by the City Road, I understand, is now in an unknown location. I am very doubtful what volume or proportion of the trade can ever be conducted successfully by sample from an annex, and What proportion of business will ultimately require to be moved between the annex and the market. Indeed, in practice, is there a saving in handling if the stuff is stored in the annex rather than brought straight to a market which is able to take it? It is precisely one journey and one handling in each case. I do not see the virtue of the annex at all, except as a compromise to try to eke out lack of proper facilities at Covent Garden. I should have thought it much better to provide a proper market, with space for empties, for these standardised bulk supplies and for the ordinary daily British stuff that comes in, all in the one place.

I also found it very difficult to understand what, with an annex, would be the exact machinery as regards empties. If growers' lorries are coming into market they may want to take empties back again. Do they first of all have to queue up at the market to unload their stuff, and then queue up at the annex to receive their empties? Then there are the provincial wholesalers. I am not speaking of the very big men, who take dozens of cases of this, that or the other: I am talking about the small man—the man who serves my local town. These people drive up to market every day with one lorry and return with a mixed batch of imported and British fruit and vegetables. Will they have to go to the market first of all to collect the British stuff, and then to the annex to collect Australian apples or Israeli oranges, and so on? I think the whole idea of an annex is extremely dubious, and I do not see what saving it produces. I am sure that ultimately it will require a tube railway like the Post Office has as a connection between the annex and the market.

I am also very dubious about these parking calculations. Now, apparently, the market is to come down to ten acres; and in that ten acres has to be found space not only for all the growers' lorries, and all the wholesalers' and the retailers' vehicles, but also for the brokers' own motor cars and, indeed, the porters' motor cars. If my arithmetic is correct, lorries parked nose-to-tail run at about 340 lorries to the acre, and as there is some talk of 3,000 vehicles coming into this area every day at the moment, 340 lorries to the acre leaves no room for manœuvre to get in and out. It looks to me as if the whole of the ten acres might be solidly occupied with lorries, unless they are to be parked in multi-storey buildings. I just do not know.

I suppose the theory is that the wholesaler drives his vehicle into some loading bay, fills it up solidly and gets away again in a few minutes. But in practice the wholesaler drives into the market, and he must, of course, leave his car parked somewhere or other. He then goes round to see where he can buy the produce to best advantage. Then each of his merchants—he may have dealt with several—has to instruct his porters to put the goods he has bought on to his particular lorry. I cannot see that that process is going to be done so quickly as to enable ten acres to deal with this enormous motor trade. These are practical difficulties which I have not seen answered in the debate.

I do not think the Runciman Report rings true of the conditions to-day. The Runciman Report was compiled in the years about 1956; since those years there has been a complete revolution in thought in this country about many of these problems. To start with, we have had important new thoughts on urban traffic. In the year 1956 we were all crying out for new trunk roads. We have now realised that new trunk roads are not a bit of good unless the urban road system is equal to carrying the vehicles that debauch from the trunk roads. Then, again, new building ideas are at last beginning to percolate into this country. I think it was about fifteen years ago when I first walked under a stilted building: it was the Ministry of Education in Rio de Janeiro. I walked under it with a certain degree of trepidation, but I believe it is still standing to-day. At long last our architects are beginning to copy the architects of the New World, who have done such wonderful things in concrete over the last ten or dozen years.

This revolution in construction methods has meant that many new sites are available that would not have been conceived as possible sites when the Runciman Committee was considering its Report. For instance, enormous areas of London are occupied with railway lines and railway sidings. To-day all those sites are potentially available for purposes such as markets or warehouses or offices. Then, again, in the handling of goods, it is only since 1956 that automatic handling has really come into its own. Perhaps what is almost of equal importance is that at long last we have a new broom on the railways, and we hope he will be able to sweep the railways out of the lethargy they have always shown in using surplus land. They are sitting on some of the potentially most valuable sites in the country, and we hope that they will be forced to put them to good use now. If all those factors had been known to the Runciman Committee I submit that their Report might have been a very different one. The noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, has left, but I would have asked him this question: if he knew that a revolutionary system of propulsion was just being perfected and would be available in two years' time, would he place an order for a ship to-day? I do not believe he would. He would wait for two years.

Covent Garden has been a blot for years, and it really will not harm us very much if we let it be a blot for another year or two while we are trying to find the right solution, rather than accepting what I believe to be probably the wrong solution. We want an area where the market can be homogeneous—no annexes, no separate storages, but where everything can be under the one roof. I do not belittle the railway argument. My noble friend, Lord Amherst of Hackney, said that the trade pointed out that it would be very useful to have it on a railway line. If a quarter of the produce comes in by rail to-day, it is a very important proportion, and possibly it could be increased as the railways are becoming more efficient.

This Authority have enormous powers, and they are exhorted to have regard to the public interest. I am not quite sure who decides what is the public interest in the case of a body of this kind. When this appears in Parliamentary Bills it is the Minister who ultimately has to judge of the public interest, but I am not quite sure who becomes the arbiter in this case. But that is by the way. If the Government were to accept an Amendment on the lines suggested by my noble friend, Lord Molson, which would greatly please me, and the Authority could go outside Covent Garden, what would their powers of authority over Covent Garden be after that? If they lose their powers if they recommend a market outside, the temptation will be, of course, to be prejudiced against going outside, because everybody in this world loves power, and everybody in this world hates relinquishing power. But if they do not lose those powers, are they the right body to develop 30 acres or more of London? I should have thought that was highly problematical, and that is a point that has obviously to be faced.

My noble friend, the Under-Secretary, was not able to answer a certain question about finance, but on second thoughts I do not want to press him, because it might be that to give me some answer would be embarrassing as regards the position vis-à-vis the vendors of this particular thing. I appeal to the Minister not to imagine that flexibility is weakness and not to dig himself into waterlogged trenches just because he thinks it might be weak to give ground. He could take one of two courses. First of all, under the Bill he need not set up the Authority at all until there has been much more investigation, or, alternatively, as my noble friend, Lord Molson, suggested, he could accept an Amendment allowing the Authority to look around outside Covent Garden. I appeal to him to take one of those two courses, because this is an opportunity that is very unlikely to occur again in the lifetime of many of us, an opportunity of exchanging an area in the middle of London, 30 or more acres of magnificent development for residences and offices, for an area which might well be over railway sidings in some part of London which at the moment is completely sterilised and regarded as impossible to develop. It would be a pity to miss a chance of this sort by setting undue weight on to a precipitous decision and in so doing to accept a permanently bisected market. I will not vote against the Second Reading of this Bill because we do not do it in this House, but I hope the Minister will agree to some accommodation at a later stage.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, at this stage of the Bill I should like to approach the matter mainly from the point of view of the traffic problem arising out of the siting of the Covent Garden Market. I trust that I shall not be misrepresenting the noble Viscount beside me when saying that, as I see it, in recommending the creation of a new market and the reorganisation of the Covent Garden site, his Committee took into consideration only the effect that marketing problems could have on this matter, and did not take into consideration the problems arising from traffic difficulties, although they refer to the question of traffic problems in paragraphs 173 to 176.

They rightly stress that congestion in the area is due to the volume of business transacted, high traffic density, lack of adequate facilities for parking and the lack of adequate road access. It is no doubt self-evident that conditions since 1670, or even 1828, have changed considerably, as indeed has our whole way of life. I just wonder whether sufficient appreciation of this fact, apparent as it may be, was fully realised. The size and population of London then and now bear little relation the one to the other. I well appreciate that, to a certain extent, this fact was recognised by Her Majesty's Government, otherwise we should not have the present Bill before us to-day.

As has been stressed by many noble Lords, traffic conditions in the area are chaotic and there is much overcrowding connected with the concerns which trade there. Therefore, the Bill may be considered as a noteworthy effort to bring the market into line with modern conditions. As I believe the Minister said earlier, there is to be a certain amount of replanning in the area; storage facilities are to be provided outside the Covent Garden Market Area. There was mention, too, of an annex. In this respect, I would rather agree with my noble friend Lord Hawke, when he said that it would be preferable to have a homogeneous market rather than one annex and one central market. I understand, too, that the Authority is to have power to control transport of the produce and of the containers. But, as I see it, there will still remain the problem of traffic to and from, and also within, the Area; there will be the problem of loading and unloading, in particular outside the Market Area, and there will of course, as has been mentioned rather cryptically by my noble friend Lord Hawke, still be the problem of parking.

Whilst not wishing to weary your Lordships with figures, I should like to mention five, purely to give an idea of the volume of traffic round the Covent Garden Area. In July, 1949, during twelve hours of the day, a police traffic census showed that 21,677 vehicles of all types, excluding pedal cycles, passed over the junction of New Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue; 31,542 vehicles over the junction of Kingsway, Southampton Row and New Oxford Street; 32,969 over the junction of the Strand and Wellington Street, 58,761 at Trafalgar Square and 25,588 at Cambridge Circus. That encloses the Area with which we are dealing to-day. There is therefore a very high volume of traffic all round that Area, and no doubt many of those vehicles go through the Area.

If one considers the development plan programmes of the Report of the Committee on London Roads (Cmnd. 812 of July, 1959) it would appear that their north-south cross route and their east-west cross route will pass along two boundaries of the Covent Garden Area, and that those cross routes will be passing through the heart of the prohibited Area. If I understood my noble friend aright earlier on, although horticultural produce could not be stored in the prohibited Area, it may well be, as I see it, that empty containers could be stored in that Area.

I think it might interest the House if, when he comes to reply, the noble Earl could say why it is that the sub-committee on new developments and the Road Traffic sub-committee set up by the Ministry of Transport London Travel Committee three years ago were not specifically asked to consider the traffic implications involved in the proposals before us to-day. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the Minister of Transport was faced with a fait accompli. He may have been kept in touch with the necessary work involved in the preparation and the promulgation of this Bill, but, in effect, it seems to me that there was no demand for any traffic study of that Area to be made by the appropriate bodies.

I see, though, that this Bill provides for the setting up of a Covent Garden Traffic Committee, of which two members will be nominated by the Minister of Transport. It seems to me, too, that under powers granted by Clause 34 (4) this sub-committee will have a highly important and difficult task to perform. But two of the conclusions reached by the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London were that there should be only one authority responsible for traffic management throughout Greater London, and that that same authority should be responsible for making all the necessary traffic studies, Therefore it seems to me that for the time being, that is, before this comes about, there could be a fair amount of duplication. But, more important still, there would appear to be a dire need for cooperation and possibly co-ordination among these various bodies, because there seem to be quite a number of them involved at the moment in the whole question of traffic in London.

This Covent Garden Traffic Committee will certainly have a heavy burden on its shoulders. I feel that it will be seriously handicapped in its consideration of the traffic and transport problems arising out of the situation or the siting of lands which are to provide market or storage facilities, because the powers of the Authority are limited to the extent that no consideration can be given by the Covent Garden Market Authority to other sites. This has been very clearly and well brought out by my noble friend Lord Molson, and it seems to me a great pity that this Bill does not allow for the Authority to consider other sites which could offer greater transport facilities, fewer traffic problems and equally good market and storage facilities.

In another place, on May 9 last, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said these words—I quote from Column 263 of the Commons OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 640: It was the Government's view that if we were to have it put outside, or let the Authority put it somewhere away from its present situation, we should have had to have given the Authority powers far beyond what the Authority is receiving in this Bill, because there was, to put it no higher than that, a risk that a number of the people now trading in Covent Garden, if they had to 'upsticks' and go elsewhere, might have chosen to go across the river to the Borough Market, or to Spitalfields or elsewhere, and so created probably worse conditions of traffic congestion in those markets. My Lords, surely that is a matter on which the Authority could consult the Management Committee and also the Traffic Committee with a view to receiving guidance on this matter. With regard to the former, that is, the Management Committee, I see that seven members are to be persons appearing to the Authority to be capable of representing the interests of persons carrying on in the Covent Garden area the business of selling horticultural produce. Therefore, I should have thought that consultations could have taken place to find out what the majority view was on this matter.

Finally, as I have said that there seems to me to have been a lack of consultation with the Ministry of Transport and appropriate bodies on this traffic, I should just like to mention to your Lordships the recommendation which appeared in the 1957 Report of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, in which this Committee said that, if the traffic problems associated with Covent Garden were ever to be satisfactorily solved, the market should be removed entirely to another place.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, as I have studied this Bill and as I have listened to the words of wisdom that have dropped from your Lordships' tongues, I have been unable to make up my mind whether I am more sorry for the noble Earl who has to reply or for the producers and consumers of all these products we have been talking about. Perhaps I should deal first with the latter, and perhaps, if he will allow me, return to the noble Earl at a later stage of the proceedings.

As the noble Earl said in his opening remarks, this Bill is considered as part of the third prong of the Government's programme to help horticulture. All I can say to that is that if this is the third prong, I sincerely hope that the other two prongs are much stronger and longer. We all know that problems exist with regard to the marketing of perishable goods such as fruit and vegetables. We all know the wide margin that exists to-day between the prices received by the producer and the prices which are paid by the consumer. I am not saying that those margins are unreasonable or that unreasonable profits are being made by the various middlemen. I am simply stating the fact at the present time that, no matter what the producer gets, the consumer has to pay a great deal more.

It is fortunately a long time since I have been engaged in growing vegetables in this country, but I well remember that on one occasion a good many years ago when I had a field of savoys which I was unable to sell at anything like a price which would pay for their harvesting (and your Lordships know that I am certainly not alone in that experience), for one reason or another I obtained a certain amount of publicity for this state of affairs in one of the leading daily newspapers. As a result of that I received several letters, and one I remember vividly. It was a letter, as it turned out, from an elderly spinster living somewhere in the Midlands, and she wrote to me to this effect: My mother and I are very fond of savoys, but we cannot afford to buy them. You seem to have some you cannot sell. I am enclosing a shilling in stamps and would he very glad if you would send me one. Of course, for that shilling I was able to send her a whole sack of savoys. I do not know what happened to them when they arrived. But that is just one example of what we all know has happened and continues to happen.

If we lived in an ideal world, how should we try to arrange the marketing of our fruit and our vegetables? Because I think we should have before us, in working out any plan like this, what the ideal should be, and then see how close we can get to it. One thing I am certain we should not do: we should not bring into the centre of a great city 750,000 tons of fruit and vegetables every year (I believe that is the figure the noble Earl gave us) not to be consumed in that spot, but so far as half a million tons, two-thirds of it are concerned, re-exported to the Provinces and elsewhere. And of the remaining quarter of a million tons, only an insignificant fraction is actually consumed in a radius of two or three miles of the Covent Garden Area itself. So we must say, regardless of the view we have on this particular problem, that, compared to the ideal, this is a cock-eyed way of doing it.

There is, of course, the further point about the people who work in this Covent Garden Market. They have to come in; they do not want to come too far. They do their best to live in an already highly overcrowded area, which puts up their rents, puts up their cost of living, and puts up their demands, through their union, for higher wages; or, alternatively, they have to take increasingly expensive transport from the suburbs to come in, at all sorts of ungodly hours of the night and early morning, to carry on with the job. So, from the point of view of the workers as well, it is undoubtedly a highly undesirable way of managing this matter.

Again, in our ideal world we should try to ensure that as much as possible of this produce was sold on sample and that there was no need physically to bring it into the market only to he sent out again, wherever that market might be. That is a thing that does not come directly within the scope of this Bill, but it is something which any Authority which is eventually set up must bear in mind. It must do its best to see that an increasing amount of produce is sold on sample and is then moved directly from either the port of entry or the place where it is graded and packed—and an increasing amount of our domestic vegetables these days are being graded and pre-packed—to the consumers.

There again, I feel that there is a piece of information which was lacking to the Runciman Committee and which is still lacking to us: that is, a far more detailed knowledge than we have at the present time of where this produce is in fact consumed. I have already quoted that two-thirds of it is re-exported outside the London area, and that 250,000 tons of it are consumed in London. But London is a very widespread city. What we do not know—possibly the noble Earl does, and can tell us: I am not asking him to tell us at the moment; it is not relevant to this immediate discussion, but it is very relevant to any future plans—is what proportion of the vegetables which come into Covent Garden are consumed in the North of London, in the West of London and in the various other quarters of the City. Because until we know that we shall be in the dark as to any future planning which may come about for either enlarging any market already there or for causing a new market to be put up on the periphery.

In the course of his opening speech, the noble Earl asked: why should there not be a market in central London? I hope that what has already been said by other noble Lords and what I have just said is sufficient reason to show why there should not be a market in central London. He drew what, if I may say so, with respect, was not a very apt analogy. He said, "After all, school children go to school in London". Yes, but we do not bring three-quarters of a million tons of school children into London by lorry every day and then send them back empty, like crates.


We send the heads back.


But they are not empty.


Not in London.


Further, the noble Earl mentioned theatres. We also have provincial theatres. If I might digress for a moment, I would say that when he mentioned theatres it brought to my mind the fact that Covent Garden is important, not only because it sells fruit, vegetables and flowers, but also because it has an Opera House there—an Opera House supported very largely by Government funds, and I am very glad it is. I understand that the Covent Garden Opera House is sadly short of space. In fact, the company has even to go down to Hammersmith to do its rehearsals at the present time. One of the benefits—a minor one, I grant you, but a useful benefit—of clearing this area of the clutter that at present exists there would be that conditions for the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden would be made rather easier, and things would be rather happier for the people who work there.

Now what are the arguments that we have heard to-day and that we have had put before us in this Bill in favour of this present scheme? The noble Earl told us that it would be a relatively quick thing to do: that we could get down to it and start immediately. It is very nice to know that there is this sense of urgency from the noble Earl's Department. If your Lordships will look at the dates that are relevant to this matter, you will see that the Runciman Committee was first set up in March, 1955. Largely due to the efforts of the noble Viscount, I am sure, it worked remarkably quickly for a Committee of that sort, and it reported in December, 1956—a very good record considering the amount of research that had to be done and the wealth of information obtained and presented.

But, after all, it is now June, 1961. It is getting on for five years—over four-and-a-half years—since the Report of the noble Viscount's Committee first appeared, and it is over six years since this matter was first mooted. So surely one cannot say now, having (I will not say wasted) spent six years in studying this matter, that we must now jump headlong into proposals which many noble Lords, in their speeches, have shown to be, if not wholly bad ones, at any rate very open to criticism, simply on the ground that it is quick. That cannot be a very serious argument, especially (again quoting the noble Earl's opening remarks) as "the effect of whatever is done now will be felt for many years to come". That was one reason put forward: the fact that this was a speedy way of solving the problem.

Another reason put forward by various noble Lords, and also mentioned in the Runciman Report, was that a central market, wherever it might be, was invaluable and essential for what was called "price setting", although one noble Lord (it was the noble Lord, Lord Ebbisham, I think) used the words "price fixing". I am not quite sure that there is any difference between "price fixing" and "price setting". I do not think there is a very significant difference in fact between the two. It strikes me as very peculiar, particularly that noble Lords opposite should want to encourage something and should put forward as an argument in favour of having that something that it is necessary in order to fix a price. Surely the noble Lords opposite—


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I think I can help him here. I think all of us who have used this phrase, including the noble Viscount, were quoting his own Report, in the second line of paragraph 216, which I think I read out to your Lordships before. The phrase is "price setting"—more respectable.


I grant you, my Lords, it is far more respectable, but is it a very different word? As I say, one of the noble Lords who spoke did not think there was any difference: but I will not labour the point. However, I suggest that it is in the interest neither of the producer nor of the consumer to have the price set by traders gathering together in one central place. I am not averse to having prices set by a duly-constituted Government authority or marketing board, although some noble Lords do not share those views, and I would not expect them to: but I am certainly wholeheartedly against any system which enables a group of merchants, middlemen, to get together and fix a price. So that is another argument which has been put forward and which I do not find a very favourable one. After all, if you want to have (as producers, buyers and consumers all want to have) some knowledge of prices in different parts of the country and in different markets, there is such a thing as market intelligence—again gone into in great detail and very ably by the noble Viscount's Committee in their Report. That, surely, is a far more important thing than to have a price-setting central market.

Another argument which has been put forward in support of retaining Covent Garden as a central market is the fact that, if it were not there, the buyers, the sellers and the wholesalers would go elsewhere in central London and would add still further to the chaos that already exists in such places as Spitalfields and the Borough Market. I think the answer to that was given by my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth, when he suggested—and very rightly suggested, I think—a central market authority for London. I am not sure that I would go quite so far as he, because I do have neither his loyalty nor his experience, in saying that this central authority should be under the control of the L.C.C. I would rather see it separately constituted and possibly rather more all-embracing; but we will not fall out over that. However, if you have a central authority, whether under the L.C.C. or whether under some separate authority, and it is properly constituted by Act of Parliament, that will deal very effectively with the argument that the, abolition of Covent Garden will simply add to the congestion in other places.

Following upon that, I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, who said that we cannot use compulsion. "We are not an autocratic State", I think were his words. We cannot force people to buy and sell in places where they do not want to. My Lords, we certainly cannot do that, but we can prevent people from buying and selling in places they want to. After all, none of us can walk down Bond Street carrying our sack of savoys or bag of oranges and just sit down on the pavement and sell. We are not allowed to do that. The marketing of these products is controlled. If we are going to control it up to one point, if it is in the national interest, there is no question of principle in saying that we cannot control it beyond that point. It is arbitrary to draw a line and say that we can go no further than this. Provided that our principles are not infringed, let us go as far as necessary, if it is to be in the interests of efficient marketing and, therefore, in the final analysis, of the consumer.

My Lords, I will not delay any longer on the problems of the consumer or of the horticulturist, but I would turn for a moment to the unfortunate position of the noble Earl who is putting this Bill before us. He has received from noble Lords on his own Benches a welcome for the Bill. However, there were precious few, I think, who gave it anything like the welcome that I think this House would have expected. Even the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, I will not say attacked the Bill, but if there be faint praise, his praise was faint. He said that one of the reasons why he welcomed the Bill was that it brought an end to the uncertainty. My Lords, death can bring an end to uncertainty, but we do not always welcome it. He also said that it did not go quite so far as he wished, and I think that that is an understatement. But the greatest backhanded welcome came from the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who was very ably assisted by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. There were many other speakers, not to mention any of my noble friends on this side, who felt very much the same about the Bill.

After all, what does it set out to do? It is, in fact, as I see it, a gallant attempt by the believers in free and unfettered private enterprise to overcome the Obvious and manifest failures of that system in this instance. I do not make a general attack on it in this case, but it is manifest to all who see it that Covent Garden, as it exists to-day, is a failure and an anachronism and cannot be left to private enterprise to be put right. It must be dealt with by Government action and interference. I suggest to your Lordships that the reason why this Bill has come in for so much criticism, and intelligent and thoughtful criticism, is because it has fallen between these two stools. It does not say that we shall leave the matter to sort itself out, because we know it cannot be done. It does not say that we shall take the powers which are essential in order to put this state of affairs right. It goes only half way; in fact, it hardly goes half way. It needs Amendment in the other place, or Chamber, to put it right, and to make it possible for the Bill to achieve the purpose which we all want. I very much hope that at a later stage we shall hear from the noble Earl that he will meet, not only our wishes, but the wishes of his own supporters in this matter.

7.04 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an interesting debate, and the speeches we have heard to-day make it abundantly clear that the present state of affairs in Covent Garden cannot be tolerated any longer and that we must take drastic remedial action without delay. No one, I think, suggested that we can simply sit back and let it go along, although I have a slight suspicion that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, would feel deprived of one of the sticks with which he could beat the Government if it did. He was also triumphant that, in his opinion, the losing of the annex at St. Luke's lost the chance of reforming Covent Garden, and then we could go on and say how terrible it is that Covent Garden Market still—


My Lords, if the noble Earl will allow me, I felt that the losing of the Finsbury Lands enabled the Government to get out of an impossible situation. I want to reform Covent Garden, but not in the middle of London.


My Lords, I did not realise that the noble Lord was so solicitous for the Government. Nobody has really suggested any other practical plans.


Yes—I did.


I will come to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, in good time. As I gathered it, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Walston, was seeking to disparage the whole system of private enterprise marketing in this country. I am glad he shakes his head, because that is not what we are concerned with in this Bill. We are concerned with this particular area of London in which there is a market, and how to cure the troubles we are in there.

I very much welcome the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, was able to give us the benefit of his advice, because no one could possibly be better equipped to advise us on this subject than he, I am sure your Lordships will attach great weight to the advice which he gave, as he was perfectly entitled to do, and honestly did, that he thought our Bill was not absolutely perfect, but that he gave it general support. It seems to me that is very important, because this is a free country, and this House is particularly free in whether it supports or does not support a measure. If the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, had thought that this Bill was not really going to help to cure this situation, he would not have got up as he did and said he would support it. He said that it put an end to uncertainty; that it was a desirable advance in dealing with a problem about which there has been far too long a delay.

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, accused the Government of irresponsibility. With respect, I feel that those who are prepared, because they may see imperfections in this Bill, to let this situation go on—indeed, one noble Lord said that as we have had a bad job at Covent Garden for a long time it will not hurt if we have it for a bit longer—show an attitude that I would describe as irresponsible.


My Lords, might I ask my noble friend if he would think it irresponsible, when a great revolutionary change in building is taking place, and is now, or will be shortly available for this market, to go on with an out-of-date plan?


The noble Lord shows what is very clearly a confusion of thought over this matter. There is a revolution in building, the noble Lord says; and I do not deny it. Why cannot one of these revolutionary buildings be put up on this area of land in London, as well as on another area of land?


It is the wrong area.


My Lords, that is a very different argument, and I will come to it in a moment. It may be the wrong area, but the fact that there is a revolution in the techniques of building is no reason in itself why the Government are wrong in suggesting that one of these new revolutionary buildings should be put up in this particular part of London.


With due respect to the noble Earl, he did not listen to my argument. My argument was that the revolutionary techniques have released an enormous number of new sites which would never have been available a few years ago, and these sites have not as yet been properly considerd.


My Lords, as time goes on, sites which have not been used for one purpose can be used for another, and sites which have been sterilised can be used; but I still stick to the point that that is not an overriding argument against the use of the Covent Garden site. We think it right to have a market properly built and conducted, which will not obstruct the streets and be a nuisance to others. I do not deny that there are revolutionary conceptions of new buildings, to be built over railway sidings and so on, but that does not necessarily apply to the question of where we should build the market. It is our case that it should stay at Covent Garden.

I am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Mancroft, who, I thought, was right on the target. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was not in his place at the time, but I could not help smiling when my noble friend did what I should not have wished to do. He found the word "nuts" in the Bill and said he thought it applied to some remarks the noble Lord had made. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was not quite fair in some of his remarks, particularly when he used the word "laziness". I do not know why he should think this is a lazy Bill—it has enough clauses, in all conscience. I agree with a great deal of what my noble friend Lord Mancroft said and I am very grateful for his support.

One point he raised was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—namely, should we be able to do anything about the Opera House? The name of Covent Garden is associated with opera almost as much as it is with fruit and vegetables. I think that we shall be able to do something here, because I believe, with my right honourable friend, that it is unlikely that the market will be rebuilt on exactly its present site, and the land close to the Opera House and in front of St. Paul's Church will be available for development. I have no doubt that when the Authority come to consider their plans, they will be in touch with the Covent Garden Opera Company and I hope that, at long last, the Opera House will get the rehearsal rooms they need so badly.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for what he has said. Perhaps he would bear in mind that the area considered to he the most convenient is the present Floral Ball, which is immediately adjacent and which it is thought will provide sufficient space.


My Lords, details of that sort are not for me or for the Government, but for the planning authority and the Covent Garden Authority, when set up. The noble Lord asked that provision should be made. Of course, provision cannot he made in the Bill, but I hope that these points will be met.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, also mentioned the Opera House, but seemed to think that the Opera House should not be in all this "clutter". This seems to me to be the fundamental misconception of all those who oppose the Bill. This is a point which was dealt with by my noble friend Lord Runciman of Doxford. Because the existing market is a clutter and chaos and everything takes place in the streets they seem: to think that is how it is always going to be. But when we have a proper market under cover, it is not going to cause any "clutter". There will be a perfectly proper use of land, without causing a nuisance to anybody else.

My noble friend Lord Amherst of Hackney, who contributed a thoughtful speech, talked about the sub-division of the market. Again, that is just the sort of thing that the Authority and its Market Committee will consider. He raised the substantial point, which was dealt with at length by my noble friend Lord Molson (who courteously told me that he would have to leave before I replied) about what would happen if the Authority wanted to build outside its area. I am not a constitutional lawyer: nor am I an expert on Standing Orders, but I am clear about this. When an Amendment which would have widened the scope of the Bill was tabled in the House of Commons, apparently it would have caused great difficulties. Can we widen the scope of the Bill in your Lordships' House? I am advised that the Standing Orders of both Houses require the particulars of a Bill as first introduced to be advertised in the London Gazette and other newspapers. If any attempt is made to alter the Bill in your Lordships' House, so that the scope of the Bill is widened, the Standing Orders which would be applicable to the Bill on its reintroduction in your Lordships' House would not be complied with, and objection could then be taken to the Amendment on those grounds.

I do not pretend fully to understand these complex rules, but I can assure your Lordships that all this will be gone into carefully after what my noble friend has said, and we shall have to see whether it is possible to widen the scope of the Bill in this way. We shall also have to see whether Amendments may be tabled on committal, but what their effect would be I do not know. Perhaps I may be allowed to think about this, because I have not the legal knowledge to answer these points of procedure at this stage.


My Lords, if the scope of the Bill is to be widened, could the noble Earl say whether it could be widened in the Select Committee before the Bill is committed to a Committee of the Whole House? That seemed to be the Minister's difficulty in another place. The noble Earl will appreciate that what he has just said is important.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will not press me, because he will be able to find out about this from people who know more about it than I do but I think that that is not possible. The point raised by my noble friend Lord Molson indicates a very pessimistic view, which I do not hold. He,asked what would happen if the Authority came to the conclusion, within the seven years in which they have to rebuild the market, that they really cannot build it within the seven years and within the area prescribed, even with the powers that they have— though there are many who say that their powers are too great.

I do not think that I can do better than remind your Lordships of what my right honourable friend said about that in the House of Commons. He said that the Authority would then have to come to the Government and Parliament would have to decide whether the market, which plays such a great part in our life, should be where it is now proposed or elsewhere; that is to say, they would have to come back to Parliament and say: "We cannot carry out this Bill that you have passed. What do we do about it?" I think it is the greatest pessimistic view to think that the Act will be stillborn in this way. I could not stand here and move and support the passing of this Bill if I thought that there was any chance of that. I echo what my right honourable friend said in another place: I have no qualms about this.

But it is conceivable—it is a hypothetical position—that another site elsewhere would be found to be more satisfactory when everything is gone into. Then this is what will have to be done. It would not mean the scrapping of this Bill, because this Bill is of vital importance in order to bring to an end the Charter to whose original granting the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, took such particular exception; it brings to an end the 1828 Act, and gives the Authority the powers of licensing and so on. There would have to be additional legislation—and I am advised that it would not be very lengthy—in order that Parliament should authorise that market to be built elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, who opened this debate on behalf of the Opposition, made an amusing speech about the wicked Barons—


The Earls and Dukes; and the Kings.


The Earls and Dukes who had been granted Charters in 1670. He suggested that even in the town of Taunton, that I know so well, the Government would not dare to do it. But the whole point is that the Borough of Taunton, the City of Birmingham and the City of Westminster are local authorities, and would, I think, be averse to another co-equal authority having powers over their territories.


With respect, this cannot be a metropolitan borough council job; and the City of Westminster is a metropolitan borough council, even if it is called a City. It could not be done in that way. If it is done by any municipal authority, it would have to be the London County Council. When the Government are freeing colonial territories in Africa, and giving them local self-government, and even independence, lifting Crown government, why are this horrible Government imposing Crown Colony government on London?


I cannot agree that this is imposing Crown Colony government on London.


It is.


The local authorities have market powers in Greater London. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, would like all those powers to be in the hands of the London County Council, and the boroughs' marketing powers—


They have not got any.


They have not got any; I should say the City's powers—to disappear. But it is curious that the various local authorities have not objected to this Bill on this point. The Westminster City Council petitioned against the Bill asking that there should be a time limit and an area limit; and that was incorporated in the Bill. The Holborn Borough Council have given full support to the Bill.


They would.


The London County Council have given full support to this measure. They do not consider it is ideal, but they are supporting it. The City of London do not oppose the general principles of this Bill. They have asked for a number of detailed amendments and these are included in their Petition which will be considered by the Select Committee.

Therefore I think the irresponsibility is on the other side, coming from anybody who suggests at this stage, when we have a plan which is likely to work: "Let us put this off until we get a completely revoluntionary idea such as four comprehensive markets for all produce on the edge"—my Lords, who would define what the edge is?—"of London". It is a very long way ahead for any such thought as that to be put into practice. Meanwhile, we will hold up this Bill; we will hold up getting rid of this Charter and of the out-of-date Act of 1828; we will continue this fire risk and this congestion in the market. After all, it is a good stick with which to beat the Government. You can say that the marketing in Covent Garden is disgraceful, and add: "Look how long you have been in office, and you are doing nothing about it!" It: looks too much like politics to me. This is a practical and feasible Bill, that can go forward and help to cure, if not completely cure, this disgraceful marketing situation; and we should be wrong to reject it.

My noble friend Lord Ebbisham made a point which I did not fully understand. He said that the Market Authority might subsidise its traders, who would then take trade away from the market and the City at. Spitalfields. I think that is in the highest degree improbable, if not impossible, under the safeguards in the Bill. He then asked why the circle of the prohibition area should (he almost used the word "dared") infringe on the City. If we had not taken a circle and set the area, but had followed boundaries, should we not have been very much more liable to the accusation that we had been selective, and had favoured one district against another, or one street or one row of shops against another?

The fair thing to do, surely, was to say that we must have this cordon sanitaire outside the Covent Garden Area, so that the traders could not avoid their licensing restrictions by simply going over the boundary. The fair thing to do is to take a circle round the market, and, even if it impinges on the City of London, allow that circle to stand. I think that is right, and that we had to do it in that way. Grading of home-grown produce is growing, and I hope that we shall get more and more produce graded before it comes to the market. I can assure my noble friend Lord Ebbisham that the Government do not intend that the setting up of the Covent Garden Market Authority shall derogate from the City's historic position as a market authority for London.

My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross raised a point which was debated at great length in another place, in relation to Clause 18 of the Bill. Clause 18 is the clause which some noble Lords have criticised as granting too many powers. I think that we must keep clear in our minds that Clause 18 (2) is what the lawyers call a "machinery provision" which enables the Authority to take steps, as distinct from adopting a course of action, to bring about the discharge of their functions. The law on corporations is riddled with restrictions, and subsection (2) is essential in order to make it clear that the Authority will be able to do all such things as are incidental to their functions: to get property or rights, and to dispose of property or rights not required for the proper exercise or performance of their functions. My advice is that these powers as set out in Clause 18 are necessary and follow precedent, and it would be only making a lawyer's holiday (I do not say that is the reason why my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross put this forward) if all these matters had to be decided at Common Law and come to the courts, and if no wide-ranging powers of this sort were given to the Authority.

I think the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, was largely answered by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, asked me to say what the consumers, growers or distributors felt. The growers, consumers and distributors are now trading in a market where it takes them three hours to unload their vans and another three-and-a-half hours to load them up. If they can go into a proper market where their vans can be loaded in a matter of minutes or in half-an-hour, of course they are advantaged—everybody is advantaged. The costs are reduced, so that growers can receive a larger price, the distributors can do their business more quickly; and the consumers are advantaged, too.

Of course, this begs the question whether the market can be built and will be built, but it is not right to say "How does this Bill aim to help consumers, growers and distributors? There is nothing in this Bill which will help them." The noble Lord, Lord Walston, said, "If this is the third prong, I hope the other two will be better, because this prong will do nothing." But it does; because if you take one of the largest markets which is dealing with a million tons of produce a year and very radically improve it, all the sections of the people who buy from, sell to, or the consumers supplied by, that market, must be advantaged. And that is the whole point of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, suggested that because the specific site for the annex at St. Luke's has been taken out, the Bill therefore cannot go forward, and cannot work. I do not think that is true. The situation was that a site which we thought to be a very good one became available, and arrangements were made that this site should he made available in the Bill. Now we know well that the Select Committee of another place decided, in their wisdom, that it was wrong to have any specific site mentioned in the Bill. But the Bill still stands and is still viable. But this Authority, within its limits, and with the powers granted to it, has to find within the Covent Garden Area a place to build a market, and outside the Covent Garden Area a place to find an annex. Now it really is not, I think, a very good argument to say that there could be nowhere in London where such a place could be found. It is quite possible to say that whenever you find a place where you want to go, there will be somebody there already who will try to object; that there will be some hospital authority who will say: "Do not make a noise near my hospital", or some residential district which will say, "We do not want a market here". But this is the case when all development takes place, and I refuse to believe that it is quite impossible to find any site at all, now that one specific site which was thought to be a good one, and was available at the time, has just been deleted by name from the Bill.

Another point the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made was that retailers would have to go to the annex and back to the market, and so on. That is not the intention at all. The annex would, I think, be used mostly by the wholesalers, much more, I understand, than by the retailers, wo would be more likely to go on trading as they do at the present time.


My Lords, I must clear up that point, because on this matter I do know what I am talking about. Certainly the wholesalers have empties. Retailers take them away full of produce, and bring them back to the wholesaler. Then they have to go to the market to buy their home-grown produce, buy imported produce against sample, go back to the depôt, and pick up the bulk of the imported produce. To have to make a tremendous number of journeys is fantastic nonsense.


My Lords, I think we must agree to differ about this. The Authority is not set up: this sort of detailed organisation of who goes where is not yet worked out. We shall see, when this Authority is working, whether these retailers have to go to the annex.

The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, was kind enough not to press me on the question of what sort of price the Authority would have to pay for its site, and, of course, I would rather not give any guess. This sort of matter could go to the Lands Tribunal, and to make any guess at what sort of price would prejudice negotiations. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, asked, I think, what would be the rate of interest. As the noble Lord must know, it will be a Treasury loan, and the interest would be at the rate current for Treasury loans at the time. There is no rate of interest mentioned in the Bill.


I know that this is a difficult matter, but did the noble Earl mention the possible capital commitment involved in the acquisition of the market?


No. I purposely do not want to guess what the capital commitment would be. The question of negotiation would be for the Market Authority purchasing these lands, which would only be prejudiced if, in Parliament or elsewhere, we all made guesses as to what the values of the properties are.

My Lords, I think, and hope, that I have not forgotten anybody who has asked me a question. I think I will continue in private the discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, about price setting and fixing, but I do not think he need be alarmed at these respectable words, "price setting". I am not a trader myself in that sense, but in these great markets there is nearly always some market called the price-setting market. I believe that Hatton Garden is the one for diamonds. We have the London Stock Exchange which is, on the whole, the price-setting market for provincial stock exchanges. That is what we mean, and what I think the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, would mean, by the price-setting market of Covent Garden. You will find that in any trade there is one centre where the "big boys" in the trade go; where people will ring up and find out what is the current trend of prices; where all the statistics are—and Covent Garden has been that to the horticulture trade, as Leadenhall is to other trades, and so on. I submit that this is a very much better way of finding out what the market is than by setting the price by Government decree, which is the alternative the noble Lord, Lord Walston would prefer.

LORD WALSTON: My Lords, may I interrupt? I did not prefer that alternative at all, but in view of the noble Earl's explanation about the meaning of price-setting, it would seem that that function could be carried out just as easily by any other market. It is no argument in favour of Covent Garden that it is the place at present to look to for price-setting. But if it disappeared there would be plenty of other markets to take its place.

EARI, WALDEGRAVE: Of course, we should not want that. If this market disappeared some other market would have to take over its functions. Why allow this market to disappear, when all that is wrong is its traffic congestion and the nuisance it is making in the streets? The system of marketing and the function it maintains is good. This is very significant: with what the market has had to put up with all these years, you might think the traders would say, "We do not want to go on in this area at all. You will never get this right". But that is not the line they take. They say," Put this right, because this is where we like to trade." And that is what the Government are going to do.

Covent Garden to-day is completely out of date, and what we must have is action now. It is vital that we have a streamlined market that will serve the horticulture industry for a long time to come. We must get rid of the congestion that is choking the streets in this part of London. We must see to it that market lorries and vans have no longer to stand in the streets to load and unload. We must deal with the fire risk and this problem of wooden boxes and unsuitable buildings. Finally, we must give the planning authority the chance to redevelop the whole area. In the last 50 years people have been suggesting important changes, but nothing has been done. To-day we are agreed on the need for action, and naturally there are some differences of opinion on what should be done. Where different interests are concerned no solution will be ideal from everybody's point of view. We should not let this be an excuse for further delay. By repealing the 1828 Act and establishing a Market Authority we shall he taking the first essential steps towards building a new central market of which we can all be proud. That is what this Bill does, and that is why I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to a Select Committee.